This was the first time I saw Etta James, in Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (1987), a tribute to Chuck Berry on his 60th birthday. I remember I was shocked at the sight of a big woman singing like that, shaking her ass and taking the stage for her own. It's cool to watch and in 2012 still seems kind of bold and unusual. She's really big, she's really moving, she's really good at it. I wish I could have seen her in action more. And heard her (apparently) fantastically nasty stage patter.
I have been reading snippets of her autobiography via GoogleBooks and here is something she wrote about that:
Fans will see me kicking off my shoes and stomping on stage, turning my back, sticking out my big butt and shaking it like a fool. I'll rub my hands all over my body, roll my tongue, and play the slut. Been doing that shit for years. Why? I'm conflicted. Sometimes when I sing live, I feel like the devil gets in me. I want to scandalize the squares; I want to be bad. I'm defiant. I know people are thinking--man, that woman is fat!--and I want to show 'em right off that I don't give a shit.
But I do. I feel like the clown. I feel the humiliation every fat person feels. I get tired of treating myself like some joke. The joke, you see, is my way of hiding pain. It's protection. And it feels like punishment.Depending on which obituary you read, the gastric bypass surgery James in 2002 had either created complications that contributed to her death or saved her life (maybe both, eh?). I wouldn't know. She wasn't a clown, though. She may have felt like one sometimes, but from where we sit, she wasn't. She was fantastic.
the singing at 3:30 - 3:50 kills me:
ADDENDUM: This is a fabulous obituary I hadn't read when I posted the above. By Kenyon Farrow.