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Thursday, November 13, 2014

On the Republicanism of James Brown




Near the end of the Mick Jagger-produced documentary on the life of James Brown for HBO we learn that the Godfather of Soul was in fact a Republican. That little morsel of deliciousness, placed where it was in the production, came off as perfectly organic. Yes, Virginia, there is a black Republican.

Soul Brother Number One's whole career trajectory is, in essence, an African-American version of the Horatio Alger story. James Brown did not become rich and famous because he was lucky; James Brown did not become rich and famous because he was light skinned and Eurocentrically pretty, like Smokey Robinson; James Brown did not become rich and famous because he was particularly brilliant. James Brown become rich and famous because he was an incredibly, incredibly hard worker, a demanding -- even douchebaggy -- boss who fined members of his band for minor infractions. In essence, James Brown was organically, intrinsically Republican, right down to the military precision of his routines.

That this fact was mentioned in the last twenty minutes of the documentary comes off as the perfect solution to the equation that is James Brown. The equation that is James Brown is not, say, Fermat's Theorem, but it was not insignificant in the history of American music. Brown's signature emplasis on the first beat in a four-beat measure ( “The upbeat is rich, the downbeat is poor") as well as his Elligtonish band communitarianism ands theatrical style served as the bridge between soul and the intergalactic funk of the 70s. We wouldn't have Parliament, Earth, Wind and Fire or for that matter Prince without the hardest working man in show business.

It would be instructive for Republicans to note that there is indeed such a thing as an organic black Republican. The life of James Brown presents an aspirational road map for Republicans to appeal to African-American voters and, beyond that, all voters of color who desire to live the American Dream. Unfortunately that party is more interested nowadays in lowest common denominator appeals to fear and the harsh moral inflexibility condemned by Pope Francis. Alas.

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