April 8, 2004

The Repeat Button: Funkadelic

Print More

Think of the saddest thing in the world. Now express that feeling without any words. That is what George Clinton, the ever orchidaceous leader of Funkadelic told guitarist Eddie Hazel. For Hazel, it was the death of his mother, and his subsequent articulation was “Maggot Brain.”

Staccato bursts of static echo between the speakers and oscillate like satellites in renegade orbit. Then Clinton’s gospel saturates the cosmos: “Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time/ For y’all have knocked her up./ 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.”

Clinton’s voice quickly fades away, and steady, subdued piano leads in, occasionally pierced by buckshot scraps of snare drum that crackle off and then dissolve into vacant space. It is then that the Mothership takes off. Hazel’s guitar blisters to life with the thrust of a jet engine, and begins a ten minute ascent into an outerworld of the most tortured and acerbic acid rock ever put to tape. Hazel’s chords become tonal confessions, spiraling and bending through the throes of human pathos and loss. Every movement of his fingers across the strings speaks a stanza on melancholy and malaise. This is no sonic parade like most of the P-Funk cannon. Hazel’s guitar stands alone in a vacuum, filling the silence around it with its towering swells. At one point, Hazel’s guitar seems to deconstruct itself, the entire fabric of the song being ripped apart, only to regroup and continue on. It is a performance as fantastic as anything Hendrix ever did — but if it is Hendrix, then it is Hendrix scrambled through an analog computer and strapped onto a PCP-rocket headed towards Planet Funk. I’ve wondered what “Maggot Brain” would sound like had Clinton put words to it. But there are no words in the human language that could satisfy the fanged disillusion of Hazel’s guitar.

Archived article by Zach Jones
Red Letter Daze Associate Editor