Director and writer Mike Judge (“Beavis and Butthead”) has a fine idea with his animated “Tales from the Tour Bus” series for Cinemax. Its hilarious debut season reveled in the wild road tales of outlaw country artists such as Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Billy Joe Shaver.
The series worked for several reasons: First, it focused on the craziest, most debaucherous stories through candid, uncensored interviews with former bandmates, managers, family and the artists themselves. The adult cartoon format also refreshed the typical behind-the-music documentary style, allowing Judge to recreate the insane stories as they were being told.
These 30-minute episodes were never boring. Judge narrated them without ever sounding like an elitist or nerdy music critic – rather a casual fan. And if you found round one entertaining, you’ll love season two which explores the legends of funk, a genre similarly rich with hard-partying characters.
The premiere, which airs Friday, Nov. 2 at 10 p.m., opens with a true godfather of the genre, George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic fame, described by Judge as “a man who built a music empire on acid.”
Playing the straight guy, Judge introduces each episode sounding not unlike his monotone creation, Butthead. This season he begins by observing that funk is omnipresent in music today, especially hip-hop, the most popular genre on the planet – which makes it all the more shocking that there are so few memorable documentaries about its history.
The colorful Clinton, who was literally born in an outhouse, provides a perfect entry point for a style that celebrates its own nonconformity. The episode manages to highlight party stories as well as provide some insight on the group’s musical endeavors, including an early failed Motown audition, drug-fueled recording of the hit song, “Atomic Dog,” and the creation of the mothership tour prop. Did you know that Clinton, a Trekkie, was asked to do the music for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”? Little trivia bits like these pop up everywhere.
You’ll learn about the time the entire band, while high on acid and looking for a shortcut in Indiana, accidentally drove their car through the shooting set of George Romero’s classic horror film, “Night of Living Dead.” As zombie actors surrounded them, a gravelly-voiced Clinton recalls that he could only scream repeatedly and wet his pants (“To this day, I still think that shit is weird” he says).
Or the time when a woman wearing only overalls and smoking a joint walked up onstage while the band was performing. She proceeded to face the entire audience, drop the overalls and, totally nude, bend over, stick the joint up her butt and blow three perfect smoke rings into the air “like the Olympic logo,” Clinton says. The entire band was laughing so hard that they couldn't continue the show, even after trying three times to take a break backstage and start again.
As Clinton devolved from LSD to loads of cocaine and crack, the quality of the music dropped and his musical empire fell apart in a paranoid haze. Avoiding the usual music doc focus on the tragedy arc, Judge never strays far from the bizarre and humorous, which is what makes the series stand apart.
So far, so good with episode one. The next funk figure up? Rick “Superfreak” James, who apparently did enough crazy shit to earn two episodes.