George Clinton, the undisputed godfather of funk, plans to straddle the International Date Line as he performs a fin de siècle set in Fiji on December 31st. He's finishing up two albums: One with Funkadelic is set for an October release, and another with Parliament is due out in early 2000. He also continues to create visual art, which can be seen on his Web site.
On a recent visit to San Francisco, he sat down for a chat and, while sketching trippy images onto a pad in front of him, ruminated about the end of the century, the nature of funk, and "playing crazy."
GETTINGIT: Is the new album a concept album?
GEORGE CLINTON: Lack of concept is the concept now. [Laughter] Yeah, I guess it is. Covert. Cryptic. You have to break the code to find the concept. The "C" conspiracy.
GI: I hear you have a big thing planned for the millennium; you're gonna be in Fiji or something...
GC: Yeah. We're gonna land the mothership there, the last time zone and the first time zone. The [International Date] Line is right there.
GI: So, the millennium must be a big time for you. You've always been about UFOs and psychedelic stuff.
GC: Time is getting ready to make a quantum leap. Getting ready to do its thang, you know ... Paradigms are getting ready to shift. Virtual reality is so close. It's gonna be worse than any acid you could have taken.
So my thing is, I'm not even gonna stop in the fourth dimension. The same people that run this one probably got the fourth one mapped out already. So we gonna skip the fourth and fifth and go on to the sixth. If you got to let go and go crazy, why stop where they want you to stop? I'm sure they got it mapped out already, with all this virtual reality, what's real or almost real, The Matrix, all that shit. Somebody's gotta play the part of "crazy."
GI: What about aliens? They gotta play some part too, right?
GC: They down with somebody, you know, they ain't all the same, either. Some is down with some folks; some is down with other folks. I mean, I'm sure that in the fourth dimension, you're gonna find out some people are gonna be part alien. They're gonna have a way of determining who's part alien, who's got an implant, who put the implant in 'em. They're gonna start finding all these things out.
GI: I feel like an alien sometimes...
GC: I'm sure you're part alien, or something. I think we all were cloned in the first place. That's why we get so suspicious we were made in the image of somebody. I'm pretty sure that we're not the first ones to go around cloning sheep and thangs, or getting ready to stock planets. I'm sure that's what happened here...
GI: Sometimes I think that it just happens over and over again. Like, the human race gets to the point where it becomes aware of itself, and then we start trying to reproduce the Big Bang, then we explode ourselves into nothing and it starts all over...
GC: Or the dinosaurs did it. Maybe [the people in charge then] got high and did it. Or usually, they think they did it. They write a couple of books and put 'em in capsules, and say to open it up a few millennia from now. You know, they gonna open up that chamber in the pyramids on New Year's Eve, under the Sphinx. It's gonna have the documents that tell you about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Old Testament. It's also supposed to access a new DNA thang, you know, which will probably give us another 20 percent use of our brain, and we'll be like, "Oh, damn, we've been pagans all the time."
Or it'll just say, "who gives a fuck." You know, you still have that free will choice. Who gives a fuck, or...why give a fuck...let's give a fuck.
GI: Give and take a fuck.
GC: Give and take a fuck. And it's gonna be cool to take it.
GI: What's the role of funk in all of this though?
GC: It's the ultimate excuse. An excuse to stay home from school. You don't need to get anybody's permission. Funk is like, who gives a funk, you know what I'm saying? You give your own self an excuse...you just... funk it. You do the best you can, and then you say, funk it. And then, if it makes sense to you, funk it. If it don't, funk it. And if you feel like dancing, funk it.
Funk just gives you that attitude that it's OK, everything's all right, because without being able to cling to logic...logic worked up until they started shooting rockets off the planet and realized you could escape gravity. Once they escaped gravity, that was the biggest proof that what goes up don't always come down. Then all the rest of the logic shit was suspect. Black people used to say, we got to stay black, and what goes up must come down. Ain't none of that shit true no more. Michael done proved that shit wrong, the cloned sheep proved it, and the rockets go up and gravity won't grab 'em.
So it's like, now, it's like, shit, you thought acid had you strung out there with nothing to lean on, at least you could smile and it didn't matter. But now, virtual reality's gonna destroy the rest of it, and I'll be like, damn, I can't even count on tomorrow. I really don't know if the sun's gonna come up tomorrow. You can't count on shit. And funk gives you that, "So? Why you gotta count on tomorrow?"
GI: It's just, right now...
GC: The here, and the now. I got a feeling that time is like, here, and now, and we do all the differential within our brain. You know, we see crazy people talking -- they're probably talking to somebody! For real. Just another place, another time. They're going to another dimension and their body just stays.
Reality is agreement. The minute somebody changes the agreement, somebody's gotta play "crazy." What's that saying? "He's sane enough to stand trial." That's arbitrary as a mutherfucker. [Laughter] I'd like to know, where you getting your proof at? I mean, if you're saying, Jeffrey Dahmer's sane enough to stand trial, I'm scared of you. [Laughter] I'm not so interested in getting even. I want to know where he's getting that appetite from. But they keep us in a mind of wanting to get even, so we don't really pay attention to shit.
