THE MUSIC REACHED DOWN MY THROAT, to nourish with each reverberating, electronic note and echoed with bittersweet, vibrant pungency out my ears. I was touched by music in an entirely new way when I heard/ ingested Maggot Brain for the first time.
I had allowed Napster and Instant Messaging to creep into my life with great excitement. I had found a way to access the world from my dorm room. Everyone around me was doing the same. My soon-to-be boyfriend was an Allman Brothers fanatic. He was Italian and true in form to many stereotypes. Everything with him was excessive, including the amount of time he spent messaging with his best bud back in New York. His computer screen was filled with back and forth Allman23 and FunkadelicNYU. I amused myself by imagining the scenario of the two bands being behind the screen names, tight pants and all that hair. It was not long before FunkadelicNYU and I began our own banter. His name was Dan, but I rarely called him anything other than Funk. My education was expanding.
I was a fan of Bootsy. And what girl searching for her independence wouldn’t be a fan of an old man with rainbow dreds and a wardrobe worthy of envy? FunkadelicNYU schooled me in beats recorded and lived. He introduced me to Puerto Rican city life and the energized rhythms pumping out of New York City. We exchanged World beats without me ever leaving The Grounds of UVa.
And then it happened, it was time for me to know the insides and outs of P Funk, Funkadelic, and what seemed like a million other pieces of music history. Apparently, Bootsy came two years after Maggot Brain was released. “Maggot Brain”? Of course I hadn’t listened to something with a name like “Maggot Brain”! He couldn’t believe it, even for a white girl. With a sentiment nearing preposterous, Funk found it a necessity to reverse this craziness and he sent me a link to the title song despite it being near five in the morning, never mind that my roommate was asleep. He instructed me to turn up my speakers and cued me when to press play.
By his enthusiasm, I knew it was going to be something great, but my expectations were far surpassed. We listened in unison. Shock, uncertainty, and fascination struck me before the first spoken line. I thought of Apocalypse Now, echoing sounds of shrapnel and the hum of helicopter blades. Mother Earth was pregnant for the first time. Woah, and I had knocked her up? Wait a minute, no, no, keep going…
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
If there ever was an appropriate time for “holy shit”, this was it. Notes cracked and popped and bled together with echoes and reverberations that seemed to most completely express the opening sentiment that I would come to ponder for what amounts to at least days since that virgin awakening. Soft lulling sounds intertwined with passionate rips of metal, reiterating the touch of man. Lamentation and pain suppressed and equally delivered as silence is overcome with poignantly played distinct note after distinct note, in short, thrusting counts and then back to whispers of lingering tones melting away. The building momentum drained the palette of emotion I was accustomed to experiencing and replenished me with a more expansive, wordless vocabulary of emotion. Each soft pluck of guitar string had me wondering what would follow and I was amazed by each note that did.
I do not recall the conversation that followed or how long it was before I heard the album in its entirety. I don’t even recall if my roommate slept fast or woke to fuss. I do know from that moment forward, Funkadelic became much more evocative and political to me. I had previously been drawn to the sexualized and rebellious and the funky. I had to reconsider the lyric that first grabbed my attention: If you will suck my soul I will lick your funky emotions. A naughty grin still eases itself onto my face and the uncertainty is invigorating. The play between pussy and power is really always about power.
The album moves forward from a mournful tone, bringing action and reinvigorated life into the upbeat rhythms. Breathy and laden with moans and gasps, it is charged with energy. The funk saturates every note and the drumming becomes more prominent. Let me hear you say Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. A declaration to no longer be a fool is blatant. Cowbells and infant cries and who knows what else accompany the sparse lyrics by the end of the album. The lack of words makes the call and responses even more poignant despite the lack of clarity. A cuckoo clock followed by howls and sounds associated with alarm seem natural. I suppose this is what largely drew me in and kept my attention, my joint rolled in toilet paper.