Not My Job: We Quiz Funk Legend George Clinton On The British Parliament
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Every week we get to ask great people questions and occasionally they answer them. Maybe our favorite interview of the year, though, took place right at the beginning in January when we talked to funk legend George Clinton.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
SAGAL: Welcome to WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME.
GEORGE CLINTON: Hey. Yo, what's happening?
SAGAL: So Parliament - your first band you called Parliament was really - it was kind of like a - more of a Motown band? How would you describe it?
CLINTON: We were a doo-wop group, like The Temptations.
SAGAL: Really, did you all dress - was, like, your first band costumes those suits with the narrow...
CLINTON: Oh, we dressed alike, suits alike, hairdos alike.
SAGAL: And I also understand that you worked - you worked as a hairstylist for a while.
CLINTON: I worked in a barbershop. I used to make the waves in the brother's hair, you know? Like, Nat King Cole, Sugar Ray Robinson.
SAGAL: Really, they used to come in and you used to their hair?
CLINTON: Yeah, I mean, we had - all celebrities got their hair done back in those days.
CLINTON: Celebrities, pimps and preachers.
SAGAL: Did you ever...
ALONZO BODDEN: All the same thing.
SAGAL: Really, pretty much. So tell me how it all started, how you went from like singing in, you know, those guy groups with the identical suits to the amazing kind of crazy science-fiction spectacle that was Parliament Funkadelic?
CLINTON: Well, you go out Motown for a minute. And then you get a hit record and go to Boston and drop acid...
CLINTON: Take off and don't come back until 35 years later.
SAGAL: You're not - you're not telling me, sir, that your music was in any way influenced by drugs, are you?
CLINTON: Oh, no.
CLINTON: We influenced the drugs.
SAGAL: I mean, Alonzo was saying backstage that the whole point of the music was to get people to dance. Is that right? I mean, because...
BODDEN: Well, he asked me who was Sir Nose D'voidoffunk? And I tried to explain the whole story and how Sir Nose was the bad guy in "Flash Light." He finally broke down...
BODDEN: ...And that has to be the biggest party song ever written, right? I mean, when "Flash Light..."
CLINTON: When you get busting your butt by the "Bop Gun" and the "Flash Light," your booty will betray you.
BODDEN: How do you not understand that, Peter?
SAGAL: I understand that.
FAITH SALIE: George Clinton, when your cousin Hillary becomes president and names you secretary of funk, what would be your first order of business to improve our country?
CLINTON: Oh man, I don't get into politics.
CLINTON: Even though we played for Clinton's second inaugural ball.
SAGAL: Wow, that's awesome.
CLINTON: Yeah, we played for them and they danced on stage while we were playing.
SALIE: Did Bill Clinton's booty betray him?
SAGAL: Well, yes. But...
O'ROURKE: Really Faith.
SAGAL: One of things I was reading about in your book is that you sort have this weird, I guess - your music from the '70s and '80s has had a second life because hip-hop artists from the '90s and now started sampling your beats, right?
CLINTON: Oh yeah. But funk is the DNA for hip-hop...
CLINTON: ...So if you got a booty, you're going to dance to disco, funk, you know, whatever's going on. Funk is going to be involved in it.
SAGAL: When you first started hearing the sampling being played, were you flattered or were you like why can't you guys learn to play guitar yourself? It's not...
CLINTON: No, I was very flattered. To me, that was much better than getting your record on the K-tel package.
SAGAL: I have to say out of all the memoirs I've read to interview people on the show, you have the best title. It is "Brothers Be, Yo Like George Ain't That Funking Kind Of Hard On You?"
SAGAL: That, by the way, was the same title I just translated into, like, white guy. That was so you understand.
BODDEN: It's painful to listen to.
SAGAL: It really is. I'm sorry.
BODDEN: George - George, if you could see this panel - if you could see the funk on this stage, you would have - you and The Mothership would have a lot of work to do.
SAGAL: Yeah, I know. Hey, I just want to - one question. We were talking about drugs. I understand you don't do drugs anymore. You're living clean?
CLINTON: Well, I mean, I got my marijuana card. I ain't going to lie.
SAGAL: All right.
SAGAL: Legal now, baby.
SAGAL: I mean, what - when you went to get your medical marijuana card, what did you say your ailment was? I'm a funk addict, I'm a...
CLINTON: No, I was - I told him I was recovering from smoking crack.
