There’s a scene in the James Brown biopic “Get on Up” where the then-Mr. Dynamite (played by Chadwick Boseman) has a brief but rough run-in with the Rolling Stones. Brown had been scheduled to close out “The T.A.M.I. Show,” a grandiose 1964 live concert film packed with soul, rock and folk groups. Instead he was bumped to second-to-last place, with the then-nascent Stones given the closer. Brown retaliated by delivering the kind of set that’s impossible to follow up, then strode past them, mocking them.
Brown is still getting the last laugh in the after life. “Get on Up” boasts Mick Jagger as a high-profile producer. Still, Jagger remembers the incident somewhat differently.
“James was a bit annoyed about not being the last one in the show,” Jagger recalls. He knows this because he actually was the one forced to tell Brown the news. “I was the fall guy. They said, ‘Go and talk to him.’ When you’re 20 you say, ‘Sure,” instead of saying, ‘That’s not my job. That’s your job.’ But when you’re 20 you’re like, ‘Sure.’”
Jagger of course was already a Brown fan, but tried not to completely rip off his stage style. “I could never do his dance routines, the way Chad does in this movie,” he admits. But he did try to take something. “The thing that impressed me was how he interacted with the audience. He was all about interacting with the audience. It’s not just your performance; it’s the interplay.”
Like the Stones, Brown is still a cultural mainstay. “People from all different backgrounds and age groups, they all know him. His recordings are still loved and played on the dance floors, in various forms or another. Bands you wouldn’t think would relate to James Brown, they all know that music, they play those numbers. If you want to be a musician, this is part of the canon. If you don’t know it then you’re not complete.”
Jagger is no stranger to movies. Starting with 1966’s “Charlie is My Darling,” the Stones have been in films by Jean-Luc Godard (“Sympathy for the Devil”), the Maysles Brothers (“Gimme Shelter”) and Martin Scorsese (“Shine a Light”). Jagger himself has acted in “Performance” and “Ned Kelly.”
He was obsessed with making sure “Get on Up” was special. “I think this is a bit more than a generic biopic,” he says. “A good movie’s a good movie. Either you’re compelled by it or not. I feel this movie is compelling. It’s telling a story about adversity. It’s telling a story about someone who’s single-minded. It’s telling a story about how he’s obsessed with making himself into somebody from nothing. It’s about the price he has to pay for that. It could have been a fictional story. You could have written this story as fiction.”
As for his favorite Brown work, he picks the whole of his seminal “Live at the Apollo” record. “I loved every tune on it. I knew them all backwards. I knew all the intros and segues,” he recalls. Thing was, the record was, for a while, the only way he could experience Brown’s act. “What was odd was I had actually never seen him perform. I imagined the whole thing in my head.” Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge