No. 20: James Sullivan, “The Hardest Working Man: How James Brown Saved The Soul Of America”

You want a Great Pop Moment? James Brown playing Boston Garden right after MLK’s assassination, having it broadcast live on TV, and having the city respond by largely staying home and not destroying the city—that’s one for the ages. Which makes it kind of odd that no one thought to write a book about it until now.






Not just any book, either. The Hardest Working Man: How James Brown Saved the Soul of America may have been saddled with an ungainly, not-exactly-appropriate subtitle (he did no such thing, not provably at least, though “How James Brown Saved Boston From Getting Torn the Fuck Up” would probably not have worked so well for the book’s more loftily aimed marketing purposes), but it might very well be the best James Brown book ever written—including JB’s own crackling autobio, The Godfather of Soul, and Douglas Wolk’s cinematic Live at the Apollo.

James Sullivan is a Boston reporter who knows the city and its history well—or, at least, he learned so much while working on this book that he could pass himself off as an expert. Aces either way: this is a committed local story as much as a world-historical one, and Sullivan’s sharp eye and terrific feel for the city as a backdrop enhances the larger picture immensely. He also writes pungent analysis of Brown’s music (the horns of 1964′s “Out of Sight” are “like the multiple exclamation points of an action comic book”), chooses his quotes with exacting care, and made slow-reader me race through his book in two nights. Don’t just saw “ow,” say OWWWW!

The Hardest Working Man [Penguin Books]
James Brown’s Cape Finale (Boston, MA 1968) [YouTube]
80 ’08 (and heartbreak)

idolator
  • Anonymous

    This post is a truly pleasant surprise. I haven’t heard of this book, but I used to live in Boston, and the racial dynamics there are so seething that it’s amazing anyone was able to tamp things down….I will have to go pick this up now.

  • Michaelangelo Matos

    I should have also mentioned in the post (or made it a co-post) The James Brown Reader, edited by Alan Leeds and Nelson George, which contains some amazing pieces written from the ’60s to the ’00s. I reviewed it here: [citypaper.com]

  • AngelaE8654

    I can’t hear the name James Brown without thinking about Edna, the lady who got two years in prison for helping Nigerian scammers get money from unsuspecting Americans. The guy she was helping was supposedly named “James Brown”. LOL

    [thedailyworld.com]

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    good idea for this topics.

  • http://thedailyworld.com/articles/2008/07/18/local_news/02news.prt john
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    So if someone named Bob Marley asks me to help him get money out of Nigeria I should be suspicious? ;)

  • djfaber

    james Brwon is my absolute favorite!

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    I can't hear the name James Brown without thinking about Edna, the lady who got two years in prison for helping Nigerian scammers get money from unsuspecting Americans.

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    I love james brown. He is just awsome!

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  • http://dofollow-checker.blogspot.com Rob

    I’m going to buy the book, I think it sounds inspiring

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    James Brown, my favorite too!

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    I thought it was James Brown who saved the soul ;)

  • http://www.yourelectricshaver.com Tony Electric Shaver Cigo

    Having read the book a number of weeks ago. I must say that it is an essential read for any James Brown fan. RIP. You will never be forgotten.

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  • Corsets

    RIP James Brown. An absolute legend! Awesome music, one of my favorite performers of all time.

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    One word can describe James Brown and that word is amazing. I remember seeing him late in his career and even though father time had caught up to him, he still had amazing energy. I don’t know why but my personal favorite James Brown moment was during rocky 4 when Apollo came to the boxing ring with living in America playing.

  • marzia

    Brown was once diagnosed with prostate cancer.Regardless of his health, Brown maintained his reputation as the “hardest working man in show business”
    RIP

  • Kindall

    James Brown was awesome. It’s a shame he spent some of his life in prison because he had so much talent.

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    There was so much talent wasted, just look at Kurt Cobain…

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  • robiul

    Having read the book a number of weeks ago. I must say that it is an essential read for any James Brown fan. RIP. You will never be forgotten.

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  • HotTunez

    James Brown is the Man, The father of Soul, A great performer that will always be remembered. HotTunez has the best of the music videos.

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  • Brad

    James Brown is the king of funk. I would love to learn some more of his songs on the guitar. I am going to looking into finding some James Brown jam tracks to add to my website http://www.JamTracks.net

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