Wednesday, April 11, 2012

RJ Smith

RJ Smith has been a senior editor at Los Angeles magazine, a contributor to Blender, a columnist for The Village Voice, a staff writer for Spin, and has written for GQ, the New York Times Magazine, and Men's Vogue. His first book, The Great Black Way: L.A. in the 1940s and the Lost African-American Renaissance, was a Los Angeles Times bestseller and recipient of a California Book Award.

Smith's new book is The One: The Life and Music of James Brown.

From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: If a Martian landed in front of you and asked about James Brown, how would you describe him?

A: He's the ultimate intersection of singing, dancing and stagecraft. If you had one line for great performers, like a Fred Astaire or Michael Jackson, and another line for a great soulful vocalist, and another line for great people who knew how to command your attention, respect and response – at the intersection of all these lines would be James Brown.

He was one of the most important creative forces in the world in the 20th century, the rare artist who was able to be incredibly creative and transform the culture around him – somewhat in the '50s, hugely in the '60s and '70s, and somewhat in the '80s.

He had this amazing influence. Other than maybe Bob Dylan, I can't think of an artist who's done anything like that.

Q: Do you remember the first times you heard James Brown?

A: As a kid, I was the proverbial boy with the transistor radio glued to his ear and under my pillow at night. I remember there was one guy who didn't sound like everyone else on the radio. There I was in Detroit listening to Motown, and here he was with these screams, grunts and groans.

Q: One of the most popular Super Bowl commercials this year featured his great song "Get Up Offa that Thing." It inspired me to look for the song online, and I found a brief and amazing video of him performing it on YouTube. He's in his 40s but dances like he's… well, my friend put it this way after watching it: "he certainly does shake that thing, doesn't he?" Where on earth did he find all that energy, that BAM! factor?

A: It came from...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue