Can You Get to That? The Cosmology of P-Funk

Note: This piece was originally written for Pagan Kennedy’s book Platforms: A Microwaved Cultural Chronicle of the 70s but was most read at Scot Hacker’s Birdhouse Archives from 1994-2011 before moving to Stuck Between Stations. Dead links have been updated or removed and images/video have been refreshed, but I’ve otherwise refrained from editing the original.

For the religiously inclined, P-Funk [1] offered up an array of minor gods, an intangible and omnipotent metaphysical reality (the funk itself), and a whole flotilla of ministers (actually a loose-fitting assemblage of crack musicians and crackpots dedicated to the administration of an entire cosmology). The roots of this church lay deep in the African polyrhythmic pantheon; its disciples (“Maggotbrains” or “Funkateers”) consisted of anyone who sought a quasi- cohesive view of a universe which included a god who danced, and who knew that having a loose booty to shake was as crucial to the keeping of the faith as the rosary was for the Catholic.

While their ministers were many — a constantly evolving line- up guaranteed the elasticity of the band — it is undeniable that high pope George Clinton wore the mitre. From the cryptic, ridiculously bent versifying of the liner notes to the album sleeve art production (which narrated the genesis and mission of the band in a series of ongoing, albeit disjointed cartoons) to the inception and direction of the outrageous stage production — a black sci-fi extravaganza / space party that could cost upwards of $350,000 [2] — Clinton wielded the scepter of Funkentelechy, and wore the righteous robes of the Afronaut (actually Holiday Inn bedsheets covered with Crayola scribbles).

But what was the aim of this religion without proscriptions? To what heaven, to what Nirvana did it aim? Like good gnostic Bacchanalians, P- Funk had the good epistemological taste not to define their vision of the great beyond too specifically. With commandments like “Shit! Goddam! Get off your ass and jam!”, you knew that whatever, and wherever “the beyond” was, it was going to be funky.

But you knew very well what was going to take you there: the same vehicle from which George descended out of a massive blue denim cap and down to the stage in bad-ass righteousness: The Mothership. Just as protestants distinguish between the icon of the Messiah and the true, ineffable spirit, we knew that George’s silver saucer was but a model — a mechanical and ideological messiah figure represented in the terms of the day, as the glory of UFO contact for a generation reared on honky Star Trek and honky Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But it didn’t matter whether The Mothership was a prop [3], because the hallmark of a myth is that you don’t go peering around behind the curtain — you simply believe. As usual, P-Funk co-opted the pop mythology, made it black, and made it intergalactic — in this case the mythos of (funky) contact.

And so shows began with the descent, and ended with the subsequent Assumption, of what was at once a symbol and a reality: Clinton’s arrival on the scene in his glorious ship through backlit fog and the incantations of the crowd: “The Mothership connection is here!” Disciples held aloft the Mothership mudra in invitation: index and pinky fingers extended upward, the rest of the fist curled. Was this an extrapolation on the black-power fist?, i.e. black power plus archetypal twin steeples-toward-God? Perhaps, but this mudra goes farther back than that. In yoga, this posture of the fingers is held in stillness to channel Chi into the body through the arms and into the chakras. Tibetan art and sculpture sometimes depicts goddesses with one hundred arms in a vertical fan arrayed around the body, each hand signalling the imminence of the Mothership. In the sign language of the deaf, the same hand symbol means “I love you,” and is also seen depicted sometimes on stickers attached to the bumpers of deaf people’s cars (ostensibly as a signal to cops and emergency vehicles that the driver may not hear the sirens) but more likely as the signifier of membership in the society of riders of the everlasting funk wave — to demonstrate that deaf people are cosmic love surfers. Funk doesn’t have to be heard because the aural music is only a physical manifestation of the yet deeper, noumenal galactic vibe, which is always felt by one whose receptors are tuned to Channel One.

If the Mothership beckoned us aboard, where would it go? Certainly not to Palm Beach, Florida, to see Tony Orlando and Dawn. Not to Vegas to watch Tom Jones, although he’s funky too, in the same way that Velveeta is funky because it’s mucilaginous. Let’s supppose for a moment that the Mothership returns metaphorically to the motherland, to Africa. Maggot Brains didn’t come to America on the Nina, the Pinta, or the Santa Maria, and they ain’t going back on them, neither. When Cap’n George is at the helm, you know you’re going to ride in outrageous style to your repatriation. The Mothership takes off in the middle of a concert in Detroit and lands in the middle of a Yoruba fertility dance. The scenery changes ever so slightly, but the song remains the same.

