Friday, November 20, 2009

Mourning the death of Mother (Earth) - Funkadelic "Maggot Brain"

I don’t generally like picking out just one track on an album as my focus on this blog, but, after hearing the title track of Funkadelic’s 1971 album Maggot Brain on 3PBS yesterday morning, I was so blown away by the haunting, unbelievably brilliant beauty of the music that I thought it was worth a post all to itself.

Not that the rest of the album is anything less than brilliant too, mind you. It’s a great work of early 70s funk, and a superb show of just how diverse that genre could be. But it’s the ten minute opening title track that steals the show and has, arguably, stolen the show for guitarists ever since.

Whether or not it’s true that most of Funkadelic’s music, and especially ‘Maggot Brain’, is acid enhanced, and whether or not it’s true that guitarist Eddie Hazel was told to play this track as if his mother had just died, I don’t know – but there can be no doubt that this music comes from another place, far beyond the daily banalities of ordinary life; nor can there be any doubt that it is steeped in the most intense, heartfelt mourning – the sort which tears away at the very depths not only of your soul, but of the soul of the universe itself. Its anguish is deeply personal and eternally cosmic at the same time.

It opens with some spoken words about the earth being pregnant because we’ve knocked her up, and something about the universe’s maggots, and something about drowning in shit but, from then on, it’s the music that says everything. A simple quietly plucked acoustic guitar serves as the gentle, sad background for the moaning, crying, screeching, sobbing improvisations of the electric guitar. The music grows in its intensity and pain, rests for a while in the middle, desolate and deserted, and then re-emerges, even more passionate, even more tormented than before. But it never really reaches a climax – it builds and fades, leaving you with the feeling that it, and its suffering, is timeless.

Acid or no acid, it’s the work a fantastic genius, drawing us into the universality of music and mourning. But, in the long run, the only way you can really know what this music does, and how it sounds, is to listen to it, and to allow yourself to be absorbed into it.

Funkadelic Maggot Brain. It’s the sort of music people might choose to have played at their funeral – the sort of music that the Earth itself might pick to capture its final days.


  1. fun and the devil - that why you don't have time to write any emails to your old friends.
    I listened . . . and . . .the guitar solo is wild man, though being a girl guitar solos are not the main thing. Music . . . I am a simple soul and have always been drawn to simple music, ifyou would like a recommendationf ro some nice country . . . let me know
    Love HF

  2. Thanks for te feedback Fawnzie ... and you are right, I've exhibited atrocious email behaviour of late and I promise to rectify with a proper email in the next few days and will fill you in on all of the details then (none of which, of course, justify my slackness) ... but, yes, some country recommendations will be gratefully accepted and probably hastily purchased. I've ot some late Johnny Cash, but that's about it (so far) ... Love, IP

  3. Hello Ian,

    This is Matt from the PBS Breakfast Spread. I just discovered your blog via a long chain of strange google coincidences and have spent a very pleasant hour reading through your insightful comments on the tunes. Great writing and I'm flattered to thing that I've played a small role in inspiring you. I'm looking forward to reading future entries!


  4. Thanks Matt - great to hear that feedback and, as you can probably tell from my other posts, you've played more than a small role in inspiring me! I've also done a few gig reviews for PBS, which has been (and continues to be) great fun.

    Keep up the great work ... your programme is really, really bad for my bank account, but great in every other way!


  5. cream always rises to the top..always!!