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David Mills says he can’t dance, but he knows his funk. Besides being a former Washington Post reporter here, he published a fanzine, Uncut Funk, before moving to L.A. to write for NYPD Blue and, more recently, ER. The ‘zine led to his collaboration on George Clinton and P-Funk: An Oral History, with three other writers, two of whom also have roots in D.C.
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Dave Marsh, editor of For the Record books, a series of musical oral histories, contacted Mills to start the P-Funk project. Mills brought in Thomas Stanley and Larry Alexander of D.C., and West Coast writer Aris Wilson, to work with him on the book. Stanley had interviewed George Clinton several times in the ’80s as a DJ on WPFW; Alexander brought an encyclopedic knowledge of funk and a memory for details; Wilson played P.I., hunting down hard-to-find characters; Mills’ television experience helped shape the narrative.
“We talked to everybody that we could that was alive,” says Stanley. “We talked to band members, former band members, would-be band members, mothers, backup singers, the managers, the album cover artists,” he says. “The transcription of all of those cassettes is thicker than your phone book.”
The writers spent months boiling down nearly 1,000 single-spaced pages of transcript into 154 book pages. “The best analogy I could use,” says Stanley, “is that it was like splicing tape. It was like mixing an album down.”
Only better. The book, says Alexander, “reflects the fact that there are basic experiential truths in P-Funk specifically, and black popular culture generally, that you can’t get from a CD reissue.”