gall and gumption

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Good Dreams

I had good dreams last night because I stayed up late and watched this documentary about George Clinton. You had better watch it too. You will be so glad. For me it was eye-opening because Parliament and the Funkadelics had some popularity in Jamaica when I was a teenager. On Saturdays the thing to do was go to The Plazas, the shopping plazas along Constant Spring Road, and always end up at Tropical Records where they had listening booths. My recollections of Parliament and that whole era of funk music are associated with that time particularly, these album covers that to my eye looked dangerous. When I was 15 really subversive things frightened me -- I thought Peter Tosh was scary back then. Not violent, but really, I can say that I have experienced what it is like to feel that a piece of art is dangerously subversive, and to feel the fear of that. I did fear it, and it was enough to fear: I never enquired into it. By the time I got the idea that I could enquire into that fear, I wasn't afraid any more. With the Funkadelic stuff there was a feeling that to clown in this reckless way was skirting unrespectability.The music was terrific, of course, but everything that went along with it was just a wee bit alarming for a nice uptown Kingston girl.

I mean, whatever you were supposed to be afraid of catching from bad taste, well, whatever that was, it was all over everything Parliament/Funkadelics did. Now, though, I look at this film and what I feel towards all of them is gratitude, for the music and for such reckless originality. It really did have some muscle and kick, what those guys did.

Now it all just seems nothing less than magnificent. I am glad there is a Bootsy in the world, I am glad he was there then, Jesus, I am glad that just this one bunch of people were having so much fun pushing their whole act so completely over the top. In the third photo down in the Bootsy link, do note that he is wearing a souped up KKK hood and robe. And the music still sounds good. Plus it was nice, in the film, to see all these young rappers talking about what an impact funk had on them. Strange to think that this whole genre was pretty much the work of one guiding genius with a few other geniuses along with him, but it was all the same shop, hilariously the same shop as this film attests.

What I loved so much is when they were telling the story of their beginnings. George Clinton had a barbershop in Newark, NJ, and he and his friends had a doo-wop group, as everybody did in those days. They kept it going for years and got signed to a label, not Motown, though they auditioned there. They got on a smaller label and actually had a hit and got invited to perform at the Apollo. Up to this point you are watching every R&B bio documentary. But then the band members who are telling the story get to this point and they start cracking up. Because they got on the stage and they were so BAD, I mean pathetically bad, that they realized that their only hope was in being bad. So they went off and let themselves be awful. and somehow that enabled them to get good at what nobody else was doing, at what they invented for themselves. And I mean they really went for it. There's one clip of a black lead singer in a Mohawk (in the early 1970s!) and he is singing his guts out, just laying it on, and the line he is singing, over and over, is "Friday night, August the 14th."

The film was made by a black woman filmmaker.


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