So, reality is agreement. It depends on where you're at and who's agreement they're going by. Truth is getting to be suspect.
GI: Can I ask you a question about your music, how you do it?
GC: Same way... [Laughs]
GI: Some rappers try to force their lyrics to rhyme, and you can tell when it's forced, but a lot of your stuff flows better, it feels natural. I was wondering, when you're writing the lyrics, if you start off with a rhythm for the words, first, or...
GC: Study, man, is basically what I do....
GI: OK, but like, that song, "Dope Dog," that's my favorite song, 'cause it tells a story, a big story, but at the same time it seems like you're singing it right there on the spot, free association or something.
GC: Yeah, but I tried it a thousand ways. When I heard ['80s rap pioneer] Rakim, I was like, I gotta get one more of these mutherfuckers out of me, cause he's really good at that shit -- not only his lyrics, but his tone, his flow, it's flawless almost. But, um, study, shit... I got a rhyming dictionary right here. But it's mainly studying style and puns, metaphors, then I just let myself go and then whatever comes out comes out. As you do it longer you get apprehensive about trusting whatever comes out of your mouth, until I get in front of a crowd -- when I show off, I can do it easier.
Tone has a lot to do with it. Words don't have anything to do with it for a lot of [rappers], it's just free association, which we did in the '60s. We called it "nonsensical." Just what felt right. They do a lot of that nowadays, and slang is the excuse. [It's rare] when you get somebody who can do it grammatically and phonetically correct, which most of them don't do. I like to hear Q-Tip, 'cause just the tone of his voice sounds great.
Rap, to me, works best for young kids. They're trying to sound like they can't talk, putting things in their mouths. It sounds better the less educated you are, the less adult you are. Brooklyn, the Bronx, got a natural thing for that, the abbreviated tone.
With "Dope Dog" I did all kinds of things -- put something in my mouth, trying to get a knucklehead tone. If you can get it the other way, it's even better -- if you can get it enunciating, it's real deadly. And that's why I keep going back to Rakim, cause he sounds like it's his prayers, in a mantra-like chant. He's got his tone, but his lyrics equal that. You can tell he's not just preaching. He's written it down and says it with a slight sarcasm that I don't think any rappers do. You never hear him talking about a gun, or even cursing that much.
GI: You talked about rap being a young man's game. Has it brought you a younger audience again?
GC: Oh, yeah. Most of them go to us through other artists they like. They found out about us through them, 'cause [those artists] talk about us, or use my music. Looking around now, our fans are like 13, 14, 15. And we've been doing that all the while anyway. We always would go back to the colleges every five or six years and cater to the young. There's no age difference in character, unless you're relating to them as a sex symbol or something like that -- then you're asking to grow old, for real. Three generations come to our shows, like a circus. Ordinarily, kids hate their brothers' or sisters' actors, musicians, artists, and they really hate their parents', but with us, you find hard hip-hoppers hiding from their aunts. She's there smoking weed. She ain't got a "blunt," but she got a "joint." [Laughter] They might debate over what papers to use. That's about the only thing they can find to separate them.
GI: There seems to be something about funk that's different, 'cause it's lasted until now, and it's still its own thing.
GC: I like it like that. It's less strenuous, less stress. It's more fun...
GI: Just doing what you want, you mean?
GC: Yeah, I like doing what I'm doing. That makes it easy for me to do. I ain't gonna work at a job, which is hard to find anyway. So, if I like my job, that makes it real easy. I found out about funk a long time ago: Basically, I'm lazy. It's really hip for lazy folks. But you have to make sure you're doing the best you can, and you can legitimately say, funk it. If you ain't the best you can, then lazy'll catch up with you.
GI: Have you ever had people tell you -- record company people or fans -- you should do this or that?
GC: Oh, yeah. They'll tell you, don't say the word.
GC: Yeah, and I say, OK, funk that. Believe me, they had all the groups not saying it in the '70s -- Earth, Wind & Fire, the Gap Band. When you wanted to cross over [to pop], you didn't want to identify with it. And I said, "well I'll wait here 'till they get back." I'm gonna funk it all the way to the end. You can cut funk a thousand ways, I'm gonna have P-Funk -- uncut. Funk makes it easy. Why stress yourself?
GI: So when you start to make a new album, or record a new song...
GC: I try to find another way to say "funk."
GI: But do you think back on what it's meant to you in the past, to stay true to it?
GC: Oh, yeah. I listen to old records, I listen to some of the new stuff, to people I really think are doing something. I absorb all the slickest stuff, the lightest stuff ... Just thinking about it will give me a hint as to what kind of place there is to go, and then it's just, cool, I'm gone. I don't have to put too much energy into it.
GI: What are you gonna do if someday you have to hang it up, and there's no one else around doing funk?
GC: Who has to hang it up?
GI: Well, it has to happen someday, doesn't it?
GC: No. In this day and time, they're gonna have cloning kits in the drug stores. You're gonna be able to clone yourself and then pick up your memory at the nearest electronics shop. Re-load yourself, boot yourself back up. And then, really know what to do. Imagine if you could start all over again and know all the shit that you know now?
Jeff Diehl would gladly work the cargo hold of the mothership to be in Fiji for New Year's Eve.