Stopping a Goddamn Riot

James Brown – Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved
From Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo Vol. 3 [Buy]

Sunday’s Observer includes a feature by Ed Vulliamy telling the story of James Brown’s April 1968 concert at The Garden in Boston. It was the night after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The city council decided at the last minute to televise the gig in a bid to prevent the sort of rioting that had hit many other cities across America following MLK’s death. It became a bona fide piece of pop (and American) history.

james brown

The article tells the full story, and it speaks to the power of James Brown at the time – not only as a performer, but as a symbol of black pride in the United States. I’ve been trying to think of any popular artists who have similar political and cultural clout today in the early 21st Century. (Any suggestions? Kanye? No, Bono does NOT count.)

At one moment in the concert, the stage was rushed by a group of kids, eager to shake Brown’s hand. As the police moved in, Brown refused their assistance, taking control of the situation himself. The events were broadcast live to the whole of Boston, and rather than scenes of police dragging black kids offstage, Bostonians watched James Brown’s horn section calmly persuade the stage invaders to return to the audience, so the concert could resume. JB told the crowd:

“You’re not being fair to yourselves or me either… now I asked the police to step back because I think I can get some respect from my own people. Now we together or we ain’t?”

Now THAT’s what I call crowd control.

There ain’t many performers, then or now, who could deliver political punch that was tight, compelling and totally funky like James Brown. Check Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved from Brown’s July 1971 engagement at the Apollo:

“We don’t need revolution / We got to have the Constitution”

A manifesto that would still work today. It could be Barack‘s perfect soundbite, if ever he wants to do a Public Enemy and sample JB on the campaign trail. It’s perhaps more powerful than Yes We Can , (a sincere and well-produced idea that will help get the kids out to vote, but it still tastes like another Live Aid style celebrity love-in).

P.S.

Staying with Boston and politics, matt has written a funny piece about John McCain’s daughter’s efforts as a blogger… she managed to pick the Ramones‘ most explicitly anti-Reagan song (Bonzo Goes to Biturg) for her Super Duper Tuesday playlist. Awesome.