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“Cosmic Slop” is a record that sometimes makes me want to dance and sing along or at other times,

get all moody and depressed. As I said, Funkadelic isn’t the kind of band you can pigeon-hole.

 

 

Funkadelic CDs

 

Cosmic Slop /  Maggot Brain / Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On / One Nation Under A Groove

 

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Funkadelic "Cosmic Slop" & "Maggot Brain"

Breath of Life Music Commentary by Mtume ya Salaam & Kalamu ya Salaam

 

More than two years ago, I mentioned a Funkadelic song named “Cosmic Slop.” We never actually posted it, but I’m going to correct that oversight this week.

The best thing about Funkadelic’s music is you can never be sure what you’re going to get. They’re the virtual opposite of artists that find and stick with a successful formula. The song “Cosmic Slop” is a good example. Musically, the record is all over the place. It starts with snare drums playing what sounds like a military-style march. I can’t think of any reason this beginning makes sense except that a couple songs earlier on the LP, there’s a song about the aftermath of the Vietnam war named “March To The Witch’s Castle.” I don’t know what one song might have to do with the other though. Anyhow, “Cosmic Slop” eventually eases into an R&B groove, albeit one laden with feedback and anchored by heavy metal-style power chords. And then the real action begins. 

P-Funk’s lyrics are as unpredictable as their music. In this case, what we get is one of those first-person biographical sketches of “the artist as a young man.” The artist in question is lead vocalist and co-lead guitarist Garry Shider. Today, I seriously doubt that the song is in any way biographical, but it’s another strength of Funkadelic that one could never really be sure. Other than George Clinton, the members of the band were virtually anonymous. I don’t mean you couldn’t tell one from another – to the contrary, Shider’s buttery-smooth vocals are instantly recognizable. What I mean is, it was hard to put faces or names to the voices or instruments. To me, ‘Garry Shider’ the name in the credits, was never Garry Shider the person. He was just a voice and a guitar. So when Garry drops his childhood bio on us in the first lines of “Cosmic Slop,” who’s to say it wasn’t actually true?

I’m one of five born to my mother
An older sister and three young brothers
We’ve seen it hard, we’ve seen it kind of rough

Of course there’s rough and then there’s rough. As the song continues, we learn that the mother is a prostitute trying to raise her five children by herself. She tries to hide her profession from the kids, but as one might expect, she’s not particularly successful. “She was well known through the ghetto,” sings Shider, “They neighbors would talk and call her ‘Jezebel.’” And if that wasn’t bad enough, Shider says he would often hear his mother calling out during the night.

The song gives us at least three ways to interpret the mothers calls. The literal interpretation is that the mother was calling out to God to “not judge her too strong.” An alternate interpretation comes up during the closing ad-libs when Shider sings, “I can hear my mother calling me.” We’re left to wonder if the mother was calling out to her oldest son for help, for comfort or if the whole thing is just wishful thinking on Shider’s part. And finally, there’s the cringe-inducing interpretation that the calls were work-related. I’ll leave you to ponder that last one on your own.

“Cosmic Slop” is a record that sometimes makes me want to dance and sing along or at other times, get all moody and depressed. As I said, Funkadelic isn’t the kind of band you can pigeon-hole. They also weren’t the type to let the listener off the hook. Elsewhere on the same album they revisit the prostitution theme not once but twice. “No Compute” opens with the prettiest of melodies before turning into a chugging road-song kind of thing over which George Clinton awakes “from a wet dream in which [he] was wetless.” Finding himself alone, Clinton “slid into [his] copping haberdashery” (you have to love P-Funk’s 70s-era ‘educated hustler’ street lingo) and hit the streets looking for some companionship. He winds up spending the night with a bewigged streetwalker who may or may not have been a professional and may or not have been a woman. The  moral of the story (if there is a moral and I’m not completely convinced that there is one): “Strange what a man will go for when the hornies set in.” Funny, but nasty.

The second-to-last song on the album is “Trash A-Go-Go.” Clinton and vocalist Calvin Simon (I think) team up to deliver a junkie pimp’s courtroom defense. Accused of (among other things) “making her sell head for money,” Simon replies, “When getting over his high above your head and getting high can get you dead, what are you supposed to do?” That’s not much of a defense for pimping. The judge and jury react accordingly; the verdict is “10 to 20.”

The balance of the album is given over to humorous songs that harken back to Funkadelic’s roots as a doo-wop group. The band somehow manages to lampoon the lyrical tendencies and musical structure of typical R&B songs while actually performing darn good versions of the same kind of music they’re making fun of. For “You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure” Clinton and Co. came up with a Motown-worthy vocal hook but match it with absurd lyrics about a lonely guy who calls a plumber to repair his leaky sink only to find that the source of the water is his own tears. “This Broken Heart” is almost a conventional soul ballad but during the mid-song rap Calvin Simon informs his young lady, “I’m hip to all that Gemini material laying around. And I ain’t no Gemini.” Garry Shider and his flawless falsetto return for “Can’t Stand The Strain,” another nearly-conventional R&B tune in which an old man begs his young lover to stay with him less he go insane or drop dead from a heart attack.

