Singer's 'Super Freak' is permanent part of us
James had other work that included producing a song for Eddie Murphy.
By HANK STUEVER
WASHINGTON -- Though he has gone (of apparent natural causes, said Los Angeles police, after a caretaker found him dead in his Universal City home Friday morning), the singer Rick James will always be with us: at class reunions, bar mitzvahs, wedding receptions. He will sing eternally the 1981 R & amp;B dance hit that made him: "Super Freak," a wonderful song about a nymphomaniac backstage groupie who is waiting in Room 714 of a hotel somewhere, "with incense, wine and candles -- it's such a freaky scene."
Happily, many of us have seen our grandmothers and aunts dance to this song, such is its lasting ubiquity among party deejays-for-hire: "She's a very kinky girl," the song goes. "The kind you don't take home to mother. She will never let your spirits down, once you get her off the street. Ow, girl." (Now, everyone, please: a toast to the lovely bride and groom.)
A significant contribution
This is not an insignificant gift to the world, the joy of one hit song that burns itself into the global pop consciousness, leaving its naughty intention behind and becoming something else, something permanent. James, who was 56, was known in his younger days by the blunt, Cleopatraesque funky braids and tight leather pants he wore, and he certainly had other accomplishments, other songs, other things to do with his life than channel the super freaks. (After all, on the same album as "Super Freak" was "Give It to Me Baby." And he gave us, via his guiding hand as producer in the late 1970s to mid-'80s, the Mary Jane Girls, Teena Marie and Eddie Murphy's No. 2 hit, "Party All the Time.")
Did you know that in one of his first bands, Rick James, having gone AWOL from the Navy, played with Neil Young?
(You didn't know. They were called the Mynah Birds, ripping off the Byrds.)
Probably what you do know is that James was for a time an actual super-duper freaky freak, surrounding himself with the proverbial hookers and drugs, charged with abduction and assault in 1993, serving two years in a California state prison (the judge called it "a gift" from the jury, which acquitted him or deadlocked on still other charges), emerging in 1996 with a resolve to stage a comeback -- which he did, but mostly in a nostalgic, VH1, frequent-appearances-at-Constitution-Hall sense of the word. He last played Constitution Hall as recently as May, with his old prot & eacute;g & eacute; Teena Marie. A Washington Post critic wrote that watching him was "sadly suggestive of a really good karaoke version of Rick James. But once he got there, he was ready to go all night."
The comedian Dave Chappelle, in his Comedy Central sketch show, does a Rick James caricature, inspiring people everywhere to walk around and say, "I'm Rick James, bitch!" Rather than bemoan this, James embraced it. According to MTV News, James was talking to Chappelle in June about the comedian playing him in a movie version of his life, based on "Memoirs of a Super Freak," which he'd been writing for years.