Saturday, March 20, 2010



by Wayne Robins

On “The T.A.M.I. Show,” released on DVD March 23 by
Shout Factory, the Motown acts were exquisite as expected, not yet overchoreographed into entertaining but limiting cliché. Marvin Gaye exuded “Pride and Joy,” the Supremes’ hit all their spots perfectly. Yet it was Smokey Robinson’s uncharacteristically wild performance that led the Detroit contingent.
The whole ensemble was revealed behind a balloon barricade while Lesley Gore sang “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” leading some to conclude that it was the song itself that produced such uproarious applause. It looks to me like Lesley was being upstaged by the ensemble cast of hand-clappers behind her—the Beach Boys in their matching stripes, the suave Gaye, an irrepressibly grinning duckwalking Chuck Berry, and even a slightly befuddled looking Smokey Robinson. Clap? Yeah, OK.
Nevertheless, the primly dressed Lesley Gore signifies like a sleeper cell for a future feminist insurrection. Her songs and stoic character presented independence, disdain (“It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to”), and defiance (“you don’t own me”) that saved tens of millions of suburban teenage girls—in 1964 still on the path to subservience in most sectors of American life—from a Stepford Wives future. The Gore Effect was a delayed one: anywhere from 3 to 5 years after initial viewing, girls engaged or going steady with presumptuous, entitled young guys named Chip, Skip, Larry and Barry woke up one morning, burned their bras, tossed back their going steady baubles and engagement rings and declared that from now on, Chip, Skip, Larry and Barry could go play with themselves.
And to think James Brown had to follow that! But Brown, like everyone else in the house, was unaware that the gods had already thrown a monkey into the future—partly delivered by Smokey and the Miracles’ ridiculously awesome extended, spontaneous cultural ju-jitsu of “Mickey’s Monkey.”
Symptom of “Mickey’s Monkey” syndrome: tens of thousands of young men—white, black, Latino, suburban, urban, even farmboys and farmhands—heard the song on the radio, and the next day walked around goofy singing “lum-dee-lum-dee-li-eye! Lum-dee-lum-dee-li-eye!,” not realizing they had invoked an ancient African incantation that would also detonate three to five years later. It was then variously defined as the following: You know dad, I really think I’m gonna pass on the grad school thing, but I really think it’s more important to investigate some Native American peyote rituals out west, Arizona or Big Sur somewhere. “Lum-dee-lum-dee-li-eye! Lum-dee-lum-dee-li-eye!” Others thought these syllables meant: “Hell no, we won’t go?,” while others subconsciously knew—they just knew— they were meant to sit quietly in dark rooms lit by black light and fluorescent posters burning sandalwood and smoking a once-obscure plant called cannabis sativa and listening to something called The Doors.
Back to 1964: Now comes James Brown on to the stage of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, looking like dancing black granite sculpted by Michaelangelo, his spectacular square jaw and stunning cheekbones studied carefully by at least two dozen future Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeons in the audience. Future neurologists and gastroenterologists also paid close attention: A collection of seizures, wails and grunts emanated from Brown, the only singer in the bunch who carried his own band with him, the Famous Flames, sounding like the sacking of Troy conducted with militant efficiency and discipline. Brown wiggled and wriggled through “Out of Sight,” and then moaned that he was a “Pris-oner…pris-oner of love.” To prove it, he falls to his knees and begs: “Please. Please. Please.” Not “Please Please Me,” as those happy young Beatles were singing somewhere, but an excruciating, agonizing, pitiless, please, please, please…please don’t go.
And so he didn’t. The kids didn’t know the routine yet: This was not the Apollo Theater. The band vamps, James Brown falls to his knees, an aide puts a cape over his shoulders, the more sensitive in the audience wonder if an ambulance should be called…then Brown throws down the cape, spins back to the microphone and continues. The scene repeats, and repeats, the tension rising and subsiding and increasing with each cycle. It goes on for…a long time. The minutes don’t matter—there were a lot of them. But no, the conjurers trick here is that while he is on the stage at the crest of “Please Please Please,” time stops. It just stops. Seconds, hours, days later, whenever the spell is over and he’s really left the stage, it is the viewer that is almost too drained to continue anything resembling a normal routine.
You think Mick Jagger was nervous backstage? Mick Jagger and the rest of the Stones were terrified. Those at the tapings—or at least processors of the legend, you can’t trust anyone these days—say there was a rather long delay before they took the stage. Let the electrons stop pinballing.
When they finally arrive, they look like boys. But the pieces fit. If you ever wondered what the Rolling Stones were like with Brian Jones on guitar, along with Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, this is the place to see it. Of course, the Stones were never soloists, and especially not with this material: At the time, they were still largely a R&B club band: Their set contained Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around,” Irma Thomas’ “Time is On My Side” and Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now.” And yet it was a watershed moment for the Stones: they found they had enough skill to address adversity, and enough guts to raise their stagecraft to the level it needed to follow James Brown. The way they did it was to also plead with the audience. But while James Brown put on a show, a performance, Jagger found he had the ability to reach individuals, staring into the eyes of those in the crowd and establishing intimacy in the moment.
A different dampness pervaded: Not James Brown’s sweat, but something emanating from the young ladies startled and thrilled by Jagger’s leer, which wasn’t as confident as it would become. As the triumph is savored to the jam of “I’m Alright” (permutating into the Isley Brothers “Shout”), Brian Jones looks delighted. After all, the Stones were his band as much as Jagger’s. Jones would be dead in five years, drowned in his own swimming pool, kicked out of the band, having taken too many drugs for even the Rolling Stones to tolerate. (Imagine that.) On this day in 1964, the future looked unlimited.
And why wouldn’t it? Because what really sinks in about these performances is that neither the Rolling Stones, nor James Brown (nor the Beach Boys, nor Marvin Gaye, nor the Supremes for that matter) had peaked. The Stones hadn’t even really gotten beyond nursery school as songwriters: “Off the Hook,” the only real original of their “T.A.M.I.” set showed promise. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “The Last Time,” “Get Off of My Cloud,” the 1965 hits that would make them superstars, were not yet in their repertory because Jagger and Richards hadn’t written them yet. Soon they would rival Leiber and Stoller as the second greatest songwriting team of the rock era (after Lennon and McCartney), but at “The T.A.M.I. Show,” they were prodigious students.
Likewise, savvy, studious professional that he was, James Brown probably watched the Rolling Stones come close to matching him after one of the great performances of his career, and said, I’m never letting That happen again.
So the next year he invented funk.
He picked up the tempo, tricked up the rhythm, punched up and pulled in the horns. That next year, 1965, James Brown had “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and “I Got You” and kept rolling on a winning streak that changed the future of music: funk. Rap. Brown until the day he died he was merely unstoppable.
Who knows what secrets were traded backstage at “The T.A.M.I. Show”? But there had to be a reason that the next year, 1965 was the arguably the greatest year in pop music history. That year Bob Dylan was prepared to plug in to the rock’n’roll priesthood, Otis Redding and southern soul would join Motown on America’s radios and dance floors, that the Beach Boys, or at least Brian Wilson, would lock up his surf board and explore more intimate oceans. All of which would make the Beatles say: "We've got to top them all again," which they more or less did with "Rubber Soul." “The T.A.M.I. Show,” so seemingly innocuous at the time, was both the end of the world as we knew it, and the dawning of a new era. It's really something to see: Lum-dee-lum-dee-li-eye!

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