Friday, August 5, 2011
George Clinton 1993 Interview
Ran: Creem, October 1993
Title: Old School, New School, Always Cool
Photo by Margo Myles
In 1976, with his groups Parliament and Funkadelic among the most popular funk bands around, George Clinton said, "Being freaky is my defense against the world being so scary." At that time, he'd been recording for 20 years. In 1993, having gone through bankruptcy in the '80s--despite continuing hits--and lawsuits then and at present, this 52-year-old genius says, "Now, being scary is my defense against the world being so freaky. I guess I ain't too freaky now, compared to what's going on."
A funny thing happened to the man who dubbed himself Dr. Funkenstein: after his career was considered over, the music supposedly making his style obsolete actually resurrected it. De La Soul, Public Enemy, Digital Underground. Jungle Brothers, Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian, Biz Markie, Tone Loc, EPMD, Eric B. & Rakim, Gang Starr, Heavy D., Ice Cube, LL Cool J, Salt-n-Pepa, and Stereo MCs are a small fraction of the folks who've sampled P.Funk grooves, to the point where he's generally believed to have surpassed James Brown for the title of most-sampled.
Now some of Clinton's friends and admirers--Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Yo-Yo, Humpty Hump (Digital Underground), Flavor Flav (Public Enemy), Anthony Keidis and Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Pupa Curly--have joined him on his new album, Hey Man, Smell My Finger, and (though they aren't all on the song) the video for its first single, "Paint the White House Black," directed and produced by the Hudlin brothers. Clinton didn't even want to do the song at first, but the enthusiasm of Paisley Park's Kerry Gordy (son of Motown founder Berry Gordy, for whom Clinton worked in the '60s as a songwriter and producer) made George reconsider, as he relates: "That's lame as hell--`Paint the White House Black.' Damn, we did `Chocolate City.' Then I figured, all my friends, they can say it, 'cause they need to beat up on somebody else other than sucker MCs and the bitch anyway. So I got them to do it and it came out really fucking good. It could be black, white, brown, anything, but just paint it. Paint it white again if you have to. But just give that motherfucker a fresh coat. I don't care what color it is, just, don't leave that, it's got a dinge thing on it, it's dingy. But I knew that [the rappers] would have their own vibes and reasons. Like Yo-Yo said, 'It can be a white house, a black house, an outhouse, a crack house, but if it ain't the right house"--hers is from a female point of view. She ain't talking about just the house, she's talking about, no matter who's in there, if he ain't right, fuck 'im, get out, paint it another color."
The result is a hilarious send-up from the man who ran a mock Presidential campaign when George Bush and Bill Clinton were competing for the job last year. I know it's a damn good song, because I heard it all day during the video shoot and just liked it more by the end. Reginald and Wellington Hudlin's high-energy, colorful visuals, complete with Bill and Hillary impersonators, will abet its popularity. At the time his film House Party was released, Reginald Hudlin said, "George Clinton is my primary aesthetic influence in life" (he even gave Clinton a cameo as a party deejay), so this team-up was fitting.
Much of the rest of the new album is just as good, with "Martial Law" being the centerpiece (for George's feelings on this Rodney King riots-inspired track and its theme, see the "Wit & Wisdom" sidebar [below]). A broad variety of styles are traversed, even including House, but the CD never seems like one of those lame tryin'-to-be-hip comeback attempts lesser stars have fallen prey to. Asked how he strikes a balance between keeping his own style and keeping up with the times, Clinton replies, "That's right, it's just balance. All I do is do half of what they do. I try to do a little bit of what I think is gonna happen or what I think things are headed, and I try not to copy them, I try to let myself be influenced by what's going on more than copy it." This is one old dog happy to learn new tricks. "Even though a lot of people say, `you started out rapping,' I don't rap like they do [nowadays]. They have a flow as opposed to a groove. They flow over top of a track. Singers are absorbed in the drums grooving. I took a long time to learn that. I had Humpty show me how to do it, and Flavor. I've asked them all, `do this for me, how would you do it?' I realized it's a tone, and basically rap to me sound better the younger you are, the more kiddie you sound. Even though I think Rakim is the epitome of what it's about, he's still got that `boyee' Bronx/Brooklyn/New Jersey thing, and it works. L.A. got its own; Cube to me is like James Brown. He can say, `Uh, good God,' and it works. It's his tone of voice. He say, `I mirror the streets. We them clones you was talking about.' And what is sampling but cloning?"
