“Farewell, Captain!”: George Clinton and Funk’s Founding City Say Goodbye

14:29 January 10, 2019
By: Camille Barnett

After more than 50 years of intergalactic funk, George Clinton, pioneer funk artist, captain of the mothership, songwriter, and producer, is retiring from touring at the age of 77. He gave NOLA an end-of-2018 gift as he graced the House of Blues stage for two back-to-back sold-out shows, performing for the city a final time.

In classic Parliament-Funkadelic fashion, Clinton and the funk mob filled the stage with their famous liveliness, leading a nearly three-hour-long dance party with a mix of songs, both old and new. From the new Parliament album, they performed songs like “Backwoods,” “I’m Gon Make U Sick” (their first new song in 38 years), and “Mama Told Me,” and off the new Funkadelic album, ones such as “Get Low,” “Hard on You,” and "Meow Meow.” And of course, a P-Funk show isn’t a P-Funk show without the classics, such as “Cosmic Slop,” “Flashlight,” “One Nation Under a Groove,” “Atomic Dog,” and “Maggot Brain” (a nearly 10-minute guitar solo led by Blackbird McKnight).

As the 2019 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award-recipient and founder of P-Funk, Clinton has had his songs sampled hundreds of times: "Atomic Dog" (1982)has been sampled nearly 150 times; "(Not Just) Knee Deep" (1979), more than 70 times; "Flashlight" (1977), over 60 times; "I'd Rather Be With You" (1976), more than 30 times; and "Mothership Connection" (1975), approximately28 times. He has been an influence across many genres, such as hip hop, rap, R&B, and g-funk, for a plethora of artists, including The Beastie Boys, Aaliyah, Nas, Ice Cube, Tupac, A Tribe Called Quest, Dr. Dre, and many more. The vastness of his musical legacy deserves the utmost respect.

The news of Clinton’s retirement came in late April of 2018, and to many, it was no surprise. Those who have frequented P-Funk shows over past decades can notice an obvious shift in Clinton’s role on stage. In more recent shows, he can be found on stage contrarily behind the funk mob, clapping, dancing, observing, and encouraging applause from the crowd (often while sitting in a chair) as they perform; it’s almost as if he has been slowly easing P-Funk fans—who are accustomed to him being the center of attention at shows—into this transition, preparing them for his retirement.

“This has been coming a long time,” Clinton said in a statement. “Anyone who has been to the shows over the past couple of years has noticed that I’ve been out front less and less.”

Even with Clinton less in the spotlight, shows have maintained the same exhilarating, electric, and intoxicating energy. P-Funk fans can rest assured that the funk will go on.

“Truth be told, it’s never really been about me,” Clinton added. “It’s always been about the music and the band. That’s the real P-Funk legacy. They’ll still be funkin’ long after I stop.”

As a funk/rock ‘n’ roll band, in addition to their hours of constant moving and grooving, P-Funk performs shows that are widely known for being filled with extravagant costumes (often involving heaps of sequins), props, theatrics, humor, and raunchiness, and for the portrayal of caricatures. Clinton’s last shows in New Orleans were no different, as many of these recognizable staple aspects were present in a variety of ways. For example, raunchiness wasn’t missed as the background singers sexily swayed and danced throughout the night, one even having a solo performance in a skimpy red thong-shaped bodysuit. Lots of the funk mob were decked out in sequins, including Clinton and a member who eventually dropped his calf-length sequined trench coat to perform the majority of the show in his “tighty-whities,” a seeming nod to caricature Gary “Diaper Man,” AKA “Starchild,” Snider (a member no longer with us). Sir Nose was another caricature that Clinton portrayed in his earlier days and who was present in the last NOLA shows: A newer band member wore the same long, beak-shaped nose that Clinton once wore, with a bedazzled wrestling belt that flashed across his waist, clearly reading, “Nose.” Lastly, many can recall the shoulder-length, rainbow-colored hair that Clinton sported; similarly, through almost the entirety of the show, a funk mob member could be seen whipping his mohawk-shaped, colorfully assorted dreadlocks in 360-degree motions. This all exemplified a sort of “passing of the torch,” ensuring that many of the traditions started by Clinton, which made P-Funk shows so beloved, will carry on.

Clinton, P-Funk, and NOLA share a special love connection. In 1976, the iconic stage-sized mothership (something that became a staple prop at Parliament shows) debuted here in New Orleans at the Municipal Auditorium. For the first of many times, the aluminum UFO prop descended to the stage as it expelled smoke into the crowd from 40 feet in the air. Fast forward about 40 years, and the New Orleans City Council proclaimed May 5 "George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic Day." Further contributing to this special bond, Clinton named the 2018 P-Funk tour the Mardi Gras Madness Tour in efforts to bring a taste of his iconic New Orleans funk and on-stage parties to shows across the country. There is no doubt that the music venues and stages of this city, which is widely referred to as funk’s founding city, will be a little less funky without his visits.

In terms of future Funkadelic performances without Clinton, he admitted in a Rolling Stone interview that a hologram of him has been created. “I already made a hologram,” Clinton confirmed. “I did it with the whole band. Maybe they can have it start performing in Vegas or some s#*t.”

Although having a George Clinton hologram in some shows may fill a fraction of the inevitable void, things will never be the same without him (in the flesh), front and center of the funk mob. His raw, creative, and unique stage presence will forever be loved, respected, and missed. Farewell, Captain!

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