GODFATHER & CHIEF EXECUTIVE: TAKE 'EM TO THE BRIDGE
As seems to be standard, when I do these quasi-obituaries, neither guy meant as much to me as he did to others. My appreciation of the Godfather of Soul tends to be more of an "I appreciate his influence," rather than any identification of myself as A Fan. And as to Gerald Ford . . . well, he was the guy that took over after the resignations. And lost to Carter. And twice escaped assassination attempts by crazy chicks with guns. And for 2 1/2 years survived Chevy Chase's attempts at comedy.
While I can't say Ford is the first President I remember, he's the first one for whom I knew his entire term. I was aware of the Watergate procedings because they preempted TV shows I wanted to watch. I could be wrong, but I recall PBS carrying extended covereage of the Congressional proceedings in late '73 and early '74, which obviously affected the availability of Sesame Street. I knew Nixon had done something wrong, but at 6 years old I certainly didn't know what, exactly, and it should go without saying that I didn't care.
But as I rode somewhere with my parents in August of '74, I remember hearing on the radio that Nixon had "resigned." Somehow my parents managed to explain what that meant, and as any child worth his salt should've done, I immediately forgot about that piece of irrelevant information. And went back to whatever I assume was occupying my summer of '74 thoughts: our new cat, my bicycle, and jumping said bike in the manner of that summer's real pop icon for the average 6 year year-old, Evel Knievel.
But Presidential Pardons, Agnew's resignation earlier that year, new oaths of office, this "Rocky" guy who became Vice-President, stagflation, Whip Inflation Now? All things I came to know over the subsequent 2 1/2 years, or more likely over the next 2 1/2 decades. I remember Carter beating Ford 30 years ago last month, but once again, I had no idea what made that result interesting, unique, important, etc. Nor did I know that this guy that Ford beat in the primaries, Ronald Reagan, would become a major player four years later.
So that's Ford to me: the guy who came in when I was old enough to know about it, then left a few years later. Shot at, not hit, no one "hated" him as had been the case for many uncles, aunts and grandparents regarding the previous guy. And then he was gone.
And James Brown? Like I said, my sense of him has always been through the prism of influence, of his iconhood. His last hit of any consequence, Sex Machine, came out when I was an infant, and my initial glimpses of the world outside my immediate surroundings (as described just now about the politics of the Summer of '74) corresponded with Brown's shift from musical visionary to pop culture icon: as the Seventies marched on. I knew him as big hair, tight pants, splits, yowls . . .
. . . and cameos in bad Rocky films or the subject of great Eddie Murphy sketches on SNL (which, unlike Chase's Ford imitation, was actually funny). But his rhythms, his grooves, Maceo's sax? Nah. Learned about those after the fact, as with Ford.
And, as with Ford, I'll admit that James Brown didn't inspire passionate views one way of the other. Musical figures as disparate as John Lennon, Miles Davis, Beethoven, Motzart, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Louie Armstrong, Sarah Vaughn, Jimi and Janis completed most if not all of the notable periods of their musical careers before I was sentient (or born). And yet, in all those cases I hold firm, emotion-laden opinions regarding the greatness, or lack thereof, of their careers, of their output.
James Brown? Nope. But I recognize his importance from an intellectual, historical perspective. As I do with Gerald Ford and his role in America's emergence from its "long, national nightmare."
So for that, I can say I feel a little something seeing them gone. RIP, fellas.