Kulchur

P-Funk to the sixth dimension

You can take your pick of the many neo-fin-de-siècle gigs vying for millennium-worthy status, from the dueling downtown saccharine fests of Puff Daddy and Gloria Estefan to the chirpy dance blowouts at the Ice Palace and Miami Beach's Convention Center, each promising uniqueness, each featuring many of the same oh-so-tired DJs shuttling back and forth between the two venues over the course of the night. Over at the Forge's foray into the lucrative business of fantasy theme parks (Batistaland, a.k.a. Café Nostalgia), $2500 per couple buys an eerie re-creation of the Havana scenes from The Godfather Part II, hopefully complete with a faux baci di tutti baci from manager Shareef "Fredo" Malnik.

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.

Uncle Jam Wants You: George Clinton heads for Miami with his eyes set on the CIA-contra-cocaine connection
Uncle Jam Wants You: George Clinton heads for Miami with his eyes set on the CIA-contra-cocaine connection

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."

It's an interlocking maze laid out by Gary Webb in his recently published Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, whereby CIA conduits were established between inner-city drug dealers and the contras wreaking havoc in the Nicaraguan countryside. As cocaine flooded into the United States (sparking the crack epidemic), the profits in turn helped purchase arms for the contras. Although the contras were never able to gain substantial support from the Nicaraguan people, the desired end result -- the self-implosion of the 1979 Sandinista revolution -- was achieved. As the war heated up in the '80s, libertarian-minded Sandinistas soon found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place: the CIA spooks and brutal Somocistas that composed the bulk of the contras, and their movement's own hardliners willing to sacrifice freedom in the name of national security.

Back in America, Clinton is well acquainted with Webb's text, and recalls the sudden appearance of all that coke. "For a while in the early '80s, anybody could get you a kilo," he sighs. "At the point when the government was supposedly at its highest level of stopping drugs -- when there was "zero tolerance" in effect -- there were more drugs coming in at that moment than had ever come in before. That's when I realized serious people were involved, top-level government people."

Lest you think all this detailing of misery has made Clinton a somber fellow, it only adds to the force of Dope Dogs, particularly when he performs the album's songs live. "I don't like to preach; I just say it. It's something to think about," he remarks. Chuckling, he adds, "It's weird to see the expression on people's faces when I get to ["U.S. Custom Coast Guard Dope Dog"]. I have to always laugh afterwards, because the audience doesn't know whether to crack up or applaud. Did he just say 'an undercover narc with a bark?'"


"Art is dead. Let us create our daily lives" was just one of the many slogans that marked the high-water point of the 1960s, the Paris street fighting and general strike of May 1968 that sought to forge a new world free from the orthodoxies of both the established Left and Right. Much of the spirit behind May '68 can be credited to the Situationists, particularly Guy Debord, whose 1967 work The Society of the Spectacle found its barbed consumerist critique daubed on walls throughout the city. Debord's own 1973 film version of that very book screens at the Beach's Alliance Cinema this Sunday, November 21, at 1:00 p.m. It eschews a traditional narrative for a montage of imagery drawing upon both denatured Hollywood flashes and documentary footage from other anarchist-tinged historical revolts, such as Spain in 1936 and the 1956 Hungarian anti-Soviet uprising. Admission is (appropriately) free.

Speaking of the financially beleaguered Alliance Cinema, as if that cherished institution didn't have enough problems, its new neighbor South Beach Stone Crabs Café has apparently decided Lincoln Road just isn't big enough for both establishments. The crab joint's owner, Shelly Abramowitz (whose food New Times's Lee Klein described as an overpriced, pale knockoff of Joe's Stone Crab) has been blocking the theater's entrance with its tables, hiding the Alliance's coming attractions marquee, and even trying to scare off theatergoers wading through the restaurant's sidewalk clutter by telling them the Alliance has closed. Lest this wishful thinking on Abramowitz's part become reality and Miami lose ones of its few outlets for truly exciting film (who else would even consider showing The Society of the Spectacle?), now would seem a critical time to act. The always (ahem) levelheaded Kulchur isn't advocating anything here. Just thinking aloud. Borrowing the protesters in front of Thai Toni's would be a good start. Simple curiosity also makes one wonder about the whereabouts of last winter's "community activists" who successfully "dealt with" the Delano Hotel's attempt to grab a portion of the public beach for themselves. Again, just thinking aloud.

Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail brett_sokol@miaminewtimes.com

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