P-Funk’s Mothership Was Spectacular And Wondrous To Audiences
If you’re looking to expand beyond the fours walls of your mind, hop on Parliament Funkadelic’s Mothership. You’ll be in for a ride!
George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic have been around since 1968, pushing boundaries with their sound and an out-of-this-world philosophy of Afrofuturism.
They challenged the boundaries of who and what Black people could be, and they did it with stylized funk.
A centerpiece of Parliament Funkadelic’s act was the iconic Mothership, a large-scale spaceship that was always on display at their shows. It wasn’t a P-Funk show if the Mothership wasn’t there.
The first shows with the Mothership, though exciting, were hazardous. The stage piece emitted carbon dioxide, causing people in the front rows to pass out.
The craziness of these shows often scared off white people. In 1977, New York Times writer John Rockwell said that white people might feel more comfortable going to P-Funk shows if they sold their records to a “mass pop audience.”
That potentially meant toning down the show, and the band refused to do that. As a band all about uplifting Black people, that seemed like a far-fetched idea.
The Mothership started as a concept before it became a physical part of their shows. Kevin Strait, a museum specialist at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, says the Mothership was “a way to liberate one's mind from the shackles of racism and poverty or any other societal constraints.”
George Clinton also admits that he just wanted to outdo the rock n’ roll bands of the day. A funk opera is what he was after. “I wanted to have a prop that not only was deeper than anything that any black group had done but bigger than any white group had done.”
A replica of the Mothership is on display in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. The original was destroyed after the band went into debt in the 1980s.
The significance of the Mothership extends far beyond a stage prop used to rile up audience members. Ahead of its time, The Mothership challenged Black people to expand their minds beyond their present conditions and transport themselves to alternate realities.
Check out what Clinton has to say about funk and his legacy in his memoir, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?: A Memoir.
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