This repatriation theme dovetails nicely with a semiotic breakdown of the dual meaning of “funk”. The musical definition is apparent — it is that which moves, irresistible, an ineluctable conclusion of motion (“dedicated to the preservation of the motion of hips”), and of course it’s always On The One. The other usage of the term refers to the smell of funk — earthy musk, the purple smell of global vagina, the source of jazz in sweat, saxophone jism, the smell of spontaneity and origination, funk giving birth to funk, the fertile rhythms of the song cycle life and death, conception and birth in dirt and secretions, the visceral funk of sweat and sex, pussy rotation, the stank thang, the glory of juices in vapor reacting at base level in the gut, gut bass thumping spleen… in all fertility awareness the funk figures as smell, cosmic progenation, funk of dame nature in labor harmonizing with funk of loose booty boarding the Mothership, the smell that leaves us “standing on the verge of gettin’ it on.”

So when I say that the Mothership represented a vehicle of repatriation, I don’t mean that P-Funk were Zionists — quite the opposite — they took all the cheese America had to offer and ran with it, taking the fashions and technology of the day to their ultimate, preposterous conclusions, amplifying the aesthetics of the 70s into a throbbing, fish-eyed cartoon of itself, and in so doing glorified American culture and their role in its continuing evolution.

Thus, as platform shoes were becoming merely popular, P-Funk was giving us the amplified version, wearing knee-high silver boots with nine-inch heels (“hoofs decked out for atomic toe-jam action”) back when Gene Simmons was still playing air guitar in his mother’s bathroom mirror. When the revitalizing puissance of pyramid power began to take hold in the collective consciousness, P-Funk gave us a stage show that included a Claes Oldenberg-like floppy pyramid (what could be funkier than a soft monolith?) When A Clockwork Orange brought the cod-piece to our attention, Clinton had to wear one the size of a loaf of Wonder Bread, covered in rabbit fur, natch. When the boxy virility of the Cadillac trickled down to the working class as a symbol of status and cool, George Clinton began arriving on stage in a likewise soft-n-floppy silver lame’ roadster, the engine compartment of which opened like coffin doors to reveal George in full funkateer regalia, dripping in feathers and ermine, ready to rise from the dead and do it to you in your earhole.

No, it was not a question of repatriation. P-Funk’s brand of black freedom was not Malcolm X’s. Returning P-Funk to Africa would have been like returning Ling-Ling the Panda to China. The Mothership, as a symbol of the P-Funk gestalt, took funkateers out of the disco-dominated dance scene which smelled clean and felt rigid, and returned them to the belly of the cosmos, where it smells skanky and feels rubbery. The Mothership symbolized the possibility of a spiritual, not a physical, return to blood and to roots, to the swirling gasses and dust of galactic conception, to the smell of freshly plucked wild yams, amorphous and still covered in the funk of the earth; of a return to a cut-loose, stink-up-the- place, get your ya-ya’s out, freak on down the road domain where “Funk is its own reward”.

P-Funk seemed to believe that music wasn’t so much something that you made with your instruments as it was something that you caught with them, as if funk was out there in the form of an ambient residual energy left over from the big bang. It was as if their basses and horns were finely tuned, specialized antennae dialing into cosmic leftovers. Funk became a unifying presence — the godhead as manifest to anyone willing to laugh and boogie at the same time. “One nation under a groove, gettin’ down just for the funk of it.”

Despite all of their self-inflatulatory bravadaccio, P-Funk were nevertheless unflaggingly humble before the great unnameable face of the big cookie. Such humility is a necessary underpinning to any sincere encounter with or metaphysical proclamation on the nature of mind- universe. Without it, they would come off as self- serious charlatans, wielders of the scepter of pompousness. But their cosmology combines the best of the principles of the world’s great gnosticisms. The sense of undifferentiated cosmic unity inherent in Buddhism, the paradox, humor, and dance of Sufism, the ecological implications of quantum mechanics via the implicate order of the universe’s interconnectedness, and the surrealism of psychedelic awareness. “We’re just a biological speculation, sittin’ here vibratin’, and we don’t know what we’re vibratin’ about.”

“Everything is on The One y’all, can you get to that?”

When The One comes down, and bulbs of sweat pop from Star Child’s brow, and the bass thumpasaurus slaps its cosmic tail against a lighted dance floor, every boo-tay in the house meets its neighbor as hineys mash together in plush synchronicity. Being “On The One” means never having to call your choreographer, because he would only mess things up. The unity of the dance is given unto the dancers…it is not their responsibility to keep in step, but their priviledge to have “The One” channeled through the band’s antennae and onto the dance floor. Even if you have no intention of dancing, your protons are going to go ahead without you. It can’t be helped.

