Let a Man Come in and Do the Popcorn

HUNTSVILLE—My wife and I are at a local bar. It’s midnight. The music is loud. All I want is a burger because I haven’t eaten since lunchtime. I did a show in town tonight and I ran a little long because I am a big mouth who can’t shut up.

We are very tired. Low on sleep. And the whole world feels frightening because you can’t go anywhere without hearing something new about the coronavirus.

But this is exactly why the immortal James Brown, “Godfather of Soul,” once wrote a poignant song to uplift the tired and huddled masses by stating so eloquently: “HEEEEY!!!” Then he danced the camel walk like a man with his underpants on fire.

I wouldn’t mind hearing some James Brown right about now. He is sort of an old friend to me. When I was a young man I used to listen to “I Feel Good” when I’d get off work. This song always helped me feel… Well… Better. I used to listen to it over and over and play drum solos on my steering wheel.

This bar is the only place open at this hour. It’s crowded with young folks who travel in large packs. These are modern young people, dressed nicely, who are out on the town for a wild night that consists primarily of (a) going to bars, and (b) looking at their phones.

There are twenty-three televisions lining the walls, all playing continuous music videos. The music is loud enough to alter the migration patterns of Canada geese. I am trying to focus on the menu, but the TVs are distracting.

I’ll admit upfront, I don’t care for music videos. I suppose I’ve always wondered, “What’s the point?” I mean, when I watch “Love Boat,” it’s because there’s an actual plot, and I like Issac. When I watch “Little House on the Prairie,” it’s because Michael Landon had killer hair.

But music videos? They have no purpose. Also, most of the musical groups in these cutting-edge videos have odd band names like “Toilet Apple Funk,” or “Walrus Protractor.”

The videos themselves are filled with footage of pop-stars dancing in barren deserts, staring longingly at a camera as though they suffer from chronic gout. I wonder how the music-video guys creatively come up with these videos.

MUSIC VIDEO GUY 1: “Hey! I’ve got it! What if we have her dancing half naked on the edge of the Grand Canyon?!”
GUY 2: Let’s paint her purple, too.
GUY 3: How about a water gun?
GUY 1: The Kardashians are onboard if we throw in boa constrictors.
GUY 3: Is there really a band named Toilet Apple Funk?

The weird thing is, every young person in this bar is only half heartedly watching the music videos. Mostly, they are staring at their phones. There are NO conversations happening. No laughter. Everyone seems worried. It’s kind of creepy.

I grew up playing music in joints that served cheap beer. I never played in a single waterhole where patrons didn’t shout over the music. There were always loud conversations going on, and lots of yelling from the crowd. In fact, our bands played in a few rough places where the crowd was so rowdy we had to perform behind a chicken wire fence. These were mostly Methodist churches.

I suppose times have changed and I didn’t change along with them. And you can tell they have changed just by listening to the music of our modern world. There are no actual melodies involved. It is just computerized drum sequences and naked people. Which raises the question: Is this stuff even real music?

To answer this, I ask our waitress. Our waitress is a woman named Connie. Maybe early sixties. Gray hair, sweet smile. She is the oldest server working tonight. She brings my burger and shouts over the music. “Can I get you anything else, sweetie?”

You can always trust a woman who calls you sweetie.

I ask Connie for an honest opinion. I ask her if this modern music ever bothers her. She glances toward a TV. At this exact moment, a pop-star is gyrating her body, wearing only a loin cloth and two strategically placed postage stamps.

“This ain’t music,” Connie says. “I’m old enough to remember when the Beatles were playing, sweetie. My husband and I saw the Stones three times, the Beach Boys twice. Bob Dylan, Tom Jones, Three Dog Night… I almost saw Elvis, but I came down with the chicken pox.”

“What about James Brown?” I say. “Do you like him?”

Her face lights up. “Like him? God! My husband and I saw him in concert once. He was electric. My husband is dead now, but he was a James Brown freak, he could dance, too.”

Then she looks both ways and whispers into my ear. “Would you like me to change the music? I can play some James Brown if you want.”

“Really?” I say.

“Why not? My manager won’t mind, he’s too busy playing on his phone right now. Plus, my husband will get a kick out of it, I know he’s up there watching me. I think we could all use some cheering up right now.”

And just like that, the TVs go dark. The music changes. And it’s 1965 in here. Even the young people are smiling. A weary night turns into a great one when the soulful voice on the speakers sings: “HEEEEEY! I FEEL GOOD!”

Connie, I needed that.


  1. Cathi Russell - March 13, 2020 7:18 am

    This one really made me smile & gave me an ear worm. How can I possibly go back to sleep if I’m singing along with James Brown???

  2. Becky Flack - March 13, 2020 10:46 am

    I say every time I hear a good ol oldie, which is still hard for me to call the 70’s & 80’s oldies, I grew up with the BEST music. I love most all of it. My family owned restaurants back in the day, the kind with great Jukeboxes and you had your favorite number like K9 and drop that quarter to hear it. I have over a 100 45’s cause when the jukebox guy came in to change out old songs and put the latest in, I got to keep those old 45’s and I still play them. Especially Floyd Cramer’s Last Date, it was my daddy’s favorite. thanks for the memory lane, and I can’t ever imagine anyone being able to sit still when “Heeeeey! I FEEL GOOD! comes on. I so look forward to seeing you in Cullman, April 17.

  3. Dennis Lowery - March 13, 2020 11:49 am

    Yess! James Brown, He would also sometimes show up on the Bill Tush Show. Came on on Sundays around 6:00 PM from Atlanta, on TBN (Turner). He was doing some wild stuff on his show. Had Rex the Wonder Dog (German Shepherd with a tie on) and the first “Church Lady” skits (she ended up on SNL) but Dana Carvey stole the bit.

