Monday, April 14, 2008
The Funk Hierachy
We consume a constant stream of music, television, conversation, books, sights and sounds. The difficulty with writing is that it is a reversal of the process—it constitutes and demands a one-way conversation that vests agency in the writer. It is a far less passive than most things, and in that way is uncharacteristic of usual interaction.
Once the direction is reversed, however, it can be hard to allow oneself to be mindlessly entertained. Initiating brain function is addictive, and lends clarity to an ironic koan: ‘tis better to think than to be thought for. Whereas The Simpsons used to perform much of my cognitive function, I now traverse an altogether more active realm, pent up in my room as I am with a laptop, a stack of unopened albums, and a string of thoughts awaiting expression.
Irradiating this exercise is the only time in recent memory that I turned my brain off. Marcus Miller, one of the great bass heroes, came to B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square with his funk cohorts. Not only is Miller a Queens College dropout (why else would I matriculate there?), not only is he a veteran of ensembles belonging to Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, and David Sanborn, and not only does he always wear a fedora, but he brings the funk very, very hard. Almost illegally hard. Were music likened to basketball, Miller would be half-superstar, half-dunk contest, with pyrotechnics enough to mute Marv Albert.
Articulating exactly how hard the funk was laid down is a sheer impossibility, but a few excerpts from my friend Rivas’s diatribe come closest. I came a few minutes before him, and secured standing room in front of the bar. Miller opened with “Blast” (the hummus-flavored sass that plays when you load his website), then worked into his cover of “Higher Ground,” in the middle of which Rivas strolled in, unaware that his loins were about to implode.
After 30 seconds, he said, “This is completely irresponsible. I am far too stoned to be listening to something this funky.”
“I’m not going to survive this concert.”
But survive we did, and as we hobbled out onto 42nd St. our faculties began returning to us, albeit in pieces. We quickly devised a funk vocabulary—we’d long ago termed extremely funky things “irresponsibly funky,” but Miller demanded a whole new set of adjectives.
In ascending order, the funk hierarchy.
1. Sufficiently/Pleasingly Funky
Standard, assembly-line funk. What my funk band would sound like, assuming I permed my hair and moved further south. A 2-4 out of 10.
2. Cooperatively/Flippantly Funky
When a band coalesces into a deep, rhythmic unit, showering you with funk rain, but forgoing brilliance. A 5 of out 10, perhaps.
3. Unnecessarily/Offensively Funky
Unnecessary not in the pejorative, but in the way that one might emerge from a threesome with two Swedish wet nurses and say, “Wow, that didn’t have to happen.” A 6-7 out of 10, with a strong push towards greatness.
4. Irresponsibly/Recklessly Funky
For most, this is the pinnacle of funketeering. Seeing NYC bass legend Shyndigg use his elbow to solo actually birthed the qualifier “irresponsibly funky”—if I recall, Rivas is the term’s etymological father. And 8-9 out of 10, and capable of scarring for days afterwards.
5. Conspiratorially/Debilitatingly Funky
The Marcus Miller level, inaccessible to most mortals, demarcates the point at which sensory experience is incomprehensible and bowel control is dubious. In my experience, only Miller has funked as such. Not just a 10 out 10—this stage transcends numerics. “It's as conspiratorial as the assassination of Benazir Bhutto,” Rivas said, contemplating Miller's performance. “If I had to directly compare the assassination of a world leader to Marcus Miller, that’s the one I would choose.”
Stay Sufficient, White Funk