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National Book Award winner James McBride goes in search of the “real” James Brown after receiving a tip that promises to uncover the man behind the myth. His surprising journey illuminates not only our understanding of this immensely troubled, misunderstood, and complicated soul genius but the ways in which our cultural heritage has been shaped by Brown’s legacy.   Kill ’Em National Book Award winner James McBride goes in search of the “real” James Brown after receiving a tip that promises to uncover the man behind the myth. His surprising journey illuminates not only our understanding of this immensely troubled, misunderstood, and complicated soul genius but the ways in which our cultural heritage has been shaped by Brown’s legacy.   Kill ’Em and Leave is more than a book about James Brown. Brown’s rough-and-tumble life, through McBride’s lens, is an unsettling metaphor for American life: the tension between North and South, black and white, rich and poor. McBride’s travels take him to forgotten corners of Brown’s never-before-revealed history: the country town where Brown’s family and thousands of others were displaced by America’s largest nuclear power bomb-making facility; a South Carolina field where a long-forgotten cousin recounts, in the dead of night, a fuller history of Brown’s sharecropping childhood, which until now has been a mystery. McBride seeks out the American expatriate in England who co-created the James Brown sound, visits the trusted right-hand manager who worked with Brown for forty-one years, and interviews Brown’s most influential nonmusical creation, his “adopted son,” the Reverend Al Sharpton. He describes the stirring visit of Michael Jackson to the Augusta, Georgia, funeral home where the King of Pop sat up all night with the body of his musical godfather, spends hours talking with Brown’s first wife, and lays bare the Dickensian legal contest over James Brown’s estate, a fight that has consumed careers; prevented any money from reaching the poor schoolchildren in Georgia and South Carolina, as instructed in his will; cost Brown’s estate millions in legal fees; and left James Brown’s body to lie for more than eight years in a gilded coffin in his daughter’s yard in South Carolina.   James McBride is one of the most distinctive and electric literary voices in America today, and part of the pleasure of his narrative is being in his presence, coming to understand Brown through McBride’s own insights as a black musician with Southern roots. Kill ’Em and Leave is a song unearthing and celebrating James Brown’s great legacy: the cultural landscape of America today. Praise for Kill ’Em and Leave “The definitive look at one of the greatest, most important entertainers, The Godfather, Da Number One Soul Brother, Mr. Please, Please Himself—JAMES BROWN.”—Spike Lee “Please, please, please: Can anybody tell us who and what was James Brown? At last, the real deal: James McBride on James Brown is the matchup we’ve been waiting for, a musician who came up hard in Brooklyn with JB hooks lodged in his brain, a monster ear for the truth, and the chops to write it. This is no celeb bio but a compelling personal quest—so very timely, angry, hilarious, and as irresistible as any James Brown beat.”—Gerri Hirshey, author of Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music “An unconventional and fascinating portrait of Soul Brother No. 1 and the significance of his rise and fall in American culture.” —Kirkus Reviews


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National Book Award winner James McBride goes in search of the “real” James Brown after receiving a tip that promises to uncover the man behind the myth. His surprising journey illuminates not only our understanding of this immensely troubled, misunderstood, and complicated soul genius but the ways in which our cultural heritage has been shaped by Brown’s legacy.   Kill ’Em National Book Award winner James McBride goes in search of the “real” James Brown after receiving a tip that promises to uncover the man behind the myth. His surprising journey illuminates not only our understanding of this immensely troubled, misunderstood, and complicated soul genius but the ways in which our cultural heritage has been shaped by Brown’s legacy.   Kill ’Em and Leave is more than a book about James Brown. Brown’s rough-and-tumble life, through McBride’s lens, is an unsettling metaphor for American life: the tension between North and South, black and white, rich and poor. McBride’s travels take him to forgotten corners of Brown’s never-before-revealed history: the country town where Brown’s family and thousands of others were displaced by America’s largest nuclear power bomb-making facility; a South Carolina field where a long-forgotten cousin recounts, in the dead of night, a fuller history of Brown’s sharecropping childhood, which until now has been a mystery. McBride seeks out the American expatriate in England who co-created the James Brown sound, visits the trusted right-hand manager who worked with Brown for forty-one years, and interviews Brown’s most influential nonmusical creation, his “adopted son,” the Reverend Al Sharpton. He describes the stirring visit of Michael Jackson to the Augusta, Georgia, funeral home where the King of Pop sat up all night with the body of his musical godfather, spends hours talking with Brown’s first wife, and lays bare the Dickensian legal contest over James Brown’s estate, a fight that has consumed careers; prevented any money from reaching the poor schoolchildren in Georgia and South Carolina, as instructed in his will; cost Brown’s estate millions in legal fees; and left James Brown’s body to lie for more than eight years in a gilded coffin in his daughter’s yard in South Carolina.   James McBride is one of the most distinctive and electric literary voices in America today, and part of the pleasure of his narrative is being in his presence, coming to understand Brown through McBride’s own insights as a black musician with Southern roots. Kill ’Em and Leave is a song unearthing and celebrating James Brown’s great legacy: the cultural landscape of America today. Praise for Kill ’Em and Leave “The definitive look at one of the greatest, most important entertainers, The Godfather, Da Number One Soul Brother, Mr. Please, Please Himself—JAMES BROWN.”—Spike Lee “Please, please, please: Can anybody tell us who and what was James Brown? At last, the real deal: James McBride on James Brown is the matchup we’ve been waiting for, a musician who came up hard in Brooklyn with JB hooks lodged in his brain, a monster ear for the truth, and the chops to write it. This is no celeb bio but a compelling personal quest—so very timely, angry, hilarious, and as irresistible as any James Brown beat.”—Gerri Hirshey, author of Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music “An unconventional and fascinating portrait of Soul Brother No. 1 and the significance of his rise and fall in American culture.” —Kirkus Reviews

