James Brown is playing at my house


When I hear someone won the lottery, sometimes I daydream about what I would do if it were me. In my imagination, I throw a party on a warm day, surrounded by the people I love and the people who make me laugh. Everybody I invite makes it. I’m eating my favorite foods, and drinking my favorite drinks. I have no aches or pains, and nothing needs my immediate attention. There’s no worry about hangovers, neighbors complaining about the noise, or the next day of work. Everything is taken care of.

Of course, there’s music at this imaginary party. Because I have money, and money can get you connections, I fly in James Brown for the day. The band is there too, Maceo, Bobby Byrd, Bootsy Collins, anyone who’s ever played for him and still alive is there. We know “the hardest working man in show business” is feeling good because he tells the guests to put the furniture in the garage before he tears this place up. We grin and do as he says.

Once he gets going, people dance. If they can’t dance, they move in their chairs. There’s no casual conversation in the back. No one is clinking glasses or cleaning up. Everyone is focused on him, some singing with him even when they can’t understand what he’s saying. Whatever it is, he’s saying it with authority. When he does his call and response with the band, the whole place responds.

After he’s done, he and the band hang out all night and talk about what it was like to play the Apollo in their prime, to meet President Nixon, to upstage the Rolling Stones. They talk about releasing “Cold Sweat” in 1967, and how musicians of the day were freaking out, trying to understand what had just been done, and what to do next. They mention all the modern acts using their riffs, with permission and without, sincerely flattered with the imitation. All questions, smart and dumb, are answered with an interesting story. No one says the words “addiction” or “prison,” because even musical icons are human, and none of us is perfect.

And then I’m back in my real life.

James Brown is playing at my house. I know it’s only a daydream, but I get some simple joy thinking about it. Hearing his music makes me feel the same way, every time. Very few people have created something so appealing to people of so many different backgrounds, something so admired but unable to be copied, something that holds up so well over time. I won’t try to describe it, except to say that funk is on the one beat, and if you don’t know what I mean, it’s worth listening to, and learning from, James Brown.

While he was alive, there was still a tiny chance I could win a billion dollars and turn that daydream into reality. But now he’s gone, and the lotto isn’t going to bring James Brown back, no matter how much I win. I’m sad that I’ll have to wait to see him, but when I do it’ll be the main room up in heaven, which, in my version of the afterlife, will look a lot like my house.

God rest his super bad soul.

The Head Fake blog will feature an essay per week, and possibly some shorter items in between. The Head Fake is also featured monthly in The Bridge newspaper. You can e-mail Jay Kelly at jk@theheadfake.com, or view all his essays at www.theheadfake.com.