As I’ve mentioned often,during the mid 1990’s I became deeply involved in funk music. One of the qualities about it that captivated me most is that the lyrics to many of these songs said something to a part of my heart and mind I never knew existed. Not only that but it seemed to carry the potential to do the same thing to others who heard it. A good deal of this was from reading what basically amounts to an instructional book on the subject: Ricky Vincent’s Funk: The Music,The People and the Rhythm Of The One. It was an extraordinary work of literature that taught me more important things about life than most school books. It’s primary importance was how funk itself was inspired by an embrace of a communal Afrocentric consciousness by the African American community at the end of the 1960’s. And how that evolved this newly burgeoning music. The stories of these artists and their work inspired my soul and imagination. I began to write my own internal biographies of all of these people. I had most of the members of P-Funk-from Bootsy Collins to George Clinton himself as being highly intellectual collage graduated. As well as imagining Chaka Khan as a clean living spiritual soothsayer. Soon,this all began to change.
During the latter part of the 90’s,news of James Brown,George Clinton and Rick James’ troubles with addiction and the law nearly shattered my interest in funk completely,and left me feeling very sad. One of the reasons for this has to do with that filter I’d set up due to upbringing. My mother had a fiercely academically independent,so when I mentioned stories of these musicians to her she was most interested in knowing their higher level of education. My father’s sometimes magisterial admiration for creative musicians endowed me with an irrepressible optimism towards the music I’d come to love. The more personal reason for my feeling of being let down was the reason I became fascinated by funk to begin with. In the 90’s,I’d become totally disgusted with the martyrization of the sex,drugs and rock ‘n roll lifestyle that took the lives of Kurt Cobain,Tupac Shakur,Jeff Buckley and Biggie Smalls long before their developing talents could blossom into a fully coherent art. So I decided to seek out the music that Ricky Vincent’s book was leading me in the direction of to find further inspiration towards my embrace of the music as an interest. And I was successful.
What exactly did in funk that was so inspirational when the current circumstances of the artists involved nearly discouraged my interest? The first funk I’d listened to had lyrics that revolved mostly around dancing. What I did not understand is that often these were metaphorical. One thing that separates the lyrical message of funk from rock music is the use of implicit,rather than explicit impulses to get messages across. These level of emotional expression often lingers with the listener with repeated exposure rather than has the short lived flavor of a piece gum-like effect an explicit lyric will provide with it’s shock value. A perfect example of this is a song by Parliament called “Aquaboogie”,with it’s lyric line of “you can dance underwater and not get wet” reflecting the theme of “life is a dance”,a common metaphor throughout funk. Earth Wind & Fire spoke even more closely to my heart. Their lyrics mostly asked questions of the listener-helping them to find their consciousness by looking inside themselves and finding their own unique talents and abilities. Kool & The Gang reflected their own musical impulses best perhaps by describing themselves as scientists of sound. As simple as it was stated,I still cannot think of many declarations more profound that that.
In terms of lyrics there has been a definite return to the idea of funky instrumental futurism in music. However very few artists out there are offering the same sort of humanistic and culturally satisfying lyrical observations. Most of the music,for one,has become more and more driven by the pursuit of money. Very much like the first wave of R&b and rock ‘n roll most of the lyrics of modern songs are clearly directed at it’s fans. Particularly adolescent fans of a specific gender,encouraging them to purchase the music by appealing to their personal and sexual needs. This is as George Clinton describes it “the pimping of the pleasure principle”,and doesn’t allow for any expansion of lyrical meaning. Interestingly enough,many of these futurist funk artists working outside the confines of hip-hop have begun recovering that implied,and therefore longer lasting impulse in the music that inspired me to take an interest in funk from the outset. Because I am convinced music speaks for itself,I am concluding this with a group of songs that are defined by what I am talking about here. Hope you are inspired by these words,and the music that in turn inspired them.