R.I.P. James, minister of the heavy, heavy funk

When Sylvestre, Anne and I were spending every waking moment together in Antarctica we took a sort of gruesome pleasure in torturing each other with the endless repetition of little snatches of song. This wasn't intentional at first, and I suspect that many of us, in our daily solitary lives, hum bits and ditties to ourselves during the course of the day, getting away with it, as it were, because we don't generally live densely crushed together like fish in a school. But out there we recognized every familiar quirk in one another before, as it were, anyone had even had time to wipe the sleep out of their eyes in the morning. Anne and Sylvestre both had some truly awful snatches of french popular chansons that they tormented me with. Crammed in our communal cooktent day after day, it wasn't long before I grew to immediately recognize these abysmal numbers almost before the first note had been hummed.

In return I sang endless loops of Cuban standards and other premium quality funky material from my repertoire. One was particularly popular, especially with Sylvestre, and became something like the socialist anthem of the shoot. This was James Brown's "Funky President," which, aside from begining with one of the most devastatingly rump-shaking funk-oozing drum breaks in the history of beats, also lays it on thick with the afro-self-empowerment that made James so titanic.

"We gotta get together, buy some land,
Plant our food, just like the man,
Save our money, like the mob,
Buy the factory, and own the job"

Why we went around singing this endlessly while camped on a snowy, windswept plateau is one of the eternal mysteries. But the point is that James was and is everywhere. He damn near single-handedly invented funk. Contemporary rock and roll music would scarcely exist without his mountainous influence. He was the first musician to conclude that every instrument in the r+b arsenal, from guitars, to saxophones and trumpets, should be considered percussion and played primarily with a concern for rhythm. Without this innovation the last thirty years of disco, house, rap, jungle and any other forms of dance music (outside the latin world) you care to consider would in no way resemble the music I have loved since I was a child. James was a master of immeasurable influence and energy. Ripped off by everyone from David Bowie to the Beastie Boys (and that's just a couple of the B's) James just laughed, knowing that nobody could entertain like he could. He was the supreme minister of the heavy heavy funk, the black president, the a.a.b.b. (the above average black band, his parody of the average white band...), the sex machine, black ceasar, an African potentate ruling over a world nonetheless commercially dominated by funkless white rockers soullessly looting the history of black American music.

And if you don't know, now you know.

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