But “The One” is of course also the cosmic one, the unified field of awareness, or in Hindu terminology, Shiva, the dance itself. Funk is like the carrier wave which is channeled through the eye of the floppy pyramid, through Clinton’s multicolored dreads and through sunglasses that could shame Elton John. Throwing down on The One with every coil of DNA at their disposal, flopping plasma braids, flopping groove lines like fish out of water funking on deck, they did for togetherness what disco could only dream. P- Funk was the “us” to disco’s “me”. The ego wasn’t the thing… the thing was the funk. To strut and to partake, not just to strut. The “partaking of” was the reason that P-Funk had the essence of religion when disco did not. It was a “participation in”, and the crowd could be as bad-ass as the band. By coming to jam along, you were taking sacrament, not stage. There were no John Travoltas because Travolta had the moves but none of the soul. P-Funk was all soul, although even they couldn’t begin to tell you what soul was. “What is soul? I don’t know! Soul is a hamhock in your cornflakes… Soul is a joint rolled in toilet paper… ” But whatever it is, they had it because they were it, and they were it because they partook of it.

And this is why disco was so often soulless: it didn’t stink! Disco has no smell because it is clean, a product of the deodorant movement, revelling in crystal clear white polyester, cocaine, and mirrored balls, in perfumes that mask and repress the funk in its carnal primality. Sure there is sex in disco, but it is nude, not naked, without clothes, but never exposed. It relies on the veneer of soaps on the body as much as it relies musically on the whitewashed veneer of danceability. Beats without The Beat. The sweat is not integral to the music, as it is in funk, in jazz.

Colonel Tom wiped Elvis’ forehead after each song; the sweat was there because Elvis worked, to be sure, but its presence was denied in the classic Victorian tradition by way of its immediate elimination from the stage. For P-Funk, sweat was the nectar of the scene, was the oil that lubed the gears of the galactic funk machine, funk is “Cosmic Slop”.

Rather than deny its grip, P-Funk wallowed in the aroma, celebrated it, acknowledged its putrefying stupefaction quotient as part of the equation. Witness this celebratory testimonial to the deep and effervescent mojo of a (presumably) just-danced-in pair of panties from the grind/groove “Funky Woman”: “She threw them in the air (funky woman), the air said this ain’t fair! She hung them on the line (funky woman), the line it start to cryin’…” While these accolades may sound at first more like insults, the ineluctable wisdom of Star Child scripture must be perpetually borne in mind: “And all that is good — is funky.”

Let’s illuminate the point further with an analogy to biker consciousness. To deodorize the funk would have been tantamount to stripping the Harley-Davidson of its characteristic irregular heartbeat. Harleys appeal to some bikers for just this reason: they are machines that rumble in a time zone of non-euclidean geometry, whose engines sound like free-jazz drummers. Hondas are efficient, but they lack that stochastic quality; the rhythm of their internal combustions can be predicted. Disco and funk have a similarly parallel relationship to one another. Disco sacrifices the pulse of the earth, a pulse which stinks of life, in exchange for the efficiency of the drum machine or the metronomic drummer. Because it is of the earth, funk’s wave is not predictable like disco’s or house music’s — it is elastic, organic, unpredictable and gooey. Funky music smells funky because it is a secretion, and not a form of logic.

So P-Funk has returned to claim the secret of the pyramids, partyin’ on the Mothership, gettin’ down in 3-D, to save a dyin’ world from its funkless fate. How were P-Funk accorded this special priviledge? According to the liner notes from Standing on the Verge of Getting It On:

On the Eighth Day, the Cosmic Strumpet of Mother Nature was spawned to envelope this Third Planet in FUNKADELICAL VIBRATIONS. And she birthed Apostles Ra, Hendrix, Stone, and CLINTON to preserve all funkiness of man unto eternity… But! Fraudulent forces of obnoxious JIVATION grew; Sun Ra strobed back to Saturn to await his next Reincarnation, Jimi was forced back into his basic atoms; Sly was co-opted into a jester monolith and… only seedling GEORGE remained! As it came to be, he did indeed begat FUNKADELIC to restore Order Within the Universe. And, nourished from the pamgrierian mammaristic melonpaps of Mother Nature, the followers of FUNKADELIA multiplied incessantly!

