My thoughts are of work, therapy, fatherhood, and love.
But in brief respites of freedom from concern with the above, I’m thinking,
Why was Robert Christgau so dismissive of LSD in his rock criticism of the early 1970s — as in his review of Funkadelic’s debut? Was he not “experienced”? Did he have a bad trip? How about George Clinton and Funkadelic? Where did the arrow of the acid trip land them by their 1973 album Cosmic Slop? Had America become for them a witch’s castle, as on their creepy anti-Vietnam War song “March to the Witch’s Castle”?
Author seats himself and turns on to Funkadelic. “Why is everyone afraid to say ‘Kiss me!'” asks George Clinton on “Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?,” the 9:04 opener on the band’s debut. It’s a sad song when heard in light of Fred Moten’s comments about the cries of Frederick Douglass’s Aunt Hester, the black variant of Freud’s “primal scene.” Moten argues that those sounds continue; “Joy and Pain,” he says, are integral parts of black music, as in the track by Maze feat. Frankie Beverly, or the Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock version from 1988. The Funkadelic album is too much, a big ‘ol heap of “way back yonder funk,” “ancient old funk.” I’m reminded — reshaped, resounded — as the album proceeds. A description of “the songs of the slaves” follows the Aunt Hester scene in Douglass’s autobiography — and that’s what I hear when I hear “Music for My Mother.”
Do we, sounding out notes, sing for each other? We do. We sing, we write, we whistle. Sarah has arranged plants and wooden animal sculptures delightfully, shrine-like, atop a bookcase that runs beneath our front window, in the midst of which hangs a triangular shard of stained glass. I sit before it and gaze upward, through the triangle of colored light, into the sky — the “up above.” Children of my time grew up admiring skywalkers and jedi warriors, as do children of today. These figures are some of our earliest heroes. Interplanetary travel of the sort imagined by the Star Wars films provided a hopeful vision of technology’s past and future. Counter to it stood the abduction scenario of Poltergeist. With those famous spell-like opening words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” Star Wars opens a portal to the myth-space of the ancient future past. Worlds are places we visit in starships. There’s the danger of Empire — the galaxy’s thanatopic death-drive — but we can fight it by joining the Rebel Alliance. Heroes are abducted from their home planet, swept up by destiny. Star Trek came later for me as an imagination-space, with its Federation-authorized Starship Enterprise, an intergalactic captained battleship. My first meeting with an Afrofuture occurred in my late adolescence or early adulthood, when I happened upon a copy of Funkadelic’s The Electric Spanking of War Babies among records belonging to my grandmother. The album blew my mind, partly censored cover art by Pedro Bell suggesting funk-powered intelligence and humor — psychedelic consciousness of a sort I’d never encountered before. “The kind of style that messes up the program.” The album is a warning about negative vibes.
The baby falls asleep to Parliament Funkadelic, Spaceship Earth reimagined as the Mothership Connection. “Are you hip to Easter Island?” asks singer George Clinton late in the song. “The Bermuda Triangle? Well all right / Ain’t nothing but a party.” Time to live light years in the future, in a time-space proposed by Afrofuturists. “One Nation Under a Groove.” Re-constitute the social order and make it funky: “Feet don’t fail me now!” Out of fear of its wrath, I refrain from playing Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry & The Upsetters’s “War Ina Babylon,” opting instead to play Bob Marley & The Wailers’s beautiful “Redemption Song” as the baby wakes. Afterwards, we dance around, her in my arms, me on my feet, to Jorge Ben’s Africa Brasil — on which I discover to my surprise a song called “Hermes Trismegisto Escreveu.” Later, by myself, I climb to the room above the garage and bliss out to J Hamilton Isaacs’s Circumzenithal Arc.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s SAMO graffiti and his no-wave band Gray sneak onto my train of thought, and the train breaks down into boxcars of found phrases. Countercultural, determined not to go home again, determined to make it happen. Darling of the art world. Acting out the society’s wildest dreams. Putting that smoke in the air. Graffiti broadcast from the control room, as in the Times Square Show or the movie Downtown 81. For early critical celebrations of Basquiat’s work, see Rene Ricard’s “The Genius Child” in Artforum, and Robert Farris Thompson’s Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. Things done by chance. By the end of the night, I’m listening to Funkadelic and thinking, “Fried ice cream is a reality!” Funkadelic’s intervention is not all that different from Basquiat’s. It’s as if a strikethrough artist painted over Jefferson Airplane’s After Bathing at Baxter‘s to create the richly allegorical / mythopoetic cover art to P-Funk’s One Nation Under a Groove. The psychedelic cultural revolution lies secreted away there, a transmission for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.
