Kill 'em and Leave

Kill 'em and Leave

Searching for James Brown and the American Soul

Book - 2016
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National Book Award winner James McBride goes in search of the "real" James Brown after receiving a tip that promises to uncover the man behind the myth. His surprising journey illuminates not only our understanding of this immensely troubled, misunderstood, and complicated soul genius but the ways in which our cultural heritage has been shaped by Brown's legacy.

Kill 'Em and Leave is more than a book about James Brown. Brown's rough-and-tumble life, through McBride's lens, is an unsettling metaphor for American life: the tension between North and South, black and white, rich and poor. McBride's travels take him to forgotten corners of Brown's never-before-revealed history: the country town where Brown's family and thousands of others were displaced by America's largest nuclear power bomb-making facility; a South Carolina field where a long-forgotten cousin recounts, in the dead of night, a fuller history of Brown's sharecropping childhood, which until now has been a mystery. McBride seeks out the American expatriate in England who co-created the James Brown sound, visits the trusted right-hand manager who worked with Brown for forty-one years, and interviews Brown's most influential nonmusical creation, his "adopted son," the Reverend Al Sharpton. He describes the stirring visit of Michael Jackson to the Augusta, Georgia, funeral home where the King of Pop sat up all night with the body of his musical godfather, spends hours talking with Brown's first wife, and lays bare the Dickensian legal contest over James Brown's estate, a fight that has consumed careers; prevented any money from reaching the poor schoolchildren in Georgia and South Carolina, as instructed in his will; cost Brown's estate millions in legal fees; and left James Brown's body to lie for more than eight years in a gilded coffin in his daughter's yard in South Carolina.

James McBride is one of the most distinctive and electric literary voices in America today, and part of the pleasure of his narrative is being in his presence, coming to understand Brown through McBride's own insights as a black musician with Southern roots.  Kill 'Em and Leave is a song unearthing and celebrating James Brown's great legacy: the cultural landscape of America today.

Praise for Kill 'Em and Leave

"Thoughtful and probing . . . with great warmth, insight and frequent wit. The results are partisan and enthusiastic, and they helped this listener think about the work in a new way. . . . James McBride's welcome elucidation . . . is clear, deeply felt and unmistakable." --Rick Moody, The New York Times Book Review

"[McBride] turns out to also be the biographer of James Brown we've all been waiting for. . . . McBride's true subject is race and poverty in a country that doesn't want to hear about it, unless compelled by a voice that demands to be heard." --Boris Kachka, New York

"The definitive look at one of the greatest, most important entertainers, The Godfather, Da Number One Soul Brother, Mr. Please, Please Himself--JAMES BROWN." --Spike Lee

"A feat of intrepid journalistic fortitude." -- USA Today
"This is an important book about an important figure in American musical history and about American culture. . . . You won't leave this hypnotic book without feeling that James Brown is still out there, howling." -- The Boston Globe
"Illuminating . . . engaging." -- The Washington Post
Publisher: New York : Spiegel & Grau, [2016]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780812993509
Characteristics: xx, 232 pages ; 25 cm
Alternative Title: Kill them and leave


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Jul 16, 2016

I first saw James Brown in New York when I was a teenager, and I always admired his stage presence, musicianship and innovation. I was thirsting for a biography worthy of a man who, not a role model by any means, deserved a good one. Unfortunately, this is not worthy of him. The author is lazy, grinds his own axes, and writes in a sort of literary patois that adds nothing to the story of James Brown. Still looking for the right biography.

Jul 13, 2016

I read a lot of biographies of popular artists. Much of the factual stuff I tend to know from Rolling Stone and other media. What was great about this book was it truly dived deeper into the soul: the background, really unknown to me, the exceptional hardships heaped on African Americans in the South (and North). The standard 'touring' stuff, really, is just gossip, isn't it? The deeply personal accounts of the few that were close to the man showed depth. This book made James Brown an epic figure, even more so knowing his life.

Jul 06, 2016

I found this to be a repetitive, elliptical one-dimensional book. It's desperately in need of editing yet there's almost no meat on the bone. Interviews are scarce & most of the narrative consists of the author's ruminations on the well-documented violence inherent in white-dominated society & the capricious unfairness of the exploitative music industry. While his environment surely shaped James Brown there's a lot more to any person as there should be to a biography.

Jul 05, 2016

"Lemme tell you something, Rev. When you kill 'em, Rev, you leave. You kill 'em and leave. You understand that, son? Kill 'em and leave."-James Brown speaking to Al Sharpton
James Brown's contributions to R&B, soul, and rock are incalculable; if that's not enough, he pretty much invented a whole genre: funk. While his songs continue to be part of the pop culture landscape and there was a recent film about him, he's a misunderstood, even tragic figure, something that this incisive new book from author James McBride ("The Good Lord Bird") makes clear. It's less a typical biography, which is refreshing, and more an investigation (or search for, as the subtitle indicates) of Brown and soul music. Born into crushing poverty in the South, Brown served time as a juvenile before finding music and joining the Famous Flames, with whom he'd make his first recordings. McBride's a musician so devotes more time than many biographers to the technical aspects of Brown's music and gives special consideration to the crack musicians he surrounded himself with, particularly horn players Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis. The book is part the personal and musical triumphs of an icon, but also the trails of being a black man and Brown's personal problems, which included an often tense relationship with his band, a long series of wives and girlfriends, and a shifting musical landscape. When he died, he was a diminished figure, even though he's the most sampled artist of all time. As of this writing, his considerable estate is still being fought over. It's a great book about a great artist and anyone who cares about music should read it. Hit me.


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SnoIsleLib_BrianH Dec 08, 2016

"The entertainment world and politics are more similar than most realize. Every time I go to Los Angeles I am astounded by the similarities between Hollywood and Washington, DC: Money. Power, Influence. Sex. Scandals. Parties. Phoniness. Posturing. Communication as an aphrodisiac. The only difference , it seems, is that in LA the folks are prettier, whereas in DC, they pick your pocket with one hand while saluting the flag with the other. But the basics are the same: business and power."


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