Just as Clinton's past progression takes in R&B harmony groups, Motown soul, Hendrixian acid rock, the most highly complex funk grooves ever constructed, rococo disco, and proto-techno, showing the mix of styles on Smell My Finger is standard procedure for him, his discussion of the early days of Funkadelic proves that the new album's political perspicacity is no new development. "Nobody knows what the fuck's goin' on. Soon as you do, it changes anyway, so ain't no one thing stable but freedom. But then I found out freedom of the need to be free is even better, so we just went out to lunch. Free your mind, and your ass will follow. And those three records, up to Maggot Brain, we just went totally out to lunch. By the time we got to America Eats Its Young, I was trying to figure, I done took all this acid, and hippies and all that shit was over, do I have enough brain cells to come back to chronological if I have to? America Eats Its Young have a lot of songs that's really kind of straight, even though the titles are out there, and the title of the album is out there, but you can follow the songs pretty easy. They're the harshest songs I think I ever done. If you don't straighten up, Nature will straighten your ass up. "If You Don't Like the Effects, Don't Produce the Cause," that's very heavy. And the one that's really hard, "Biological Speculation," that is really horrible. That's as pretty as hell, but that's like, if you expect a hungry motherfucker to just take it, and not fight back, you're crazy. If you say, why do they do that, and you know they broke and hungry and shit, you crazy if you have to ask that question. Like the French Revolution: `Let them eat cake'--sooner or later they gonna have your head. If they don't hurry up and feed the hungry and the poor and everything, all the logic in the world is out to lunch. You're crazy if you expect them not to rob and steal if they ain't got no jobs, no education, no nothing. Now some people know that and be ready to kill you when you do it, but they need the main people to agree that people are rotten for stealing and breaking in. Fuck that--if they hungry, they gonna git it, so we should just make sure that everybody eats." Still all true, perhaps more apt now than than it was 20 years ago. Of course, Clinton's wild experiments and outright silliness, which helped him get across such heavy matters to a huge popular audience, have perhaps misled some into not taking him seriously. But as Clinton says his advisor Shep Gordon told him, "If you as crazy as I though you was, you wouldn't still be around, so you must be alright."
With Clinton's career once again on the upswing (more lives than a cat?), he's returned to his old ways: not only does he have his solo gig, he's signed Funkadelic to the Rowdy label. World domination of the most benevolent kind remains his goal. But if it all falls apart again sometime down the road, this is one cat who knows where he fits in. Echoing his favorite old slogan/song title, Clinton puts it all in perspective: "We only a biological speculation. I mean, Nature don't really give a fuck which life make it. It could be amoeba; dinosaur could make it. People the same way. If we don't make it, cockroach be still kickin'--`well, they blew it.' It's all a party. Ain't nothin' but a party."
SIDEBAR: The Wit and Wisdom of George Clinton
George is the master of the tangent, and I'd hate to omit the rich, rolling flavor of his discourse just 'cause it didn't fit my storyline. So here's a sampling of Clinton freestyling on his favorite topics.
"A drum machine ain't never had no pussy, so it ain't got no vibe when something feel good to it. It just like ba-doo-ba-doo-ba-doo-ba. You do that shit in real life, the chick'll tell you to fax that shit in. But singing or rapping to a rhythm machine--a real drummer, soon as he hears something that feels good to him, goes ba-ba-babadoo, take you to the next thing, he gonna motivate you to go on."
Optimistic about the recovery of his litigation-ensnared back catalog, Clinton avers, "All that stuff we'll be getting back pretty soon. I wasn't gonna sue nobody--they got me pretty good with that before I learned that you don't participate in that suit thing 'cause they all together, all those lawyers and things are down."
"They've got so much going on right now to set off paranoia. The riots--we've been talking about that all day. `What you gonna do if the verdict is this? What are you doing shooting off the roof of your building?' It seems like they're trying to make people pissed, start some shit, so they can go ahead and do martial law. We just did a record called "Martial Law" 'cause I believe that, I believe that's what they're trying to do. Pro- and anti-abortion, gay and straight, black and white, male/female...they've got all these pro and anti things and someone's pulling strings, trying to get them to fight each other. And the only sane way outta that is: One broke motherfucker can't hate another broke motherfucker. So if you're all broke, you can never hate each other as your enemy. The cops ain't the gang members' enemy, the gangs ain't the cops' enemy. Everybody's broke in that situation. And teachers should just be the highest-paid people in the world, so if you're educated you can figure all this shit out. Cops should get paid so much that they could be psychologists and they'd never have to use a gun. They intend for cops to be uneducated so they can be molded. Some cops out there scared as hell. They think it's them against the people, and that should qualify you not to get the job in the first place. You should be paid so much and be so educated that you don't have to worry about that, that you can actually understand people's frustration. But they don't want anybody to understand people's frustration, `cause that means they understand that the system is fucked up that causes this. Poverty breeds crime.
