George Clinton took the stage by storm last night at the Brooklyn Museum in a candid and overwhelmingly insightful chat with Chairman Mao for Red Bull Music Academy. Unapologetically honest and radiating the type of charisma we’ve long known him for, Clinton waxed diligently over his near six decade career, which began in the barbershop, writing for Motown, and transformed what he had known to be the soul canon, adding sequins and nixing garments where needed.
Much of his discussion was devoted to the many names and faces that had influenced his craft, both sonically and aesthetically, the common thread to all of those memorable recording was the copious amount of, um, mind alterations (?) that virtually dictated his entire studio regimen. Most of us are probably of the understanding that Clinton & Co. have a longstanding, sometimes and embattled and sometimes cherished relationship with psychedelics, but that connection was made all that much more clear upon that stage last night, as he could barely recall most of those moments, chalking up his lack of recollection to a phrase that dominated the evening: “Man, I was fucked up.” But that clearly didn’t keep Clinton in the now, as whatever he was on also kept him perfectly in tune with where music was headed, using his generations discontent for an act as a gauge for what was about to pop. And that formula, more often than not, proved to be a massive success for him and the many acts that he harbored under his wing.
But aside from all the hazy memories (or should I say, lack thereof) Dr. Funkenstein would literally gush over the soul and funk luminaries that were his predecessors, contemporaries and successors. He championed Jimi Hendrix as the great redeemer of rock & roll; the man the reminded the world that that music was black music. He praised Junie Morrison (and also provided an absolutely hilarious impression) for his ability to analyze vocal structures with academic precision. Clinton had a few words for dear friend and later collaborator Sly Stone, but wouldn’t go too far in on those experiences, claiming that the statute of limitations had yet to run out on those tales, but he did declare with brotherly admiration and all of the glee that, “That’s my motherfucker, right there!” He would also go on to declare Rakim as “The One” and seemed to share the same level of reverence for recent collaborator Kendrick Lamar, who joined him at his Florida ranch to record their opening number for Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly LP.
Clinton, given his lengthy experience with sample clearances, also chimed in on the “Blurred Lines” debate, which seemed fairly cut-and-dry, as he professed that he did not believe the two tracks were as uncanny in the similarity as many had made them out to be, warning of the dire implications that a verdict that favored Gaye’s estate brought with it.
After nearly an hour and a half of being propped up on that couch, and what was easily one of the most entertaining and all-out riotous discussions this writer has ever witnessed, it seemed painfully clear that the entire evening basically revolved around one fundamental question, which Mao had actually posed at the very beginning of their chat. “What is funk?” to which Clinton, in his most sincere and earnest moment answered “Funk is what you do to save your life when you have no other options.” And so to him, funk is much more than the music or the clothes or the lifestyle. To George Clinton, funk is the very air we breathe and we could not have a more fitting ambassador.