The Mothership Connection
Mythscape and Unity in the Music of Parliament
Due to Afro-centric and Afro-futurist themes and the lyrical content of some of their songs, the music of funk musician George Clinton and his band Parliament has been referred to by scholars (e.g. Brown 2008; Nama 2008; McLeod 2003) as linked to the Black Nationalist movement. Other sources, including song lyrics and interviews with Clinton, emphasize themes of promoting unity among people of all races. Although these themes of racial solidarity and unity without regard to race may at first be seen as contradictory, I argue that both interpretations arise from Parliament?s creation of what I am calling a ?unified place.? Through images of places set in outer space and at the bottom of the ocean that are disseminated through the lyrics, album covers, liner notes, costumes, advertisements, and performances of their songs, the band provides the means to turn these abstract spaces into familiar places filled with over-the-top characters and their mythologized stories. These places, constructed from particular and often romanticized landscapes by the individual through such decontextualized images?what Andy Bennett (2002) refers to as ?mythscapes??are then ?brought to life? in performance through devices such as enactment to create this sense of unity. I argue that it is because this enacted mythscape is individually constructed through decontextualized and often ambiguous images that scholars have found such apparently contradictory themes of unity within the same body of music.
Starchild here. Citizens of the Universe
I bring forth to you the Good Time
On the Mothership.
Are you hip?
– Parliament, “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)”
The music of funk musician George Clinton and his band Parliament has been referred to by scholars (e.g. Brown 2008; Nama 2008; McLeod 2003; Vincent 1996) as a prime example of Afrofuturism— “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture”—because of recurring science-fiction themes involving black protagonists and employment of cutting-edge technology (Dery 1995, 180). Highlighting the Afro-centric themes and the lyrical content of some of the songs, several scholars (Brown 2008; Nama 2008; McLeod 2003) have also linked this music to the Black Nationalist movement, a movement for African American self-determination and freedom from European society, taking place during that time. Other sources, however, such as song lyrics and interviews with Clinton, emphasize themes of promoting unity among people of all races.
In this paper, I argue that Parliament strives to create what I am referring to as a “unified place”—an environment that brings people together through themes that can be interpreted by listeners as promoting a sense of either racial solidarity or pan-racial brotherhood. Through images of places set in outer space and at the bottom of the ocean that are disseminated through the lyrics, albums, promotional materials, and performances of their songs, the band provides the means to turn these abstract spaces—which one is highly unlikely to ever experience firsthand—into familiar places filled with over the top characters and their mythologized stories and in which solidarity and brotherhood are possible. These places, which are constructed from particular and often romanticized landscapes by the individual through the decontextualized images presented to them form what Andy Bennett (2002) refers to as “mythscapes.” These mythscapes are then “brought to life” in performance through devices such as enactment to create this sense of unity.
After providing brief overviews of Parliament, George Clinton and the P-Funk mythology, I will examine themes of Afrofuturism, Black Nationalism, and unity found in song lyrics, advertisements, and interviews as well as in scholarly writing about the band. Although these themes of racial solidarity and unity without regard to race may at first be seen as contradictory, I intend to show how they both involve themes of unity and how, in Clinton’s view, they need not be mutually exclusive. Following this discussion, I will investigate the ways that Parliament’s lyrics, album art, performances, costumes, liner notes, and advertisements serve as mediated images that allow a listener to create mythscapes, turning spaces such as outer space or the bottom of the ocean into mythologized places. I will then examine how Parliament provides a means for the listener to connect these mythscapes with everyday life through musical performance and other devices. Finally, I will argue that it is because this enacted mythscape is individually constructed through decontextualized and often ambiguous images that scholars have found such apparently contradictory themes of unity within the same body of music.
“If It Don’t Fit (Don’t Force It)”: Scope And Methods
The irony is: The more one thinks about it, the
harder it is to get the feel of The Funk. It’s just done.
