Saturday, December 18, 2004

Battle of the Funk Giants

chaka khan
Originally uploaded by himbly.
Last week, my friend (eener) took me to see James Brown. It was a birthday gift.

At first (before I knew she had bought me the ticket) I was an asshole and protested ~vehemently~ my attendance at such an event. 'Splain why? Well, because I had seen George Clinton earlier this year and really really really tried to get down with the funk. And I first. I pushed my way to the front of the crowd and Bop Gunned as best I could until the music turned less familiar and I woke up to the cold reality that what I was watching was a lot of young people jamming on stage while a 65 year old man in a t-shirt and sweatpants smoked pot and invited young ladies up on stage so he could feel them up.

Which is fine. I think he's earned it.

I just wished I hadn't paid to see it.

So when Eener casually asked if I was going to see James Brown, she did not expect the 3 hour rant I went on with an added 35 minutes when she said, "I heard George Clinton was good"....(I guess I forgot to tell her I left early).

On the other hand, George Clinton is/was a visionary and a creative genius. P-Funk changed lives. Don't laugh. I'm serious. I watched a documentary once. Okay...a guy did a thing on them on the radio, but imagine you're a black young person in the late 60s, early 70s in the US. I think even a 32 year old white girl, born and bred in Canada, can safely say that there was not a whole whack of opportunity or equality offered people of colour in those days. And because I'm a 32 year old white girl, born and bred in Canada, I never even thought of this while enjoying the music, but the whole mythology behind what is P-funk...Starchild, Sir Nose D'voidoffunk, bopguns, flashlights, the mothership connection, WEFUNK, reclaiming the secrets of the pyramids, Dr. Funkenstein...was a way to tell young black kids that they, too, had a chance. They had something valuable to offer. I'll paraphrase something the guy on CBC's DNTO said when ~he~ quoted someone as saying that watching a group of black people piloting a spaceship, saving the world in their elaborate story was very new to them. It made them realize that they ~did~ have an important role in the future.

I stand behind my claim that P-funk (George Clinton) changed lives.

Now...before them, even, was the inventor of funk himself. The Godfather, Soulbrother #1, the Hardest Working Man in Showbiz, The King of Soul....James Brown.

I don't know if it's true that he invented funk...but he was at least the first to bring it forth to the table where it spilled out onto the floor and ran under our feet and into our hearts. So...without doing too much research into the matter and reading nerdy music lovers argue back and forth on some funk newsgroup, we'll just assume this.

I'm going to now extend my 'changed lives' theory over to James Brown. He, too, was an activist for black rights and always looked good, put on a good show, had an impeccably tight band (because he fined them if they weren't). Very powerful and influencial man and entertainer. And if you doubt his message reached and affected many many ears, then just listen to rap from the 80s to now...most sampled artist.

Having thought about all that....

As the concert date neared, I began to soften a/ on my James Brown stance...would be interesting to see him perform and b/ on my George Clinton was worth the money just to see what the man's up to these days and to support all he's done.

Well...I was right in the end. James Brown was fabulous. Not in a 'I couldn't stop the funk from taking over my booty' sort of a 'holy shit! so ~this~ is his vision' sort of way.

All in all, if I were to offer a compare/contrast sort of thing (which is essentially what I'm doing), I saw this year how two men, who've both accomplished so much in the same field, have reacted to their age. They're both old, both hard working, both like 'the party', both flamboyant.....and both have ways of coping with the fact that they can't do what they used to. George Clinton decided to come out in his at-home lounge outfit, mutter into the microphone and hand off the show to the others surrounding him while he shuffles across the stage sharing a joint with his band and audience. James Brown decided to come out in a red-sequined jumpsuit (which, frankly, ~could~ be his at-home lounge outfit for all I know), mutter into the microphone and hand off the show to the others surrounding him while he prances (as much as he's able) across the stage. Both are about ~serious~ smoke and mirrors these days.

And that's not a criticism. I think it's perfectly reasonable that these men now get to take a little break after working as hard as they did...and I think it's perfectly reasonable that they still tour.

But, James Brown - that guy ain't goin' down without a fight. His show is, well, the living shrine he built for himself ...and stopped updating sometime in the 80s. Good lord. It was absolutely amazing and a very real glimpse into the inner working of that man's mind, I would like to think.
Shine and glitter. Multi-multi piece band. Backup singers. The women...oh, the women. Eff you if you don't think this is significant, but he had two black women, two white women and two hispanic women (one was a young'ish woman he was 'showcasing'...danced around in shiny pants and a capelet singing "Hold On" (Sam & Dave). Tomi Rae. Had no clue at the time that this was his ~wife~ who is the same ~wife~ who was the ~wife~ most recently to slap assault charges on him....until I read about his prostate cancer and they mentioned her (get well, JB)). If you would have watched the show like I watched the show, you would have noticed that the whole thing was undoubtedly designed to display his greatness and importance. Young guitarists calling him 'sir', backup singers repeating 'He's the king of Soul', one of the backup singers 'losing it' and ranting like a rabid preacher that the band could not ~possibly~ start Sex Machine without him 'counting it off' for he is The Godfather and they shan't make a move without his say - all while he stood by looking like this was all news to him. Ahhh...beautiful.

And why not?

In the end it's been a fascinating year (having seen a nearly 60 year old David Bowie and now having tickets clenched in my grubby little hand for the one band I have waited my entire life to say, "I'm going to see Duran Duran"). But, funkifly speaking, it's a good thing Sly Stone isn't touring or my insides would have popped. Looking back...James Brown put on a pretty good show, but if I had to choose - George Clinton would win the foot massage. I can't understand a g-damn thing JB says, anyway.

PS. Yeah...I know. I just couldn't decide between a picture of James Brown or George Chaka Khan won.

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