Maggot Brain

Released 1971 on Westbound
The Seth Man, July 2000ce
Funkadelic, a black group from the still riot-smoldering streets of Plainfield, New Jersey, pushed their energies into total freak-rock mind expansion beyond their riot-wrecked environs and heads and beyond the staid, tried and true frontiers/boundaries of what both black and white American culture demanded from black musicians. These said styles--soul, R&B, blues and doo-wop-- also operated to some extent as an imprisoning musical ghetto. So it was a true leap forward when George Clinton, Funkadelic’s guiding light, vocalist, songwriter and arranger, synthesized elements from all these styles and fused them into a ghetto blast off that was Funkadelic, about as alien to the older black music establishment as possible.

All the Hendrix and Zappa comparisons are just that because early Funkadelic from this period was a far more casual and hungry a proposition. I mean, if you can ever get your hands on the original Westbound LP, just look at the group picture in the gatefold: A bald and eye-shaded Tawl Ross is holding a Belgian block in one hand, head tilted to one side, wearing a cheap and ugly multi-coloured leather jacket oozing nothing but attitude (And in a totally Iggy way, as a friend of mine pointed out recently). The other members are posed in positions of not street corner bullcrappin,’ but stoned, thin, ready for everything and smiling out of their skulls on a barren, rubble-strewn abandoned lot.

The title track instrumental unfurls side one with a Clinton intonation and damply echoed drums slowly thud out against an ever-swaying, cradling rhythm guitar which guitarist Eddie Hazel begins to hang his delay, fuzz-wah and sustain runs against. There’s even the crackling of unseated guitar-to-amp cord, which doesn’t do anything but add to the real, stripped of all pretense atmosphere. There’s soaring feedback trail-offs, and when the guitar does gently disappear at times, only to reappear along with the drums, occurring unnoticeably often. A hi-hat is way in the background as Hazel reappears with a sprightly guitar run with all effects off, only to deftly slip back into a fuzz-wah double-tracked delay right before it rips through all the barbed wire stitches and into an ultra-psychedelic disjointed run that hovers over the waste of ghettos everywhere. It’s a wail of injustice, with nowhere to turn but to guitar and amplifier as cop, judge and jury. And the only judgment is a soothing voice encouraging, “Go, Maggot Brain.” Even at about ten minutes long, it still fades to soon, and this track holds some of the purest, expressive and unwavering guitar soloing ever. It is imbued and practically short-lists ALL THE SHIT from Hazel’s personal experiences specifically and is a microcosm of all the flaming shit hoops blacks had to jump through not to just be accepted, but to SURVIVE. How these actions impacted psychologically over several hundred years’ worth of this treatment and manifested within members of this exploited and suppressed human race is unfathomable to conceive. And it was this experience that drove Clinton to create a mythology to catapult himself out of the white world, out of the USA and into the heavens with his ideas, music and stage presentation. Because only then was he was a free man.

The rest of side one is taken up with three songs. “Can You Get To That” is gospel hour, with low, low Ruben & The Jets “you can come out of the closet now” vocalising against a group chorus with acoustic guitar and Bernie Worrell’s first appearance, here on piano. “Hit It And Quit It” is where Worrell is on genre-traversing Hammond leads as an echo-chambered Hazel solo, appear though at the fade out, burns on and on. The bottom heavy “You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks” features more of the drums echoed into almost metallic bursts as piano and percussion fill a dark and heavy night. The assembled vocal chorus of “Yeah, yeah, yeah” sways throughout in a gospel zone dub out.

Side two is where Funkadelic go completely over the top. There are only three songs, and they are relentlessly free of everything except for the ability to zap at two thousand paces. The first track, “Super Stupid” is about as heavy as Funkadelic ever got: which is to say, it’s got a tighter stop and start groove than Bonzo on “Presence” and the most roaring, out-of-control-yet-in-control and out there guitar Eddie Hazel ever laid down. His rhythm snakes through an entire scat-ass chorus, mimicking it, and never loses speed. In fact, Hazel, Fulwood, Nelson, Worrell, Ross, everybody; are unconsciously so behind the groove, that the combined momentum pushes it ever so slightly and undetectably faster with every second (You only need to listen to it on CD repeat a few times. After it ends, compare it to the opening of the drums at the beginning. I don’t know how they ever laid that down or made it work, but there was no thought behind it at all. It’s magic, sheer fuck magic). And Hazel’s electric fence fry-out at the fade is some of the most O-mind French kissing of all time. “Back In Our Minds” is the necessary goofball percussion and piano sing-along, seeing as it’s wedged between “Super Stupid” and the extended LP finale, “Wars Of Armageddon,” which is nearly ten minutes of “Time Has Come Today” cowbell while Worrell’s organ and the tight drums keep it all in the pocket as the sounds of crying babies, more extreme wah-wah’ed soloing from Hazel, cries of “Goddamn hypocrite!” all fly over the ever-steady Funkadelic rhythm section. In this case, the whole band is the rhythm section -- so tight yet loose as it is. More muddled voices and then laughter appear. The groove has been heating up for four minutes with no sign of stopping when a cuckoo clock sounds, along with a goofy “Poo poo pa doo!” as the Grandest Funk Railroad of all times is steaming down the tracks, not even stopping for the cow moo sound effects. The drums get all hammered into an ultra-compressed tinny din like King Tubby recording The Who in 1965, and then the whole “More Power/Pussy/People to The People/Pussy/Power” proclamations start up, and pretty soon, farting. It all cuts off with multiple A-bombs going off, Clinton intoning as the last minute becomes nothing but silence…all the bullshit, along with the entire world, is gone…until a human heartbeat appears.

Then the wildly giddy Funkadelic jam returns ever so slightly, just to blow your mind even further: Which their Westbound albums do at an alarming rate, and fewer still at this velocity.