2007-01-24 / Opinion

SHRINE FIT FOR A SUPERSTAR

by Alex McRae

James Brown made a million bucks singing "I Feel Good." Right now, "The Hardest Working Man In Show Business" feels anything but good.

In fact, he doesn't feel anything at all.

The "Godfather of Soul" passed away on Christmas Day 2006. But Brown didn't go very far. Concert promoters used to say: "Elvis has left the building." As of Jan. 15, 2007, Brown's body still hadn't left the living room of his house in Beech Island, S.C., where the singer's remains have reposed in a sealed casket since a round of funeral celebrations over New Year's weekend.

It isn't a lack of money that's keeping Brown from being buried.

It's a lack of consensus among his children and trustees of his will about where Brown's body should rest for eternity.

Those in charge think Brown deserves a memorial equal to his standing as the man Rolling Stone magazine named in 2004 as the seventh greatest musical artist of all time. They also want a memorial that will keep the cash flowing to the family. The uninformed think death is the end of the celebrity gravy train. For some entertainers, it's the beginning. Elvis Presley has generated more cash since his death than he did while he was alive, a fact that prompted Elvis' longtime manager, Colonel Tom Parker, to once remark that Elvis' death was "a great career move."

Parker was tacky. But he was right. Last year, Elvis' estate raked in $42 million, selling everything from CDs to stuffed teddy bears, to Love Me Tender bedspreads, Blue Hawaii air fresheners and, of course, tours of Elvis' Memphis mansion, Graceland.

When it comes to milking money from dead celebrities, nobody does it better than Elvis' handlers. So it isn't surprising Brown's family contacted Elvis' people for advice.

Right now, Brown's handlers are thought to be leaning toward erecting a huge mausoleum to hold Brown's body and opening up his home as a museum in the Graceland mold.

They might want to reconsider. And think on a somewhat grander scale.

Graceland was fine when Presley died in 1977, but these days, Graceland can't handle all the worshipers that flock to Presley's home and grave each year. Adjusted for inflation (of dollars and tourist), Graceland would need to be the size of the Georgia Dome to hold all Presley's pilgrims.

If the Brown folks get it right, tens of thousands might be tempted to slip over to South Carolina and snag a souvenir from the "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" gift shop. They might want to wander through the CD selection at the "Please, Please, Please" record shop. They might even want to buy a T-shirt bearing the image of "Soul Brother Number One."

Brown's folks need to think big. There is at least one example they can study. It's a tomb in metro India called the Taj Mahal. It was built between 1631 and 1654 by an emperor named Shah Jah'n as a mausoleum for his favorite wife. Not counting the pyramids, the Taj Mahal claims to be the world's biggest tomb. It is India's top tourist attraction, drawing more than three million credit card-carrying tourists each year.

The very name Taj Mahal has come to symbolize anything built on a grand scale.

When the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. opened the corporate headquarters for his racing company, DEI, it didn't take long for fans to dub the place the Garage Mahal.

James Brown deserves a Mahal all his own. It just needs to be something that suits the singer's sizzling style and down-home Southern roots.

It doesn't take a genius to know millions of fans would feel right at home at James Brown's…"The Mahal, Y'all."

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