-George Clinton (in Vincent 1996)
It is with no small sense of trepidation that I begin to embark upon a discussion of the subject of meaning in music—or of the band Parliament for that matter. Both of these subjects are rich in their complexities, and many scholars have also written much about them. Funk is also, according to George Clinton, not meant to be theorized or thought about, just done. If examined, however, Parliament’s brand of P-Funk serves as a wonderful subject with which to study the creation of mythscape, as the band has produced so many interrelated concept albums, had a very large budget for touring, and achieved a great deal of commercial success. They have thus been able to produce and disseminate a great number of images that listeners have access to and can use to create such mythscapes. Furthermore, as an often cited example of Afrofuturism and a style of music that displayed African-American roots (Corbett 1994, 150), this music has been the subject of numerous discussions on the issue of race that continues to provide material for investigation and discussion.
Because P-Funk and musical meaning are complex subjects, I believe it important to briefly discuss the scope of the project and some of the inherent complexities lying within or just outside of the project’s scope that, in the interest of space, cannot be addressed in this paper. The members of the band Parliament also performed and released albums under the name Funkadelic (Vincent 1996). While there are stylistic differences between the music played by Funkadelic (often more rock-influenced and guitar-driven) and Parliament (which played a more James Brown influenced “funk” style), the groups consisted of the same members, drew upon similar themes, often performed many of the same songs, sometimes recorded albums within the same studio sessions, and were both seen to be purveyors of what George Clinton considered to be pure, uncut Funk (Thompson 2001) The same band members also recorded and performed together for other side projects, including bands like Bootsy’s Rubber Band (led by bass player Bootsy Collins), The Brides of Funkenstein, and Parlet. Finally, to further complicate the matter is the band’s large and constantly changing line up, largely consisting of whoever was awake enough to record after long nights of performing and partying, and often changing over the course of a single recording (Ellis 2008, 98-99).
This article takes a somewhat-limited scope by focusing specifically upon songs released by the band Parliament that draw upon science fiction themes. These songs are found in the albums Mothership Connection (1976), The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein (1976), Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome (1977), Motor Booty Affair (1978), Gloryhallastoopid (1979), and Trombipulation (1980). The performances I will draw upon are from Parliament’s “P-Funk Earth Tours” and the tours for the album Motor-Booty Affair, as these tours were arguably the most focused upon drawing upon and acting out the mythic storyline of their albums. This selection of songs and performances was chosen as they are well-known, discussed the most within Parliament scholarship, and clearly demonstrate the types of images available to the listener for constructing a mythscape.
There has been much debate over the topic of meaning in music, with most viewpoints roughly boiling down into two different camps: that of the Referentialists, who believe that music is able to symbolize the extramusical, and Absolutists, who hold that musical meaning is non-referential (Feld and Fox 1994). Both of these positions, according to Feld and Fox, “oversimplify the communicational complexity and interpretive density of real verbal and musical experience” (1994, 28). To better explain this complexity, Feld asserts that meaning is interpreted by the individual listener based upon the material being presented in conjunction with the personal experience of the listener. Thus, while Clinton may convey a certain message through his music and his lyrics, Feld would assert that the individual listener constructs meaning through the process of “consuming and making sense out of music through interpretive procedures which are deeply linked to, but not synonymous with, the structure of concatenated sound events” (1984, 6). Such a view accounts for the referentiality of lyrics and the possibility that the music itself may indeed be intended as referential while simultaneously recognizing that there is no one-to-one correspondence between musical gesture and meaning, and that meaning can be constructed without regard to referentiality.
Thus, while the lyrics, performative enactments of the characters and themes in their songs, and other materials examined here may play a role in an individual’s construction of meaning, individual experience and social background play very important roles. Indeed, Frith (1989, 89) explains that it has been shown that lyrical content is often ignored in the construction of musical meaning and Blacking explains that:
the only possibility of uniting music and speech rests in the ability of human beings to respond to the total sound impressions without regard to either the music or the speech meanings. This requires that the listener create for him/herself new meanings in response to the noises that reach his/her ears. Inevitably, these interpretations may differ from meanings that would be derived from the words or the melody on their own. (1982, 21)
This view of individual construction of meaning is also consistent with Clinton’s own viewpoint, as he has claimed that P-Funk “ain’t no absolute. ‘Cause funkin’ is anything you need it to be at that moment” and that the meanings of his music are up to the listener (EbonyJetMagazines 2008; Vincent 1996).
