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By Liz Tracy
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By Jesse Scheckner
By Michael E. Miller
"I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe/I was not offended/For I knew I had to rise above it all/Or drown in my own shit."
-- Funkadelic, "Maggot Brain"
"Everybody wants to throw peace signs, talk about 'Make my funk the P-Funk,' but man, they just don't know," said Michael Hampton, a.k.a. Kid Funkadelic. It was 6:30 on New Year's Eve, about four hours before he was set to take the stage with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic.
Hampton has been playing lead guitar ever since original ax man Eddie Hazel left the band in '75. He had arrived at his room at the El Palacio on Powerline Road earlier that day to find a note from "G.C." explaining a cut in his pay.
"I've always been a team player, but there's some people on the team I didn't pick. I'm taking a pay cut because of them."
After 30-some years of tearing the roof off the sucka, you had to imagine someone would feel a chill. But as a band, P-Funk knows how to weather the storm, and this night was no different. With a new year on deck, it was time to rise above.
For most of us, coping was fine for 2004. It worked well enough when our optimism was exhausted and our options were diminished. Forced to endure four hurricanes, another presidential election dubiously won, and a truly epic Dolphins meltdown, it was all we could do to not go Falling Downon snowbird drivers on I-95.
In 2005, coping is not an option.
So as the rain was blowing sideways just after sunset on New Year's Eve, the production crew at Fort Lauderdale's Revolution nightclub were staunchly optimistic. In a few hours, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic would take the stage in the venue's huge open-air courtyard. P-Funk is a libidinous, felonious, Loony Toons-inous zoo of a band, and predictably, on this night the animals were running loose.
Overseeing the balletic frenzy, Revolution Manager Jackie Bressler tied together a zillion loose ends, most of them severely dampened from the downpour. Still, she exuded an almost beatific air. "I'm just glad they're letting me do what I'm really good at," she said.
Not surprisingly, like Hampton, several members of the band had hurdles to leap. From Clinton's original mid-'60s doo-woppers the Parliaments to the lysergically inspired Funkadelic in '69, from the heavily sampled Day-Glo hitmakers of the '70s to the present-day hip-hopping P-Funk circus, the band has undergone as much development and infighting as a Balkan republic.
Around 10 p.m., the backstage pre-Funk mood was far more orderly than one might imagine. Whether because of gag orders from the commander or just to keep the party rolling, nobody else spoke of the cutback Hampton had mentioned.
Bernie Worrell, P-Funk's veteran keyboardist, powwowed at a table with second-generation bassist Jerome Rodgers. Worrell, the visionary behind P-Funk classics like "Flashlight" and "Aqua Boogie," wore dark, diamond-shaped glasses, a psychedelic print shirt opened over a Bob Marley T, and a fleece hat and gloves.
"I got arthritis, man, and it's killing me," he said, rubbing his elbows. Like an aging warrior recounting his battles, he named his past and current projects: three decades with Clinton, playing with the Talking Heads, Les Claypool, the Allman Brothers' Warren Haynes, in Mos Def's backing band, with superproducer Bill Laswell, with his own band. And, he said, he was flying out at 6 that morning to hook up with Bootsy Collins in Cincinnati. It sounded like a grueling schedule for any musician, let alone a 60-year-old founding father.
"We're only this age off the stage. We're 25 when we're playing," Rodgers said. "But when I come off, I need my 'fribrillator, my Ben-Gay, everything. They used to say, 'Lock up your daughters' when we came through. Now they say, 'Lock up your moms. '"
Then it was close to 11 o'clock, stage time for the band. Backstage buzzed at Clinton's imminent arrival. The musicians, decked out in terry-cloth diapers, pimp suits, princess gowns, and white fur trench coats, paraded to the stage. Outside, they slam-dunked into a rock-hard backbeat, and Clinton burst into the backstage area, all fluorescent dreadlocks and puffy eyes. After a short round of high-fives and back slaps, he strutted onto the stage. Duly impressed and mostly dry by now, a crowd of several hundred thundered.
Clinton, flanked by 30-some musicians, dancers, vocalists, exhibitionists, and hangers-on, was in his element. The music exploded on the one, thick with rhythm and sweating sexuality. After 30-some years of fermentation, P-Funk had never sounded more potent. And Clinton's party-at-all-costs message had never been more relevant.
"Happy New Year, ya'll!" he sang out. "Ya'll gonna be here all night."
Damn straight, George. All night and all year.