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Monday, December 25, 2006

Goodbye, Uncle James

My friend A. called me this morning. First, she said, "Merry Christmas!" Immediately, she changed her voice, "And I'm so sorry for your loss."

James Brown died today. I liked to refer to him as Uncle James. In the great Southern tradition, I give honorary familial titles to those for whom I feel great affection. In a slight deviation from the tradition, I disregard whether or not I've ever actually met them.

After a respectful moment of silence, A. continued, "So, um, Luc, is that all of them? Cousin Celia and Uncle James, I mean?"

"No. I have two left. Aunt Charo and Cousin Morris."

"Ah, yes," I could almost hear her nodding. "Can't forget them."

And in a flash, we are launching into Jungle Love, both of us giggling at the other's imitation.

"Wait. Did you know I actually once saw My Late Uncle James sing live?"

This is true. On New Year's Eve of my ninth grade year, so 1985 turning into 1986, a group of about six of us, including my friend Becky and I, somehow walked right into a black tie affair at the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, DC. On stage was a fantastic looking man sing-shouting, plus about six male backup singers/dancers. The song was Living in America. I was mesmorized by his hair and his rhythm and the flashy, matching outfits all the men on stage wore. Becky urged me to keep moving, as she couldn't hear what the boys we were with were saying, but I was rooted to the spot. That night Becky got a boyfriend, but I got an Uncle.

At first, A. is quiet when I finish telling the story. Then I hear her quietly sing-say, "Get on up!" and I can't help myself. Next thing I know, we are giggling as we throw out snippets from a whole mess of songs, a sort of mini-eulogy for My Late Uncle James.

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