Based upon the theory that individuals construct meaning in Parliament’s music, it is reasonable to believe that an individual may not pay any heed to the song lyrics, science fiction themes, or enactment of the band in performance. Like Levi Strauss’ bricoleur, a listener is charged with the task of constructing meaning out of whatever materials are available (in this case lyrics, album art, interviews, concerts, previous personal experience, etc.) however they may desire. While I argue that all individuals are capable of constructing different meanings from these materials this project focuses upon a specific type of “individual”: the academic studying and writing about the music of Parliament. This group, of which I would consider myself to be a part, places a great deal of importance upon and has a great deal of familiarity with the lyrics, performances, and other objects that I examine in my discussion. Furthermore, these scholars have written their interpretations of this music, providing material that can readily be analyzed to illuminate some of the many potential meanings of this music.
The present study relies upon this specific group of intellectuals/listeners and their written interpretations as ideal subjects to illuminate a larger process of mythscape and the creation of unity, due to their familiarity with and desire to understand the music as well as their very similar conclusions as to what the music of Parliament actually means. So even though I am focusing upon one type of intellectual listener within this article, I would argue that they help to illuminate a larger process that is applicable to other types of listeners that merits further, ideally ethnographic, research.
Throughout the course of this project, I examine the claims that scholars have made about themes of unity, Afrofuturism, and Black Nationalism in the music of Parliament. I will examine the claims that these authors have made as well as the lyrical content, album art, and performances that these authors use as evidence to their claims. I will show how these claims, as well as those expressed by Clinton himself, all pertain to a concept of unity that can be seen to express both racial uplift and unification across racial borders.
Finally, I will examine how Parliament tries to establish this sense of unity by first disseminating images that allow the listener1 to construct fantastic and mythologized places out of unfamiliar spaces and then bringing these otherworlds to life in performance through devices such as enactment. To do this, I rely upon Andy Bennett’s concept of “mythscape.”
According to Bennett, the mythscape (more often referred to as an “Urban mythscape” by the author, who uses the term to discuss an actual city) is a concept based off of Appadurai’s (1990) “theory of scapes,” which examines how conceptions of place are reshaped by flows of people, changes in technology, finance, the media, and prevalent ideas. Bennett uses the term to help him explain the way that media have helped “transform a tenuous link between an urban space and a body of recorded music…into a way of picturing, discussing and debating a city, its people and a musical style which is deemed to have emerged from a particular set of local circumstances” (2002, 88). He uses the term to describe a sense of place based primarily upon decontextualized and mediated images that are “recontextualized by audiences into new ways of thinking about and imagining places” and claims that they are formed through a three-step process (Bennett 2002, 89). First a landscape is transformed into a mediascape by becoming the signified object of audio and visual signifiers. This mediascape then becomes the primary form of experience for an audience. Finally, this audience uses this information to “construct or build upon their existing ideas concerning particular places,” forming a mythscape that then “begins to take on a life of its own – stories, discussions and anecdotes being linked to a place entirely in relation to that place’s representation as a mythscape” (Bennett 2002, 89).
Bennett’s concept of mythscape and his three-step process of mythscape creation serve as useful tools for explaining how Parliament is able to transform space into place. The images promulgated by Parliament, while fantastic and unbelievable, refer to spaces such as outer space and the bottom of the sea, providing mediated images and descriptions of these spaces. Because these spaces are all but inaccessible, these images—along with mediated images from other sources—are the primary ways that audiences experience these spaces and the means by which they turn them into “known” places, thus making them mythscapes.
