What does the word “SOUL” mean to you? As I’m writing this, I really don’t have a clear response to that question; I can only say that I feel it is a person’s “spiritual breath”. It’s the part of us that feels and connects with who we have always been, even before we were born. I feel soul is basically another word for life. If you take someone’s soul, it’s like you are taking their ability to enjoy life or their ability to express their unique feelings which were shaped by their unique life experiences. Regardless of what’s written in the dictionary, that’s what it means to me.
Last night I went to a movie theater with my father and two of our friends, and to say that I enjoyed going would be such an understatement. I don’t remember the last time I went to a movie with my father. And, one would have to understand the depths and nature of our relationship to truly conceptualize what it meant to me (and to him as well) for him to invite me to a movie. We went to go see the James Brown documentary “Get On Up”… and it was a really good movie. It was a lot better than I thought it would be to say the least.
Before this movie, I already knew of James Brown and his wild raspy strong voice, his dance moves, his big ego, his ups and downs, and even his legacy. I knew his proclaimed title as the “Godfather of Soul” and of his hard work ethic. I kind of knew of entrepreneurial skills, as he was one of the first business-minded African-American music artists who understood how to profit off of show business. But, I never knew his life story; where/how he was raised, or the struggles he faced and overcame in his life.
His story is what made him sing. His story is what made him the man he was, good and bad. His story is what allowed him to be one of only a few great music artists that were able to live a full life, and didn’t die young living the fast life of drugs, sex, and fame.
So after the movie ends and we all are walking out to exit the theater, my father begins to try and teach me a black history lesson as he always does… but this time was a little different than in previous times, as I received a revelation as I was listening to him. He said, (I’m paraphrasing) “Jake, you don’t understand where soul music came from. At that time poor blacks from the south lived hard lives! And sound of soul music came from hearts longing out of desperation, and people all over the world gravitated towards the passionate vocals and groovy instrumentation.” – (Dad would never say it like that :), but this is my translation and what I felt he said)
They say James Brown is the “Godfather of Soul”, well … he was definitely an amazing revolutionary vocalist and music artist. And, I also wanted to note that I don’t believe James Brown grew up wanting to be a great music artist… that wasn’t his dream. Life provided an opportunity for him, and he worked hard to make that opportunity all it could be and more. Plus, I know he wasn’t the best friend to those who loved him, or father to his children, or husband to his wives… but he definitely helped a lot of people and open doors for people who couldn’t open doors for themselves.
Soul music came from feelings too strong for words. It came from screams of passionate expression, and shouts of praise. As a musician and songwriter, I appreciate all types of music, and one of my favorite types of music is Classic Soul/RnB/Funk music. I listen to these songs over and over admiring the melodies and embracing the meaning behind the lyrics because when I hear it, it helps me get more in touch with my own soul.