by Maureen | 1/20/2014
" This is one of those books that was clearly a labor of love. I don't know how many years it took Smith to research it, but he did a tremendous job. James Brown's story is not an easy one to tell: it begins with a childhood that could serve as an example of that famous Nietzsche quote about that which does not kill you makes you stronger. Born in Barnwell, South Carolina, Brown's childhood took him from one side of the "Georgialina" side to the other. After his mamma Susie ran off when he was four years old, he and his daddy Joe eventually ended up in Augusta, GA, which would be Brown's hometown for the rest of his life. They lived with his aunt Honey, who ran a boardinghouse/bordello and sold bootleg whiskey. Aunt Honey and other aunts took care of him there. He was subjected to beatings by many of the adults in his life: once even being put into a croker sack and hung up on a wall and beaten with a belt. There is some evidence that Susie came back for a time, but she fared little better than James did when it came to beatings. This is where JB learned about men beating women: an issue that would arise numerous times in his adult life.
There were other, more positive things James Brown learned living on the Terry (the African-American section of Augusta), though. He learned to be tough so he could survive on the streets. He also learned a tremendous work ethic, which would serve him well later in life. Before he was sixteen, he had at least seven jobs, including picking cotton and racking balls at a pool hall. Because he was small, he learned to be alternately charming and threatening. He was always getting into trouble, but along the way he made friendships that would last a lifetime.
I heard stories repeated within these pages that I had heard before from people who worked with JB. Also, I learned so much I did not know about the Godfather of Soul. Truly, he was The Hardest Working Man in Show Business. The last time I saw him was in the seventies in NYC. He opened for P-Funk in a ballroom that I have since forgotten the name of. Even though he could not hit the high notes or do splits any more, he gave Bootsy, Junie and the gang a run for their money when it came to out-and-out stage presence.
James Brown was never very easy to love, but he always had my admiration for his determination to go his own way. Plus, I cannot imagine life without his music. It has been a part of my personal soundtrack so long, it is embedded in my soul.
As for the title,
As he once explained it: "The One" is derived from the Earth itself, the soil, the pine trees of my youth. And most important, it's on the upbeat - ONE two THREE four - not on the downbeat, one TWO three FOUR that most blues are written in. Hey, I know what I'm talking about! I was born to the downbeat, and I can tell you without question there is no pride in it. The upbeat is rich, the downbeat is poor. Stepping up proud only happens on the aggressive 'One," not the passive Two, and never on lowdownbeat. In the end, it's not about music - it's about life.
One more favorite JB quote: Money won't change you, but time will take you out. My advice to you, dear reader, is to Get Up Offa That Thing and get this book immediately. It is very highly recommended. "