It’s been nearly 10 years since he died and still James Brown is causing a commotion in Augusta.
Earlier this week, The Augusta Chronicle reported that $1.5 million, to be collected through the state Transportation Investment Act, would go toward a study focused on enhancing six blocks downtown and Brown’s Broad Street presence. Plans – short-term and more distant – include lights, new benches, a stage and even a water feature. And while I am, and will remain, a strong supporter of leveraging Brown, his contributions and the heritage of soul music in Augusta, I share the vision of a tourist district dedicated not only to the Godfather but the music he pioneered and revolutionized. I think it’s important, and I think it ought to be done.
I also think bringing in an outside company to tell Augusta how that might be done is ridiculous, and paying them even a portion of this $1.5 million for the pleasure is positively insane.
I’m all for a plan. I’m all for discussion. I’m all for James Brown. But the tendency of government agencies – and this is a truism in Augusta and beyond – to hire high-priced consultants to add to the bookcase of binders containing never-executed plans has to stop.
So what then, is the answer? My suggestion would be to start locally. James Brown was not, after all, the only creative and innovative person to call Augusta home. Our community is full of artists, businessmen, fans, leaders – all of whom could, and probably should, have a voice in how Brown is honored in his own hometown. That’s not saying that a single agency – be it local or not – should not be charged with putting together the assembled pieces. But that’s a second step – and it certainly should not be part of this $1.5 million study.
I say cut the James Brown component out of the study, source those ideas locally and perhaps – and this is a revolutionary thought – save a little money on this study. I’m sure there are few potholes that could happily be filled instead of Augusta fielding the recommendation that James Brown needs a fountain.
Lest anyone become confused, I am against including Brown in this study but not against honoring him. This week, I read the comments posted with the Chronicle’s online edition and felt compelled to address a certain line of thought I saw emerging.
The gist of it was this: James Brown matters only to people in Augusta. The relatively modest earnings of last year’s biopic prove that the general public has lost interest in James Brown. Most people outside of Augusta are no longer aware of who he was.
Look, I understand that James Brown was not always the most popular person in Augusta – and sometimes it was with good reason. He was a flawed, brilliant and complicated man. But that does not grant anyone permission to rewrite history.
Did the film Get On Up do as well as expected? No. Was James Brown the reason? No. It was a confusing narrative that played a little loose with facts and, in the end, was not as fine a film as audiences wanted or expected. It happens.
But people care about him. It is no coincidence that he was among the first group of artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To believe that an artist, once considered one of a handful of true musical pioneers, can become irrelevant in a few short years is just silly. That certainly wasn’t the case with John Lennon or Buddy Holly or Brown’s contemporary Otis Redding. Why would Brown be the anomaly?
James Brown once told me that he did not believe he was a good-looking man, but that was the face God gave him. It’s the face, he said, that people knew all over the world and the face he wanted Augusta to use to improve itself. I believe we can still do that. I do not believe figuring out how that might work needs to cost $1.5 million.