George Clinton came to Jersey Boys a couple of weeks ago. GEORGE FUCKING CLINTON…Parliament Funkadelic…The Motor Booty Affair…Maggots Ate My Brain…the Godfather Of Funk. I hadn’t seen him since I sang on R&B Skeletons in the Closet—one of his solo albums— in the 80’s. I think actually I saw him once after that, but I had to leave hanging out with him at the Gramercy Park Hotel because, well, basically… …I don’t smoke crack. The new (and improved?) George Clinton is now sober (from crack, not alcohol, as witnessed by my pre-show dinner with him), and travels with his lawyer/girlfriend (she says they will be married soon), and on this night, his great granddaughter. He was also accompanied by his bodyguard/driver whose name escapes me, but by the time I finish writing this, I hope will come back to me. Believe me, it was a good name. Perfect, in fact. I bought them all house seats to Jersey Boys because George wanted to see it. He said he grew up with Frankie Valli, and all of them in Jersey. I couldn’t make him pay, not after all the Buddha-like wisdom he imparted to me 30 years ago.
In the 80’s, on tour with Thomas Dolby, we played Radio City Music Hall.
I was the girl who sang the HYPERACTIVE! duet with Thomas, as well as playing keyboards, and dressing in a wig, glasses and lab coat to be his coquettish assistant for SHE BLINDED ME WITH SCIENCE. At Radio Music Hall, backstage, was George Clinton.
Here’s how is how we looked then:
He said hello to me and I nodded to him, and we went on our way. In those days I was always onstage carrying a white fake poodle decked out in a fake bejeweled collar. Don’t ask me why because that is another blog.
A month after we came off tour in Europe I looked like this:
It was the summer of 1984. I was in a magazine/candy store on 75th and Columbus and I picked up a copy of SPIN magazine with Keith Richards on the front of it. I saw that there was an interview with George Clinton in it, so I started reading it while I was standing online to buy my Drum tobacco. First question:
SPIN: “Why are you into such a heavy Thomas Dolby trip these days?”
The answer jumped out at me as my face turned the same color as my hair. I wish I had the magazine with me, but believe me, as much as I am paraphrasing here, the important parts I remember like it was yesterday.
GEORGE CLINTON: “…….and there’s this girl on tour with him…. she comes out and sings “Hyperactive”…she’s a white girl too…she’s like a white Patti LaBelle…the crowd went nuts…she got them all lathered up… and then she didn’t come out again. You gotta know what to do with an audience, man… if you get their dicks hard, you better make them cum.”
When I got back to L.A., I tried to find out who George Clinton’s manager was. I got him on the phone and said, “um…my name is Debra Barsha, and I was on tour with Thomas Dolby at Radio City Music Hall, and George was there, and um…he said really nice things about me in SPIN, and um..I just wanted you to tell him thank you, and that the girl who got his dick hard’s name is Debra Barsha.” He asked for my number, and within minutes I got a phone call. “Hey girl. I’m doin’ my album now, and we’re in the studio…why don’t you come down and sing on a couple of tracks.”
That’s it. I promptly got on the phone and called my friend Vanessa Williams who had just been de-throned as Miss America for having her naked pictures show up in Penthouse Magazine.
“Vanessa, George Clinton just told me to come to the studio and sing on his album. Do you want to go with me?” Vanessa LOVED Parliament Funkadelic. You must understand. No one wanted to hire Vanessa at this time.
So, if you happen to download a song called HEY GOOD LOOKIN’ on R&B Skeletons in the closet, you will hear me and Vanessa Williams singing background vocals. We each were given a solo line to say at the beginning of the song, along with Bootsy Collins and George.
Mine was: “PLEASE DON’T FRET IF I FREAK, THE SIGHT OF YOU GOT ME GEEKED.”
But my favorite line of all time that I had to sing on that album is in the song DO FRIES GO WITH THAT SHAKE . Vanessa and I sang it together:
“HE CALLED ME LEGS MCMUFFIN AND HE ORDERED A KISS
HE SAID, ‘I’LL TAKE A FILET OF THIS
PLEASE DON’T FRY IT’”
After the album was done, he gave me a great Peter Max scarf to thank me for all the work I’d done, and I’ve kept that scarf for years. When I met him before the show, I brought the scarf with me to tell him how I carry it on stage with me all the time to keep the Funk with me. I wore it as a headband at Coachella this year when I performed with Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
And I showed it to him at Thalia before we left the restaurant.
In subsequent albums that I sang on of his, I was usually the only white Jewish girl in a room full of the funkiest singers I had ever heard. But he always knew I was a theater person, and on MIXMASTER SUITE on that album, asked me to arrange the song, with the instruction, “I want BROADWAY meets FUNK”.
I arranged the song under the pseudonym LUCY AND SCHROEDER with my friend Ed Johnson.
Broadway, not surprisingly, is in George’s blood. I learned the secret to how he gets his party sound on the records. He had me double tracking vocals, and each time I went back in, he said, “now sing it like Carol Channing”, “now sing it like Cher.”
Afterwards, when I was marveling at how he wanted to include Broadway in a Funk song, he gave me the greatest definition of Funk:
“Funk is anything it needs to be when it needs to be that thing.”
George Clinton came to fucking Jersey Boys on fucking Broadway.
And hung with me and my wife afterwards.