The Funky Precedent
Examining the Clinton Party Line
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic
Fri March 2, Showbox, 8 pm, $20 adv/$25 DOS, 21+.
If the late James Brown is funk music's superego, Parliament-Funkadelic mastermind George Clinton is its id. Brown was all about order, discipline; Clinton is about chaos, getting stoned. Whereas you could bounce a quarter off JB's funk, with Clinton and company, you could smoke a dime bag on it (and to it). In fact, in order to understand Clinton's absurdist funk odysseys, you practically need to be high on something.
In addition to spreading the funk gospel for eons, Clinton and his talented cohorts (especially keyboardist Bernie Worrell, bassist Bootsy Collins, guitarist Eddie Hazel, and drummers Tiki Fulwood and Jerome Brailey) laid the foundation for much golden-era hiphop, in which P-Funk samples are as plentiful as profanity in Straight Outta Compton.
Besides these accomplishments, Clinton has been one of music's wittiest spiritual sloganeers, political proselytizers, and slang slingers. All of which makes this Seattle gig an opportune time to survey his creative peaks.
"I'll Bet You" (Funkadelic, 1970). A thrillingly intricate and soulful vocal arrangement reflecting Clinton's doo-wop background combines with Hazel's Hendrixian guitar seminar. The lyrics warn against hubris, especially in matters of love. Priceless wisdom packaged in a wickedly psychedelic blues-funk jam.
"Music for My Mother" (Funkadelic). A repeated field holler (whoa-hah-hey, whoa-hah-hah) bolsters Funkadelic's grittiest, earthiest groove ever. Over an ominously tense strut reminiscent of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," Clinton drawls on about music's restorative powers: "This is what ya call 'way-back-yonder funk.'"
"I Wanna Know if It's Good to You?" (Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow, 1970). A slow, nasty-as-bum-crack funk rhythm provides the epistemological foundation for an inquiry into mutual sexual satisfaction. Funkadelic deal with this eternally burning issue with loins and brains a-blazing. Warning: This song can cause pregnancy at up to 30 paces.
"Loose Booty" (America Eats Its Young, 1972). A frank celebration of the female gluteus maximus, which is, psychologists speculate, the catalyst for most male achievements—maybe even for civilization itself. Hazel and Gary Shider's languid wah-wah guitar riffs and slinky funk groove pay homage to callipygian women, while Worrell gives free rein to his inner Keith Emerson. Bottoms up!
"Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" (Mothership Connection, 1975). Funk here is a drug, or sex, or, indeed, divinity. Perhaps it's all three. Whatever the case, Parliament's mantric chanting of the chorus convinces you that only the most foolish ignoramus would choose to live without the funk.
"Flash Light" (Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome, 1977). This humble household item becomes both a source of metaphysical illumination and a euphemism for the male reproductive organ. Thus, "Flash Light" encapsulates the Clintonian Weltanschauung, conflating enlightenment with sexual pleasure. Further, "Flash Light" is one of Parliament's tightest, funkiest compositions, with Worrell and Collins forging some of their most memorably serpentine riffs. "Flash Light" charted high in 1978, and was the anthem during my junior year at Southfield High School. Who couldn't warm to the song's conclusion: "Everybody's got a little light under the sun!"
"One Nation Under a Groove" (One Nation Under a Groove, 1978). The ultimate Clinton manifesto. Nobody's better articulated the transcendent nature of movement. "One Nation Under a Groove" posits that humankind can "dance our way out of our constrictions," and with this sinuous, snappy track playing, that activity has rarely been easier to accomplish. "With the groove our only guide, we shall all be moved" isn't naiveté; it's the basis for a new national anthem. Clinton for president!
"(Not Just) Knee Deep" (Uncle Jam Wants You, 1979). Sampled by dozens of hiphop producers, this epic track's "oh oh oh OH OH oh" echoes the similarly gospel-tinged transportation of "One Nation," a surrendering to a higher power that transcends language; only ecstatic vowels can truly convey the intensity of exaltation occurring here. Fuck going to a shrink or preacher; listen to this instead.
"Atomic Dog" (Computer Games, 1982). Countless spins on sports-bar jukeboxes and in fratboy bars barely dim the towering, totemic funkitude of "Atomic Dog." Equating male sexual instincts with that of our canine counterparts, Clinton nails a universal axiom: Dog must chase cat to ensure our survival. Or something. Damn, look at that booty move to Bootsy's bass! Woof!