Mother Nature gave us the funk because she loves us, and here is where Clinton and Nietzsche rub booties. Compare: “What is done out of love always occur beyond good and evil” (Nietzsche). “The concept of FUNKATIZATION was declared a Universal Law by Mother Nature, and therefore exempt from control by the Forces of Good, and those of Evil” (Clinton). So to be in love is to be in funk is to retain our natural state, i.e. to remain beyond the possibility of valuation. But, alas, we live in a world far removed from the benificence of perpetual love and funk — we live in a world where humans pit themselves over and above Nature, and thereby incur the bummer of the Placebo Syndrome. It is thus our responsibility to evangelize on behalf of nature, that is, to bring an awareness of the funk we were born in back to the world. The squirm of a rubbery bass line and the generous application of the Bop Gun’s stroboscopic, pulchritudinous salve to the scabbed and Placebo- pocked Nose Zone has the potential to bring us to a utopia of funk beyond what Nietzsche calls “valuation” and what Clinton calls “exploitive jivation.”

Funkadelia is upon thee!…Verily, those soulfulifically jaded swashbucklers of agitproptic burnbabydom have descended from the Original Galaxy Ghetto to cleanse thy wayward souls through music worthy of the immortals themselves!…that what shall penetrate thine ears shall truly be a gas!…For the truth is the way, and Funkadelic is verily the truth! Awake not, and earth remains as this solar system’s space strumpet…sour milk from the breast of Mother Nature!…The ass thou pimpest shall be your own! Cease all manner of exploitive jivation!

If Clinton sounds some kind of intergalactic messenger, or a prophet sent to us from the beyond, or a reincarnated shaman, that’s because he is. And he’s not the first to visit upon us a similar wisdom. He considers himself to have been spawned by the Cosmic Strumpet, along with Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, and Sun Ra, in what must have been a furious blast of raw funk — the Trans- African continuum rupturing at the seams, spewing these messengers in a single time-cycle into our life-stream for reasons outlined in Clinton’s copious testament. Among his fellow emmissaries, he seems to have the most in common with Sun Ra, although Ra has been more subtle in the delivery of his message (perhaps he was allowed this because he, for the most part, addressed the generation previous to Clinton’s — a generation not already jaded by rock-and-roll bombast, machine-gun television, and the socio-politics of LSD). Both Clinton and Ra prescribed “Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy”, both preached the origin of funk in the furthest recesses of the galaxy, both employed kinekaleidoscopic theater in their shows, fusing outrageous entertainment unabashedly with the most profound of philosophies / cosmologies. “Sun Ra? Yeah, he’s out to lunch all right — same place I eat at!,” Clinton has remarked.

As if raw funk wasn’t enough, Clinton’s lyrics and profuse liner notes also took on social, political, economic, and environmental issues. The core of his message paralleled hippy ideology (by the mid-70s a dwindling phenomenon), but transcended it in virtue of its ability to laugh at itself. His style was simultaneously insane and right on.

The cover of America Eats its is a good example of the manner in which P-Funk takes the material America has to offer and turns it inside out. The fold-out cover depicts a dollar bill, accurately rendered in most details. The signicance of the “One”s at each of the dollar bill’s four corners is not to be overlooked, and these are unaltered. However, the eagle in the Great Seal is clutching not branches of laurel and a fistful of arrows, but a hypodermic needle and an apparently kwashiorkor-emaciated child.

In the center stands Miss Liberty herself, eyes bloodshot, vampire fangs gripping the bloody arm of one of the children she cradles. Another child has half of its skull lopped off. The brain has been removed, presumably cannibalized by our most esteemed icon. The very fact that the cover is layed out as a dollar bill invokes Funkadelic’s feelings about money — that it can play the roles of both creator and destroyer… but mostly destroyer. While one track (called “Funky Dollar Bill”) paints money as a grave threat in the wrong hands: “It’ll buy a war / It can save a land / It pollutes the air / In the name of wealth / It will buy a life / But not true life / The kind of life / Where the soul is lost”, another track (“Eulogy and Light”) re-writes the Lord’s Prayer as sarcastic honorarium: “Our Father, who art on Wall St., hallowed be thy butt… Forgive us our goofs, as we rob from each other… Thou maketh me to sell dope to small children… Thy destruction and thy power, they comfort me… My Cadillac and my pinky ring, they restore me to thee… And yay, though I walk through the valley in the shadow of poverty, I must feel their envy… For I am high, loaded, and all those other goodies… They go on with the Good God Big Buck.”

