By Michael E. Miller
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As for a concert weighing in with true "event" status, however, New Year's Eve hits Miami early in the form of Tobacco Road's 87th anniversary celebration this Saturday, November 20. The club's adjoining street will be closed down, an outdoor stage erected, and the headlining guest of honor will be nothing less than the Mothership itself: George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars. Like the Sun Ra Arkestra and the Grateful Dead (those other sprawling improv ensembles that have righteously stalked the past four decades), P-Funk's musical fortunes have ebbed and flowed. The group seemed to bottom out by the late '80s, and though judicious sampling on the part of Dr. Dre re-established P-Funk's sumptuous grooves as the Sound of Young Black America, Clinton himself appeared in serious danger of becoming little more than a retro novelty act.
The last few years, though, have seen a startling reinvigoration of P-Funk, with many of the outfit's original '70s lineup returning to the fold, and live performances that recalled the intensity of that storied era. The mood is now that of a band with something to prove; it seems hardly coincidental that this turn was marked by Clinton's direct re-engagement with overt political matters. After all, "free your ass and your mind will follow" -- that oft-quoted Clinton philosophy -- was most definitely not a call to escapism, but rather a truly Groucho Marxist revolutionary stratagem, one whose end vision was nothing less than Chocolate City.
In a spirited conversation with Kulchur, Clinton (who currently resides in Tallahassee) spoke of the point in 1967 when he discovered Detroit's psychedelic fringe and minted his own take on soul music ("Acid changed me in some kind of way"); hip-hop's ascension to the mainstream ("The blacker you speak, the more white fans you get"); interdimensional travel ("My theory is let's skip the fourth and fifth dimension and go to the sixth, where everybody'll have an even playground. If you go to the fourth or fifth, they'll have already bugged it, already set traps for us"); a late '70s Philadelphia run-in with the Nation of Islam ("I forgot the Mothership is a Muslim concept. I looked off the stage, and there were all these guys in bow ties. I thought, I hope this ain't sacrilege!"); and tobacco ("We send soldiers all around Florida to arrest people for growing drugs. Well, we know cigarettes kill, but we still export billions of cigarettes to other places. I'd like to see some other country come on in and start jumping on us for shipping them cigarettes.").
It's when talk turns to Dope Dogs, Clinton's most recent album (released last year on his own Dogone label), that he turns truly impassioned. Although uneven, at the record's best, as on the opening "Dog Star (Fly On)," the band achieves a singular, spine-tingling whomp, with peals of shredding, electrified guitar boring down the middle. Dope Dogs is also a thematic work, exploring the American government's disastrous "war on drugs" -- beginning with the point of view of the drug-sniffing K-9 police dogs, which Clinton ironically notes are by necessity addicted to the very cocaine they're hunting.
"I started thinking about the drug dogs themselves, how they train 'em," Clinton explains in his distinctive, full-throated rasp. "The dogs have to sniff the drugs to find them, so if they have to sniff it, they have to get some in their nose. Any way you look at it, they have to get fucked up."
The surreal image of strung-out canines is capped by Clinton's closing verse on the album's "U.S. Custom Coast Guard Dope Dog": "Take your medicine 'cause you gonna be ill when I tell you the deal on dope/There's more profit in pretending that we're stopping it, then selling it."
"They only let the dogs find teenie-weenie little bits, even though we're paying tons of tax money to try and find these drugs; they're not trying to stop it," Clinton says firmly. "The dogs are only used to find a gram or two in somebody's butthole in the airport. Big trucks go by, and they tell the dogs to look the other way."
The purpose of these so-called interdiction efforts, Clinton believes, has little to do with concerns about drugs themselves. Instead it's all about domestic social controls and funding the secret wars that have ravaged Central America. Dope Dogs alludes to the bloody decadelong conflict in Nicaragua between the Sandinista-led government and the notorious U.S.-backed army of contras, as Clinton sings: "Old Mac Uncle had some drugs, C.I.A. I-O/And with those drugs he bought some arms/CIA I-O/It was a bang, bang here and a snort, snort there.... Old Mac Uncle starts a war, CIA I-O."