When former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was running around before his trial appearing on The Daily Show assuring Jon Stewart that he never, ever did anything wrong, he should have considered adopting the post-arrest media strategy of James Brown, as seen in this incredible interview. Considering that both Blagojevich and Brown ended up going to prison, it couldn’t have hurt! And James Brown is a hell of a lot more popular than Rod Blagojevich.
This interview on CNN’s Sonya Live! in LA occurred in May 1988, after Brown was arrested in Aiken County, South Carolina, on charges of drug possession and fleeing from the police after his wife Adrienne called 911 because he was threatening her safety. Brown was released after paying $24,000 in bail and then went to Atlanta to do this interview.
In the interview, Brown seems only dimly aware of Sonya Friedman’s questions, preferring to shout the lyrics to his songs and talk about how he “smells good ... and makes love good.” (The juxtaposition of Sonya’s “How did all this trouble begin?” and Brown’s non-sequitur answer—“Livin’ in America!”—is resonant in ways that utterly outstrip the meanings Brown may have had in mind.) If you want to see someone on TV being interviewed while high, you can hardly do better than James Brown. As in so many other things. Rod Blagojevich just wouldn’t be in the same league.
Brown’s incredible vitality is such that you’ll be excused for wondering whether this isn’t a concert appearance in addition to an interview. YouTube commenters and the like are given to identifying cocaine as the source of this live-wire act, but it was almost certainly PCP. His arrest was for possession of PCP, a substance Brown was allegedly using a lot at the time.
Just four months later, Brown was arrested again, this time on Interstate 20 (near the Georgia-South Carolina border) for carrying an unlicensed pistol and assaulting a police officer. He was sentenced to six years in prison and ended up serving three years.
To judge by R.J. Smith’s The One, Brown’s erratic conduct in the 1980s was going to land him in prison one way or another. Between 1984 and his September 1988 arrest, Adrienne Brown had to call 911 to report domestic violence a whopping twelve times.
As the undisputed father of funk, James Brown was one of the most important musicians of the twentieth century, and nobody was more electrifying live. This interview manages to be both highly amusing and a harbinger of the troubles that were just around the corner.