In a paeon to the plight of the psychically brutalized veteran returning from Vietnam, “March to the Witch’s Castle” describes the nightmare of readjustment after the happiest day in 13 years (Feb. 12, 1973 — the day of the signing of the treaty which was supposed to have ended the war… but didn’t). “Father, help him to understand that when his loved one remarried, she truly believed that he was dead, and would never return…Smile upon us, father, for we are weak, very weak.” A rare moment of dead seriousness in response to that which can bear no humor. America truly was the Witch’s Castle to returning soldiers. This was not a hyperbolically extended metaphor, but a direct and piercing picture of what was.

A somewhat more playful, but no less disarming protrait of the psychic investment in war is heard in Funkadelic’s own “Revolution #9” a ten- minute, lyric-free sonic landscape called “Wars of Armageddon”. Through the interplay of the long, slow-funk dirge, guitar screaming over the top, and an endless litany of disjointed sound effects (seemingly lifted right off one of those great sound effects records of the period), from low-ing cows to groaning orgasms to cuckoo-ing Swiss clocks, one can hear the collective psychosis, furious dementia, and the crumbling of sensible structure that accompanies the approach of demise, personal or public (and aren’t they one another’s crutches?). As for what kind of Armageddon Clinton is invoking here, we can only speculate. It could be Vietnam, or it could be our self-pimped biological demise (“The cathetic mumruffians of madness continue to hasten total biological Armageddon for the ‘benefit’ of consumerism…”)

What is protest but a bowl of lame-duck pudding without suggested alternatives? “Chocolate City” is full of them, namely, recomendations on how to take over Washington, D.C.: “Yeah, they’re still calling it the White House, but that’s a temporary condition too,” and suggestions on how to fill the new cabinet: “Mr. Stevie Wonder, Secretary of Fine Arts, and Miss Aretha Franklin, the First Lady.” If Funkateers were running Chocolate City (“Hey, we didn’t get our 40 acres and a mule, but we did get you, C.C.”), would Watergate and Vietnam never have happened?

Sadly, their message didn’t always get through to the pundits, and sometimes seemed to be swallowed up or obscured by the pageantry of the road show. In 1978, Bootsy Collins (master of the space bass) and Clinton were given a slap on the wrist by the Rod McGrew Scholarship Fund for Communicators with a Conscience, who apparently saw the group as a superficial glitter band, suggesting in no uncertain terms that the funkateers do something more ambitious with their popularity.

Direct attacks on the political machinery of the 70s crop up throughout the annals of the voluminous material P-Funk laid upon the earth. Nested deep within Sir Lleb’s “Funkstrom Chronicles of Orbitron, [4]” a war is waged agaist the slime of 1974’s political landscape. In this prophetic account, Clinton eradicates Nixon, Agnew, and the entire pentagon.

And by the gods, the P.F.T. berserker machine descended to even lower depths to battle with blasphemous malodorfied legions of maggot-coloured honkiteers! Guarding their reeking nest, the PIT OF PENTAGON, the foam- flecked degenerates filled the air with watergate buggers and ensnarling webs of mysterian tape reels! But, before our strength…their agnewesque attack vexed but their own destruction!

Naturally, the hero is awarded when “The Cosmic Strumpet of Funkadelia gazed uponst my sweaty bod with arduous satisfaction.” However, in another display of final humility before the grace of TRIM in its eternal and universal manifestation (The Funk), he admits “I could handle it not!” Thus, able to take on the Pentagon but eternally humbled before the funk, the furthermucker (as critic Greg Tate calls Clinton) finds defeat in a penile shrivel before a yawning abyss of cosmic ‘tang. As a result, he is returned to some kind of karmic holding tank, banished to live inside this mortal coil with only a booty to wave in salute toward The One: “I would wait in limbo for precious eons to become; HOT, NASTY, AND LOOSE!”

Although the mythology P-Funk propound, live within, and gas on may sound at first like an overblown reel at an animation festival for phreaks, everything within it has its place in a coherent ideology. Sir Nose, Star Child, and Dr. Funkenstein are not just leftovers from The Wiz, but a troupe of cosmic thespians who play out very definite roles in a more-or-less cohesive vision of what things are, in the face of what they could be. That is, they fulfill the same function as the villains and saviours in any religion or mythology. The only thing that prevents them becoming a religion in the usual sense of the word is the same thing that divides other cults and religions: size. When a cult becomes large enough, it becomes a religion, or at least takes on religious proportions. If enough people had really taken the P-Funk message seriously, there is no reason the movement wouldn’t have grown from the status of a continually-beleagured fan club [5] and roving posse of fanatical funkateers to a fully-formed philosophy / pantheon / belief system that could have altered our spiritual landscape forever… or at the very least landed its own TV show.

Appendix: The P-Funk Cosmology-in-a-Nutshell

Dig: The secret of funk was placed inside the pyramids 5,000 years ago. If we had stayed tuned (To pyramid power? Connect this to the Chariots of the Gods melieu of the same era, and the visiting spacemen theme of P-Funk) to The One, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in. “Mother earth is pregnant for the third time. We all have knocked her up.” It took the arrival of Dr. Funkenstein to unearth the funk and usher its viral spread over the de-funkatized surface of the planet. The problem with earth is that it is devoid of funk, — earth is the “Unfunky UFO” — due to the unfunky operations of the white house, the pentagon, Nixon, businessmen and greed in general, and an overall lack of supergroovalisticprosifunkstica-tion. The symbol for the collective greed/war mentality is embodied by Sir Nose, D’Void of Funk (“I have always been D’Void of Funk, I shall continue to be D’Void of Funk…”), who relentlessly pimpifies the people “By sucking their brains until their ability to think was amputated…pimpifying their instincts until they were fat, horny, and strung out” in pursuit of “financial security or an eternal supply of TRIM,” the result being that “the very source of life energies on earth have become the castrated target of anile bamboozelry from homo sapiens’ rabid attempts to manipulate the omnipotent forces of nature.”

The ruthless whoring of Funkentelechy has brought mother nature to her knees, and we’re pinned beneath them. “The frenzied incipience of pimpification hath risen to the point of cosmicide.” In other words, we all have a bad case of the Placebo Syndrome, having traded in “the real thing” for a civilization comprised of cheap imitations, which is now crumbling around us. The Placebo Syndrome has given the body politic weak knees, which are doomed to give out from under us at any moment. We no longer feel the pulse, or smell the deep draughts of the Cosmic Slop which generates the funk. “When the signal is too weak, you’re in the syndrome.”

But hark! We do have booties and we do have boots, so let’s move ’em! “When the syndrome is around, don’t let your guard down. All you got to do is go on a bump.” We have the strategic assistance of Star Child, who takes careful aim and shoots at Sir Nose (who inhabits the Nose Zone, or the Zone of Zero Funkativity) with his Bop Gun, funkatizing him in the luminescent sheen of its rays. In concert, guitarist Gary Shider flew over the crowd, wearing diapers of course, blasting at the crowd with a strobe light attached to a space-age rifle, “Chasing the Noses away,” which forces Sir Nose to “give up the funk” and dance. “We shall overcome…we got to shoot ’em with the Bop Gun.” To gather the collective energies of the funkateers into a mobilized force, Uncle Jam’s Army was created to snuff out Sir Nose wherever he may lie.


1) P-Funk is shorthand for one group that recorded under two names: Parliament and Funkadelic. To generalize crudely in distinguishing them, Parliament’s music focused more or less on the dance floor, while Funkadelic had more of a psychedelic aspect. In general, Funkadelic were more serious than Parliament, but since most of the members were the same, there was a lot of crossover in style and message.

2) P-Funk’s stage shows were actually written by Clinton, costumed by Larry LeGaspi (who was also haberdasher to The Who, Kiss, Patti LaBelle, and The Wiz), and designed by Jules Fischer, who also created sets for the Stones, David Bowie, and Kiss.

3) These days, it’s not uncommon for the crowd to shout out, “Props! Props!” at P-Funk shows.

4) The ongoing, piece-meal, far-flung-yet-coherent narrative of P-Funk and its constituents’ journeys, battles, and rank-yet- pneumatic sexual jamborees which is excerpted as if from nowhere and reproduced chunk- wise in liner notes. Perhaps these Chronicles exist in their entirety somewhere; perhaps they’re the only remaining vestige of a long- forgotten transmission from Mothership Central — the Rosetta Stone of funk.

5) The fan club, “Uncle Jam’s Army,” asked in its solicitations whether members wanted to be “duplicated, xeroxed, multiplied or divided” — a phrasing which seems to ironically admit the danger of rampant clone-dom which lurks in organizing masses of people, i.e. the potential pitfalls of religiousification.

