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We Love You, Dr. Funkenstein

By RD Heldenfels Published: October 3, 2005

In a previous posting (''The Music of Vincent Chase'') I mentioned an upcoming ''Independent Lens'' documentary, ''Parliament Funkadelic: One Nation Under A Groove.'' It's due to air Oct. 11 here; check with your local PBS station for date and time -- and don't take no for an answer. I have now seen the documentary and it's great stuff: interviews, great video footage and, of course, the music of Parliament, Funkadelic, P-Funk .. whatever name you attach to George Clinton's musical coalition.

I'll be writing more about the show in Sunday's Beacon Journal, including from an interview with Yvonne Smith, the maker of the film. We had a great chat on Friday, and it made me decide to do a bigger story than I at first planned. I had wanted to talk to Smith because, when I interviewed her about another documentary, she mentioned that she was working on a piece about George Clinton.

That was about 12 years ago.

She said just raising the money for the show took six years. That should tell you a good deal about public-television budgets, and about how few people in public television understand what P-Funk meant to music.

Public TV has a place for oldies specials, with toupeed performers singing songs they made famous 40 years ago, because people who were young at the same time as the performers will open their wallets at fund-raising time. But there's a multigenerational audience out there that will appreciate the Clinton special, and Clinton is still a lively, unpredictable presence. Viewers would probably be generous if asked for money around a Clinton show. (Wait a minute. I'm thinking about the thank-you gifts that would accompany a P-Funk-related pledge. Heh heh. OK, I'm back.)

Still, as good as ''One Nation'' is, I was ready to get on board just from hearing the subject. I saw Funkadelic about 30 years ago, as a down-the-bill act with Earth, Wind and Fire. I didn't like them, but they were way ahead of my ears; the sound grew on me. About 25 years ago I caught the whole P-Funk mob, and that was fun as music and as spectacle. Years after that, I caught Talking Heads when they were borrowing liberally from P-Funk (both riffs and personnel); loved it.

But last week was a trip down musical memory lane. I saw P-Funk and Talking Heads in and around Albany, N.Y., where I lived from the late '70s to early '90s. And in a column last week about an Akron music documentary, I mentioned the days of Blotto, the Units/Fear of Strangers and the A.D.'s in Albany. (You can find the column here .) That led to an e-mail from one of the Blottos, and some back-and-forth that yielded the news that the Units/FoS compiled a CD of their work, and it might still be available. Since the stuff I have is on LP and 45, I was pretty pumped to hear that; I've since e-mailed with one of the Units/FoS, and ordered a copy of the CD.

This is not only good for me, but for my 16-year-old, whose Ramones/punk/new wave appetite drew him to the Units and the A.D.'s. Great music doesn't fade.

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