Diem Jones has no qualms about seizing the day. In fact, carpe diem is his underlying philosophical tenet, the principle by which this creative chameleon lives. Defying the “jack of all trades, master of none” stereotype, Jones has conquered more fields than many would aspire to in one lifetime. The writer, educator, musician, and social activist is most famous for his stint as a former art director and photographer for supreme funkateer George Clinton and his musical collectives, Parliament and Funkadelic. Responsible for masterminding much of the bands’ outlandish stage shows, cartoonish costumes, and overall visual packaging, Jones was an integral part of P-Funk’s identity, capturing the sheer energy and spirit of Clinton’s artistic genius.
But the way Jones describes himself back then during our telephone conversation — “a straight-laced, conservative military brat” who wore ties every day — it’s hard to picture him colluding with Dr. Funkenstein to create some of the most controversial album covers in music history. One of the most unforgettable, Uncle Jam Wants You, features a joint-toting Clinton in military garb and patent leather boots in an obvious caricature of a famous photo of Black Panther Huey Newton. Jones includes this cover in his self-published book #1 Bimini Road: Authentic P-Funk Insights, a photographic journey with “the organization,” as he puts it, that also features a riotous glossary of madcap characters and the trippy insights of philosopher Fladimir M.S. Woo, Jones’ P-Funk alter ego.
Since “getting bored with photography,” Jones has kept his creative juices flowing by teaching creative writing classes at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, directing the national literary teaching program WritersCorps, managing the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts in Richmond, and publishing an acclaimed poetry collection called Sufi Warrior. Whew. Fortunately for area artists, Jones has made a point of sharing his good fortune: “Given the gift of opening the door, you’ve got to hold the door open for others to walk through,” he asserts.
His commitment to supporting emerging artists fits perfectly with the mission of a new reading series, Intersection for the Arts’ “New Works/New Voices.” The program pairs established writers, such as Cherrie Moraga and Jones, with new authors, such as Sasha Hom, a Korean-American adoptee whose work (recently published in the adoption literature anthology A Ghost at Heart’s Edge) poignantly examines the culture she’s been flung into. Much of the pleasure Jones derives from his role as mentor is “watching [Hom] take the seeds and grow with it,” something Hom (who has a fabulous last name) has taken to with ease. Describing her work as “fresh, ripe, and insightful,” Jones recognizes a kindred spirit when he sees it. “You feel her story, but you think about your story,” he emphasizes. Jones will read from Black Fish Jazz, his new spoken song CD, which features collaborations with Clinton, composer Tony Khalife, and keyboardist David Spradley. A true renaissance man, Jones should keep on funking for a very long time.