SCHOOL DAYS At Berklee, provost Larry Simpson and president Roger Brown (in the Bootsy shades) made the title "Dr. Funkenstein" official.
Tonight's session with the Berklee P-Funk Ensemble — yes, there is such a thing — is the third rehearsal of Clinton's career, give or take a few that might have slipped his memory. Other than prepping for Lollapalooza — the first time his band ever had to play for a tight hour, as opposed to their usual four-to-seven-hour marathons — Clinton says, "We barely ever rehearsed. I'm like a traffic cop. I just look at the audience and figure out what they want. That's called funk."
Clinton corrects the student vocalists on some lyrics from "(Not Just) Knee Deep" — it's "she turns me on and out," not "on and on." But he's generally hands-off, like in 2006 when he surprised the Berklee ensemble during a rehearsal to offer simple advice: "Even though it's funky, you still have to pay attention." Discussing the following night's encore concert at Berklee Performance Center, he assures that there's no need to plan exactly when he'll jump on stage with the ensemble. "Just play the way you want, and I'll find my way in," says Clinton. "Don't let me disrupt you."
By showtime, all of Berklee is abuzz over P-Funk. Awarding Clinton an honorary doctorate degree, the school's president, Roger Brown, takes the podium sporting Bootsy shades and a fat prop medallion. The setting is ironic. At the start of his career, Clinton says engineers didn't want their names on his albums, since the twisted levels were enough to bruise a musician's resume. Forty years later, one of the most esteemed music schools in the country has made the title Dr. Funkenstein official.
>> PHOTOS: George Clinton at the Wilbur Theatre <<
The ensemble jams through a medley of P-Funk staples — "Flashlight," "Mothership Connection," "Aqua Boogie"— and Clinton can't help but come out from backstage for at least a little bit of every song. Wearing a sterling silver suit and pearl white fedora, he plays off of his young singers and commands the horn section through a series of climaxes. By the end, he's on stage surrounded by students, faculty, and a number of his relatives and band members.
Bowie and Bon Jovi aren't here, but hundreds of Clinton's children are in the house, dancing as best we can in the fixed auditorium seats. This is the energy that's kept the mothership soaring for so long. If the average grandfather feels pride around a few bambinos, then Clinton's the luckiest man alive, his family tree taking root in all of us. Watching him in so much glory, I sense that the good doctor might actually live forever. As for me — after spending a week with George Clinton, I could go tomorrow for all I care.^
Chris Faraone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @fara1.