"Put a gun in their hand, and then tell them the place is dangerous. When martial law comes, you think the cops are dangerous? When martial law comes, security guards is deputized. They didn't even make the force. They gonna be the ones that kick your ass for real. So it don't even make sense to get mad at the cops when they beat you up. They have to know that you know that they're not the enemy, and you have to know that they know that you ain't the enemy. As long as they can keep gangs and cops and all these local people at each others' throats, blacks and whites, gays and straights--all those things that you can get stuck on, that's called "smokescreen." It keeps you busy while the New World Order slides in. You get [Oliver] North running around here talking about [how] he's for the government. They're getting ready to suspend the Constitution, and his secretary gives a nice speech that he's the most ta-da, ta-da, patriotic...comes out, she gets busted for blow. Nobody know that. She got busted for blow, and her statement was, `Never in the White House, only on the weekend.' North, they proved he was on a plane with tons of blow; he said, `We weren't distributing drugs. Perhaps we lent a blind eye in our pursuit of Communism. In the meantime, Communism done went pop, and here we are, still out here, got all these people strung out on crack addiction 'cause they made it so easy to get. Before it was like a hundred dollars to get a little teeny-weeny piece, so many people didn't do it. When Reagan got in there, they made it so available you could get a consignment of 10 kilos for $50,000 each. Anybody in the neighborhood could get it. And right away, you know they don't care about drugs if they giving it to you knowing you gonna get killed and that you go to jail 80% of the time--that person ain't really cared about his drugs, he just want it out there. And the same way those skinheads had those guns with no serial numbers on them, crack dealers got the same kind of guns. Drugs and guns go together, so the same people that brought the guns in, same people brought the drugs in. And it's the State Department. They need the anarchy. There's more profit in pretending to stop [drugs] than there is in selling [drugs]."
I asked the man who named the Placebo Syndrome what the placebos of the '90s are: "Prozac. Prozac like a motherfucker. That and a whole bunch of rhetoric and interactive type of CDs and videos where you stay at home and don't come out. Virtual Reality. They gonna have sex in Virtual Reality in a minute 'cause of AIDS. I mean, don't you know about computer viruses, motherfucker?" [giggles]
"They tells us now that the aliens, they gonna introduce 'em in four years. They're saying literally now that they're here--we all know that they're here, that we had 'em all this time--but now they tryin' to tell you that they are really here, out in the open. It's gonna be somebody that you know. It's getting to that point to where they say you not gonna be shocked when they finally introduce 'em to ya. Michael Jackson could be an alien, and it would be like, okay, that make more sense than just a skin disease."
"Reality is actually designed. If you look at a tickertape from AP, UPI, there's a million stories to pull from that. You sit down and look at that and wonder, why'd they pick these three? Some person picks the news, and that's what the whole album is about: who determines what's news, because the perspectives is being designed. It ain't no accident that Ike and Tina's movie right now has got raves before you even saw it. It says the things that is wanted to be said. Not that Ike was any better than it says, but damn, everybody's doing that shit. The whole white structure does their women worse than that. To put them on posters and advertise everything and have everybody after them is really horrible. To promote something that thoroughly and use it as bait is worse than Ike beating up on Tina any day of the week, 'cause they get 'em raped, they get 'em this, they get 'em that, everything happen to 'em, 'cause your perspective on it is being manipulated. You have got to realize that your first two impressions, the first two thoughts, they basically ain't yours. I know my first two impressions, I've been conditioned to think that. So maybe the third one, I might have something to do with that one. Your first instincts has already been planned for you. They've convinced everybody that drugs is a trillion-dollar business, and Adidas-wearing blacks got all the drugs. Now I know better than that, we all know better than that. If it was that many dollars, we wouldn't be on welfare and all that other shit. But the minute I get to someplace like Japan and I want a joint and I see a brother--`Yo, I know you know where it's at.' I know better than that but my instincts is the same way. So that's how thorough that shit is."