Take It From a Sex Machine. The Blower Door Is Important

Photographer: Henning Kaiser/AFP via Getty Images

James Brown performing at the Philharmonie in Cologne, Germany on Nov. 27, 2003. Close

James Brown performing at the Philharmonie in Cologne, Germany on Nov. 27, 2003.

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Photographer: Henning Kaiser/AFP via Getty Images

James Brown performing at the Philharmonie in Cologne, Germany on Nov. 27, 2003.

James Brown. Godfather of soul. Self-styled sex machine. Home energy pitchman.

A Decatur, Georgia, company called Energy Vanguard posted to its website this week a three-minute video of Brown -- or an incredible simulation -- explaining how a "blower door" works. If you're a James Brown fan, and who isn't, it feels like 300 minutes. When will it end, you wonder, and then conclude: It won't. At least it gets funnier as it goes along.

The origin of the video is uncertain. Brown was imprisoned after a 1988 car chase with policemen in South Carolina. While serving his sentence, he took a job with a work-release program, according to an April 1990 Los Angeles Times story, that had him making community appearances to benefit the “poor, hungry and homeless.” And, apparently, people with homes, too.

Hence the blower door.

A blower door is a powerful fan that helps detect air leaks in a house by, well, it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that the funkadelic poet laureate of R&B, the passionate man of musical letters who sang "You give me fever and a cold sweat, the way I like it is the way it is, I got mine, don't worry about his," -- or an incredible simulation -- explains that "the blower door is very important":

"The importance of the blower door on a house … All obvious leaks such as broken windows ... I mean broken windowpanes … You know what I'm saying, when I say ‘broken windows’? Broken windowpanes … They’re big holes in the walls. I've seen’em. Gotta be repaired!"

Halfway through, the disquisition appears to end, only to slam you back into your seat like Chuck Yeager under 8 g's. Brown has bounced right back, off a heedless, slashing jump cut, and now his head is enormous, Rushmore-ian. Wielding a letter-opener like a conductor’s baton, he is seated behind a desk cluttered with padded mailing envelopes and pencil holders. More about the blower door!

Four viewings of the video left me in a bemused trance, unable to distinguish Mr. Dynamite from Mr. Energy-Friendly. I mean, can you tell the difference?

“The blower door helps the crew to locate and seal the air leaks.”
“We will weatherize the house by installing weather stripping and windows. And doors!”
“Uh! I need a little air-freshener… under the drums. Uh! Open up the window, y’all! Let out some! Too funky in here! Wooh!”
“Get up. Get on up. Get up. Get on up. And then shake your money maker. Shake your money maker. Shake your money maker.”

Eventually even the innocent phrase "blower door" has taken on a lewd, winking cast.

There’s also the invisible audience in the video, they who are learning how to “blow air out of the house, to 50 pascals of pressure.” What are they thinking? I have learned much of the blower door? When is James going to get down and let 'er rip?

Those "broken windowpanes" -- they suggest problems bigger than what your friendly neighborhood home-energy diagnostician can address. Why were they broken? Why weren’t they fixed? Why do you even need to conduct a blower-door test before you fix gaping holes in windows? There’s a long-running controversy in criminology actually called “broken window theory.” The original 1982 Atlantic Monthly article posited that broken windows left un-repaired invite more broken windows; litter invites more litter.

This hallucinatory video, which Grist.org spotted yesterday, offers a glimpse of what must have been a hard episode in Brown’s life (he died in 2006), and what good anyone thought might come of it. Officials in the South Carolina weatherization office couldn’t be reached for comment.

Brown is right about one thing, true of home energy audits, of sustainability, of life: The blower door is very important.

More by Eric Roston (@eroston on Twitter):

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