“Funkin’ For Fun”: George Clinton, Parliament, And P-Funk
You wouldn’t believe how they partied
You would believe they’d never stop
Dancing to some funky new sound
-Parliament, “Do That Stuff”
George Clinton was born in 1941 in an outhouse in Kannapolis, North Carolina, but grew up in Newark, New Jersey (Vincent 1996, 232). A barber by trade, he also led a Motown/Doo-Wop style singing group with people recruited from business at the shop, named The Parliaments after the cigarette brand. He later moved the band to Detroit in hopes of being signed to Motown. Clinton continued to work as a barber and used the money that he earned to cut records. The Parliaments were eventually signed to Revilot Records and achieved some measure of success, performing at the Apollo Theater in New York and making it into the top five on the R&B charts in 1967 with their song “I Wanna Testify.” Eventually, however, the label went under, and Clinton lost the rights to the band’s name in a dispute. Clinton managed to get a position as a full-time staff writer for Motown Records, writing songs that would be sung by the likes of Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, but, by the late 1960s, he decided that his band needed to pursue a different direction (Thompson 2001, 85-86; Vincent 1996). They brought the biggest amplifiers they could find and turned into a psychedelic, guitar-driven, black rock band in the style of Jimi Hendrix (Vincent 1996). Following the lead of some of the younger members of the group, the band—now known as Funkadelic—ditched their matching suits in favor of outlandish costumes, sometimes even the bags that their newly-pressed suits came in (Vincent 1996; Corbett 1994, 11-12). Due to their new psychedelic image, outlandish appearance, and habit of tripping on LSD while performing unheard-of three and four hour sets, Funkadelic quickly established a reputation, particularly among their white audiences, as being “one long psychedelic freak out” (Wright 2008; Thompson 2001, 87).
With Funkadelic achieving a fair amount of success, often performing with early punk groups such as MC5, Ted Nugent, and Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Clinton signed the group to a second label (Corbett 1994). This group was called Parliaments (the “s” was later dropped) to continue the original Motown name of the group. While consisting of essentially the same large and loose collection of individuals, Parliament focused more on soul-influenced funk, vocal lines, incorporation of cutting-edge technology, and intricate horn arrangements instead of guitar-driven funk rock (Corbett 1994; BlackSciFi 2008; Vincent 1996, 235). Despite the stylistic differences, both of these groups performed what Clinton referred to as P(ure)-Funk—referred to by Clinton as “no part water. All Funk”—and, since they were actually the same group, later also known collectively as Parliament-Funkadelic, Parliafunkadelic, or the P-Funk All Stars, they had much overlap in terms of what songs they performed (BlackSciFi 2008). Clinton then began to saturate the market with P-Funk using albums by Parliament and Funkadelic as well as other offshoots of the band, such as The Brides of Funkenstein, Parlet, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns, and solo albums by keyboardist Bernie Worrell, guitarist Eddie Hazel, and others (Vincent 1996).
In 1973, Parliament was signed to Casablanca Records, where they released their major albums, including those described earlier. They proved quite successful, producing several chart-topping singles. Their song “Flashlight” from the album Funkintelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome even managed to top the R&B chart and held the position of number sixteen of the Pop charts during the spring of 1978.
In 1976, Clinton and his P-Funk mob embarked on the P-Funk Earth Tour, the first of many over-the-top stadium tours. With a budget of over $275,000, the largest ever for a black act, the show was truly a spectacle. For set design they hired Jules Fisher, who also designed sets for bands such as KISS and The Rolling Stones. The band also purchased Aerosmith’s sound equipment and had seven truckloads of costumes, lights, animated props, and—most spectacularly—a fog-belching Mothership lowered on stage for Clinton’s entrance (Corbett 1994; Thompson 2001). The show was so large that the band had to use KISS’ private rehearsal space—an aircraft hanger in New York—to practice the show (Thompson 2001, 90). These concerts would typically open with Bootsy’s Rubber band or another of Parliament’s offshoots. Funkadelic would then play for some time, and the show would culminate with the entire mob on stage performing the music of Parliament.
Clinton and his P-Funk groups eventually met with financial problems, largely due to problems arising from the nature of having several massive groups of constantly shifting personnel on several different labels, and had several internal problems (Vincent 1996). However, Clinton and many of the original members of the group are still touring. In many ways, Clinton and his P-Funk have encountered a new wave of popularity, thanks in part to their influence on bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and rappers’ penchant for sampling Clinton’s music perhaps best seen in the G-Funk style of West Coast rap of the early 90s.
