Several weeks back, someone directed me to a Web site to see a clip of George Clinton and the Parliaments, in you-will-freak-out tones. I looked on the Internet at youtube.com and found my way to it. I was freaked out, though not just by the music.
There is Clinton, in 1969, on Say Brother, a tele-vision show, in Boston. (This is early Clinton, even before Funkadelic's first album -- the Parliaments would soon become Funkadelic.) He is wearing a purple jumpsuit with crossed suspenders over bare shoulders and a kind of rounded Mohawk, a shaved band of scalp below a bulbous crown of hair.
The band plays a series of vamps. The first builds on Sly and the Family Stone's Into My Own Thing. "What is soul?" Clinton yells, in the middle of the song. "What, brother?" responds the band's other lead singer, Fuzzy Haskins. "Soul is the hamhock in your cornflakes!" Clinton intones.
After a break, the Parliaments stretch out at length, playing their acid-Motown for almost 10 minutes, going from vamp to vamp; at a climax, Clinton rolls on the floor. The band becomes a mob of rising fists and shaking hips. The sequence ends with the guitarist Eddie Hazell detuning his strings and distributing a cloud of feedback, with various band members whacking cymbals.
I am not a collector of music, or of video. I have had friends play me the best clips from their music video collections, in full, collectorish, this-will-freak-you-out mode, and enjoyed it. Still, I don't really love music on video, per se. It reduces a performance so brutally.
But a missing link of performance history as potent as that George Clinton thing? Even if on bad video? It's hard not to keep looking. Over the last few weeks, I have been looking at YouTube until my head hurts.
Part of that headache comes from watching blurry images on a small screen. Part of it comes from annoyance at a lack of annotation: there's so little information given about what you're seeing. And part of it, I admit, is the worry that it all may soon disappear, or move to someplace on the Internet that will be harder to sniff out.
YouTube, based in San Mateo, California, is an amateur video-sharing site that had its official debut on Dec. 15, after a seven-month public development. It makes its money from text-only banner advertisements, running at the top and bottom of its Web page.
Like myspace.com, YouTube will serve as host to anyone's personal Web page, listing the subscriber's age, gender, relationship status, interests and so on. Much of its content is home videos, not just music, which subscribers upload from their digital cameras to their own individual YouTube sites. Among them are videos made by soldiers in Iraq war zones.
As you can imagine, some extremely bad amateur music-making has also been filmed, in peaceful territories. Anyone can watch a video on YouTube with a high-speed Internet connection. It couldn't be easier. The viewer streams the video, rather than downloading a file; it is not a peer-to-peer site, the kind that the US Supreme Court has gone after.