Living in America

Cynthia Rose, Author Serpent's Tail $12.99 (0p) ISBN 978-1-85242-209-7
Rose both celebrates and scrutinizes the art of the soul-music great. Drawing on interviews with Brown and former band members, as well as on her own wide-ranging knowledge of African-American culture, she portrays the singer as a ``Southern surrealist.'' Brown brought the ``deepest, blackest'' aspects of his experience--Southern Baptist religion, poverty and disenfranchisement--to a mass audience, both white and black. And in an unprecedented instance of reverse assimilation, says Rose, that audience elevated him to a stature previously unknown to a black--indeed, to any--pop performer. Rose argues convincingly for Brown's greatness with deft interpretations of songs such as ``Licking Stick'' which, she says, highlighted ``the way he could assimilate everyday language to spell out . . . his vision of the world.'' Occasionally, trendy generalizations about ``white European systems of thought'' and ``Afrocentric values'' muddle her analyses. But overall, this debut by Rose, a former editor of London's arts magazine, City Limits , is like Brown's music: ``a complex fabric of attitudes'' as well as a compelling mix of journalism and cultural history. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/04/1991
Release date: 03/01/1991
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