The Hardest Working Man (How James Brown Saved The Soul Of America)
An audacious title about an audacious man and a tumultuous time by Boston writer James Sullivan. In fact the title was so compelling, I felt the need to read it almost immediately. But it only took a few pages for me to get bogged down in the minutiae that was 1968 Boston race relations and politics. The book attempts to focus on Brown’s Boston Garden concert the day after Dr. Martin Luther Ling was murdered. Along the way we’re treated to a meandering bio of the godfather of soul. Nothing wrong with that, but Sullivan insists on namechecking every single member of Brown’s considerably large and constantly changing retinue along with all the folks who influenced him over the course of his long career. I greatly admire Sullivan’s knowledge and enthusiasm for his subject, but if you read the book don’t be surprised if your eyes start glazing over. While James Brown’s dedication and committment to the African-American community is beyound question, he was first and foremost a “capatilist”. Everything else was secondary. Even the celebrated ’68 Boston Garden concert almost didn’t take place due to financial and contractual concerns. (The concert would be televised live in an effort to keep potential rioters off the streets.) Brown would later be called a sell-out due to his ardent support of Richard Nixon. And Brown’s efforts at reaching out to disaffected black youth meant little more than releasing songs filled with preachy sloganeering. That having been said, he will always be remembered as being one of the best entertainers of his generation. And his music did help bring the races together. Did James Brown save the soul of America? No, but along with countless others he helped to mend it. Unlike Brown’s theatrical cape routine which left the audience wanting more, this book unfortunately will not do the same. The hardest working man? Yes. A great entertainer and humanitarian? Yes. The godfather of soul? You bet. However, Sullivan’s attempt to transform Brown into this great civil rights icon that he never was creates a great disservice not only to the readers but to the godfather himself.