30 review for Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul

  1. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride is a 2016 Spiegel & Grau publication. I always liked James Brown. His music, his showmanship, and the way he often found himself stepping in to keep the peace, and his promotion of education. While I know the same facts about James that anyone else knows, I’ve never read any books or watched any movies based on his life. So, when this book was recommended to me, I was very eager to learn something more comprehen Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride is a 2016 Spiegel & Grau publication. I always liked James Brown. His music, his showmanship, and the way he often found himself stepping in to keep the peace, and his promotion of education. While I know the same facts about James that anyone else knows, I’ve never read any books or watched any movies based on his life. So, when this book was recommended to me, I was very eager to learn something more comprehensive about ‘The Godfather of Soul’ Musical biographies often walk on a fine line with too much of one thing, but not enough of another. It depends on the author as to which approach to take and while I was in the mood for a very detailed portrait of James Brown, the author took a different tack, but it was, in its way, kind of refreshing. The author didn’t attempt to gloss over, sugarcoat, or make excuses for James’ darker side, revealing the performers crimes, his penchant for being difficult, his mistreatment of women, his numerous marriages, his drug use, and various other ways he was unpredictable or contradictory. Yet, the author’s goal seemed to be focused on how James was remembered, the battles he won, the ones he lost, and the incredible mess his estate turned into once his will was discovered. We learn who James really trusted, who were the people closest to him and who stuck by him all his life, and this is as much their story as it is Brown's or McBride’s, in many ways. The author also takes a look at the racial climate and atmosphere James was raised up in and the way this environment influenced him. This part of the book, I think, is supposed to help explain why James felt like he did, what shaped his attitude, and prompted him to act or react the way he did during his adult life. But, the author’s spirit also penetrates the book, which under any other circumstance might be considered a biography faux pas, but in this case, it actually creates a dual look at James Brown. Not only do we get personal reflections from the people McBride interviewed, but we see the how the information seeps into the author’s soul, and the obvious effect writing this book must have had on him. I wouldn’t say this approach is one everyone will appreciate and I don’t know if would work with any other subject or author, but I thought it was a nice touch and made the journey appear more personal. Still, at the end of the day, I’m not sure if I really got that intimate portrait the author was going for. I do think I understand James Brown a little better, but his vital spirit or essence, just didn’t bleed through, despite the personal tones employed. This was not exactly the type of biography I was hoping for, but was one that gave me deeper insight into the man behind the electric voice and performances that set the world on fire. If you are an aficionado and already know all the facts about the man, his music, songs, and all the rest, then this is a book you will want to add, in order to get a deeper understanding of James’ roots. If, like me, you are a fan, liked his music and enjoyed his amazing on stage presence and showmanship, but didn’t know a lot about him otherwise, this might not be the best book to give you that in depth look at his recordings, his political work, the inner workings of his relationships with wives and children, or a closer inspection of his addictions and events leading to his prison terms. However, once you have gained more than a basic knowledge about Brown, I think this personal assessment will take on deeper meaning. Overall, this is a fresh approach to examining James Brown’s life and is an enjoyable journey, which has increased by my curiosity about the private performer. Thanks to McBride, I know which places I should perhaps avoid in my search for accurate information, which will be very helpful. I’m stalling just a bit here, not sure of how I want to rate this one. I keep waffling between a three and a four -star rating- so, for my personal record- 3.5 stars will have to suffice.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    It looks like McBride did his interviews for this book about music phenom James Brown in 2012, long before this book was published in 2016. In the Foreword McBride crankily reveals he was being taken to the cleaners in a divorce settlement and he needed to write this book—any book—to bring in a little money. Any flaws this book contains then become perfectly understandable, and McBride keeps up that level of honesty and casual explanation all the way through. This is no stilted celebrity biograp It looks like McBride did his interviews for this book about music phenom James Brown in 2012, long before this book was published in 2016. In the Foreword McBride crankily reveals he was being taken to the cleaners in a divorce settlement and he needed to write this book—any book—to bring in a little money. Any flaws this book contains then become perfectly understandable, and McBride keeps up that level of honesty and casual explanation all the way through. This is no stilted celebrity biography covering well-trod ground. This is down home and personal, comfortable conversations with the men (they were mostly men) and women who knew most about James Brown and his life. At the end of his story, McBride highlights the 62-year-old grandmother journalist Sue Summer who, writing for the financially strapped Newberry Observer in South Carolina, has kept in the public eye the disgraceful carnage made of James Brown’s $100 million estate. Brown’s will stipulated the bulk of his estate should go to educate poor children in Georgia and South Carolina, the states where he grew up, but within days of his death on Christmas Day in 2006, his family had arrayed a bevy of lawyers to contest the will citing ‘undue influence.’ That ‘influence’ would have been the South Carolina lawyer David Cannon who had been hired by Brown to extricate him from IRS charges of underpayments. Cannon and Buddy Dallas, a Georgia lawyer, were white men who had never worked for a black boss before. They brought Brown back from destitution when his act suffered the toll performers experience when they age, and when the IRS realized they’d been robbed. They set up what they’d thought was an unbreakable trust serving poor children and then suffered personal attacks and rake-backs as the trust was contested. James Brown played a role in McBride’s youth—in every young black man’s youth, is McBride’s contention—being a role model and human divinity of soul. His concerts and records made a difference in how the world turned. The 1960’s-70’s were the height of his popularity, but he made a mark that lasted to his death, and McBride argues, will long after. “Kill ‘em and leave,” Brown exhorted the younger men he mentored. Don’t hang around after a concert for folks to pick your carcass clean. Make ‘em wait. McBride spins his story out slowly, the way he collected it, through innumerable interviews with band members and managers, friends, and family. He is conversational and not cruel when he tells us the plain facts of James Brown’s lonely upbringing, early incarceration, exceptional singing talent, and enormous drive. Brown never wanted to be hungry or lonely or dependent ever again, especially to the white man, who he feared. There was a moment near the end of McBride’s story about Brown that widened out for me into a real down-home truth we all learn eventually: “there’s talent everywhere.” “I remember having lunch years ago with a legendary record executive in L.A., bending his ear about a great unsigned singer I knew. The guy listened, nodded, yawned, reached for his triple-decker sandwich, and took a bite. ‘Great singers,’ he said between chews, ‘are a dime a dozen.’”That’s right. That’s right for every field. If they don’t have ‘em, they’ll make ‘em. But more importantly, and listen to this: those executives—they aren’t so special either. They do a job, but somehow we’ve allowed them to capture an unnatural percentage of the take. They have nothing without the talent and the rest of the organization, but you wouldn’t know it talking to them. But there is a truth in that it takes more than talent to be a great star, if that is where you are aiming. It takes more determination than talent. Brown had determination. He wanted to present his best side to the world, so no one would have cause to put him down. After shows he would sit through 3 hours of treatment under the hair dryer to get his pompadour back in shape…and then he would leave without seeing the fans waiting for him. Kill ‘em and leave. I loved the way McBride told this story, mixing a little of himself in there. He’d gone to Columbia Journalism School in 1980, so was undoubtedly aware that the reporter should scrupulously keep himself out of the story. But his ease with the scene and his knowledge of the backstory, his understanding of the silences between questions and his sense of the real meaning of James Brown gave us the mystery of the man and a deep sense of his place in pantheon of black culture. I loved hearing the familiar names, Rev Al Sharpton and Michael Jackson among them, and seeing how they fit in this picture. It’s a comfortable, unstrained telling of a difficult life built on success. Race is everywhere in this book, though it is rarely mentioned. The fact of America’s race situation both made James Brown who he was as a performer, but it constrained him as a human being. McBride gives us that, shows us how that was. A book by McBride is cause for celebration, no matter that the editing was a little off, or he repeated sections. This is a story you won’t want to miss.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Taryn

