A few snowfalls chilled the streets of Poughkeepsie last Thursday night, curtains of flurries billowing and dissipating in the wind like the flapping sides of departing Winter's overcoat. Winter may have been fleeing the arrival of a tour bus that rumbled into the City that day, bearing some mysterious heralds of Spring. These visitors that came to entertain and edify are wired directly into that mossy, underground heart that signals the shoots to thrust up through the soil and frost and burst open, bearing pearls of dew. They are the purveyors of a funky, anarchistic music that starts deep in this planet's bedrock with a mystical voodoo rhythm, a repeated groove that builds upon itself again and again like a canon, until it erupts into a clangor like a hand sledge on a piece of old tin roof, with all the fury of an April thunderstorm. Last Thursday night, Parliament Funkadelic came to Poughkeepsie.
For three hours, Bernie Worell hunched over his keyboards like a wizened elf with a fur cap, wrenching cascades of glittering notes out of a pile of circuits and wires. Gary Shider worked his axe in nothing but a diaper, like a Centaur-child in a Dali painting ready to leap back into the womb, back to the source again to return with more of the raw creative swamp juice that makes folks dance in the moonlight. George Clinton conducted this assembly of 15 or 20 musicians, crowded onto The Chance's tiny stage, as players came and went....sometimes 5 or 6 vocalists, 3 or 4 guitars, saxes, keyboards, drums, mc, and more crafting butt-shaking funk standards anew....later fewer musicians entangled in the visionary and arduous, almost prog rock jam of Maggot Brain. Bandmembers who left the stage went hither and yon, Clinton himself once popping up into the theater's balcony a few feet away from us like a dreadlocked bunny out of a rabbit hole in Wonderland.
It was a pagan wedding celebration, it was a call and response ritual, the audience singing, dancing, clapping along as exhorted by P-Funk. Some strange energy was afoot, hinted at by costumed players, sinuous backup singers, a set of music that was a laundry list of different genres: funk, rap, metal, prog rock, roots rock and boogie woogie from the Parliaments' origins in the early 1960s...the history of a never-ending musical transformation that veered off the beaten path and ignited in the surreal, acid-soaked 70s when Funkadelic toured with Iggy Pop and the MC5, when their liner notes were penned by the Process Church, when the band played in the shadow of the descending mothership, ready to take hold of the earth and dispense Starry Wisdom to the funk-entranced masses...dynamiting convention and tearing down the double-talk of the leaders of men with music anchored a long ways below the belt.
After this aural odyssey had reached its energetic crescendo, we stumbled out of the Chance in the grip of a lingering afterglow, some of it still hovering around the edges of my perception even days later, as if I had been doused in magical dust by some kind of funked-out pixie in high-heeled black boots (probably named Kendra)...only to see George Clinton holding court on the pavement behind the club, accepting hugs from the ladies and congratulatory pats on the back. Giving him a squeeze on the shoulder felt like rubbing the statue of some venerable old Buddha and receiving ten years of good luck in return....long live the Funk!
Sunday, March 14, 2004
A strange memory got dredged up this weekend by the sight of a t-shirt hung out (to dry? to communicate some affinity with a band or subculture? to send a coded signal?) on the front porch of a home in a relatively high-end suburban development. The anomalous event in my recollection took place in Cold Spring, NY, once a depressed Hudson River town, now an exclusive village brimming with antique stores and serving as a sort of country refuge for the wealthy of NYC. At the time, Cold Spring was still in a transitional phase, and there was a modest victorian house on Main Street that was inhabited by a sort of old townie royalty (the most rustic, earthy kind you can imagine). There was a hand-painted sign on the front porch that read "Keep Going!" and usually a healthy stack (several cases worth) of empties next to the front door. I used to pass the house almost every night during a stroll down to the River. On the evening after Frank Zappa died, a denim jacket was hung up on the front porch, dangling and spinning lazily from the porch ceiling on a clothes hanger. Painted on the back of the jacket was a beautiful, photorealistic image of Zappa. Both the grinning visage and the association with this particular house evoked Zappa's quirkiness, and it was a welcome tribute. The next night I passed the house again. The jacket was still hanging on the porch, but the painted panel was cut and torn away, leaving a sort of window in the fabric. Inside was a poster of a colorful parrot, taped to the hanger and occupying the negative space left by the shanghaied Frank Zappa. Was Zappa stolen? I don't know who would have had the cojones to climb up onto that particular porch and start cutting up that jacket, based on more information than I am sharing in this post. Or was the owner of the jacket trying to communicate some kind of transformation of Frank Zappa....departed from this earthly plane and now wearing colorful plumage in some angelic rock combo?