George Clinton is handing off the keys to the Mothership, but not before saying goodbye to his nation of disciples in true Dr. Funkenstein-style.
Funkmaster Clinton will celebrate 78 earth years next month, and it appears as though he's still living his funkiest and sober-est life. Clinton, who detailed his final tour with Parliament-Funkadelic in February, says his children and grandchildren are steering the ship now, and he's ready to focus on cartoon animation, movie scoring, and producing.
"I'm feeling great, it's been fun. We're playing with some old friends. We're having a ball, he says. "This is going to be one of the craziest tours we've done."
So what does one do when given just six minutes on the phone with the Prime Minister of Funk, whose storied career spans decades of rock myth and lore? You do what he would do — improvise. Which is exactly how much of his catalog was conceived, including his 1982 hit with P-Funk, "Atomic Dog," came to be. ("I just had the word 'dog,'" Clinton told NPR in 2006. "That's all I had in my mind. I had to ad lib a lot of it.")
You don't have time to ask about swapping hotel crack rocks with Sly Stone, or concealing a "hot as a motherfucker" crack pipe during a White House photo op with Chelsea Clinton (the photo exists, by the way, no crack pipe in sight) nor can you ask about the lore behind his bathroom birth or the time when he and P-Funk unknowingly drove through the zombie-filled set of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. With six minutes, you definitely don't have time to ask about his many curious fashion choices, like sporting a full-on diaper on stage or advice on how to remedy the hemorrhoid-inflicting diet of acid and soul food he claims he and the band lived on in the '70s.
The truth is, no amount of time or ink that could possibly contain Clinton's wild rise from Motown doo-wop dude to Dr. Funkenstein, and we suspect his 416-page memoir, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Hard On You? went through some arduous editing and scrapped enough material for another installment (at the very least).
Dubbed the "One Nation Under a Groove Tour," Clinton's final trek comes at a time when his decades-long battle for copyright ownership of much of P-Funk's catalog from Bridgeport Music Inc. — a company that was described by Slate as "the shady one-man corporation that's destroying hip-hop" — rages on.
Clinton alleges Bridgeport claimed the copyrights to most of his discography based on a forged signature in 1982 and 1983. Bridgeport says otherwise. He launched a crowdfunding campaign in 2012 to help with legal costs and, later, a petition titled "President Barack Obama: GIVE BACK THE FUNK! – Establish a Presidential Commission." However, in 2005 Clinton landed a major victory as he reclaimed the rights to Hardcore Jollies, Uncle Jam Wants You, The Electric Spanking of War Babies, and One Nation Under a Groove.
"I want to be known for making that possible so artists can give their copyrights to their heirs, their wives, kids, husbands, and that's what I've been doing over the last eight years," he says. "But it also inspires me to write songs. In the '60s, it was usually the Vietnam War that inspired you to write music. This is war."
The battle for copyright recapture also means having to relocate samples used throughout the chunks of his and P-Funk's discography. "They have to find a new map to go back and find out what names did they call the samples because they change names and then other people copyright it in their name," he says. "So all of that is part of what we have to investigate."
Clinton's map is a meandering one. But when tracing the North Carolina native's career trajectory, his stint as a Motown writer turned frontman for the Parliaments — who landed a hit in 1967 with "(I Wanna) Testify" — was undoubtedly a turning point for himself and for the future of funk.
"That's the thing that started me out on this trip," he says of Motown. "We got our first hit record out of Detroit. We created Funkadelic because of the Motown funk band. Motown itself was the inspiration to want to be a big family. It's been the prototype for pretty much everything that we did."
The truth is, Clinton, who radiates positivity even when confronted with defeat, knows the state of the world is fucked up. But he offers a solution: "Funk is what you need to dance your way out of that," he says. He also suggests turning to another Detroit legend when shit gets bad, as he believes that Eminem is the "greatest rapper in the world," adding, "I feel proud that we have a rapper that lived up to the Motown legacy."
With only one minute remaining, we would be remiss not to follow-up on one of Clinton's favorite topics: aliens. In the past, Clinton says he believes we've already been infected with alien DNA and that our extraterrestrial neighbors are bound to show themselves on Earth turf. But Clinton's farewell tour has instilled a sense of urgency in the funkmaster, and he's ready to get his space passport stamped.
"I'm getting ready to go up and meet them. I'm gonna ride that, what's his name, the Virgin Airlines ... I wanna get a ride on that spaceship and meet them halfway. They're taking too long."
In the meantime, Clinton has one simple request for his final voyage:
"Bring the booty."
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic will perform at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 20 at Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre at Freedom Hill; 14900 Metropolitan Pkwy., Sterling Heights; 313presents.com. Tickets start at $29.50+.
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