After a nap in a park under a sunny blue January sky, Parliament helps me loosen up and release stress I’ve been carrying in my shoulders, neck, and upper back. Time to blow the cobwebs from my mind with the Mothership Connection. That is where I’m at and it feels good.
P-Funk had its own mythology. George Clinton performed at times as his messianic alien alter-ego, Star Child. My first encounters with “Mothership Connection” came by way of Dr. Dre’s sample of it on “Let Me Ride” from his debut solo album The Chronic, released the year of my fourteenth birthday. Robin D.G. Kelley discusses artists like Parliament-Funkadelic and Sun Ra’s Afrofuturist brand of hippie modernism in his book Freedom Dreams. These were artists who “looked backward to look forward, finding the cosmos by way of ancient Egypt.” I love the idea of a revolution you join by putting “a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip,” projecting one’s body here and now into a 3-D realtime utopian Afrofuturist “world within the world” known as the Mothership. The P-Funk song’s reference to the famous spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” used by members of the Underground Railroad as a coded form of communication to help people escape, reminds me of the Trystero group’s use of the posthorn symbol in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. Other P-Funk tracks are also worthy of analysis and comment. The early Funkadelic song “Can You Get To That,” for instance, alludes to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Dream” speech with its metaphor of the bounced check.
“America has given the negro people a bad check,” King intoned, “a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.” This stuff definitely ought to find its way into my course this semester — as should the work of jazz poet Ted Joans and illustrator Pedro Bell. The latter created the liner art for several key P-Funk releases. As George Clinton notes on his official website, “What Pedro Bell had done was invert psychedelia through the ghetto. Like an urban Hieronymus Bosch, he cross-sected the sublime and the hideous to jarring effect. Insect pimps, distorted minxes, alien gladiators, sexual perversions. It was a thrill, it was disturbing. Like a florid virus, his markered mutations spilled around the inside and outside covers in sordid details that had to be breaking at least seven state laws. […]. He single-handedly defined the P-Funk collective as sci-fi superheroes fighting the ills of the heart, society and the cosmos.”
Moon recruits: board your cruisers, man your battle stations, rev your engines. But lose the metaphor, dig? Let the monkey self swim a bit. As René Daumal notes in Mount Analogue, a book he left unfinished at the time of his death, “the view one has from a high peak is not registered in the same perceptive range as a still life or an ordinary landscape.” Just so we’re clear: I equate the latter with non-turned-on beginner’s consciousness. The Demiurge plants throughout that realm demons disguised as humans. They want us to go out there and earn points, remember? These trance-scripts, meanwhile, serve as “souvenirs” of our daily ascents. Look around, up and down. Navigate around tables, militaries, game boards. For those of you interested in attempts to articulate a theory of Acid Communism, be sure to eyeball Jeremy Gilbert’s latest, a piece called “Psychedelic Socialism: The Politics of Consciousness, the Legacy of the Counterculture, and the Future of the Left.” While Gilbert’s stance here strikes me as being too timid in its discussion of psychedelics, and too fierce in its critique of selfhood, there’s still plenty in the piece that he gets right, particularly when he gets around to skewering the contemporary Left’s knee-jerk “hippie-phobia.” The Left’s lack of charity in its historical memory when it comes to the 60s counterculture pains me greatly. Of course, this is why the battle must be fought also at the level of form, as the latter serves as the linguistic-material anchor-bed of consciousness, while itself being the product of a practice. Hence the method I employ here: trance-scription keeps faith with the experimentalism of the 60s and 70s freak-left. It makes the practice of writing into an act of utopian prefiguration of psychic liberation. I mean, if Psychedelic Marxists are serious about wanting to raise consciousness, then for fuck’s sake: start here, start now. Getting high is one easy and reliable way to do so — especially when one does so with others and among an Internet public. Wasn’t it Funkadelic that sang, “Free Your Mind…and Your Ass Will Follow”?
Let’s turn WordPress into a meeting space for a first-of-its-kind, unity-of-theory-and-practice Psychedelic Marxist encounter group. Let’s make of ourselves a here-and-now virtual community of evolvable and expandable high-minded mind-altered radicals. Any takers?