By dancing emmet
It’s the world’s worst piece of jewelry. It is made of tarnished gold, a cufflink with a sort of clock band on it. But I have kept it close to me for more than 50 years with moves from Sharon to Boston to North Attleboro (yikes) to Gloucester, and finally, to Maine.
You would, too.
I collected the bauble in a bowling alley off Route 1 in Walpole, Mass. It was thrown off the stage by a man called James Brown. You know him as “The Godfather of Soul.” I loved my cousin, Jerry. He was as daft as I was and we would travel to anywhere James Brown played. Often we would be the only Caucasians at Boston Arena or Boston Garden…or at the Walpole bowling alley.
I have seen my share of acts since that bowling alley but no one could generate the excitement that Brown did. Not the Rolling Stones. Not Hendrix. Not Janice. Not Sam and Dave. No One. When Boston was on the edge of a serious riot after the shooting of Martin Luther King, Mayor Kevin White brought in James for a Boston Garden concert on April 5, 1968. The concert was televised across the city and Boston was one of the few major cities that escaped rioting that night. Brown had that much power.
Finally, Hollywood has recognized that impact of James Brown and his biopic “Get on Up!” was released this week.
JB died on Christmas Day, 2006, but his music is recognizable in today’s rap and funk music. Today’s artists love to “sample” JB.
Like most black singer, JB started singing in a church choir. His was in Toccoa, Georgia, wherever that is. He joined a rhythm and blues group called the Avons, later changed to The Famous Flames. With JB as vocalist, they burst on to the national scene in the 1950s with “Please, Please, Please.” And “Try Me,” two hits that JB performed until his last concert. JB performed a legendary concert on Oct. 24, 1962 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem which became a live album with hits like “Papas Got a Brand New Bag” and It’s a Man’s Man’s Mans’ world.” By the early 1970’s JB had evolved into the funk sound, which is still heard today.
He had 16 number one singles. Music critic Joel Whitburn rated him the number one soul singer. Rolling Stone Magazine rated him seventh in the top 100 rock performers. I must investigate who the other six were. Naturally, he is in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
At the end of each concert, JB would do “Please” but pretend to be too tired to go on and limp towards the side of the stage as a band member covered him with a gaudy robe. Naturally, he would shrug off that robe and go back to scream into the microphone. It was cheap theater but he made it work and the crowd would reach a fever pitch.
The very last think he would do was to bow to the tumultuous applause and throw his incredibly gaudy cufflinks to the crowd. On that now famous night in Walpole, Mass, he threw it so far that it hit me in the chest, way back in the audience. I caught in by reflex and figured out what it was. It took a while. He knew who was cool, way back in that bowling alley.
A pretty young thing saw me catch the bauble and begged me for it.
“Please, please, please.”
No one is that pretty.