    This book is not a balanced, unbiased, chronological account of James Brown’s life and musical career. It is, however, an impassioned, sometimes meandering defense of a music legend and his complicated legacy, which for my money makes it much more interesting than a straightforward biography. James McBride clearly has a lot of love for James Brown, and I could appreciate his point of view without being entirely won over. McBride doesn’t go into much detail about some of Brown’s personal struggles This book is not a balanced, unbiased, chronological account of James Brown’s life and musical career. It is, however, an impassioned, sometimes meandering defense of a music legend and his complicated legacy, which for my money makes it much more interesting than a straightforward biography. James McBride clearly has a lot of love for James Brown, and I could appreciate his point of view without being entirely won over. McBride doesn’t go into much detail about some of Brown’s personal struggles, glossing over or excusing them in favor of extolling his showmanship and lamenting his misfortunes. I’m not quick to brush off things like domestic violence and rape accusations, so I remain skeptical as to Brown’s true level of virtue, but I can readily agree that he was a cultural icon, and often a misunderstood one. I chose the audio version, and really enjoyed the narrator’s impression of Brown’s raspy Southern drawl. Since I’m not familiar with much of Brown’s music (which fact I intend to rectify), the narration made him more real to me. Kill ‘Em and Leave is as much about McBride as it is about Brown, and that’s not a bad thing. I’m a big McBride fan, and I jump at every opportunity to talk about the time I saw him perform live with his band as part of The Good Lord Bird book tour. He’s a musician as much as he is a writer, and as such he’s the perfect person to tell Brown’s story. Or at least one very interesting side of it. More book recommendations by me at www.readingwithhippos.com

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rincey

    3.5 stars See me talk about this briefly in my May wrap up: https://youtu.be/47JHKR_6JAs?t=11m30s 3.5 stars See me talk about this briefly in my May wrap up: https://youtu.be/47JHKR_6JAs?t=11m30s

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    First things first: James McBride wrote an excellent, excellent memoir called The Color of Water. Go read it. Second, don't expect a traditional biography when you open Kill 'Em and Leave. Authors of biographies concern themselves with facts, typically in chronological order. That's not to say McBride isn't interested in the truth about James Brown; this book features input from many people involved in Brown's inner circle and some on the fringes: musicians, money men, friends and family. How McB First things first: James McBride wrote an excellent, excellent memoir called The Color of Water. Go read it. Second, don't expect a traditional biography when you open Kill 'Em and Leave. Authors of biographies concern themselves with facts, typically in chronological order. That's not to say McBride isn't interested in the truth about James Brown; this book features input from many people involved in Brown's inner circle and some on the fringes: musicians, money men, friends and family. How McBride presents what truth he finds happens in a narrative that's personal and evokes an almost spiritual journey. Explaining James Brown equates, one could argue, to trying to explain what Jesus actually looked like. Different versions of the Brown story/legend exist because, as we see in McBride's book, it's how Brown wanted it. For a man who enjoyed the spotlight, he craved the mystery and privacy just as much. The title of this book comes from advice Brown was fond of giving and sticking to: knock their socks off, and go. Kill 'em and leave. As McBride writes, "James Brown's status was there wasn't no A-list. He was the list." Watch any clip of him on YouTube and try to argue. McBride's narrative reminded me in part of Citizen Kane and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, in the respect that you have a person searching for story, looking for an answer (What was Rosebud? Who was the real James Brown?) and in the process you come across a variety of people whose interpretations not only magnify the legacy of the subject, but make them people you want to know better. McBride talks to the last surviving member of The Flames, Brown's early group, his first wife Velma, the man who helped save Brown from the IRS, surrogate son Al Sharpton, and Miss Emma, a devoted friend for decades. Their stories are raw and engaging and bring pieces of Brown's life together like a puzzle we're amazed to see at the end. It's more than a story about one the great soul singers, it's a history of black music and a social commentary about how we treat people, and how we revere some after death...and how greed makes us blind to the need of others. The story of James Brown after his death - the multiple funerals, the fight over his estate, the midnight visit from Michael Jackson - would make one hell of a movie on it own. This is a book that will stay with you. It's awesome. Just read it. ARC received from NetGalley.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth☮

    James Brown was an excellent performer. He was meticulous and methodical when it came to rehearsals. It sounds like he demanded much of his musicians, but didn't always pay them what was fair. McBride speaks to people that were in Brown's inner circle, but these people don't always talk about Brown. So we never get a full picture of Brown as manager, friend, father. We don't get too much of a picture of him as the man on the stage, which is how Brown wanted it ("kill'em and leave"). I found the James Brown was an excellent performer. He was meticulous and methodical when it came to rehearsals. It sounds like he demanded much of his musicians, but didn't always pay them what was fair. McBride speaks to people that were in Brown's inner circle, but these people don't always talk about Brown. So we never get a full picture of Brown as manager, friend, father. We don't get too much of a picture of him as the man on the stage, which is how Brown wanted it ("kill'em and leave"). I found the anecdotes about life on the road and the history of R&B interesting. But this isn't a long book and parts of it felt repetitive which made me think the source material was sparse.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    National Book Award winner James McBride goes on a Citizen Kane-like search for the "real" James Brown and muses about race, identity, music, the north/south divide, and whether one can ever TRULY know someone. With interviews with distant cousins, ex-wives, life-long childhood best friends, former managers and accountants, and former band members, KILL 'EM AND LEAVE is a non-chronological journey into James Brown that bears a strong similarity to David and Joe Henry's FURIOUS COOL: RICHARD PRYO National Book Award winner James McBride goes on a Citizen Kane-like search for the "real" James Brown and muses about race, identity, music, the north/south divide, and whether one can ever TRULY know someone. With interviews with distant cousins, ex-wives, life-long childhood best friends, former managers and accountants, and former band members, KILL 'EM AND LEAVE is a non-chronological journey into James Brown that bears a strong similarity to David and Joe Henry's FURIOUS COOL: RICHARD PRYOR AND THE WORLD THAT MADE HIM. An utterly fascinating read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Darryl Suite