SAGAL: Well, George Clinton, we are so excited to talk to you. And we have asked you here today to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Welcome To Parliament, Governadelic.
SAGAL: So you founded the band Parliament, what, 50 years ago now. We're going ask you three questions about the real British Parliament, and I know you've been there. You have a picture in your book of being in the halls of Parliament, right?
CLINTON: Yes, but you read the book, right?
CLINTON: Did you read that I don't remember what happened?
SAGAL: Yeah, most of the book is like oh yeah, the '70s. I don't got much for you.
SAGAL: I think it was fun.
CLINTON: If it wasn't for flashbacks, I wouldn't have no memory at all.
SAGAL: Well, this is great. You're in a good position then to play this game. Ignorance helps usually.
SAGAL: If you get two of these multiple choice questions right, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners, our friend Carl Kasell's voice on their voice mail. So Bill, who is the master of funk George Clinton playing for?
KURTIS: Elias Newall-Villmot of Woodstock, Conn.
SAGAL: All right, here's your first...
O'ROURKE: Oh, there's a funky name.
CLINTON: That is.
SAGAL: Here's your first question. In the British House of Parliament, members are never allowed to do what while there? Can't do this - A - bring their mistresses onto the floor; B - die; C - drink beer that's cooled below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
CLINTON: OK, I'm going to say drink cold beer.
SAGAL: Drink cold beer. They don't do that in Britain, it's true. But that's not the law. The law is they can't die. It's an ancient law. Apparently, the reason is - and I find this hard to understand - but Parliament - the House of Parliament is a royal palace. And if you die in a royal palace, you get a state funeral. They don't want to do that. So as one expert on this put it, if they see you looking a bit sick, they carry you out quickly.
SAGAL: So don't die. All right, here's another one.
CLINTON: OK, don't die on me.
SAGAL: You still have two more chances. Parliamentary historians say that when members do not want to be on the record as voting on a divisive, controversial issue, they would do what? A - pretend to be too drunk to vote; B - do the classic British cough vote, like cough-yay or cough-nay or hide in the bathroom?
CLINTON: (Laughter) I would say hide in the bathroom.
SAGAL: And you'd be right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
KURTIS: Good for you.
SAGAL: One improvement that the ancient British Parliament Hall has on the U.S. Capitol, there is a small bathroom right there in the chamber behind an oak panel. And people say that if you ever didn't want to be in the record or didn't want to be found, then you just hide in the bathroom until it was over. All right, if you get this last one right, you win. Here we go. The House of Parliament is led by a speaker of the house, just like ours is. Tradition, though, in Britain is that he takes his seat - or she takes her seat - in a ceremony in which what happens? A - every other member buys him a drink, which he must drink; B - he is literally dragged to the ceremonial chair by the members; or C - he must perform an ancient dance called The Writhing Of The Speaker?
CLINTON: OK, I'm going to with dance.
SAGAL: You know a dance - that he has to do a dance? Have you ever seen a British politician?
CLINTON: Oh no, he can't dance.
SAGAL: None of those people can dance.
CLINTON: I'm going to take B.
SAGAL: You're going to take B?
SAGAL: Dragged to the ceremonial chair?
SAGAL: You're right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: There is a ceremony. It's called "The Dragging Of The Speaker," and it dates back to the times when the king would sometimes get upset with the speaker of the house and have him beheaded, so presumably they don't want the job. They do; They're pretending. Bill, how did George Clinton do on our quiz?
KURTIS: He got two out of three. That is a funkin' win.
(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)
CLINTON: Funkin' win.
SAGAL: George Clinton's knew autobiography is "Brothers Be, Yo Like George Ain't That Funking Kind Of Hard On You?" George Clinton, thank you so much for everything.
KURTIS: Thank you, George.
BODDEN: You did great. Thank you, George.
CLINTON: Take care, y'all.
SAGAL: That does it for today's show. Support for NPR comes from NPR stations and Lumber Liquidators, a proud sponsor of NPR, offering more than 400 styles, including hardwood, bamboo, laminate and vinyl, with flooring specialists in hundreds of stores nationwide. More at lumberliquidators.com or 1-800-HARDWOOD.
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Thanks to Bill Kurtis and of course and as always our scorekeeper emeritus, Carl Kassel. Thanks to all of our panelists and all of the special guests you heard. And thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Peter Sagal and we'll see you next week.
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