I flew to Detroit in January 1985 to speak with Funk's prime mover, George Clinton. Founder of Parliament-Funkadelic, the space age rapper, Clinton was in colored braids and running to the bathroom to snort lines on that snowy night in the Motor City.
Could you possibly define funk?
Oh, man. There's a different one at any given moment. To me, it's basically . . . whatever it takes to put you in that frame of mind . . . that no matter how bad the situation is, it ain't bad enough for you to jump off no roof or even feel bad. My philosophy is everything'll be all right by Thursday. I don't care what it is. So, funk to me is an attitude and it's a life-saving attitude. You can be so lackadaisical and so groovy till their ain't no accomplishment to test the vibe that it's puttin' on ya. People used to say, 'oh, that's just funky.' Look down their nose. It's not just funky, it's funky with a capital 'F.' It's transcendental. It's that warm, wet, funky place that they have in the dictionary. Like the womb. Warm, wet, damp and smelly. 'Funky' was a word you couldn't say when I was growing up.
Themes like space exploration and cloning have appeared in your work. How serious are you about these themes?
Oh, it's so serious, now, that it's basic. They gettin' ready to leave this planet so soon . . . that's what all this preparation is about. They really don't care too much about the planet 'cuz, I mean, in the future they plan on leavin' the planet! That is, without a doubt, what big business, the corporations and nations are thinkin' about. They realize that they're usin' up all the resources and they don't really care. That's serious. It's not even fiction anymore.
They're probably gonna build a Holiday Inn in the sky.
They're gonna have Big Macs up there! We gotta new song on the new album called "Space Limousine." We're renovatin' the Mother Ship. Thomas Dolby did a couple of the cuts. He's the space limousine driver. And cloning, that's normal stuff now. Genetic engineering. That's what Dr. Funkenstein (1976) is about. It was about the ability to clone the mummies from the pyramids. What other reason would anybody want to preserve anything for that long unless some intelligence knew, eventually, we would have the intelligence to bring it back to life? We'll probably get some answers from the pharaohs. But they didn't know nothin'about what we was talkin' about on black radio. The record company said 'are you crazy?' They didn't even know what we was talkin' about. But it worked. What was even weirder than that was Funkentelechy. That's one I had to look up in the dictionary myself. Entelechy is what it is. Maximum potential . . .
Oh, the soul.
Yeh, it's the soul. It's all that you can possibly be. Funkentelechy is after that. Just do it. You need a flashlight, though.
You once said something in RockBill: "there ain't but seven notes."
Yeh, now. There used to be more.
What do you mean?
They outlawed 'em. I think it was the Church. They don't like knowledge but for one or two notes. All music was one at one time. It's all divided up, now, you know, the Catholic Church here, Chinese, voodoo, rhythm and blues, rock . . . everybody's got just a piece of it, you know what I'm sayin'? Some way, it's all gonna have to fuse back together. Before that . . .the more the merrier. Seven notes is just what they'll allow you to do now. Now, though, there's tones to be dealt with. That's what electronics is showin' ya, now. The synthesizers. They hit some primal tones that, before, instruments were not able to do. You can do as much with a tone now as you can do with a note. I'm doin' alot of what's called atonal now. It works good in chants.
How's Bootsy (Collins)?
Bootsy's songs are always along the vibe of silly-serious. You could say anything and if it felt right, it was cool. Nobody questioned the reality, the validity of whatever he said, you know, because reality changes every day, too. What goes up don't necesssarily have to come back down no more. Before logic, before Plato and Socrates and all them started makin' sense out of stuff and havin' to have proof . . . before that, it was the gods and everybody got along just fine with that. They actually saw 'em and talked to 'em. It seems that logic is comin' to its end. It don't solve a lot o' shit. You can't logically get no answer for, say, something like abortion now. There ain't no logical answer for that, for or against it. It's not nothin' that you want to legislate either way. That means you got to have some other kind of thing to govern us when it comes to that shit. It's another intelligence we got to acquire. A compassion within us . . . accidents like they just had in India . . . they don't know what kind of mutations and bacteria . . . they don't know how devastating that stuff is. You're gonna get something seriously fucked up. Yeh, you're gonna get that kind of intensity, whether it's a Jesus or . .. something like that's got to happen 'cuz otherwise there's nothin' to hold the shit together. That Star Wars stuff they talkin' about in the Defense. That's deep. That's deep.
What do you mean 'there's gonna be free alterations' (from Computer Games, 1983)?
Ah, genetics. It's gonna start out bein' a good thing, gettin' rid of diseases, but this thing of makin' the perfect human: it's gonna keep goin' until they make the right nose, the right eyes, and the right hair. All o' that free alterations without askin' us. Pretty soon, they gonna say 'you're offensive 'cuz you ugly.'
I never see TV (threw it out the window last fall), so I don't know what you've done.
You never seen 'Atomic Dog'?
Oh, that's a good one. A real good one.
There were complains that MTV is racist.
It's just what I was sayin'. Somebody's trying to get their format together. I mean, I don't look at that shit in no kinda way personal. It's just too petty. I just try to find something that they can use without giving up my integrity. It's just like FM radio. They wanna play nothin' but rock 'n roll. It'll work as long as they can get away with it, but MTV don't get way with it no more . . they know us in France, Germany, Sweden, Japan and they don't even speak English! I'm supposed to do some stuff with a guy called Fela (Anikulapo-Kuti) as soon as they let him out of house arrest. They had a change of government in Nigeria and last I heard, they had him locked up.
What message would you convey to as many people as possible?
Let's get into bed. As many people as I could say that to, yeh, that's what I'd say. (Laughs) That's not profound enough, eh? No, that's pro-fun! A planet in bed together . . . and watch out of advertising. Advertisers, like for football games, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute 'cuz they know it's workin'. And for people who can't get those things they be advertising, it's workin' to a point that it's really obscene because those people go out robbin', stealin' and murderin' tryin' to get things. They tell you to maintain control, but that's bullshit. That shit that they be doin' to you is scientifically designed to break your control and make you feel inferior. And you cannot make those connections in your defense. Try to tell 'em that you were systematically brainwashed and you sound like you're insane. Paranoid. They use Pavlov's Theory. B.F. Skinner. Operant conditioning. The only thing we can do is be a little radical musically and that keeps us at a distance from it.
Would you send your kids to school if you didn't have to?
No. No. You don't learn how to learn in school. They just teach you tricks. No, I wouldn't. It's gettin' ready to get deeper now 'cuz they have bullshit gene pools. They gonna make the selections of who is to be what real early now. The title song of the new album goes like this:
"Adam split the scene on the Eve of destruction/not unlike the way we split a pair of genes/but the way we spit our genes/we split our world at the seam/someone call the space limousine. Hitler hit the scene/with dreams of destruction/not knowing what atom splitting means/while he dreamed his mean dream/the means to his dream split the scene/someone call the space limousine."
Nature has a way of balancing things.