It’s hard to imagine where our world would be at today if the Parliament-Funkadelic collective hadn’t existed—though, to be fair, maybe it’s because they were never from this planet to begin with. The always-enigmatic singer, songwriter, and producer George Clinton became the ideal bandleader to make acts like Parliament, Funkadelic, and others successful, both on the charts and in pop culture. Every artist he collaborated with along the way, be it Bootsy Collins or other members of James Brown’s backing band, brought a new zest to the sound.
Parliament’s most impactful record is Mothership Connection, the 1975 album that tackled the concept of P-Funk mythology, merged thick grooves with self-labeled “street talk,” and put black people in space the way entertainment outlets rarely did. The album’s influence is so massive that the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry in 2011. According to Clinton, he still hasn’t checked it out there, but he has visited the British equivalent—because, of course, that album is heralded everywhere.
“By the time we got the best song, ‘Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples,’ we had pretty much figured out the album. Coming up with the alien community was the best part,” Clinton says over the phone. “We ended up with ‘dacca goo ga’ sound for the language that the Thumpasorus people would probably sound like. When you’re jamming like that and having a good time, the album continues the party. After that, we decided to keep that beam, that funky sound and the mothership, and bring it into a way of life. Even when we talk about other subject matters on other albums, it’s always that same theory of floating through space, whether it’s cloning, space dogs, or anything else.”
We zoned in on Mothership Connection and Clinton’s newest single, “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me,” when interviewing him for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask bands questions inspired by their song titles. True to his album, the answers touch on the paranormal and unfiltered joy—skimming the surface of what he will bring with Parliament to the House of Blues this Saturday.
1) “P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)”
DIGBOSTON: Which drug gave you such a bad trip that you decided to never take it again?
CLINTON: Yeah, of course. Somebody gave me a joint with formaldehyde or something, and I was like, “Oh hell no.” I didn’t know what it was and couldn’t identify the smell. There were a lot of joints laced with something else. Every time you accidentally did one, you decided to never take a joint from someone else again. Honestly, that was never a problem until it became a commercial substance after Woodstock. You had to worry about what people put in it. A lot of it was bad trips. You didn’t even hear those words, “bad trip,” until it became commercialized.
2) “Mothership Connection (Star Child)”
DIGBOSTON: What’s your favorite memory of your mother?
CLINTON: This song reminds me of her and Louis Jordan, a bandleader from the ’40s or ’50s, which I was biting a lot of stuff off of. She liked him. Everyone did! [With] those songs, how couldn’t you? [sings a melody of “Caldonia”]. It was party time when you heard “Caldonia,” “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” all those jams. It was the funky version of big bands like Duke Ellington.
3) “Unfunky UFO”
DIGBOSTON: Do you believe in aliens? If so, what do you think they look like?
CLINTON: I have no idea! I believe in them, but who knows. I’ve seen too many Star Trek and Star Wars and Men in Black movies to form an opinion. The possibilities are endless. You might think aliens look a certain way, but considering the possibilities of what the future could look like, what it virtually looks like, what it looks like in your mind, and what it looks like on drugs? There’s so many circumstances. Too much variation! What aliens look like will be way different than we think. Just look at Men in Black! There were so many aliens in that, and that probably isn’t even a fraction.
DIGBOSTON: If you had to pick, what are two of the grooviest songs ever written?
CLINTON: Let me think. That’s a hard one! Whatever makes you move. You know how they mix songs together in hip-hop now, like mashups? I like when they combine old songs and new ones. There’s some real clever ones, too. Some people have good ears and others get it totally wrong, but they make it feel good anyway. [laughs] You begin to appreciate it. That I like.
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever broken a trivial law, like trespassing or jaywalking, and been scolded for it?
CLINTON: Yeah, if you jaywalk in California, they show up out of nowhere. Really, cops crawl out of everywhere, they’re walking towards you all at once, and they make you feel like shit. They scold you, like, “You know better than that!” It’s true: You do know better, but you take that chance. They know that, so when you jaywalk, and they rub it in. You look stupid when they reprimand you. At least I do.
6) “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)”
DIGBOSTON: Growing up, was your family the type of people to hang holiday decorations on the roof?
CLINTON: Nah, none of that. Where I was growing up, there was nothing on the roof. We couldn’t get up there. Even when we lived in Jersey, we barely put stuff on the windows. It was one of those multiple-story apartments, so we only had a window or two. It was just projects living. Then when I got married, I moved to my own place and we put lights in the woods and shit.
7) “Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples”
DIGBOSTON: When you’re at a party, what song or record do you put on to get people dancing?
CLINTON: Anything James Brown is guaranteed to get it started. It almost feels like cheating because James Brown gets everything going. I love having everyone rally together. I also put on “The Humpty Dance.” [laughs] You can’t say no to that. You ain’t got nothing to do with your body control at that point.
8) “Star Child (Mothership Connection)”
DIGBOSTON: Looking back, what was your greatest achievement as a preteen?
CLINTON: Probably to appreciate mass marketing as opposed to just dancing and enjoyment. I saw that Disney movie, the one about Davy Crockett, around that age. It was the first one of those mass-marketed movies that I admired how it was done. At the time, I worked at the hula-hoop factory where they made hula hoops for the East Coast. In one of my memoirs, I talk about that. We made them in Jersey in this underground area, devoid of unions. Those were marketed the same way. Once the Beatles came around, same deal. By the time I got to the Mothership, I knew what I was doing, putting on a production like that. Watching the Beatles and seeing that movie? You learn how to do a mass production. The black version of that stuff was happening, and it’s only now that people are really seeing it rise to the success it deserves with things like The Black Panther.
9) “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me”
DIGBOSTON: When is the last time you got sick and what did you do to get better?
CLINTON: Wow, I think it was the dope I was doing. I stopped doing it and got better! That was years ago. I never get sick, really. I’m an invincible man. To think I was smoking that is silly. If you’re a crackhead, you’re giving up. So when I finally got worn down, just sick of being, I’d sit down. Between that and getting married to my wife, I got re-enthusiastic about making music and getting inspired. That was the lesson I needed. So the album I’m making now is about medicine and drugs, and how you need to take medicine to get better. Funk is my drug of choice. I can afford to have funk in my life and dance my way out of constriction. With medication fraud, street drugs, and the big insurance struggle going on now with Medicare and Obamacare, we need help. There’s a pharmaceutical profit-making, too. I’m feeling better, I’m feeling good, and I’m feeling something—and I want to do something with that energy, so I am.
GEORGE CLINTON AND PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC. SAT 2.17. HOUSE OF BLUES, 15 LANSDOWNE ST., BOSTON. 7:30PM/ALL AGES/$29.50. HOUSEOFBLUES.COM