Parliament-Funkadelic Mothership Lands in the Smithsonian

Aug 30, 2013

In the "Old-News-Is-Good-News" Department: The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture has acquired The Mothership. Starting in 2015, you'll be able to admire the spacecraft that, amid a blaze of stagecraft and cannabis smoke, brought funkadelic to the people. Actually, it's a replica Mothership, built in the 1990s; the whereabouts of the original are unknown.

To refresh your memory, here's a video - fittingly, from Houston - of a 1976 Mothership landing during P-Funk's Earth Tour. The late, fantastic soul singer-guitarist Glen Goins calls the ship in:

For historical context, let's zoom back in time, to 1967, when The Parliaments' "Don't Be Sore At Me" came out as the flip side to "All Your Goodies Are Gone (The Loser's Seat)." Could the leader of the flat-topped quintet really be the same George Clinton as our Rapunzel-tressed, sashaying Dr. Funkenstein, nine years earlier?

In 1967, just as The Parliaments began to infiltrate the Top 40, the straightened hair on Clinton's head was curling from the sounds of more experimental music. At the same time, a series of record company bankruptcies unfolded around them. Clinton turned mishap into opportunity, transforming The Parliaments, in stages, into Parliament, a funk-rock band fronted by the original five singing Parliaments.  By the mid-Seventies, what had begun as a soul and doo-wop band in 1955 was the "Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication" of Parliament-Funkadelic.

But before the "Space Age Mardi Gras" of the Earth Tour could take off and the Mothership could land, Parliament had to get down. A mixture of Sly Stone, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and bizness push-pulled George Clinton down the slippery slope of mainstream music, where, before he reached the plane of extraterrestrial liberation, I'll bet a certain "member of the Angel Race" from Saturn was hovering mid-slope to hand him a pair of skis:

According to MTPR program host Joan Richarde, the fact that this 1,200 pound artifact of Afrofuturist America has a new home in the nation's museum begs the question: "Earth, Wind and Fire's flying Pyramid. What is that, chopped liver?"

George Clinton's website notes that "Dr. Clinton* rang in his 72nd birthday on July 22nd, 2013 on St. George's Island, FL, titling the event, "The Motor Booty Affair" after Dr. Clinton’s Parliament 1978 underwater themed concept album of the same name."

*In 2012, the Berklee College of Music awarded Clinton an Honorary Doctorate of Music.