    Frustrated that every James Brown book is more about the myth surrounding the legend instead of about the real James Brown, McBride set out to rectify that. Truth be told, I don't think he accomplished what he set out to do. He added more to the myth imo. But anyway, I still enjoyed this book. McBride uses the life of James Brown to dissect social and political aspects of American life (race, the South, the legal system, etc). If you're going into this expecting a typical music biography (the hit Frustrated that every James Brown book is more about the myth surrounding the legend instead of about the real James Brown, McBride set out to rectify that. Truth be told, I don't think he accomplished what he set out to do. He added more to the myth imo. But anyway, I still enjoyed this book. McBride uses the life of James Brown to dissect social and political aspects of American life (race, the South, the legal system, etc). If you're going into this expecting a typical music biography (the hits, shows, tours, etc.), you won't get that here. Very good, albeit a little repetitive.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Charles Finch

    Super fascinating, could, possibly, have been a longform essay...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lulu

    A very fitting title for this book. The author, James McBride had to make a trip to the American South to learn about one of the world's greatest entertainers from the people who actually knew him. Because of James Brown's philosophy of kill 'em and leave, I don't think the world ever got a chance to see the man outside of his genuis. So McBride tries to bring to us a more realistic view of the man, which ends up being a sad story. I enjoyed the format and the story telling, this is not a typica A very fitting title for this book. The author, James McBride had to make a trip to the American South to learn about one of the world's greatest entertainers from the people who actually knew him. Because of James Brown's philosophy of kill 'em and leave, I don't think the world ever got a chance to see the man outside of his genuis. So McBride tries to bring to us a more realistic view of the man, which ends up being a sad story. I enjoyed the format and the story telling, this is not a typical biography of any sort. There aren't a bunch of dates or "important" names being thrown at you, but what you get are the people who actually meant something to the man.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    FANTASTIC BOOK! Less a straight-line music biography of Mr. James Brown more of a thoughtful attempt at understanding some of the socio-cultural forces that shaped a complicated man. I just finished the book and I am about to read it again it is that good.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Buhs

    Frank Sinatra has a cold. And James Brown is dead. James McBride wants to understand James Brown, as man and as a myth. He's unhappy with the biographical material that's out there. And so he goes on a search of his own, to the places where Brown was born, where he was raised, and where those who knew him now live--as far away from the South Carolina-Georgia border and the "chitlin circuit" as England (geographically) and to meetings with rock-ribbed white Republican men (culturally). This slim v Frank Sinatra has a cold. And James Brown is dead. James McBride wants to understand James Brown, as man and as a myth. He's unhappy with the biographical material that's out there. And so he goes on a search of his own, to the places where Brown was born, where he was raised, and where those who knew him now live--as far away from the South Carolina-Georgia border and the "chitlin circuit" as England (geographically) and to meetings with rock-ribbed white Republican men (culturally). This slim volume is the report on what he found. McBride is a musician himself, which gives him one point of contact with with James Brown; he's black, which gives him another; he's a former writer for people magazine who covered Michael Jackson's 1984 "Victory Tour," which gives him a third; and, when this narrative starts out, he was going through marital upheaval and financial difficulties--a fourth. As the book opens, McBride keeps each of these possible avenues of approach alive and electric. He tells of the sacred place Brown had in his family of the time--his sister actually meant the man who was important as a black icon. He was inventing a whole new genre of music--not from scratch, but from bits and pieces of what other people had done and were doing around him. McBride is given some sketchy lead to new sources about Brown, apparently unplumbed by previous writers. Mostly, though, these resolve under the heading of least interesting of those contacts: writer for People magazine. The chapters tend to focus on a single person who was close, in some way, to Brown, and that person's ideas about what drove Brown. As told here, Brown was scarred by his poor youth, intent not to fall under the control of white men again, but though he could be disciplined in his work--to disciplined, alienating those who performed with him--he wasn't nearly so disciplined in his business dealings, literally hiding money under mattresses and rugs, which McBride attributes to his Depression-era upbringing and his need for control. His passion for women didn't help him, either. (The voices McBride corrals to tell Brown's story don't see drugs entering the picture until late in the story, in the 1980s.) It is clear that McBride has his thumb on the scales. In itself, this isn't a problem: all biographer's do. But it's not clear how to factor in that extra weight: he's too coy, and the story too confined. McBride isn't happy with others who have written on Brown, but he only touches on a few, picayune details that are wrong, leaving these as unexplored metonyms for the whole. But as a novice to the field of JB studies, I am not sure how McBride thinks of himself as fitting, or what he is arguing against. He's clearly trying to salvage Brown's reputation. But, again, this salvage operation feels to forced, too weighted. He gives free rein to those he interviews, but no standard by which the reader can judge them, except his own description of them as stalwart and true and religious. Voices that might be more critical are given no space here. The one chance is that of Brown's saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, who demurs--which leads to McBride authoring the most critical chapter, one that takes on Brown's failures as bandleader. The reader comes away with some basic information about Brown, but still not a firm feel of him as a man. He did some good things, wanted to help some people, but could be secretive, too, is about the depth of the analysis. McBride takes on Brown's musicianship here and there,but the metaphors he used to explain it--basketball versus baseball?-left me more confused. In general, though, McBride is a smooth stylist and the chapters, confined though they are, spool out well. There is way too much repetition for such a short book. (We here about the Michael Jackson tour no less than three times.) McBride broaches the subjects of politics, but, by his own admission, cannot do them justice. This is most clear when he is discussing the connection between Al Sharpton and James Brown. The best part of the section is the interpersonal relations between the two men--indeed, the whole book is best on interpersonal relations because it is told in such intimate ways. The problem here is that James Brown is dead and so it is impossible to get the other side of the story: everything is told about Brown, very little by him. Reading this book, I couldn't help but think of Gay Talese's famous piece for Esquire "Frank Sinatra has a Cold": Sinatra refused to give an interview, so Talese followed him and wrote abotu what he saw, tried to limn the man from the outside, to define him, but never (completely) giving a sense of his character from the inside. In addition to not doing justice to the politics surrounding Brown, McBride proves a poor guide to the history. His account of the Reconstruction is facile. He does not plumb the obvious and not-so-obvious connections between Brown and minstrelsy, though he makes clear that Brown was performing blackness. (He also obviously lived it; but the connection between the life and the performance goes unremarked.) The wider musical world is mentioned when he refers to Brown's early career, but once Brown breaks through, he is described by McBride as nonpareil. There is no Sly and the Family Stone, no George Clinton, no re-born Temptations plying the same waters. From the beginning, it is clear that what motivates McBride more than anything else is a sense of injustice: James Brown is being remembered incorrectly, memorialized wrong, and he wants to rectify the situation, or at least call attention to it. And this motivation provides the red thread that connects the whole narrative, and the theme that is the book's strength. Since Brown's death, there has been a huge legal fight over his estate, most of which he left to the poor children of South Carolina. But Brown's heirs--born in wedlock and otherwise--have joined with friends, made alliances with the powerful in The Palmetto State, and have drained it away. What was once rumored to be more than 100 million dollars is likely now less than 5% of that. It's a good a metaphor for contemporary American Society as anything else: a big pile of money, and everyone's backstabbing each other to get it, poor and rich alike. It's Survivor in the courts. It's the Charter School Movement angling to get its hooks into that big, juicy pie of public school moneys, Wall Street vulturing in on social security. McBride doesn't spare himself. He takes the job not because he thinks he's the best person to write on Brown--he has another author in mind--but because the source wants him, and he needs the dough. There's no civic life in America anymore, except get in on the hustle. McBride makes that point a couple of other ways, too. He laments the plight of the artist in America, left to poverty or, if they make it, to have their income devoured by the many hangers-on. He worries over the decline of the fourth estate. Once, he thought, public-spirited newspapers might have been attracted to this story. They would have sent reporters to South Carolina, ferreted out the truth, and set matters right. Naive, perhaps, but it's hard to argue with his broader point. Except that McBride does. There is, in fact, one prop left in American culture against filthy lucre. The word of God. He returns again and again to the religious affiliation of those he interviews; he examines the role of the church in the black community. Those who are strongest, he is trying to say, those who can stand against the temptations of Mammon are the ones who believe in God, in Jesus, in some variety of Christianity. It's ultimately a conservative claim, not especially nuanced, but there is a ring of (partial) truth to it. And it is in this sense, finally, that McBride comes to American soul. He's not talking about the music anymore than Talese was writing about the plight of the crooner in the age of rock and roll. McBride is talking about a different kind of soul, one he's worried may not be as dead as James Brown but is on its way. James Brown lived at the intersection of these two traditions. He was mercenary. "Kill 'em and leave," he told Al Sharpton. He entertained, earned his money, and moved on. But he grew up churched and had certain moral constraints within which he tried to live: be kind to family, help those in need, as long as they were trying to help themselves. And that's what makes him an interesting project for McBride--less because of the messiness and idiosyncrasies of an individual life, more because the battle in his soul reflected the broader war in American society.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marti

