FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Desperation in an Unavoidable Groove

by LORENZO WOLFF

Back in high school my English teacher told me about a guy named Aristotle, who divided literature into two categories: comedy and tragedy. Maybe I misunderstood what he was talking about, because I have a very hard time finding the tipping point. Look at Comic Slop by Funkadelic, if you can classify that album you’re thinking too hard and not listening closely enough.

Funkadelic, the sister group of Parliament, was born from the backing band for George Clinton’s Doo-Wop group, The Parliaments. Clinton had a knack for finding the most interesting and bizarre musicians, and a reputation for losing them as quickly as he found them. But in 1973, when Cosmic Slop was released, the line-up was impeccable. The chemistry between “Tiki” Fulwood’s drums and “Boogie” Mosson’s bass is undeniable. At their worst they’re tighter than most other rhythm sections, and when they gel, they’re a force to be reckoned with. The straight man of the group was Bernie Worrel, whose arrangements kept Funkadelic’s otherworldly sounds grounded in reality. The combination makes it hard to decide whether to dance or genuflect.

Cosmic Slop is ahead of its time in the subject matter it covers. Since the advent of hip hop, visceral descriptions of ghetto living are commonplace, but in 1973 most songs used a much lighter touch when describing poverty. Funkadelic goes against this grain in the title track, where a mother asks god for forgiveness for having to prostitute herself to feed her children. It comes from the perspective of her son, who hears her “calling out to god” when she brings her johns home. It’s the kind of song that really cuts deep, it doesn’t offer any advice, it just makes it clear that there is a problem. What’s confusing about the song is the funky, uptempo pace. It’s talking about a tragic situation, but still compelling you to tap your foot and shake your ass.

The same goes for “Trash A-Go-Go”, another song about prostitution, this one from the perspective of a pimp, who is standing before his conscience anthropomorphized in the form of a judge and jury. Their verdict?

They say exploiting your lady,
Just for a payday is a sin,
And you will pay,

But when getting over is high above your head,
And getting high can get you dead,
What are you supposed to do?

It’s another song that doesn’t have a solution. The situation is so fucked up, that it’s hard to blame anyone for their trespasses. The beat this time is more militant, almost a death march, heavy eighth notes on the bass drum and an unrelenting snare make dancing feel less like a choice and more like the only option.

It’s desperation at its most desperate, but it’s also a good time, an unavoidable groove. This is why I have a hard time finding the line that Aristotle drew. The sadness and despair is the problem and the way out is provided, in the grooves of the record. People can’t suffer exclusively, the tragedy forces the comedy.

LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: lorenzowolff@gmail.com

 

LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: lorenzowolff@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
Robert Koehler
Stop the Killing
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”
Yves Engler
The Media’s Biased Perspective
Victor Grossman
Omens From Berlin
Christopher Brauchli
Wells Fargo as Metaphor for the Trump Campaign
Nyla Ali Khan
War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations
Tom Barnard
Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle
James Rothenberg
Bullshit Recognition as Survival Tactic
Ed Rampell
A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits
Kristine Mattis
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
Charles R. Larson
Review: Helen Dewitt’s “The Last Samurai”
David Yearsley
Torture Chamber Music
September 22, 2016
Dave Lindorff
Wells Fargo’s Stumpf Leads the Way
Stan Cox
If There’s a World War II-Style Climate Mobilization, It has to Go All the Way—and Then Some
Binoy Kampmark
Source Betrayed: the Washington Post and Edward Snowden
John W. Whitehead
Wards of the Nanny State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail