Back in April 1988, James Brown for some reason agreed to appear on CNN to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation against him. When the initial question is posed to him about assaulting his wife with a lead pipe before firing a gun at a car she was in, he simply responds with a joyful rendition of the chorus to ‘Living in America’, and when an awkward silence ensues thereafter, he simply adds, “there’s nothing wrong.”
It has been alleged that Brown was enduring a chronic PCP addiction at the time, and based on the evidence of the footage, the word alleged is doing very little leg work in this sentence. He has always been an adrenalised performer, but with eyes beaming through widescreen yellow sunglasses and a complete and utter dissociation from context, it is hard to debate the argument that he may well not be entirely sober during the exchange.
Thus, the interview proves troubling on many fronts. Not only does it show that he is not sound of mind even after being arrested, but he is also completely unrepentant for his life-threatening actions and continues to behave in a misogynistic fashion throughout the interview. For instance, when probed on his domestic abuse, he simply screams: “This is a man’s world!”
Thereafter, he continues to state that women love him because he “makes love good” all the while continuing to shout song titles out, and he later even advertises a Christian magazine that he is working on despite clearly not engaging in the principles preached therein. Astoundingly, this magazine, according to Brown, even has correspondence from the Pope, despite the fact that Brown was facing serious criminal charges at the time.
It also has to be noted that the interview is expertly handled by the female CNN host, who rather than probe and chastise, simply remains upbeat and lets Brown present a clear case of his misgivings on his own volition. While some commentators see inherent mirth in his actions, it is worth remembering that this is not some stage performance from the celebrated star, he did indeed recently assault his wife and fire a gun at her.
Sadly, only a matter of months later, his criminal behaviour would strike once again. He was arrested for brandishing a shotgun in public and then subsequently leading attending officers on a high-speed chase.
He may well have been a funk progenitor and one of the greatest live performers that the world has ever seen, but he was a character of great duality, and the dark side of his troubled life must also be judiciously looked upon if we are to celebrate his artistry. This interview, and the many criminal incidents that followed, are a sorry reminder of that ‘It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World’ had less of an ironic twist for Brown than it did for many other commentators back in the day.