    A long time ago I read Dave Marsh's more linear biography of James Brown. This meanders more like the movie Citizen Kane in that McBride revisits Brown's old haunts, former band members, managers and other acquaintances (including Al Sharpton who I had no idea was almost like Brown's adopted son) in an attempt to piece together the real man. It also acts as social commentary on the South, racism, corporate greed and the breakdown of society in general. The portrait that emerges of Brown is a gift A long time ago I read Dave Marsh's more linear biography of James Brown. This meanders more like the movie Citizen Kane in that McBride revisits Brown's old haunts, former band members, managers and other acquaintances (including Al Sharpton who I had no idea was almost like Brown's adopted son) in an attempt to piece together the real man. It also acts as social commentary on the South, racism, corporate greed and the breakdown of society in general. The portrait that emerges of Brown is a gifted artist, who, not only became wealthy, but was one of the leading spokespeople for black America from 1965 and 1975; he truly was sought out by Presidents and other heads of state to win over the black vote (like when he was asked to quell riots in Boston after Martin Luther King was assassinated). But it all ended suddenly when Disco became popular and Brown was viewed as an "oldies" act. McBride, a jazz musician and industry insider, has a particularly engaging "Gonzo" style of writing suited to describing the seedy side of the music business where "payola" was to be delivered in an innocuous looking "grease-stained" lunch bag and where, on one occasion, the Mafia threatened to release rats in a theater if Brown did not accede to their demands for payment. Brown, who was not a great businessman, did not trust banks and kept records in his head of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he had hidden in cash in secret hiding places; either at home, the office or in the floorboards of his many automobiles. When he died suddenly, those who managed his money (and got him clear of his huge tax mess) were later suspected of embezzlement by family members angry about being left out of the will. David Cannon, who kept $300,000 of Brown's money in his home safe against his better judgement, actually did time in jail and was financially ruined. He was exonerated too late. Like Charles Foster Kane -- James Brown ended up a lonely old man, isolated in a stately home, with a media circus surrounding his death. Brown left the bulk of his $200-million dollar estate in a trust that would be used to educate poor children in his hometown (in a school district that cannot even afford pencils). That's not where it went as lawyers are still the only ones who have seen any money from it in the ten years since Brown's death.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Impressionistic biography of James Brown, concentrating on the Augusta/Savannah River world that produced him (and which ejected his extended family to build the Savannah River Power Plant), the chitlin' circuit of the 1950s, sharecropping and the Civil Rights movement, the intertwined population of church and popular musicians and the tangled estate which, a decade after Brown's 2006 death, has enriched no one but lawyers and has prevented Brown's body (currently in one daughter's front lawn) f Impressionistic biography of James Brown, concentrating on the Augusta/Savannah River world that produced him (and which ejected his extended family to build the Savannah River Power Plant), the chitlin' circuit of the 1950s, sharecropping and the Civil Rights movement, the intertwined population of church and popular musicians and the tangled estate which, a decade after Brown's 2006 death, has enriched no one but lawyers and has prevented Brown's body (currently in one daughter's front lawn) from being buried. McBride's previous work on race, family and the complexities of African-American community are an unorthodox but ultimately useful background for viewing the Hardest Working Man in Show Business.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    This is not a standard music biography. It is not a write-up of concert performances, recording dates, and musical analysis of songs. For the most part it is a series of interviews of those who knew James Brown. And as per the author and many in his life, James Brown was an enigma. He was a man who rarely opened himself up to those surrounding him – particularly his band members. He was a hard taskmaster (a possible understatement); he would fine his band members if they made a mistake, if their This is not a standard music biography. It is not a write-up of concert performances, recording dates, and musical analysis of songs. For the most part it is a series of interviews of those who knew James Brown. And as per the author and many in his life, James Brown was an enigma. He was a man who rarely opened himself up to those surrounding him – particularly his band members. He was a hard taskmaster (a possible understatement); he would fine his band members if they made a mistake, if their shoes were not shined... He went through over 200 band members during his long famous career. In some of the interviews the band members are rather reticent on speaking about their former boss – even so we do get a feel for the aura surrounding him. One must not forget his background of growing up in the Southern U.S. in the 1930’s. Wearing a mask in front of the white man was an essential part of survival. Brown compartmentalized his life. His children had to make appointments to see him. His music and his on-stage performances were everything to him – and he changed the sound, the look and the moves of American music. This book is well-written and definitely entertaining. One gets a view of Southern life and of a very competitive man. A man who backed down from no one. I did feel there were some things missing. Bobby Byrd is hardly mentioned. Only one of his wives is discussed. There is little said about the touring – except that he was always on the road. I would have liked to know more of James Brown’s experiences while touring outside the United States, like in Europe. But the topics presented are given a vivid background and there is a zest throughout. Like James Brown the book is funky, with soul! As I was reading I could not help comparing James Brown with Louis Armstrong. Arguably, these are the two who most changed the feel of American music (Yes I know there was an Elvis, but he didn’t have the longevity of either of these men). Louis Armstrong and James Brown both put their art and performances above all else. Both were from the South and had vicious racist obstacles to overcome. Both overcame extreme poverty. Both were very driven and did not tolerate laziness. Neither were good business managers (Armstrong relegated this later in his career to Joe Glaser). They saw themselves first and foremost as entertainers. And both had a world-wide audience from all walks of life. Their music broke down barriers and set precedents for upcoming performers. And as an additional note the documentary “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown” is excellent. Here’s one James Brown performance from YouTube (a little blurry) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ROzG...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gregory

    This is an excellent book, which takes the life and career of James Brown as a vehicle for discussing important issues about America and our lives, including race, music, the legal system (and race), the financial/business aspect of music, death, historic changes in the American south, and race. Yes, race underlies everything in this book, but that is perhaps as it should be in a book about someone who wrote “Soul Power” and “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” The book is NOT a blow-by-blow a This is an excellent book, which takes the life and career of James Brown as a vehicle for discussing important issues about America and our lives, including race, music, the legal system (and race), the financial/business aspect of music, death, historic changes in the American south, and race. Yes, race underlies everything in this book, but that is perhaps as it should be in a book about someone who wrote “Soul Power” and “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” The book is NOT a blow-by-blow account of Brown’s life and career. McBride talks about Brown’s career, the people who helped make it possible, their interactions with their extremely difficult boss, how much it paid, and how it was paid for. But there’s no list of top-10 hits nor year-by-year story of concerts, records, and awards. Instead, McBride tries to get to the essence of Brown as a person and figure, finding many dark corners, which he does his best to illuminate. I feel that I learned a lot more from this than I would have than if I had been told how many weeks “I Feel Good” was on the charts. Surprisingly, a huge chunk of the book is devoted to Brown’s death and the subsequent legal battles involving his will. Brown left almost his entire estate to help the poor children of Georgia and South Carolina. Battling relatives and hangers-on have prevented that from taking place, a final insult to someone who himself did not finish school but constantly instructed his fans to get an education. In McBride’s view, the scandal over his will is merely a continuation of the problems he faced in his life. The book is not perfect. There is a bit of repetition that should have been edited out. I don’t always agree with the author on issues of “theft” of musical ideas. Once you record something, it’s out there, and you can’t keep it bottled up so that people will only hear it in your own records or concerts. That is true in every area of the arts as well as in academia and business. That said, it is clearly true that black popular musicians made a lot less money off their innovations than many white imitators made, and that is part of the story of American music. Although my review may sound dreary, the book is not. The author is angry or sad in various places, but the text keeps you moving along, and McBride has a sharp eye for character and place. Indeed, he is a National Book Award-winning writer, but it is just as important that he has been a musician, and he appreciates Brown as a fellow musician should.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bob Schnell

    Advanced Reading Copy review Due to be published April 5, 2016 I may be one of the few people who never read "The Color of Water" or any other of James McBride's books but I may have to re-consider after reading "Kill 'Em and Leave". This book is not just another biography of James Brown, but it is an exploration of Brown's influences and his legacy. From Rev. Al Sharpton to Michael Jackson and many others who came into James Brown's sphere of influence, we get to really understand what a lasting Advanced Reading Copy review Due to be published April 5, 2016 I may be one of the few people who never read "The Color of Water" or any other of James McBride's books but I may have to re-consider after reading "Kill 'Em and Leave". This book is not just another biography of James Brown, but it is an exploration of Brown's influences and his legacy. From Rev. Al Sharpton to Michael Jackson and many others who came into James Brown's sphere of influence, we get to really understand what a lasting impression the Godfather of Soul left on music, society and politics. One of the main points of the book seems to be drawing attention to the tragedy that is unraveling in regards to James Brown's will. He thought he had created an airtight legal document that would leave most of his millions to educating poor children in the South. Unfortunately the vultures descended as soon as the word was out that Brown had died and the will has been tied up in court and the money siphoned off to lawyers ever since. It is but one example of many in this book where the creative genius benefits everyone more than himself and why Brown did not trust or get close to many people. There are many uplifting moments but in the end this book will give pause to anyone thinking about making a career of being a musician. Highly recommended.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Matt Glaviano

    Disliked intensely. McBride spends a lot of time talking about how no one has written a "real" book about James Brown, that biographers spend too much time depending upon the myth of Brown instead of finding facts. Then he does the exact same thing. No sources cited outside of interviews, McBride, to my mind, really doesn't back up any of the claims he makes about Brown's life. For someone who complains about inaccurate record-keeping, this seems like a sin to me. His use of metaphor and simile w Disliked intensely. McBride spends a lot of time talking about how no one has written a "real" book about James Brown, that biographers spend too much time depending upon the myth of Brown instead of finding facts. Then he does the exact same thing. No sources cited outside of interviews, McBride, to my mind, really doesn't back up any of the claims he makes about Brown's life. For someone who complains about inaccurate record-keeping, this seems like a sin to me. His use of metaphor and simile was so hyperbolic that it really ruined the book for me. His comparisons range from cliche to absurd, without ever being effective. I think I understand what McBride was aiming for -- I just think he missed the mark horribly. Forgettable at best. At worst, it adds to the wall of myth that it claims to deconstruct.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alicia (PrettyBrownEyeReader)

    Excellent book! Mr. McBride does a wonderful job researching James Brown. He speaks to people who actually knew Mr. Brown and just weren't paid to be around him. Mr. McBride paints the portrait of a man who is deeply flawed and deeply misunderstood. Through McBride's search for James Brown we go through American history, music history and the history of James Brown. Excellent book! Mr. McBride does a wonderful job researching James Brown. He speaks to people who actually knew Mr. Brown and just weren't paid to be around him. Mr. McBride paints the portrait of a man who is deeply flawed and deeply misunderstood. Through McBride's search for James Brown we go through American history, music history and the history of James Brown.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    This is an exceptional bio on James Brown, not only covering his tumultuous life and career but an examination of the ugly truths of race in America and the glories and pitfalls of stardom. Sadly, I have not read McBride before but he is an excellent writer and I will be reading more of his work.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Only got a third of the way through. I really don't like his writing style -- repetitive, a little overwrought, and making statements with no backup. I've never liked biographies where the biographer inserts themselves into the story. Not going to finish. Only got a third of the way through. I really don't like his writing style -- repetitive, a little overwrought, and making statements with no backup. I've never liked biographies where the biographer inserts themselves into the story. Not going to finish.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Terrible book, great book club discussion. Author inserts entirely too much of himself and his biased opinions (presented as fact). While a discussion of African Americans' contribution to the history of music and any effort to whitewash and/or theft of same is important and necessary, the author becomes too much of an apologist for me. While some black men may be the subject of efforts to tear them down, Mr. McBride's choice to paint James Brown (and Michael Jackson) with that brush is misguide Terrible book, great book club discussion. Author inserts entirely too much of himself and his biased opinions (presented as fact). While a discussion of African Americans' contribution to the history of music and any effort to whitewash and/or theft of same is important and necessary, the author becomes too much of an apologist for me. While some black men may be the subject of efforts to tear them down, Mr. McBride's choice to paint James Brown (and Michael Jackson) with that brush is misguided and wrong. Words matter: his choice to continually say James Brown's third wife "had him arrested" and his phrase that "sleeping with one bozo can tear you down" is offensive and wholly inaccurate. It took multiple "bozos" to bring down Cosby, Jackson, et al. and I was under the impression that James Brown's horrific abuse of women was widely known, that phrasing is some next-level victim blaming. Incredibly sad that his estate is still being dragged out by people with their hands out - the fact that he wanted it go to children in need was honorable and deserved to be fulfilled.

  23. 5 out of 5

    William

    Yay! I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I'm one of those folks who go through life never having won a thing and constantly giving the side eye to those who do, seemingly with regularity. Doubly good, the book was already on my TBR shelf. I love James Brown, unabashedly. So I really do consume any new book, video or music I discover with gusto. This book was no exception. I finished it in 2 days while on vacation on a blanket on the beach, bluetooth speaker pumping James and the JB's in the Yay! I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I'm one of those folks who go through life never having won a thing and constantly giving the side eye to those who do, seemingly with regularity. Doubly good, the book was already on my TBR shelf. I love James Brown, unabashedly. So I really do consume any new book, video or music I discover with gusto. This book was no exception. I finished it in 2 days while on vacation on a blanket on the beach, bluetooth speaker pumping James and the JB's in the background. McBride is a musician in addition to being a bestselling author. He brings a different perspective to the many accounts written about Brown. A more honest perspective. He doesn't focus on the scandals and excesses of Brown lie. He's actually much more concerned with the robbery that is still taking place to this day of his estate. A state sanctioned, by the way, robbery. James left approximately 100 million dollars in a supposed iron clad will that he paid $20,000 to prepare, to the poor children of South Carolina and Georgia for there education. Ten years after his death that estate has dwindled, is still tied up in S.C. courts and not a penny has reached the poor children as intended. Between the warring family factions, his ex wives and the contemptuously corrupt S.C. justice system its likely not a penny ever will get to its intended recipients. While this injustice seemed to me to be the main thrust of the book, Mcbride also disabused me of some of my notions of the man. True he was apologetically "country", but this hardly translated into stupid. And while his quick verbal delivery was hard to understand by those without deep southern roots, he was understood by those who loved him and did business with him. McBride details some of these businesses, some of the charity and community involvement that would make today's stars blanch. But James was a product of his place and times. He trusted very few, especially White men, managers, bankers, lawyers: The System. He hid cash in mattresses, under rugs, in hotels, wall safes, and back yards. Of course this method of financial accounting led to big problems with the IRS and many other concerned parties. McBride does a good job of showing how Brown overcame these kinds of struggles, gives brief outlines of the major musicians in his most famous iterations of his bands, the founding Famous Flames and later the JB's. He does a great job of tracing his roots and giving the reader a sense of place in his descriptions the S.C, and later Georgia towns of his upbringing. He debunks the story told in the movie Get On Up and the official accounts of the "police chase" and subsequent arrest and imprisonment. People forget that James was a champion for civil rights and Black empowerment, businesses, and education. He adopted and tutored Al Sharpton (another major part of the book) and used him to fight human rights battles that he could not. James Brown was a very complex man. A musical genius, a business man with a private jet who at the height of his popularity commanded and got millions for his performances, A woman abuser, late in life a drug abuser, a tyrannical boss, and insanely paranoid. So my only complaint about the book is that its a little dry. Mcbride admits that Brown slept with most of his back-up singers and dancers, had many unclaimed kids, band members hooked on booze and drugs and a lot of other unsavory behavior. McBride doesn't go there and salaciousness you desire will go unsatisfied. Pshaw..

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown by James McBride. The author has taken on an ambitious task; Telling the life story of James Brown while recreating the cultural atmosphere - racial tensions, economic hardships,and business pressures - that helped shape and mold “The Godfather of Soul” throughout his life. Author McBride does a credible, if not completely successful, job of it. At first - in the first few chapters - I was a little put off by the book… too much “evil white m Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for the Real James Brown by James McBride. The author has taken on an ambitious task; Telling the life story of James Brown while recreating the cultural atmosphere - racial tensions, economic hardships,and business pressures - that helped shape and mold “The Godfather of Soul” throughout his life. Author McBride does a credible, if not completely successful, job of it. At first - in the first few chapters - I was a little put off by the book… too much “evil white man” nonsense. It seemed as though everything, every hardship, every setback, came back to the same thing. The evil white man. Then I realized that McBride was simply using the language, or more accurately the sentiments, of those who were relating their experiences from another time and place. The pre-Civil Rights era of the American South where James Brown came from. I still think McBride hit that note a little too hard, a little too often, but I get it. Like many modern nonfiction writers McBride has a tendency to put himself in the story a little too much. In some places it becomes less about James Brown and his journey and more about James McBride and what he’s attempting to do. He also has a tendency to repeat himself; Relating events or moments in James Browns life then, while interviewing various people, he repeats the same information. It’s mildly distracting at times. But only mildly. Author James McBride has an obvious passion and respect for the subject (James Brown) but at times it seems as though he approaches things with too much respect. Choosing to rationalize or tread lightly on certain aspects (such as Brown’s drug use and erratic behavior later in life). Some of this likely stems from the fact that much of the narrative deals with the author meeting up with those who knew Mr. Brown best and relating their version of events in the life of the soul superstar. The more people McBride introduces from James Brown’s past, some who spent years working with Mr. Brown, the more the reader is given insight into what a complicated life he led. At the same time many of these people are reluctant to speak ill of the late performer’s memory. The author seems either unwilling or unable to break through that silence to any great extent. I’m not suggesting that the story needs to be more tabloid-like or salacious, simply that it would have been nice to have a less glossed over version of events. In the end the reader comes away with a little more understanding of James Brown but also feels as though there is much more that could have been told. This was a good book. I think anyone with even a passing interest in James Brown or the roots of soul music would enjoy it. ***This is a review of an Advance Reader’s Edition of the book. I was given a free copy with the understanding that, in return, I would submit an honest review.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    Not a book I ever expected to read. Sure, I remember James Brown from my youth, but he wasn't my musician and Soul wasn't my genre. Still, I'm glad I did read this, not so much to get a picture of Brown's personal and professional lives and his impact on music and culture, but because I'm a McBride fan, and frankly there's almost as much about him as there is about Brown. It is, after all, a search for the real James Brown, an investigative, journalistic journey, and we're right there with McBri Not a book I ever expected to read. Sure, I remember James Brown from my youth, but he wasn't my musician and Soul wasn't my genre. Still, I'm glad I did read this, not so much to get a picture of Brown's personal and professional lives and his impact on music and culture, but because I'm a McBride fan, and frankly there's almost as much about him as there is about Brown. It is, after all, a search for the real James Brown, an investigative, journalistic journey, and we're right there with McBride and his first person discussion of Brown and his life. That's especially clear on the audio, as excellent narrator Dominic Hoffman speaks in McBride's voice, adopting a cadence and timbre that suggest Brown's voice for quotations. And I think that makes this book even more interesting--how McBride tracked down the information, how his experiences (as musician and writer) parallel Brown's or how things have changed in the past 50 years. The story moves at an unhurried pace, but since it's made up of vignettes, it's not linear, and that leads to some repetition of incidents and even sentences, as events are often told from several points of view. (and I tend to catch repeated phrases more easily on audio than in print). The story McBride tells is thought-provoking, and the details of Brown's life and times gives a strong sense of time and place. This isn't straightforward biography, and all the more interesting for that. It's Brown's life filtered through McBride's eyes and experience. We're seeing Brown sideways; it's like mosaic pieces formed into a fully realized picture. A fascinating approach and story.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late March after making way for new furniture before Easter Sunday. Heart-wrenching real in its honesty and forthrightedness, McBride tells truths about the Deep South and the meteoric highs & cavernous lows of James Brown's career and personal life. It reads very much like a long-length public opinion piece in a magazine, but it cuts at least four times as deep. All told, Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late March after making way for new furniture before Easter Sunday. Heart-wrenching real in its honesty and forthrightedness, McBride tells truths about the Deep South and the meteoric highs & cavernous lows of James Brown's career and personal life. It reads very much like a long-length public opinion piece in a magazine, but it cuts at least four times as deep. All told, my favorite chapters are numbers 7, 8, and 12 where McBride depicts Brown as a man of the earth, with his feet on the ground, with a history, with obligations he can meet, rather than a frenzied man on fire, above the world, dealing in extremes, in the obscure, and in the kind of currency he's not prepared to pay.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Don Gorman

    (3). What a snapshot of America this is. Race relations, the South, the music business, and of course, the history of one of the greatest entertainers ever, James Brown. McBride is an accomplished author (I really enjoyed The Good Lord Bird) and a good reporter as well. He takes us through a fair amount of his own personal travails in this book as he details the the highs, lows and inbetweens of the hardest working man in show business. As Jim Morrison said, "People are Strange," and this book s (3). What a snapshot of America this is. Race relations, the South, the music business, and of course, the history of one of the greatest entertainers ever, James Brown. McBride is an accomplished author (I really enjoyed The Good Lord Bird) and a good reporter as well. He takes us through a fair amount of his own personal travails in this book as he details the the highs, lows and inbetweens of the hardest working man in show business. As Jim Morrison said, "People are Strange," and this book shows us all kinds. An interesting voyage into a place that I had been slightly aware of but that was flushed out in much greater detail. Pretty darn good stuff.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Whitney

    Short Form Review: A blessed contrast to less authentic biographical works, James McBride writes something more than a biography of James Brown. Instead, McBride documents a pilgrimage-- a lengthy journey to understand musician James Brown with greater sociocultural context than ever before. The result is a complex dissection of Brown from the perspective of those who knew him better than all others. Full review: http://brownbooksandgreentea.com/2016... Short Form Review: A blessed contrast to less authentic biographical works, James McBride writes something more than a biography of James Brown. Instead, McBride documents a pilgrimage-- a lengthy journey to understand musician James Brown with greater sociocultural context than ever before. The result is a complex dissection of Brown from the perspective of those who knew him better than all others. Full review: http://brownbooksandgreentea.com/2016...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jill Stevenson

    My first husband (may he rest in peace) worshipped and adored James Brown. When JB was in prison in SC, a mutual friend told him about my husband and his love of Mr. Brown and his music. When my husband died, JB sent flowers to me and to the funeral. After reading this book, I see that he was just that kind of person. He was a contradiction though, as Mr. McBride points out. Generous to a fault, he could also be mean and abusive. He, like Michael Jackson lived a lonely yet very public life. Mr. M My first husband (may he rest in peace) worshipped and adored James Brown. When JB was in prison in SC, a mutual friend told him about my husband and his love of Mr. Brown and his music. When my husband died, JB sent flowers to me and to the funeral. After reading this book, I see that he was just that kind of person. He was a contradiction though, as Mr. McBride points out. Generous to a fault, he could also be mean and abusive. He, like Michael Jackson lived a lonely yet very public life. Mr. McBride succeeds in partially unmasking the real James Brown. No one truly ever knew him.

  30. 5 out of 5

    P

    The righteously bitter McBride shows his subject as through a glass darkly, and admits it, because that's the only way to tell the story. The prose is wonderful, and it's fitting that it was written by a worn out, broke musician who only took the job because he needed the money. It’s a sad book, the glimpses of Mr. Brown’s loneliness almost unbearable at times. Also, narrator Dominic Hoffman does a mean James Brown voice. The righteously bitter McBride shows his subject as through a glass darkly, and admits it, because that's the only way to tell the story. The prose is wonderful, and it's fitting that it was written by a worn out, broke musician who only took the job because he needed the money. It’s a sad book, the glimpses of Mr. Brown’s loneliness almost unbearable at times. Also, narrator Dominic Hoffman does a mean James Brown voice.

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