I recently read that the Dada art movement was an “irreverent, rowdy revolution.” There are plenty of thick, overly intellectualized
tomes devoted to all things DADA, however, rowdy and irreverent will do just fine when describing the work of funk music legend and Dadaist, George Clinton. The problem is that the art world doesn't have a clue.
For more than forty years, Clinton and his fraternal twins, Parliament-Funkadelic, or PFUNK, have served up a Dadaist stew that obliterated ideas not only about music, but about the meaning of art. There's no determining how many people have danced to their mashups of psychedelic rock, jazz, r&b, and gospel, but PFUNK wasn't only about creating music to shake our tails to. Dadaist poet Hugo Ball said, “For us, art is not an end in itself, but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.” The grooves in PFUNKS music are not the end in so much as that they can overshadow a more serious subtext, and song titles like Cosmic Slop bely the intelligence behind Clinton's lyrics: He had a great deal to say about societal problems, race, and politics. According to French artist Jean (Hans) Arp, Dadaism was not an approach or a style, but a wish to “destroy the hoaxes of reason and to discover an unreasoned order.” Clinton's art illustrates just how insane this world is, as reflected in the lyrics of Eulogy and Light, from the Free Your Mind...and Your Ass Will Follow album:
Which art on Wall Street
Honored be thy buck
Thy kingdom came
This be thy year
From sea to shining sea
Thou givest me false pride
Funked down by the riverside
From every head and ass, may dollars flow
Give us this pay
Our daily bread
Forgive us our goofs
As we rob each other
He maketh me to sell dope to small children
For thou art evil
And we adore thee
Thy destruction and thy power
They comfort me
My Cadillac and my pinky ring
They restoreth me in thee
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of poverty
I must feel their envy
For I am loaded, high and all those other goodies
That go along with the good god big buck
Want to see culture or society more broadly and incisively George asks? Stop trying to make sense of it. Revel in contradiction because absurdity is our friend. This perspective is best illustrated in his satirical masterpiece Chocolate City, or CC, a song whose thesis imposes a more "authentic" perspective onto Washington D.C., a ludicrous but maybe not so ridiculous rendering of who is actually in control of the government and the city. Black people didn't get their forty acres and a mule, but remember, you don't need the bullet when you've got the ballot. Go on ahead, he urges. Dream! Reach!! This is what power really looks like. It's all good because fiction is really the truth.
PFUNK say they are “dealers of uncut funk, funk that’s The Bomb.” In my opinion, The Bomb detonated when they took to the stage. Their live performances, especially during the 70's, were unparalleled. No one, except for fellow shapeshifter David Bowie, matched Clinton's radical theatricality and outrageousness. Yes, the music was spectacular, but just as significant was PFUNK's farcical blueprint on how black performers behaved and dressed. No more matching tailored suits and choreographed routines a la the Temptations, a template Clinton embraced early in his career. At some point he must have asked himself, WTF am I doing? Metaphorically speaking, his realization may have been similar to this quote from Marcel Duchamp, "I forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste." Clinton certainly contradicted himself into several astounding transformations. The most memorable appeared in the mid 70s. Adorned in 6-inch silver platform boots, bikini bottoms over glittered tights, and a long blond wig, he morphed into a debauched ringmaster directing his circus of glamazons, extraterrestrial clowns, and pseudo sheiks into a vortex of anarchy, a dimension where sartorial choices ran the gamut of diapers, Pinocchio noses, and massive sombreros made of fur. There were often as many as 20 people on stage, roaming about in various states of gyration through a marihuana fog so thick that the audience got a contact high. Have some fun for fuck's sake! Don't take yourselves so seriously! Deranged was the new norm just because. And let’s not forget the Mothership (now housed within the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian), a faux flying saucer lowered from the rafters carrying a race of Black “aliens” cloned by Dr. Funkenstein, another Clinton alter ego who symbolized a new species untethered from anything reeking of convention. Black, White, Red or Green: All subversives welcome. Everything is everything and please memorize this mantra: Logic be damned. That my friends is what DADA was all about.
Clinton has graced us with a scatalogical (see the Urban Dictionary) manifesto that will forever influence those looking to write one of their own. He broke all the rules. That's what artists do. They break shit in order to reframe our inner solar systems, shift our realities. They pry our middle finger upward toward the sky. PFUNK is art. PFUNK is Dada. George Clinton is a visionary who deserves a place within the pantheon of Duchamp and Ray. He should be acknowledged as a Dada revolutionary and recognized by the art world.
They just need to free their minds and their asses will follow.