Copyright ©1994, Scot Hacker

About Scot Hacker

Scot Hacker is a web developer, teacher, and blogger living in Northern California. He is the author of Can You Get to That? The Cosmology of P-Funk and Understanding Liberace: Grooving With The Fey Heckler. He works by day as webmaster at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Knight Digital Media Center, and runs Birdhouse Web and Mail Hosting on the side. Hacker is the author of The BeOS Bible and MP3: The Definitive Guide, and posts near-daily on random stuff at Scot Hacker's foobar blog. He's ecstatic that we're sitting on 100 years of recorded music history. How I Got Stuck When was the last time you bought a record because of the cover? 25 years before MP3s, I used to make a weekly pilgrimage to Cheap Thrills in San Luis Obispo with friends, where we'd surf through dusty wooden bins, de-flowering ourselves in a mist of vinyl, grabbing piles of cut-outs about which we knew virtually nothing. Junior Samples, Temple City Kazoo Orchestra, The Buggles, Paul Desmond, Instant Chic, Smithsonian collections, Robert Moog, Dream Syndicate... didn't matter. If the cover was cool, we assumed there was a good chance the music would turn us on. And we were often right. In that humongous wooden warehouse, between around 1977 and 1984, my musical universe bloomed. There were also duds - dumptruck loads of duds. The lesson that a great cover doesn't tell you jack about the music inside was a long time coming (the inverse correlation - that great music was often hidden behind terrible artwork - came much later). But it didn't matter, because cut-outs never cost more than a couple-three bucks, and all the good shit we uncovered made it worthwhile. In high school, I (for the most part) ignored the music going on around me. The jocks and aggies could keep their Rick Springfield and their Jefferson Starship - we were folding papers after school to The Roches and Zappa and Talking Heads and PiL. But inevitably, some of the spirit of that time stuck with me. ELO and McCartney wormed their way (perhaps undeservedly) into my heart. No one escapes high school without an indelible tattoo on their soul describing the music of that time. When I went away to college, the alt/grunge scene was being born, and getting chicks required familiarity with The Pixies and Porno for Pyros. I couldn't quite figure how these bands were supposed to be as interesting as Meat Puppets or Cecil Taylor or Syd Barrett, but I went along for the ride for a while, best I could. But I never quite "got" alt-rock. Never understood why The Pixies were elevated in the public imagination over a thousand bands I thought were so much more inventive / rocking / interesting. What exactly was Frank Black offering the world that Lou Reed had not? In general, I like music carved in bold strokes - extremely rockin', or extremely beautiful, or extremely weird... I like artists that have a unique sound, something I can hang my hat on. I love Mission of Burma and The Slits and The American Anthology of Folk Music and Devendra Banhart and Bowie and Nick Drake and Eric Dolphy and Ali Farka Toure and Marvin Pontiac. If you were to ask me who was the last great rock and roll band, I'd be likely to answer "The Minutemen." I know it's not true, but I'd say it anyway. And yet, in a weird way, I totally believe it. Today while jogging, I listened to a long interpretation by the Unknown Instructors: "Punk Is Whatever We Made It To Be" - half-spoken / half-sung sonic collage of some of D. Boon's best stanzas. Boon's powerful words rained like hammers and I felt like I was back in 1980, careening down the highway in a green VW bug with The Stooges blasting. It was that spirit of amazement that I used to live for - the one I never got from the 90s indie scene. And then, just as quickly, I thought "God, I'm living in the past. I suck." I'm stuck. I have vast collections of LPs, CDs, and MP3s. I listen to music for hours each day, and yet I'm completely out of it, musically speaking. I confess -- I've never listened to Guns-n-Roses or Pearl Jam or Prince, and I've only recently heard "Nevermind" in its entirety. If it weren't for Twitter, I wouldn't even know Lady Gaga existed. I'm oblivious to the stuff that supposedly matters to "music people." It's not like I'm totally unaware of pop music. I just have a finely tuned ability to tune out whatever doesn't interest me. I don't quite know how to explain it. I can only say that my friends register shock when they learn that I've never heard of Elliot Smith. And yet I do not feel thirsty. I'm always open to being turned on. But I learned long ago that, unfortunately, you can't trust beautiful cover art to promise great music, and you can't always trust your friends to push your music buttons. I'm happy to listen to damn near anything. And every now and then, that "anything" will turn into something that will become important to me over time. Something that will last. I like music with staying power. Belle and Sebastien have a certain appeal, but I don't think they're going to occupy even the tiniest slot in my consciousness in 20 years. But the power and inventiveness of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, John Fahey, Robert Wyatt, Can, The Carter Family, The Clash, will never dissipate. I have little interest in the "new" factor. I could not care less whether this year's model is the baddest thing going on in Atlanta or a rare gem rescued from 78 rpm oblivion by Robert Crumb. It's all the same to me. Just squeeze my lemon / 'till the juice runs down my leg. Please. A friend once said that he felt lucky to have been born so late in history, because the later you're born, the more history you have to work with. I don't think I really understood what he was saying until I was about 40. It's not about being born late, it's about this massive archive we're sitting on - the entire history of recorded music under our butts, which we can either choose to ignore or to mine for all it's worth. Every hour I spend checking out the flavor of the month is an hour I haven't spent with David Thomas or Richard Hell or Shuggie Otis. Life's too short. I'm going to use this site to drift back and forth through musical history, modernity be damned. You turn me on, I'm a radio. Let me know what I'm missing. shacker's station at

