My Little Red Book
Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul
Reviewed by Thomas Fawcett, Fri., June 17, 2016
Kill 'Em and Leave exquisitely investigates a simple question: Who was James Brown? James McBride – journalist, jazz saxophonist, National Book Award winner – complicates the query instead of clarifying it. "Movies are simple," he writes after dismantling 2014 biopic Get on Up. "And Brown's life was anything but that." The author positions the Godfather of Soul first and foremost as a Southerner, where people, "both black and white, wear masks and more masks, then masks beneath those masks." To peel back the layers, he paints beautiful vignettes through interviews with members of Brown's trusted inner circle – first wife Velma, best friend Leon Austin, music director Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, manager Charles Bobbit, and the fascinating father-son-like relationship of Brown and Rev. Al Sharpton. Some of the most interesting reveals come after Brown's death on Christmas Day, 2006, like an intimate look at the long night Michael Jackson spent with JB's body in an Augusta funeral home. Brown willed nearly $100 million to educate needy children in Georgia and South Carolina, a sum since devoured by lawsuits. "A man who carries the troubled history of an entire people on his back and a 24-piece band and three radio stations to boot cannot find peace."
Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soulby James McBride
Spiegel & Grau, 256 pp., $28