James Brown – Please, Please, Please
incendiary snip from the T.A.M.I Show (try to ignore the indecipherable banner, it goes away)
My musical taste was not really formed in 1965. I was entering high school and had gone from being a Cali-surf rock fan (and dressing in Madras shirts) to discovery of The Rolling Stones, who I saw as somehow cooler than The Beatles and other British invasion bands. I knew a little bit about Motown from listening to Top-40 on my little AM radio, but for the most part black music was still a mystery to me.
A movie came to play at the El Rey Theater in my hometown that summer, something called The T.A.M.I Show with the initials standing for Teenage Music International. It was aimed right at me. Jan and Dean were the hosts. The Beach Boys were one of the featured acts along with a duck-walking Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes and Marvin Gaye (inexplicably backed by the uncredited Crystals). A few other acts played at the concert videotaped at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, a couple of forgettable Brit bands and proto-garage rockers The Barbarians, who I recall had a drummer who’d lost his hand and replaced it with a drum stick.
Waiting for the Stones to close the show something earth-shattering happened. James Brown came on — and blew my mind. He did two or three songs, but it was “Please, Please, Please” that stopped the show. An appeal to a lover who’s going to leave him, it ends with James begging “baby please don’t go; please, please, please.” He becomes a man possessed, he can’t let go, not just of the woman who wronged him, but of the audience, and the song itself. He grabs the mic and falls to his knees — hard. His handlers put a cape around him and start to walk him offstage. He stops, throws the cape off and stumbles back to the microphone to resume his plea. He falls again, they return with the cape, he throws it off, tears off his houndstooth check coat, cries out, leaves once again and returns, singing, “please, please, please…” He the word chants 37 times hitting every beat until he is spent.
I know now that the song was almost 10 years old at that point, and that the cape business was a routine part of his act, but he had me hook, line and sinker. I went out and bought his then-current hits, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and I felt good. I picked up Live at the Apollo Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 and eventually a couple of dozen other albums by Mr. Brown, many of which have since been appropriated by my son who knows timeless funk when he hears it. Sure, he’s a lot older now (73 to be exact) and even crazier. He demands odd things like ice cubes frozen from Mountain Dew, and he probably lets his band carry most of the show, but I’ll bet he can still dance 1,000 time better than I ever did, and I’m guessing he can still milk an audience for all it’s worth. So I’ll be there dancing in the aisles of the Van Duzer Monday night when he opens the new CenterArts season with a sold out performance. And I know when he’s done I’ll feel good.