Mothership connections

Pub date August 19, 2009
WriterBilly Jam
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features


DRUGS If, while flipping through TV channels, you happened upon the episode of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab in which George Clinton appears, you might be forgiven for assuming that the Godfather of Funk, whose drug use reputation precedes him, was under Dr. Drew’s rehab care. In actuality, Clinton was not seeking any guidance from the good TV doctor. Rather, he was working alongside him in helping Rehab subject Seth "Shifty" Binzer get back on the straight and narrow road to sobriety by producing new music for the fallen Crazy Town singer.

According to those familiar with the 68-year-old funk ambassador and his lifelong body of work — which includes the catch phrase and Funkadelic album title Free Your Mind … And Your Ass Will Follow (Westbound, 1970) — George Clinton doesn’t lie or hide the fact that he has dabbled in mind-altering substances, using them to enhance the experience of the funk. "When you think of drug abuse, you immediately think of something you can’t handle, something that takes you over. So he [Clinton] is into drug overuse, but that is not the same as drug abuse. In one interview he [says he] never got religious until he took acid," explains Ricky Vincent, the Berkeley journalist, college professor, KPFA DJ, and author of the acclaimed music history book Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of The One (St. Martin’s Press), which includes a forward penned by Clinton.

"He indulges, but he manages it," says Vincent, who has interviewed Clinton numerous times. "Yes, he got arrested [once] for cocaine. But you don’t hear of him going in and out of the hospital because he overdosed and couldn’t control it. He is one of these people that has turned recreational drug use into a part of his lifestyle, and he doesn’t try to pretend that he doesn’t do drugs. George just says, ‘Hey, I get high all the time!’."

Clinton’s party ways are legendary. In Ice Cube’s early 1990s video for "Bop Gun (One Nation)" which heavily features the Godfather of Funk and reworks the title track of Funkadelic’s 1978 One Nation Under A Groove with the refrain "So high you can’t get over it," Cube at first shuns an invite to a party Clinton is throwing, saying, "I don’t know man. Your get-togethers are kind of wild." As anyone who has ever attended a Parliament-Funkadelic or P-Funk All Stars concert can attest, things tend to get crazy onstage as an ensemble numbering a dozen or more players wanders on and off stage. Most of the musicians are in costumes, including the diaper-clad guitarist/musical director Garry Marshall Shider. Donning his trademark fluorescent rainbow wig, lead funkateer Clinton is happy to be at the center of this organized chaos.

From the get-go in 1970 when the group released its first two albums, Funkadelic’s lysergic-drenched psychedelic funk noise was influenced by the rock music happening around it in Detroit and beyond. Clinton admits to taking acid to fuel his and his band’s early recordings at a time when LSD was still primarily a white person’s drug, not one widely accepted by the black community. Without it, Clinton’s pioneering psychedelic funk pioneered might never have happened. "I can’t think of any other way that you could conceive making music about going to the furthest edge of the universe and then turn around and take it to the bottom of the ocean and actually make it a musical party journey … I mean, you got to be a little altered to do that," says Too $hort, who has long drawn influence from Clinton’s music, and whose collaborations with Clinton include the title track of his 1996 album Gettin’ It (Jive).

George Clinton has been around long enough to witness this country’s changing public attitudes toward drug use and abuse. He’s smart enough to see through the hypocrisy of America’s so-called "war on drugs," and is never too shy to loudly address it. A couple of years ago, he wowed a young Def Poetry audience when he read the "poem" "Dope Dog." In actuality, its words are the lyrics to the song "U.S. Custom Coast Guard Dope Dog," from the Parliament-Funkadelic/P-Funk All Stars album Dope Dogs (P-Vine/Hot Hands/Dogone, 1994), which also features songs titled "Help, Scottie, Help (I’m Tweaking and I Can’t Beam Up)" and "Pepe (The Pill Popper)." Clinton left the audience at that HBO studio reading with an observant final line about "the deal on dope": "There’s more profit in pretending that we’re stopping it than selling it."


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