Friday, June 8, 2012

Say It Loud

The Sunday Times Book Review has been making some inspired assignments lately. First there was Clinton on the latest volume in Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ ("Seat of Power," NYT, 5/2/12) and this past Sunday the review assigned Al Sharpton to do James Brown (“Say It Loud,” NYT, 6/1/12). Back in the 70’s Don King had an office on the Upper East Side and Sharpton refereed a little scuffle that was going on between King and Brown right on the street in front of the office—the infamous self-promoter briefly sidelining a promoter out of control. Now Sharpton's cast in the role of another kind of referee in offering a judgment on RJ Smith’s The Life and Music of James Brown. If a review can be deemed any indication of the sensibility of the writer, then the one time walking agent provocateur has aged well. “People were often surprised at his relevance, but James never doubted his own significance, or the fact that he was a historic figure and an undeniably game-changing artist,” Sharpton opines. A few sentences later, he remarks, “James didn’t bring blacks to the mainstream; instead, he brought the mainstream to blacks and made them appreciate and internalize black music and culture themselves.” Those who might not always cotton to Sharpton’s tendentiousness in politics will certainly appreciate his literate punditry. Perhaps Sharpton’s true calling lies in book reviewing! Newsweek once did a survey about how Americans rated varying professions. Criticism was right at the bottom of the list, along with garbage pickup, but Sharpton has pizzazz and charm and rolls off words like a latter day Samuel Johnson. Sharpton’s review of the James Brown bio was a breath of fresh air. Those who follow the workings of TNYTBR will wait with baited breath to see what Sam Tanenhaus comes up with next.


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