Cosmic Slop may not be as well known as other P-Funk albums like Maggot Brain, Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On or One Nation Under A Groove, but in my opinion, it’s just as good as any of the others. If you like your R&B spiked with liberal amount of both rock and wit, check it out.
—Mtume ya Salaam


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All I got to say is: Amen.
—Kalamu ya Salaam

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Funkadelic “Maggot Brain”

 Breath of Life Music Commentary by Mtume ya Salaam & Kalamu ya Salaam

The story on Maggot Brain is that George Clinton, out of his mind on Yellow Sunshine, told Hazel to play the first half of the song as if he had just heard that his own mother was dead, and then the second half as if he had found out she was alive. The result is beyond "astonishing" or "powerful" or anything else critics usually say; it’s an improvised composition, of both deep blues purity and cold, hard, futuristic vision. There is a band backing it, but it fades out (reputedly because they sounded shitty next to Hazel), and it’s pretty much just one man showing us what he’s made of. If you’ve heard it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, well, the record store is open and you just got paid.—Matt Cibula, from Inkblot.com

Most people who’ve heard “Maggot Brain” (the song, not the album) can tell you where they were and what they were doing the first time they heard it. It’s that kind of record.

As my story goes, I was in my early twenties, working at Tower Records in the French Quarter. I bought the Maggot Brain CD on the recommendation of Dave, the store’s blues and R&B buyer. Dave was a chain-smoking, forty-ish white dude who resembled the film director Jim Jarmusch (tall, lanky, weather-beaten) and was a wealth of information on any form of American music that featured guitars. But only before noon. Dave drank too much and too often, and after returning from his ‘lunch break,’ Dave was always either a little wasted or completely wasted. He was a happy drunk (thank God), but once he was sauced up, talking to him was useless.
 
Having grown up in an all-black neighborhood, sans television and on a steady diet of black music, I’d never even heard rock music before working at Tower Records. To the great amusement of my co-workers, I thought Pink Floyd was a person, Van Morrison was a band and the Beatles were a trio. (The last because of Run of Run-DMC’s famously flubbed line, “There’s three of us, but we’re not the Beatles.”) So one morning at the record store, someone put on a copy of The Wall. I listened intently to the oddly slowed tempos, the subversive lyrics and particularly to the sweeping, epic feel of the guitar solos. Having never heard music like that and thinking I’d just scored some very cool inside information (and, of course, having no idea that The Wall had already sold something like 20 million copies worldwide), I headed upstairs to tell Dave how impressed I was by Dave Gilmour’s guitar solo on “Comfortably Numb.”  

“Fuck Pink Floyd,” Dave sneered through his omnipresent nicotine cloud. (We weren’t supposed to smoke on the sales floor; then again, we weren’t supposed to curse, sit on the checkout counter or come back from lunch drunk either.) Dave jumped down from the counter. “Follow me,” he said. When we got downstairs, he said, “Vinyl or CD?”

Of course, I knew vinyl was better, but at the time, I was enamored with the Sony Corporation’s still-new compact disc technology. It was all so space age to me: the shiny silver of the discs, the cool way the drawer opened and closed, the way the machine counted down the minutes and seconds. It was new. It was futuristic. Hell, it was damn near space-age, I figured. “CD,” I said.

Dave gave me an extended technology-hating look. “Fucking Sony,” he muttered, and off we went towards the CD section. He walked straight to the F’s, flipped through a few title cards and pulled out a longbox CD. (If you don’t know what that is, click here.) On the cover of the CD, I saw a screaming black woman buried up to her neck in dirt. Either that, or it was her decapitated head sitting on the dirt. I couldn’t tell which. Over the woman’s head, the cover read “Funkadelic” and below, “Maggot Brain.”

“Funkadelic?” I asked Dave. “There’s a guitar solo on this?” I knew Funkadelic, of course. “Knee Deep,” One Nation Under A Groove Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On  – those were funk classics, the type of thing I was used to hearing on FM 98 WYLD, New Orleans’ #1 R&B station. But there weren’t any notable guitar solos on any Funkadelic records I remembered hearing. As their named implied, Funkadelic was strictly a funk band…or so I thought. (I guess I’d completely disregarded the ‘-adelic’ part of their name.)

Dave turned the CD to the back and pointed to the first song in the track listing. “Eddie Hazel,” he said. “Best guitar solo in the history of fucking guitar solos.” I must’ve looked doubtful. “Buy it,” he told me, then left me standing there holding a $20 imported CD copy of a twenty-year-old album by a Detroit funk band that supposedly contained the ‘best guitar solo in the history of guitar solos.’

