A Being is at Each Moment Itself and Yet Something Else
For this, the first salvo of “In The Key of Correlation,” where parallels, however wide, are drawn between two things (music and something else), it makes sense to unleash what my man Bumpy Knuckles would refer to as a full clip / of unstoppable shit. Here goes:
Mao Tse-Tung’s On Contradiction = James Brown’s “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”
By way of introduction on his theory of the universality of contradition, Mao offers this Engelian postulate:
Life consists precisely and primarily in this — that a being is at each moment itself and yet something else. Life is therefore also a contradiction which is present in things and processes themselves, and which constantly originates and resolves itself; and as soon as the contradiction ceases, life, too, comes to an end, and death steps in.
— Friedrich Engles (Anti-Dühring, 1877)
Through this lens of constant contradiction we can look at Chairman Mao and James Brown, two erstwhile rulers, in an absurdist panorama, nosing out analogies not immediately apparent.
- The Chairmen of The People v. The Godfather of Soul
- Savior of The People v. Soul Brother Number One
- Never Setting Red Sun v. The Hardest Working Man in Show Business
- “Long Live Chairman Mao for Ten Thousand Years” v. “I Feel Good”
OFF THE PIGS!
- Mao was required reading for would-be members of the Black Panther Party.
- “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” was anthemic for the Black Panthers.
Cult of Personality
- Posters hung in homes all throughout China that read, “The happy life Chairman Mao gives us.”
- Aggrandizing fanfare in introducing James Brown (notably memorialized on Live at the Apollo).
- Mao’s face is plastered on currency, posters and badges, he’s venerated in musical scores, plays and dances.
- James Brown’s famous “cape routine.”
Beating Them At Their Own Game Is Still Losing
In their own way, both men changed the game, so to speak.
- Mao revolutionized China, transforming the country from an agrarian society into an industrial world power.
- James Brown revolutionized music by thrusting funk into the mainstream, creating an empire as a musician, songwriter, bandleader, A&R man, entertainer, activist and label and radio station owner.
“Doin’ It To Death” b/w Totalitarian Formula
In their rise to fame and power, both men adopted a mode of “reactionary ruling” indicative of the system that their followers accredit them with bucking.
- Mao’s People’s Republic was communist by name, though negated, by the means employed, what Marx called, the “emancipation of the individual,” which is the very aim of communism.
- The Godfather’s brand of “I Feel Good” funk involved hefty fines for his band members who were tardy, played sour notes, dressed shabby, or forgot to shine their shoes.
- Mao’s “proletarian reform” included systematic imprisonment, execution, famine, forced suicide, the destruction of traditional culture, repression of religion, and the persecution of critical opponents.
- When “Cold Sweat” broke out as a #1 hit it sparked a catalytic conversion in Brown’s oeuvre, framing the formula for many, many songs to come: rhythmic declamation, horn stabs, call-and-response, breakbeats, repetitive riffs, building one instrument atop the next by incanting the players, e.g., “Let’s give the drummer some? Wanna give the drummer some? Can the drummer some? Can the drummer some? Can the drummer some? Can the drummer some? YOU GOT IT DRUMMER! … Uhhh! … Help him out Bernard…”
The Devil is in the Details
- In On Contradiction, Mao alludes to class struggle but contends that while contradictions will always exist, those contradictions can be made harmless. Just a short twenty years later Mao would boast of killing a hundred times more people than the first emperor of China. How do you say, Uh, with your bad self?
- “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” is one of the most popular Black Power anthems. The song is hopeful in classic JB-styled simplicity. James exclaims, “Say it loud!” and a chorus of children shout back, “I’m black and I’m proud.” It quickly became a #1 hit, and embodied an age of self-reliance, self-determination and mass mobilization. In actuality, the chorus of kids used to sing “I’m black and I’m proud” were mostly Asian and white suburbanites.
Notable Quotables — Four Duets
There is always a gradual growth from the knowledge of individual and particular things to the knowledge of things in general.
Some people say we’ve got a lot of malice
Some say it’s a lot of nerve
I say we won’t quit moving
Til we get what we deserve
The matter does not end with their dependence on each other for their existence; what is more important is their transformation into each other. That is to say, in given conditions, each of the contradictory aspects with a thing transforms itself into its opposite, changes its position to that of its opposite…. By means of revolution the proletariat, at one time the ruled, is transformed into the ruler, while the bourgeoisie, the erstwhile ruler, is transformed into the ruled.
I’ve worked on jobs with my feet and my hands
But all the work I did was for the other man
And now we demand a chance
To do things for ourselves
We’re tired of beating our head against the wall
And working for someone else
The contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is resolved by the method of socialist revolution.
Now, we’re people
We’re just like the birds and the bees
We’d rather die on our feet,
Than keep living on our knees
It is of great importance to study these problems. Lenin meant just this when he said that the most essential thing in Marxism, the living soul of Marxism, is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions.
You’re killin’ me
While there are correlations, the difference between “Get on the Good Foot” and the Great Leap Forward are clear. James Brown didn’t kill millions, and Mao couldn’t dance the motherfucking mashed potato. What’s the point, then? As a revolutionary once said, “if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao / You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow.” Put another way, “we all want to change the world,” yet instead of changing the world we relinquish that want to idols who represent change. Put yet another way, the most urgent expression of changing the world should be the destruction of idols, especially when they claim to represent changing the world.
Karl Marx said his view of a socialist society is that which “permits the actualization of man’s essence by overcoming his alienation. It is nothing less than creating the conditions for the truly free, rational, active and independent man; it is the fulfillment of the prophetic aim: the destruction of the idols.”
See also: When I woke from my dreaming my idols were all clay / All portion of love had all flown away.