If you happen to meet my co-worker Maxwell Benz—unlikely—and the conversation turns to music, be prepared for your opinions, whatever they are, to be swamped by our little Max’s. He will thrash your Spotify playlists, the contents of your iPod, the guilty pleasures you can’t help but defend. Though Max is only forty, and tries his best to keep up with the trends, he has the hardened opinions of a music critic of the Golden Age. He’ll see your Adele and Flo Rida and raise you a Sarah Vaughn and George Clinton, and by the time he whips a notepad from his vest pocket to diagram the rhythmic progression from James Brown to Sly Stone to Eric B. & Rakim, you may wish you’d never mentioned poor Taylor Swift at all. In Max’s mind live the origins and the purest versions of everything; don’t bother trying to win him over or shut him down, it’s not gonna happen.
But if you somehow wind up in one of the northern New Hampshire party locations Maxwell haunts himself—especially our co-worker Kelli’s house, with its big beautiful living room dance space—then Maxwell’s deep collection of funk, blasted from an iPod Classic through some righteous portable Altec speakers, might be just the thing to make you move. In True Funk, as Max will inform you, Bass is King, so you will of course hear Larry Graham and Bootsy Collins, but you will also hear Michael Henderson, Jaco Pastorius and Bill Laswell; you will be introduced to an obscure funk bassist whose indelible basslines originally snaked across both sides of a .45 issued in ‘77 on a tiny Bronx record label. If funk is your thing, you’ll have a great time, and you might even witness our little Max break out his famed rooster strut, in a back corner of the room all on his own, grooving silently but emphatically between the back door and Kelli’s grandma’s old rocking chair. “Maxwell Benz—you are The Funkmeister!” Kelli cried out one New Year’s Eve—and the name has stuck.
In a quiet moment though, if you’re cornered in the kitchen next to the chip bowl, Max may admit that it’s not easy to keep everyone happy—to transition, with a twist of the wrist, from bro-country (requested by someone’s backwoods boyfriend) to salsa (someone’s Latin in-laws) at precisely the right moment. At some point there may be simultaneous cries for “Disco!” and “Brazilian!”, and Max will have to fly to the controls in a frantic attempt to keep everyone happy. Later, while refreshing his drink in the kitchen, he will look at you with his dark round eyes now bourbon glassy and reveal something about his life. “Some people think of music as just something that comes on the radio, but I don’t understand that.” He’ll pause, pushing his glasses back on his nose. “No one really knows how much it means to me.”
Because Max has never had, as far as we know, a Significant Other, or an Other of any kind. His routines don’t need to allow for partnering: Max always dances, if he dances, by himself. We female co-workers adore him to pieces, for his computer skills, his dry wit, for the adorable awkwardness of his vest outfits, and his super shiny shoes. We call him Funkmeister with all the affection in the world, but would we want to sleep with him, ever?—no. At Kelli’s Max spends the night dancing in a little circle of himself; he fixes his own hair, straightens his own tie, buttons his own vest. At the end of the night, before Kelli closes the door behind him, she might give him the faintest of hugs, but only if she’s very drunk, and Max will leave alone with his sound system and drive himself home to his apartment, exhausted, after another long evening on duty. Still, he’s more than happy to take on the challenge. He likes it; it’s what he has. At times during the evening when the music is flowing well, when the dance floor is full and everyone is beaming, you might see his step quicken, his rooster strut become a bit more pronounced; then a smile will cross his face and you might imagine that he’s repeating it to himself, inside. “It’s true; I am The Funkmeister.”