I might be guilty of romanticizing the moment a bit, but I can still remember walking up the steps to our second-floor apartment. Still remember pressing play on the CD player. Still remember George Clinton’s bizarre, brief monologue (“Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time…”) leading into that foreboding bass line (which sounds like it’s played on a guitar, not a bass). And most of all, I still remember the way Eddie Hazel’s guitar – from the very first note – seemed to pierce right through me. I remember my roommate Leonard coming home and standing there in the doorway, asking me, “What the fuck are you listening to?”

“Maggot Brain,” I told him. I sat there on the couch listening to “Maggot Brain” on repeat (another marvel of CD technology – the repeat function) the rest of that day. I remember we had a party that night and when the party got started, I was still listening to “Maggot Brain.” To me, it seemed like the song contained whole worlds. I couldn’t stop listening, because I couldn’t find my way out.

Eventually, I must’ve gotten sleepy or something, although I couldn’t actually fall asleep. I remember laying on my mattress in the back of the apartment, hip-hop bass pounding through the walls as the party went on. Right on the other side of my bedroom wall, there were girls and music and smoking and drinking and everybody was having a good time, but I couldn’t do it that night. I felt like I was barely even there. Most of me was still lost somewhere inside the best guitar solo in the history of fucking guitar solos: “Maggot Brain.”

—Mtume ya Salaam

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Really?           

I dig your story and all, and I understand how you thinking, and I ain’t saying Eddie wasn’t playing his ass off, but best guitar solo ever? Really? You know what my response is.

Jimi!

No contest. Like right here I’m going to drop a relatively less popular cut from Jimi: “Machine Gun.” Not the famous Band of Gypsys version but rather one taken from a concert in Berkeley that was only recently officially issued (Live At Berkeley – 2003). From the opening when Jimi drops that descending chord pattern beneath what seems to be a throwaway opening as he tunes up, you can tell my man was feeling it and about to casually toss off lines that other guitarists spend a lifetime trying to perfect.

Who else could simultaneously play both lead and rhythm? Nobody. Who else’s guitar vocabulary was at once both innovatively forward looking in his use of electronic effects and penetratingly traditional in his use of the blues? Nobody. Who else had total artistic control of creative chaos? Nobody.

“Maggot Brain” is a masterpiece. No doubt.

But Eddie ain’t Jimi. And then again, nobody is Jimi. Not before, then or since has there been any guitarist who could stand up next to his mountain.

I’ve heard a lot of guitarist both recorded and live, have heard some amazing playing, some astounding technique but when all is said, ain’t nobody done what Jimi did. I remain, hopelessly and happily, a voodoo chile.
—Kalamu ya Salaam

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Pure beauty       

Baba, I was talking about guitar solos, about great one-time performances, not about guitar players in general. Neither I nor anyone else who knows much about music would try to argue that Eddie Hazel was a better guitar player than Jimi Hendrix. Hell, I don’t think Eddie Hazel himself (RIP) would’ve tried to make that argument.

I think about it sort of like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. I don’t think anyone is ready to say Kobe Bryant is a better basketball player than Michael Jordan was. But that night last January when Kobe dropped 81 on the Raptors was the greatest single game performance in the history of the NBA. (And yeah, I know about Wilt’s 100 points, but with Jordan and Kobe we’re talking about guards, not centers: about guys who aren’t even the tallest or biggest players on the floor.)

So with that in mind, I’m thinking about Jimi’s best performances. Off the top of my head, we’re probably talking "The Star Spangled Banner" from Woodstock, "Machine Gun" from the Band of Gypsys album, either one of the "Voodoo Chile" versions (both the long blues and the ’slight return’ are amazing) or maybe that great solo from "All Along The Watchtower." Those are some of the greatest guitar performances I’ve ever heard. And for me, the long version of "Voodoo Chile" does come close to the mind-bending greatness that is Eddie’s solo on "Maggot Brain." And really, looking at the list I just made, it’s incredible that one man did all that and so much more. Jimi’s body of work stands up to that of any guitarists - especially when you consider how briefly he was here. Bottom line: Jimi is the best guitar player I know of.

But if you like electric guitar at all, I want you to listen to Eddie’s psychedelic blues on "Maggot Brain," and tell me what compares to that. And I mean every aspect of a solo. Not just virtuosity, because half the time, what Eddie’s playing isn’t even necessarily complex. It’s like everything came together at just the right moment and pure beauty - raw and uncut - came pouring right out of Eddie’s soul.
—Mtume ya Salaam

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If you put it that way…         

…you’ve got a decent argument. I can see where you’re coming from. You’re right "Maggot Brain" is pure beauty of the raw and uncut kind. HOW-SO-EVER, I still don’t rate it as THE greatest. ONE of the greatest: definitely. THE greatest: not quite.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

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Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

By Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what's in your heart than what's in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America's shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, "Happy can make you money, but money can't make you happy."

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 14 October 2007

 

 

 

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