7 thoughts on “Can You Get to That? The Cosmology of P-Funk

  1. On Parliament’s cosmology: You’ve neglected to connect the P-Funk worldview as a parody of The Nation of Islam among others. The Mothership coincided with the Elijah Mohammed’s (and Walid Fard(said to be from ‘Wally Ford’), his mentor, before him) “wheel in the sky,” a UFO of God’s Chosen people: Moslems, most likely Black or non-white folks (the Original man). NOI example: According to the Nation’s now hushhush theory, also, an evil scientist named Yakub created the white race as an experiment, the end result being that the weaker would rule the stronger. The Wheel in the Sky would eventually return to destroy the enemy of God’s People. Indeed, NOI founder, Walid Fard’s disappearence mysteriously in the 30s (was it the 30s?) was chalked up as his return to the Mothership.

    “It was placed among the secrets of the pyramids until a more positive attitude towards THIS most sacred phenomenon, “Cloned Funk” could be accuired. Here in these terrestrial projects it would waite for the kiss that would release them to multiply into the image of the chosen one, Doctahhh Funkenstein.”

    In NOI lingo, the black person (man) IS god, but has fallen away from the exhalted high, but will soon overcome. Similarly, the pyramids are mentioned, as they were often at the time, as proof of the superiority of black African culture (all pharoah’s and scientists of the time assumed to be black) and the feeder of all of Europe’s success. Dr. Funkenstein is Walid Fard. The “cloned funk” reference, I wonder, is possibly a nod to the old dictum from racist whites, as black people all looking the same. Of course ‘projects’ are mentioned.

    Its a parody of the times and theories bandied about many black communities predating and during that era. How you like that?

  2. Interesting article, but I’m not sure you are quite right on everything. For example: I had not interpreted the “cosmic slop” to be funk itself but instead the nature of having to compromise oneself for the sake of society/life. Thus, the mother is forced to go against her own moral being in order to exist and provide for her children in an immoral world. “Then the devil said, ‘would you like to dance with me we’re doing the cosmic slop.'”

    Also, you seem to focus more on the works of funkadelic, but if your goal is to discuss the P-Funk universe than parliament would be the main source. I’ve always found that there are two (or perhaps three) trajectories in P-funkism, early funkadelic (with Parliament’s Osmium thrown in) albums are focused on the realities of the modern world – thus they are a good source of the beliefs and themes behind P-Funk but not so much for the mythology of Funk. Later funkadelic (think One Nation/Uncle Jam/Electric Spanking) is the idealized world, or the world of united funk. It is in Parliament (specifically, Mothership Connection, Clones, Funkentelechy, Motor Booty and potentially Gloryhallastoopid and Trombipulation though haven’t listened to those two albums extensively) where the whole mythology is developed. Those albums still focus on the issues facing society at the time, but it is more allegorical than the raw early funkadelic albums. In many ways I believe this is represented by the guitar-heavy sound of early funkadelic vs. the bass-oriented music of Parliament, which is more spacey and futuristic.

    Anyways, like I said, very interesting article. I think I’d approach is differently, and some of our interpretations are different, but that is the beauty of life, is it not?

    By the way, do you have a collection of the liner notes for P-funk? I’ve always wanted to read/see them.

  3. Hey Christian –

    Well, I wrote the piece almost 20 years ago, and would definitely have done it differently if I were to write it today. Thanks for all of your feedback.

    If you’d like to write a follow-up piece, we’d be happy to post it here on the site, and we would link the two pieces together. Let us know if interested!

    No, I don’t have access to collected liner notes, though it would be
    really cool to see them all in one place.


  4. To each his reach, and if I can’t cop it ain’t mine to have…

    Love the piece. I read it every couple of years.

    Still listen to classic Parliament/Funkadelic all the time.

  5. beyond brilliant article. ive never heard pfunk analysed so deeply and it only reinforces the unfathomable creativity of clinyonmd his hordes. my favourite musicians of all time

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