We are all George Clinton's babies. In 2012, a lot of us are even his grandchildren, from hip-hop heads and hard-rock fans to frat boys and teeny boppers. Bastards of the British invasion are products of the Parliament-Funkadelic maestro and his former bassist Bootsy Collins, who lent a bounce to acts like the Rolling Stones to re-invent themselves in the '70s. Hip-hop heads owe an even bigger debt: a great deal of the genre's defining artists — from the varied likes of Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre to De La Soul — built towering careers on rhythms that Clinton first imagined and animated through a number of ace artists over the years.
>> PHOTOS: George Clinton at the Berklee Performance Center <<
For people who relish this heritage, visits from Clinton summon family rituals that involve pregnant spliffs, primal dancing, battered eardrums, and sick days. Now that he's 70, it's especially important to spend quality time with Poppa Parliament when he's in town. So when I heard that he'd be blessing Boston for a week — playing a P-Funk show at the Wilbur and picking up an honorary doctorate at Berklee — I made it a priority to soak everything in. Some people regret missing opportunities to pry stories out of their beloved elders. I didn't want to have to write that lament. Clinton's been interviewed thousands of times over the past half-century, but he has more tales to tell than most mortals.
The first time I met him, at Crash Mansion in New York City, George was puffing on a joint the size of a toilet-paper tube. I asked one of his handlers if anyone ever asked George to put it out. He looked at me: "Not. Once. Ever." When I last met him, back in 2009, Clinton broke me off a rare gem about how "Give Up the Funk" was a dis track directed at his stylistic son David Bowie, who he felt had bit the Funkadelic steez. This time, he explained how his legacy is even linked to Jon Bon Jovi: back in the '60s, when he needed cash for studio time, Clinton used to labor for the rocker's dad on the New Jersey waterfront. Imagine that — George used to work on the docks. Like I said, it's always something with this guy.
GROOVIN' AT THE WILBUR
I'm not the only P-Funk progeny in line for beer at Clinton's show at the Wilbur Theatre, where his Boston romp begins. To my front is a lumberjack-looking white guy with an electric red beard who first saw P-Funk at Woodstock '99 — he drove in from Springfield for tonight's festivities. Behind me is an older black dude from Providence whose initial mothership sighting was in 1976. He's seen Clinton 16 times since.
Back inside, the Godfather of Funk is halfway through a 20-minute spin on "Mr. Wiggles." The crowd is grooving, and an orgy of dancers — one of whom is sliding around on roller skates — deliver the expected eclectic frenetics. The show is wild despite the absence of Garry "Starchild" Shider, the group's iconic guitar master, who died of cancer two years ago and who used to chase George around in a diaper.
Though the vibe is undoubtedly Parliamentary, there's something notably different about Clinton, who's waving his orchestra through long, tantric jams in a crisp white suit and a tilted brown fedora. Among fans, there's some chatter about his clean appearance until P-Funk muse and hype man Michael Payne explains to the crowd, "Yes — that's George Clinton, but there will be none of that guy with the rainbow-colored hair tonight."