Since his inauguration speech, much of Trump’s rhetoric and agenda has had to do with undoing, rather than doing: undoing Obamacare, undoing our commitment to the environment, making America great again. This is no kind of “morning in America,” but a desire to pull the curtains to make it seem more like last night. It feels like a strange observation to make about a president who is so ignorant of the past, but we’ve never had a politician more obsessed with it.
Last night I watched a documentary on the career of James Brown, “the hardest-working man in show business.”
Brown was a special kind of a guy, not just because he created a new, exciting type of music — hell, the man pretty much invented funk — but because he was an ambitious, determined businessman. He set a standard for future orchestra and band leaders, a standard that demanded dizzyingly high bars for both musical artistry and the monetizing thereof.
One of my favorite takeaway tidbits was seeing Brown, any number of times, flash a succession of five fingers at various members of his orchestra during his shows. For instance, he might flash three fives at his rhythm guitarist. That meant he was fining the poor fellow $15 dollars for missing a cue. He might flash the fives at one of his dancers — that man had let his suit jacket come unbuttoned and so would be out cash.
In any case, Brown was a big supporter of Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic candidate for president in 1968. In one scene, Brown makes an appearance with Humphrey at a campaign rally and actually gets the decidedly unfunky candidate to join him in some funky call-and-response singing, a duet that tickled the hell out of me.
Brown told the crowd he was voting for Humphrey not because he was a Democrat but because he — Brown — believed him to be someone who respected darker-skinned folk and had the their best interests in his mind and heart. Brown said he didn’t care the tiniest bit about party; he cared about the man.
It’s ironic Brown said such a thing at that particular time in history because ’68 was when Richard Nixon began the historic remake of the Republican Party via his “Southern Strategy.” The Republicans from that year forward, gradually and inexorably, became the Caucasian party. The transformation reached its zenith on November 8, 2016.
You’d better believe James Brown, were he alive today, would care about party.
This global communications colossus (read: me) is about to catch fire.
Big Talk is going to stand on its own, beginning Thursday, January 4th. It’s becoming a half hour program, scheduled to follow the WFHB Daily Local News every Thursday. My first guest will be the brand spanking new Indiana poet laureate, Adrian Matejka, author of The Big Smoke, the bestselling poetic rumination on the life of the first black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson. Matejka’s latest opus is Map to the Stars.
Tune in to WFHB at 91.3 FM here in B-town, 100.7 FM in Nashville, or 106.3 FM in Ellettsville at 5:30pm every Thursday for the new incarnation of Big Talk..
Then, the next week, I’ll be doing a reading from my novel-in-progress, Black Comedy, at the Players Pub, 6-9pm, Thursday, January 11th. It’s part of the lead-up to a big 1968 shebang at Indiana University in February. The Burroughs Century/Wounded Galaxies people are co-sponsoring with IU’s Media School a 50th anniversary remembrance of that annus horribilis, ’68, in a symposium and conference February 8-10.
That year, those of us d’un certain âge may recall, the world seemed to be coming apart at the seems. Here in the US, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, riots ravaged most of our cities, civil rights and anti-war protesters battled with police and National Guard forces, and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned into a police riot. Elsewhere, the war in Southeast Asia raged on. Students and labor unions in France revolted, erecting barricades in the streets. Mexico turned into a police state where security forces killed hundreds of streets protesters. And Warsaw Pact armies flooded into Czechoslovakia to put down the Prague Spring. The planet, for pity’s sake, was a mess.
I’ll be reading excerpts from Black Comedy, specifically some of the scenes of street confrontations in the spring and summer of that year. See you at the Players Pub. Oh, and I’ll continue to talk to you over the WFHB airwaves, only for a longer stretch each week.
It’s Wasn’t Russia; It Was Us
Did you catch this op/ed by Ariel Dorfman in the LA Times a couple of weeks ago?
He’s right, you know. I didn’t matter whether the Russkies interfered with the election or not. Tens of millions of us voted for an unqualified, willfully ignorant, hateful, spiteful, megalomaniacal, demagogic, most likely mentally disturbed boor to be our leader.
That’s the real scandal.