  4. Connie - March 13, 2020 12:10 pm

    This is another Connie from your childhood, you just made me feel good!! I love you Sean!

  5. Jan - March 13, 2020 12:40 pm

    It was great to finally meet you last night Sean. When we met, you said you thought you already knew me. I told you we probably met in another life but I actually feel like I do know you. You have that gift! Thank you for a wonderful visit last night. I hope you and your lovely wife get to go home soon and get some rest. Love that “real” music you are talking about! 1965 was a very good year!

  6. Phil S. - March 13, 2020 12:48 pm

    HEEEY! We all need a dose of “I feel good!” right now. Everyone will soon be hunkered down in their bunkers or sealed in cryogenic chambers waiting for the “all clear” to sound. Word on the street is that it’s gotten so serious even the local dog and rooster fighting rings have suspended all events until further notice. Sure hope Books A Million doesn’t cancel your visit here on Sunday. If they do, you and Jamie are invited to our humble bunker/home for food, cheap beer, conversation, and lots of laughter – no cell phones allowed. We will invite just a “few” friends.

  7. Connie Havard Ryland - March 13, 2020 1:00 pm

    I try not to be too judgmental when I listen to the stuff that passes for music to my grandchildren. I’m old enough to remember arguing with my dad about listening to literally any of the music of the 60’s and 70’s. He absolutely hated anything newer than Hank Williams. So I try not to say anything but I dearly love my old country, and my old rock music. I pretty much can’t stand much of what’s playing today but that’s okay. Every generation has it’s music. The music that’s still around after all the years? That’s what real music is. No matter what generation you are. Love and hugs. Y’all be safe.

  8. Betty F. - March 13, 2020 1:43 pm

    Super story. Thanks for spreading the love. I know you have to make a living and you want to share the love with all of us, but please be careful of your own health. Thanks for helping ground us in these crazy times!

  9. Glenda Hinkle - March 13, 2020 1:45 pm

    Hey! Your post made me “feel good.” Now, THAT’s Music!! Connie turned your evening into a good one. Thank you, Connie!! Sean and Jamie NEEDED that!!

  10. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - March 13, 2020 2:00 pm

    So loved meeting you last night!
    As soon as I told you my name & you called me a lifer it stunned me.
    You see, back when I was in the Navy, right after Vietnam, a “lifer” was a bad thing to us kids. Very long story…
    A couple seconds after you said it I cracked a big smile realizing it was a compliment.
    Man I’d been looking so far to meeting you! I can’t wait til next time.
    Also: I’ve tried to enter my website a couple different times & usually end up deleting my whole comment so I’ll “code” it. Hope you take a look. www
    tub3.weebly dotcom
    Love from Lifer Steve from Shannon, Al.
    Til next time.

  11. Tee Portas - March 13, 2020 2:53 pm

    With regard to much of the “modern Music,” I always love this quote, “He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.”-Billy Wilder

  12. Dawn A Bratcher - March 13, 2020 3:58 pm

    It just takes a little genuine conversing with another and BAM! your whole world changes! God bless Connie for bringing you & your lovely wife, Jamie, a good night!

  13. Linda Moon - March 13, 2020 4:21 pm

    So yesterday on your 14th day of touring you forgot if you were in Birmingham or Huntsville. Today your’e in Huntsville…..but are you sure?? I’m glad you figured out where you were supposed to be at 7 PM last night, and please accept my apologies for keeping you up so late. Mr. Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, knew the times were changing….and they always will, Sweetie. I’ve seen Bob Dylan 13 times, but I never saw James Brown do my fave— “Shake A Tailfeather”. I feel good when I think of 1965!! (hmmm…….maybe I should write a dissertation or thesis on Music From the 60s…).

  14. AlaRedClayGirl - March 13, 2020 6:33 pm

    After reading this, I’m gonna feel good all day!

  15. Edna B. - March 13, 2020 7:17 pm

    I have a real juke box and it is filled with all “oldies” music. You just can’t beat it! You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  16. Kathleen Mathews - March 14, 2020 3:19 am

    Thank you, Sean, for describing your evening so well I could almost hear James Brown sing. I needed that smile….

  17. Teresa Williamson - March 14, 2020 4:09 am

    Sean I met you in Fairhope I sat on the front row in Fairhope last week. We had a big hug. Tell your Mother when I read your posts, “I feel good! I could dance like James Brown!” You brighten my day and I enjoy your posts and they usually make me start my day thinking about life and what I can do to make this world a better place. One thing is be kind to others. I want you to know I look forward to your posts and thank you for sharing your thoughts. Many blessings for you and your family. Teresa

  18. Ann - March 14, 2020 10:46 am

    We ALL need that!👏🏻🎶🎶🎶

  19. Robert Chiles - March 15, 2020 11:16 pm

    I like to use props. About 10 or 12 years ago on Easter Sunday morning, I (the preacher) pulled out a two-foot high battery-animated doll of James Brown and hit the button. It started gyrating and screamed “I feel good.” I said, “That’s what Jesus said when he came out of the tomb.”
    I think i’ve still got James in the basement somewhere.

  20. Dwain King - March 16, 2020 1:42 pm

    I have requested that at my funeral, as the few folks that attend are about to leave, that the first few lines of “I Feel Good” be played!

  21. Denise DeVries - March 16, 2020 11:59 pm

    Love it!!!!

  22. Mary Hicks - April 26, 2020 4:28 pm

    Thanks for making me feel good!! Only one James Brown!! Thanks again, Sean. God bless you and Jamie and Thelma Lou.


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