by Andrew Matson & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hat is funk? The type of band wherein everybody plays rhythm? A type of jazz? Rock? The over-emphasis of a measure's "one" beat? A bad smell? A feeling of freedom?
Is it music or mindstate?
Most consider the genre indefinable, though only after several attempts at definition. Regardless, all academic pattering is rendered moot by the indelible image of George Clinton -- with band or alone. Surely, everything this man does is funky. His patented "King of all Homeless Guys" look (rainbow dreadlock explosion, cape/robe, collection of rags, indoor sunglasses) begs funk's eternal question. Is this crazy or is it calculated?
It's a question nobody would have thought to ask in the '60s, when Clinton was a staff songwriter for Detroit's Motown Records (penning songs for The Supremes, The Jackson 5). He played it straight, looked like a responsible citizen, got a bachelor's degree in math (!), and worked hard with the same doo-wop band he started when he was 15, The Parliaments. But by 1970, Clinton was commanding the two-headed Parliament-Funkadelic beast, daily breaking further away from already forward-thinking peers like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, unafraid, even proud to be called crazy.
As the decade progressed, P-Funk released a string of irreverently groundbreaking albums, helping define "funk" on the fly. James Brown's was a classical interpretation; using standard instrumentation, he and his JBs specialized in polyrhythmic, Afrobeat workouts. Sly and the Family Stone brought a grandiose self-awareness to the era, using funk as an exploration of the soul and an instrument of social change. But as Sly Stone's vision was uneasily co-opted by the West Coast's Black Panther movement, nobody guessed Clinton's political affiliation lay with the aliens.
At some point, George Clinton convinced P-Funk that the natural progression of things was that they, the funkiest band in the world, would eventually funk themselves right off this planet, out of The Matrix and into space. P-Funk played out Clinton's transcendental-psychedelic fever-dream to startling effect, cross-dressing, onstage orgasming, and generally legend-building their way through multiple lineup permutations including Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell and Maceo Parker. Clinton surely provided the only opportunity in the music biz to flex classical training while wearing a diaper, playing King Tut, or otherwise acting like a cartoon character.
Looking back on Clinton's career, his musical and visual audacity remains notable for their evangelical properties. Maybe (probably) George had all the best drugs, but also (definitely) his brand of psychedelic freedom was the real deal: a complete outlet for the entire emotional spectrum. Say what you like, sing what you like, dress how you like, love how you like -- George Clinton was/is pretty obviously not going to judge you for your neuroses, hang-ups or fetishes. He does, however, want them satisfied, making him the most benevolent God ever.
While I must amend my previous claim that everything George Clinton does is funky (crack felonies are not funky, I don't care what anyone says), he's certainly the most contagiously funky being ever to walk the Earth. Not everyone can work for NASA, but George Clinton's taking everyone to space.
George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars at the Big Easy on Saturday March 3 at 8 pm. $30. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.