"Hey, baby, won't you be my dog and I'll be your tree." George Clinton talks dirty to Geoff Brown

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The Independent Culture
Dogs have been big with George Clinton, high priest of the Church of the Octave Insanes, for over 20 years. "Ruff! Ruff!" the leader of Parliament, Funkadelic and the P Funk All Stars said by way of greeting, which is preferable to the canine couplet prefacing 1974's "Standing on the Verge of Getting It On": "Hey, baby, won't ya be my dog," goes the invitation, "and I'll be your tree and you can pee on me."

"Yeah. I used to sign autographs with that. I thought I was being slick. After all these years, my granddaughter, she's six years old, she said: 'Granddad, girl dogs don't pee on trees. Girl dogs just squat'."

His latest work of puppy love, "Dope Dogs", was allegedly inspired by the Drug Enforcement Agency's pound next door to his large farm in Michigan, where sniffers were trained. In fact, his estate is flanked by the Michigan Raceway and a 4,000-acre lake. "I've been well hid down there for 16 years. If I was in the city, I'd be up partying all the time. Being on the farm keeps me out of trouble." Which is as it should be for a cat who's 55 years old tomorrow week. His neighbours call him Farmer Funkenstein.

Through two generations of rappers and hip-hoppers, his street alter ego Dr Funkenstein has been, after the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, the most sampled creator of the primary groove. His newest CDs carry instructions on how to legally license samples and he's released a CD full of sampled sound bites. Principle: Don't sue 'em, sell it to 'em.

" 'No' is the greatest aphrodisiac," he said. "Soon as you tell kids not to do something, they're gonna do it more. It's an art form now, it's legitimate. We did funk in the Seventies so sophisticated because Bernie [Worrell, keyboards] was classically trained - we could put in jazz, beautiful harmonies stacked all over the place. Hip hop is just funk going back to the basics."

A thread of anarchic humour runs through the Clinton canon. Next to rampant lubricity are socio-political messages summed up thus: "Don't trust governments". He encourages voter registration at his concerts and he'svery big on conspiracy theories, the latest surrounding Waco and the Oklahoma City bombing.

"The militias are supposed to be white supremacists and we supposed to be black gangs living on welfare. They give you both a reason not to like each other." He knows militia minds, he lives in the heart of their territory. "These people been bitchin' about the taxes all day long, not the race thing. Black people will riot a little bit when we get pissed off, we're used to it. But Middle America, when they find out they've been lied to, will tear the country up."

To expound his views on the drugs conspiracy he invented more characters like Sir Nose and Dr Funkenstein, stars of his most commercial Parliament albums. He felt he needed to because "this War On Drugs was such a bullshit concept". His "Dope Dogs", trained to seek drugs, yap the message that if they're going to look for drugs take them to the border or the coast for the big shipments "as opposed to sniffin' up someone's ass at the airport and findin' half a gram".

Surely Clinton's personal acquaintance with drugs was musically formative? "I would never tell myself that drugs enhance shit. It was always too corny to think it was gonna make me smarter or anything.

"We was from [New] Jersey. We was drinkin' wine. That's what everybody did from 1955 to 1958. Then dope came on to the streets through kids going to Vietnam. We started taking acid at Harvard. They was giving the students tests, watch you for three or four hours then let you go. We mainly was trying to get some pussy. 'Free love? We down for it!' "

In the Sixties, society had more of a sharing culture: "Even drugs. 'Wanna share a joint? Wanna share a tab?' When Woodstock came in it was 'You wanna buy?' That was the end of it." And the end of his use of acid, he said.

Be that as it may, his Funkadelic albums in the late Sixties and early Seventies were a mindblowing conglomeration of funk rhythms, expansive rock guitar solos and fairly wild lyric ideas later given pop appeal by Parliament's slightly more formal song structures all performed by a huge family of like-minded groovemasters.

Next year, he plans to reunite the family under one banner and relaunch the Mothership, the centrepiece of his extraordinary Seventies P Funk Earth Tour stage show, a dazzling extravaganza with a huge pimpmobile, a space ship and a movable feast of musicians outlandishly togged.

That was a hot spell. His career's been cold, too. Another conspiracy? No, planned obsolescence. "Anything that's been big for three or four years, all the energy in the universe starts telling you that it's over." His career hit a slow patch between 1985 and 1989. At such times, the industry wants "you out of the way to get another younger artist in so they can rip them off. Old ones, they learn too much and they're in the way."

But above all, his durability and energy are living testimony to the efficacy of prune juice and imaginative hair-care as bastions against ageing. Had Alan Parker known of Clinton's unswerving allegiance to the juice of the prune, the film director would surely have found Dr Funkenstein a cameo in The Road to Wellville, the celluloid hymn to the evacuated bowel. And as a former practitioner of the tonsorial art, Clinton's hair - be it a lurid white wig or the current "do" - creates a well-defined image.

Today, the crimped quiff of a metallic, shiny hue somewhere between lilac and purple hangs like a palm frond over his right eye, while the sides of his head are shaved. From the crested top sprout multi-coloured braids. His grandchildren must love it.

"My kids, they used to call me Brother Dad. My granddaughter [the smart six-year old, she raps on "Dope Dogs"] calls me Granddad at home, but when she saw me jumping around the stage with make-up on she said: 'Oh, you're another guy when you're on stage. You're not my granddad, you're Grand Dude'."

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