December 26, 2006, - 3:04 pm

Living in America: So Long, James Brown

By Debbie Schlussel
I was never a fan of James Brown (I do like the CBS football announcer, James Brown–who is still alive–though) or the bizarre way he lived his private life . . . which all too often became public.
But no-one can deny Brown’s talent and the things he spawned, not just in R&B, but also in rock. Eddie Murphy’s character in the just-released box-office hit, “Dreamgirls,” appears to be based on James Brown. (And, ironically, he wrote lyrics against Murphy in one of his biggest hits–see below.)
When I was in college and visiting Washington, DC, a friend invited me to a James Brown concert. Even though that is really not my kind of music, I was amazed. The stories about him losing 8-10 pounds per show have got to be true. I’ve never seen someone (other than Chuck Berry, whom I also saw that year) go on so long and have such infinite energy in a live concert. If my memory serves me correctly, Brown went on for more than three hours (way too long, actually). Concertgoers certainly got their money’s worth.


Now that James Brown is gone, it’s a little weird to note that in 1991, there was that dance club hit by Dutch group L.A. Style, “James Brown is Dead,” based on a fake story that a newscaster prematurely announced he was dead (never happened). Now, that song seems vile.
Ironically, one of his biggest hits, “Living in America,” came well after his heyday, in Rocky IV. The song was played on the radio so much, it drove me nuts. And looking at the lyrics now, you have to ask, “Huh?” Is it patriotic or is it just something scatterbrained he wrote while on something? Hard to tell, and maybe that’s the genius of it:

Living in America
By James Brown
Yeah, uh! Get up, now! Ow! Knock out this!
Super highways, coast to coast, easy to get anywhere
On the transcontinental overload, just slide behind the wheel
How does it feel
When there’s no destination – that’s too far
And somewhere on the way, you might find out who you are
Living in America – eye to eye, station to station
Living in America – hand to hand, across the nation
Living in America – got to have a celebration
Rock my soul
Smokestack, fatback, many miles of railroad track
All night radio, keep on runnin’ through your rock ‘n’ roll soul
All night diners keep you awake, hey, on black coffee and a hard roll
You might have to walk the fine line, you might take the hard line
But everybody’s working overtime
I live in America, help me out, but I live in America, wait a minute
You might not be looking for the promised land, but you might find it anyway
Under one of those old familiar names
Like New Orleans (New Orleans), Detroit City (Detroit City), Dallas (Dallas)
Pittsburg P.A. (Pittsburg P.A.), New York City (New York City)
Kansas City (Kansas City), Atlanta (Atlanta), Chicago and L.A.
Living in America – hit me – living in America – yeah, I walk in and out
Living in America
I live in America – state lines, gonna make the prime, that
I live in America – hey, I know what it means, I
Living in America – Eddie Murphy, eat your heart out
Living in America – hit me, I said now, eye to eye, station to station
Living in America – so nice, with your bare self
Living in America – I feel good!

James Brown, Godfather of Soul, Rest in Peace.

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9 Responses

A great, great American talent, although reportedly a wifebeater and he had ties to Sharpton.

Jeremiah on December 26, 2006 at 3:39 pm

I’m surprised you could understand the lyrics- I never could.
That said, I really enjoyed the stuff he did in the 1960’s.

gregdn on December 26, 2006 at 4:01 pm

Wadda ya mean “Huh?”!!!
You plaigerizin’ James Brown now? :+)

There is NO Santa Claus on December 26, 2006 at 5:16 pm

He matched his performances to the feedback he felt from the audience. He didn’t play three hours for everyone. I overheard a concert promoter tell him his show was a little too long once. He ripped this guy a new one, told him, “you leave the music to me!” When you think about it, what was a punk promoter telling a guy who was a innovative professional musician for over five decades doing giving unsolicitated advice to a legend? Whatever he did in his personal life was not evident in the absolute devotion he had to his fans. He had a lot respect for Jews, his wife Adrian was Jewish, and he kept close contact with a Rabbi for counsel for decades.
His heroics in Vietnam entertaining troops under fire is known by very few people today.

code7 on December 26, 2006 at 7:50 pm

Won’t someone,, anyone PLEASE note that James Brown was a PCP-using, woman-beating, reckless car-driving, drunken thug ?!? The guy was a cretin of the first order and certainly NO ONE to honor in death. Good Riddance! BLECH

Rocketman on December 27, 2006 at 8:36 am

Duly noted Rocketman.
I just shake my head when all that stuff is just given a free pass as we remember. His victims didn’t rate enough. We did the same for Ray Charles and so many “artists” what’s new–it’s like the drugs and abuse stuff are expected.
A balance tribute headline would be–“criminal took hits, gave hits, made hits”
James Brown’s biggest accomplishment will always be his song: “So Good” (I feel good, I got you)–which wil no doubt punctuate all kinds of commercials and sporting events and movies for years to come. Rest in peace, but I’m not flying my flag at half mast.

BB on December 27, 2006 at 9:13 am

“A balance tribute headline would be–“criminal took hits, gave hits, made hits”
Good, so good. But perhaps TOO good.
To me, he’ll always be a midget who liked to self-induce psychopathy and then abuse women and police officers.
Good riddance.

Rocketman on December 27, 2006 at 1:23 pm

For those who have picked out a few bad moments in James Browns life and choose to hold those few “bad” moments up. . . Let me ask you this. . . Do you live without making mistakes? without having “down” moments? Have you never taken drugs? Never smoked? Never drank? OH!! you say there’s a difference? I think not – no difference my friend. Did JB “lose it” and fight with his wife? yes. BIG FARKIN’ DEAL. . . Not that I condone that type of behavior, but he was an old fashioned southern man, and at one time that was probably acceptable behavior.

Tony on September 9, 2009 at 10:50 pm

Studies in rats at doses of up to nine times the human dose have revealed no effect on fertility and no teratogenic effects {08}. ,

ncvbxmz on June 3, 2011 at 8:21 pm

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