“Funk Upon a Time…”: An Overview Of P-Funk Mythology
Funk upon a time
In the days of the Funkapus
The concept of specially-designed Afronauts
Capable of funkatizing galaxies
Was first laid on man-child
But was later repossessed
And placed among the secrets of the pyramids
Until a more positive attitude
Towards this most sacred phenomenon,
Could be acquired
In order to give a sense of the ambiguity of the images in Parliament’s music, I will give a brief summary of the P-Funk mythology. As mentioned above, this is a complex plot line based primarily upon lyrics that are often vague and sometimes unintelligible. Thus, I will attempt to give my interpretation of the story, drawing wherever possible upon song lyrics, liner notes, advertisements, and others’ interpretations of this plot line to reinforce and, at times, provide alternatives to what I claim. In order to keep the story line clear while still providing the necessary evidentiary support as well as important, although more peripheral information concerning P-Funk mythology, I will be using footnotes throughout this section for the purposes of citation, reference, and commentary. While these notes may be a bit unwieldy, I hope that it will serve as an effective means of conveying the general story line while still providing evidentiary support and the complexities of this plot line, presented here in a roughly chronological order beginning with prehistory and then progressing through each of the albums dealt with in this paper.
“I Was Jivin’ Before Piltdown”: P-Funk Prehistory
In the beginning, the universe was set in motion through the powers of the Funk (Clinton 2010).2 In a time before even the earliest recorded histories,3 the world was united by Funk. During this time, the Thumpasorus Peoples, our funky protagonists, and the Cro-Nasal Sapiens, funky beings recognized by their distinctively large noses, lived together in peace (Parliament 1993).4 However, soon this peace would be challenged by “bumpnoxious empires led by unfunky dictators,” who began to rid the world of the Funk.5 The Cro-Nasal Sapiens, who merely wanted to get by, fell into line and soon lost the Funk altogether.6 The Thumpasorus People, on the other hand, remained true to the Funk. When they realized that it was no longer possible to continue to do so on Earth, the Thumpasorus Peoples, led by Dr. Funkenstein, hid their secret of Clone Funk—“the concept of specially-designed Afronauts capable of funkatizing galaxies”—deep within the pyramids and fled to Outer Space in the Mothership.7 There they would bide their time, continuing to party until the time was right to return and refunkatize the planet.
Fast forward to “once upon a time called now.”8 The long-alienated (literally) Thumpasorus people have been listening in for quite some time and have finally decided that it is time to return and re-introduce the world to P-Funk.9 First contact is made by Sir Lollipop Man, who takes control of radios to broadcast his message over station WE-FUNK.10 Sir Lollipop Man then turns the mic over to Star Starchild, “the Mothership Connection,”11 who proceeds to re-introduce the Earth to the powers of P-Funk, using P-Funk’s powers of supergroovalisticprosifunkstication12 to get the world hooked on funk.13 This event culminates in the landing of the Mothership and the return of the Thumpasorus Peoples to Earth.14
The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein and Funkintelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome
In The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, Dr. Funkenstein, “the chosen one” emerges.15 He unlocks the secrets of Clone Funk once again and begins creating the “children of production,” Clones designed to “blow the cobwebs out your [humanity’s] minds” and re-funkatize the planet.16
The battle to re-funkatize Earth is taken up in Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome. Starchild, armed with the Bop Gun, a device that causes people to dance, improving Funkentelechy17 and dispelling the Placebo Syndrome,18 must face off against his arch-nemesis, Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk—a Cro-Nasal Sapien who refuses to dance and tries to use his snooze gun to spread the Placebo Syndrome. In a face-off at the end of the album, Starchild shoots Sir Nose with the Bop Gun, augmented by the powers of the Flash Light, causing him to dance.19
Motor Booty Affair
