George Clinton, our nation’s greatest ambassador of funk, published a memoir lately, the amazingly titled Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?, co-written by New Yorker writer Ben Greenman. On Wednesday night, Clinton descended from his mothership powered by the universal groove (or really, Tallahassee, where he lives when he’s not touring) to talk about his book at the New York Public Library. The Clinton that stepped up to the podium was not the same as his touring persona: He looked dapper in a suit, with a polka-dot tie and striped shirt power-clashing mightily. There was no rainbow colored hair or ski mask or feathers. But Clinton brought the funk to the conversation nonetheless Topics included: Hanging out with Sly Stone, Motown, Jerry Lee Lewis, and oh so many drugs.
Clinton’s interviewer was Paul Holdengraber, the director of Live from NYPL, whose seriousness of tone provided a pleasing straight man to Clinton’s cracks about the earlier times in the life. Those included a long riff on Timothy Leary and Parliament Funkadelic’s LSD days: “If it wasn’t for flashbacks, I wouldn’t have any memory,” Clinton joked.
Clinton, who grew up in New Jersey, talked about taking the bus from Plainfield, New Jersey into New York City and hopping on the A train up to the Apollo. Clinton began his career in a doo-wop group, and was briefly a staff songwriter for Motown. His song-writing philosophy: “Just make it neat and put words on it that make sense. Or don’t make sense. That got popular, too.”
Clinton also mentioned that the memoir came alongside a new album with the same title, that featured tracks with Sly Stone. The mothership, that magical piece of afor-futurist expression used in Parliament Funkadelic shows, is also heading to the Smithsonian. The whole conversation was a fun, winding, interesting affair, interpersed with clips from Clinton’s long career and his thoughts on Kendrick Lamar. (He’s into him.) Below, some of the greatest hits:
On the birth of P-Funk, and a series of serious acid trips that he and the band took: “It was the most beautiful time of my life, but looking at it now, I wasn’t in charge of nothing.”
On what he thinks about, listening to some Parliament cuts from the 1970s now: “We got away with that shit.”
On a Kierkegaard quote that Holdengraber brought out: “It also sounds like he had a good tab [of acid] on him.”