Ever since the 1970s, science fiction and the funk have somehow emerged as two great tastes that taste great together.
I suppose we can credit George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic for the concept of the extraterrestrial visitors who descend to Earth to bring us some form of rump-shaking higher knowledge.
By introducing the Mothership and it’s garishly clad crew of funkateers, Clinton managed to combine the self-determination that arose from the civil rights movement of the 1960s with the idea that maybe something bigger was needed to bring about full acceptance of the African American culture that has informed every bit of American life since the 1600s.
Something like … a full-on alien invasion.
The concept of alien visitors bringing about some kind of funk epiphany was new, but somehow it caught on. The Mothership itself appeared in live P-Funk shows and the massive musical collective worked the extraterrestrial vibe to the hilt (everybody say, “Go Bootsy!“). Their rallying cry was, “Free your mind, and your ass will follow.” Well put.
It could have been a one-time thing had young Prince Rogers Nelson not set upon his own journey of funk/rock fusion and become the performer we now know only as Prince, who counted among his early influences Sly & the Family Stone, James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Todd Rundgren and … Parliament-Funkadelic.
Prince seemed to bring everything along for the ride – space, pan-sexuality, end-of-days prophecy, visions of a post-apocalyptic utopia – all packaged in this surreal mix of pop, rock, funk and old-school R&B. When Prince broke big in the 1980s with 1999 and Purple Rain, it really did seem like he’d come from space like a late wave of the invasion that P-Funk initiated.
Plenty of old-timey “classic rock” guys turned up their noses, despite the scorching guitar solos and the obvious tribute to Jimi Hendrix, probably because it was hard for them to get past the fact that the Little Purple One was black.
Meanwhile those of us of a more sci-fi frame of mind more easily got a hold on what Prince was doing – pushing the envelope that had been shrunk ever smaller by obnixious, prefab arena rock and what was left of those trying to capitalize off the disco craze.
Since Prince curtailed his career and output, there have been few willing to step up and bring the sci-fi/funk connection back to the fore. Until now.
Janelle Monae seemed to emerge from much the same science fictional universe as Prince, and brings even more of that delightful future-funk to the world, especially in her videos. “Dance Apocalyptic” brings us the end of the world, complete with zombies, aliens and humanoid apes, but for purposes of today’s blog, it doesn’t really count as funk, per se. It’s still a damn fine song, and you should still give it a listen.
The best example of Monae’ sci-fi/funk fusion is the song – or more specifically the video – below. While the song isn’t science-fictional in itself, it does propose that the world is a better place when everyone’s being him or herself without worrying about the folks who never can quite get the hang of that.
The video, though, is based on the premise that Monae was the leader of a full-on cultural and social revolution, and that her organization has been frozen in suspended animation in a “living museum” for rebels and radicals – until they are once again unleashed.
Which brings us right back around to the P-Funk motto. Let the funk free your mind, and your ass will indeed follow.