"I tell you the truth," Jesus said. "No prophet is accepted in his hometown."
- Luke 4:24
There we were, like so many people, sitting around a Christmas Eve dinner table, when somehow the conversation about an Augusta craft show morphed into a question about how the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center was renamed the James Brown Arena.
As is often the case around here, many of the comments were unflattering - he's a druggie, beat his wife, waved a shotgun around at people; why'd we want to name anything after him?
I pointed out the much-repeated quote from Christ, noting that we've seen Brown up close, warts and all, and don't have the superstar perspective of much of the rest of the world. Brown deserves honor, but because we've seen the bad and the good, we sometimes have been uncomfortable giving it.
I told a story passed along by Bobby Christine upon his recent return from Georgia, the former Soviet Bloc state. In a little place called the Blues Brothers Cafe, Christine says he caused quite a stir when he pointed to a poster on the wall and told the waitress that he knew James Brown.
The waitress turned, he said, and ran. She returned moments later with the kitchen and wait staff, who were visibly excited just to meet someone who knew James Brown.
He didn't tell them that as a former assistant district attorney, he'd met Brown while prosecuting him.
Though Brown looked drawn and frail at his annual toy giveaway this past Friday, none of us suspected we'd be waking up to the news Christmas morning that the Hardest Working Man in Show Business would work no more - at least, not on this side of the pearly gates.
Perhaps it's a personal sign that in my last conversation about him before his death, I defended the Godfather of Soul. Let that be a lesson to focus on saying nice things about people; they might be your last.
Incidentally, I carry the dubious distinction of being the first news reporter on the scene when Brown crashed his truck after a police chase 20 years ago.
To correct one minor item that's been repeated often in the news: Brown was not stopped when police shot his tires out. Actually, he drove several more miles on nothing but rims, the disintegrating tire-rubber beating the mirrors off his pickup, until he missed a curve in an east Augusta neighborhood and the truck's wheels mired into a soft lawn.
Like many in Brown's hometown, I saw him up close and personal, too. But I also believe in the power of redemption, and understand that for all his troubles, inside Brown was a good man yearning to do right.
Maybe now that James Brown is gone we can let the bad stuff go, even here in his hometown, and just remember him as the monumentally famous international performer who lived here - in spite of our community's problems.
Funny how that works.
Noise or silence
So, what did you get for Christmas?
Perhaps prescient of the Christmas Day death of our area's most famous performer, Santa dropped off a set of drums at my house.
None of my kids play them, as perhaps was evident from the racket on Christmas morning. Little Drummer Girls, they aren't.
Yet I'm not sure which is more perplexing: The noise from the banging drums, or the impenetrable silence from ubiquitous iPods.
At least we can pretend there's a physical fitness advantage to swinging drumsticks. With all the Christmas food I put away, added to the caloric overload from Thanksgiving, maybe I'd better learn how to play.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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