Even if you don't own a P-Funk album (and looking through my music collection in preparation for this article I was amazed to find that I don't), their musical legacy is never far from the collective consciousness. P-Funk samples have become ubiquitous with the advent of hip-hop and DJ culture, and producers the world round have bought, borrowed, or stolen music from Clinton's clique to lend their own output a bit of, shall we say, trombipulatory gloryhallastoopidity. But no matter how much nonsense Clinton spouts about "airwave implants," "frequency pollution," and "alien invasions," it is clear that life on earth (when he chooses to descend) has been kind to George Clinton and his brethren.
And though "The Parliaments" started out as a suburban New Jersey doo-wop band in the late '50s, the phenomenon of P-Funk has established itself in the annals of music as the trailblazers of a divergent — though arguably more popular — strain of funk. The other path, of course, was bushwacked by James Brown — and the difference, though many hate to admit it, can largely be traced to the drug of choice. While the Godfather of Soul was inventing the breakdance two decades too early from the platform of angel dust, wrapping himself in the folds of an updated R&B groove with unparalleled talent to back it up, the Atomic Dawg was breaking away from the Motown sound with psychedelic experimentation and guitar distortion, flashy garb and bass lines that drill the boom right into listeners' heads. It is no coincidence that James Brown and George Clinton are two of the most heavily sampled artists of all time.
Both men are intense innovators and talented conductors who have herded a group of sometimes-difficult egos into the most enduring sound of the last half century. Rock 'n' roll changes with the times, and pop acts flow wisp-like from the whim of the masses. But funk remains the same, and with its formidable groove has forced the music industry to adapt and make room for the sound of booties shaking the world over.
For those long accustomed to the intergalactic fashions of P-Funk, it may come as a surprise that the biggest change in Clinton's career was style.
"Back in the Motown days, we used to wear tailored suits," Clinton told an interviewer in 1999. "That was the thing to do in Philly. Even in the ghetto, you'd buy the best suits or have them tailor-made. We was broke as hell, but that was the thing. It was like the clean, pimp style. But seeing how fictitious that was, we welcomed a change. So when kids started wearing hole-y jeans and T-shirts, we'd grab a towel and wear it like a diaper. When it changed again and it had to be clean again, we bought $10,000 leather-winged outifts, spacemen costumes, and a half-a-million-dollar Mothership. If it had glitter, we had to make it glitter to the point that nobody had ever done it before."
There's no doubt that a P-Funk show has plenty of glitter. With elaborate musical dramas acted out by jack-booted back-up singers in cammo gear and a heavily-muscled pariah with a decidedly un-funky prosthetic nose, it often takes an almost omniscient understanding of both bands' discography to know what the hell is happening onstage. But that's half the fun of it, and the clueless fan soon learns that it's less about Sir Nose vs. Starchild than about putting the boogie in your butt. Free your mind, P-Funk says, and your ass will follow.
"Funk gives you the right to do anything you want to do," Clinton says. "It's anything you can do to stay alive ... Use the funk, Luke." It seems groups as diverse as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dr. Dre have been using the funk and keeping Clinton alive and on the airwaves for years.
"The sampling made us big again," says Clinton. "It's weird, too. We were more popular in '76 than we were 10 years ago. But now we're more popular than we were in '76 without the hit record. We stayed around so long and we're down with every group. If the parents say,'I hate that shit!'' I gravitate towards that."
So whether you're "down" with rap, rock or electronica, you should know that your favorite artist has probably been influenced, directly or not, by P-funk's work. With that in mind, I suggest you gravitate toward Sunset Station for the truly unifying and unique experience of One Nation Under a Groove.
GEORGE CLINTON WITH PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC
Sunday, October 29
1174 East Commerce