“can i count it off?”
We arrived at the Apollo Theater for the James Brown memorial just after 5:30 pm, and by the time we got to the end of the line, the police were already barricading it off and refusing to let anyone else join it. Aside from being disappointing, this seemed puzzling – the line was only three blocks long – until we walked around to the front of the theater and realized that there was an identical line running the other way around the block. With the theater closing from 6-6:30pm for a private ceremony, it was unlikely that everyone in the lines would make it into the theater as it was.
125th St. in front of the theater was still blocked off from the procession earlier in the day, which I was sorry I’d missed. We walked around so I could take photos and we could soak up the scene and stand there for a little while in tribute. There were food vendors and enterprenurial folks selling 5×7 photos in a cardboard frame, and, to our slight amazement, bootleg t-shirt vendors. The boyfriend briefly considered purchasing one.
“Just how much of a white boy in Harlem do you want to be?” I asked from behind the camera.
The gentleman behind us smiled.
It was, overwhelmingly, an African-American crowd, and a scene that we could absolutely appreciate but perhaps not completely understand. We weren’t the only white faces there, but there didn’t seem to be enough of us for my liking. Maybe the cold, maybe the crowd, maybe the holiday week, but it saddened me. (Of course, this was before I came home and started reading the local and local music blogs, where it’s patently clear that the man’s significance and importance are completely — not even lost, more like nonexistent. That made me sadder.)
So we stood there a few minutes more, watching the women singing “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” for themselves as much as the tv cameras, and the other part of the crowd doing the audience call-and-response to “Night Train” spilling out of a clothing store’s PA system, said our farewells and walked back to the A train.
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