The Motor Booty Affair is a massive party taking place at Number One Bimini Road in downtown Atlantis.20 Here the listener is introduced to Mr. Wiggles the Worm, one of Dr. Funkenstein’s clones who serves as the DJ for the Affair21, who provides commentary as the citizens of Atlantis are attempting to dance Atlantis back to the top of the ocean.22 Sir Nose makes an appearance, this time aligned with Rumpofsteelskin, and tries to thwart their plans, but ultimately fails and is forced to dance the Aqua Boogie.23
Gloryhallastoopid and Trombipulation
Gloryhallastoopid is set in outer space. In this episode of the P-Funk saga, Sir Nose manages to emerge with a victory over Starchild, finding him separated from the Bop Gun, the Flashlight, and Dr. Funkenstein and managing to turn him into a donkey.24 This victory however, is short-lived, as the newly-victorious Sir Nose explodes spectacularly in a Big Bang of Funk.25 In Trombipulation, the longstanding conflict between Sir Nose and Starchild is put to an end when Sir Nose finally manages to figure out his roots as a funky Cro-Nasal Sapien.26 He and his son, Sir Nose Junior, promise to always give up the Funk.27
“One Nation Under A Groove”: Themes Of Afrofuturism, Black Nationalism And Unity
One nation under a groove
Gettin’ down just for the funk of it
One nation and we’re on the move
Nothin’ can stop us now
-Funkadelic, “One Nation Under a Groove”
Many different scholars (e.g. Brown 2008; Nama 2008; McLeod 2003; Vincent 1996) that have examined the music of Parliament have mentioned that it fits in Afrofuturist aesthetic. I have already discussed many of the science fiction themes, such as the Mothership, settings in outer space and the City of Atlantis, and futuristic technology such as the Bop Gun and cloning, in the overview of P-Funk mythology, citing instances where scholars have mentioned or explained these themes. Furthermore, the band’s sound was considered futuristic as well. McLeod explains that “the Afro-nauts of Parliament-Funkadelic combined synthesizers, acoustic piano, brass, heavy funk bass and wah wah effects to create their highly layered, otherworldly grooves (2003, 343). Like Bowie, the otherworldly mechanistic sound of various synthesizers and wah wah effects creates an exotic soundscape.” Indeed, Parliament strove to bring Black music into the electronic age, singlehandedly popularizing the technique of “keyboard bass”—where a synthesizer mimics an electric bass line in order to create a very powerful low voice (This technique is probably best represented in the tracks “Flashlight” and “Night of the Thumpasorus People”) (Vincent 1996).
Scholars have also identified African-American themes within the music. Indeed, Clinton discussed the overarching concept behind Mothership Connection as an idea to“[p]ut niggers in places that you don’t usually see ’em. And nobody had seen ‘em sittin’ on no spaceships!” (Corbett 1994, 150). McCleod mentions that the otherworldly and futuristic sound of the band “simultaneously reflects and empowers the alienation experienced by Clinton’s primarily black audiences from mainstream white society, and comments on the otherworldly exoticism of funk music in general” (2003, 343). He goes on to state that “Clinton’s lyrics, such as ‘get down in 3D’ and ‘do the light year groove’, additionally manifests an empowering mix of black street slang and a progressive futuristic imagery” (McCleod 2003, 343). Vincent noted that “P-Funk’s fantastic science fiction created a series of spectacular ‘otherworlds’ that Africans could inhabit freely… [and where] whites simply did not exist” (1996, 244). Indeed, as Vincent notes, the vast majority of characters in and images associated with Parliament feature black characters. Nama (2008, 163), made connections between the city of Atlantis as depicted in Motor Booty Affair and the Ghetto, noting that both are cities inhabited by Blacks that are obscured from the view of the public. He claims that the call to “raise Atlantis to the top” that can be found in the song “Deep” and in the pop-up scene included on the album is actually a call for upward mobility and racial uplift. McCleod proposed that Starchild “was an allegorical representation of freedom and positive energy—an attempt to represent an empowering and socially activist image of African-American society during the early 1970s” (2003, 343). Friedman (1993) and Wright (2008) both claim that the band never compromised their African-American roots in the pursuit of mass popularity. Finally, Vincent notes the privileged positions of African-Americans within Parliament’s music, stating that “[s]uch grand visions of black people were not found in black film, black literature, or black politics in the late 1970s” (1996, 244).
Many of authors also claim that the music of Parliament also expresses Black Nationalist ideals, seeking to establish an all-black utopia. These arguments all stem from one particular event: the landing of the Mothership while the band sings “Swing down sweet chariot, stop and let me ride!” Vincent explains that the Mothership “serves as a metaphor for the ‘chariot’ responsible for bringing ‘the chosen’ to the Promised Land” (1996, 258). Nama came to the conclusion that the Mothership “symbolized cosmic salvation in the form of a superspaceship arriving in urban ghettoes across America to pluck black youth up so they could join the ranks of his funky Afronauts.” Nama also noted that Clinton’s brand of funk music “promised the possibility of sonic deliverance of the black nation from America’s racial constrictions” and that the bands depiction of space vessels also invoke the idea of a black exodus (2008, 162). Corbett (1994, 17) claims that the Mothership conflated the motherland of Africa and space. Friedman also makes a claim for Black Nationalist themes in Parliament’s music, claiming that “Clinton’s vision also held out the possibility of something more sweeping: a futuristic Black Nationalist utopia” and, elaborating further, stating:
The climax to P-Funk’s concerts of the late ’70s was the landing of the Mothership, signifying the return of the exiled Thumpasorus Peoples to earth. As the giant mock-spaceship was slowly lowered, the band would play the title track to Mothership Connection, which transforms the dream of returning to the Motherland of Africa into a journey across the galaxy. Signifyin(g) upon the spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” the band chanted, “Swing down sweet chariot-stop/And let me ride.” Science fiction supplants religion, as “The Funk” becomes a new kind of deliverance. (1993)
Scholars have also discussed themes of unity that do not involve race. In some cases, such in Vincent (1996), Wright (2008), and Friedman (1993), these themes of universal unity are mentioned alongside statements saying that the music speaks of an all-black Utopia. Friedman (1993) notes that, “while [Clinton’s] vision was rooted in the cultural practices of African-Americans, his utopia of ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ was not a separatist one. The battle in his sci-fi universe was between funky and unfunky, not black and white.” He also states that, while he never compromised his African American roots, his desire was to achieve popularity among both blacks and whites. Wright claims “P-Funk was rooted in black musical and cultural traditions, but Clinton’s ultimate goal was to help everyone find their funkiness” (2008, 43). Vincent states that the essence of P-Funk includes “a cosmology of ‘oneness’ in which everything and everyone in the universe is interconnected” (1993, 258).
Indeed, Clinton showed that his funk was not exclusively African-American. The band drew influences from bands such as MC5, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and especially the Beatles—the idea to create Mothership Connection as a concept album was inspired by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Wright 2008, 36; Corbett 1994,149-150). The make-up of the band also included white people, most notably the playing of the Brecker brothers, who can be heard on the majority of Parliament’s albums, often playing prominent solo parts (Thompson 2001, 89). Clinton himself has even remarked that, while the music they were playing had strong African-American roots that “[m]ore white people like the blackest of music than black people do” (Corbett 1994, 150). He also mentions that, while P-Funk included racially divisive themes, they were always attributed to the antagonistic Sir Nose, claiming, “we used Sir Nose as tryin’ to infiltrate rap to cause race riots, men against women, pro- and anti-abortion, gay and straight. I mean, we put him there to cause conflict between everybody” (Corbett 1994, 281). In another interview, Clinton states that, in P-Funk, “Everybody on the one. The whole universe on the same pulse (BlackSciFi 2008). You know what I’m saying? All things is on the One with the Universe” and, in his written introduction to Vincent’s book that “something about the music provides a cross-generational and multicultural appeal. The P-Funk clientele has always been a peculiar mix of ages, sexes, races, and nationalities, and faiths unified and collectively categorized by a common state of mind. Funk fans knew world order as ‘One Nation Under a Groove’” (1996, xii-xiv).
While themes of inclusion and unity among all races and Black National separatism may seem contradictory, all the themes discussed here invoke some sense of unity and uplift. Whether it is fostering a sense of racial or universal solidarity, the goal of P-Funk is to establish a sense of unity—to create “One Nation Under a Groove.” This goal of unity is not an uncommon one in music. Indeed, Frith notes that “popular music works as a social event. Its cultural (and commercial) purpose is to put together an audience, to construct a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’” (1989, 91). What the music is supposed to unify—be it one particular race or all of humanity—is entirely up to the listener, as funk “ain’t no absolute,” it is “anything you need it to be at that moment that you need” (BlackSciFi 2008). The meaning of this music is up to the listener, “they are free to devise their own cosmology or theology as they see fit” (Vincent 1996, 264). P-Funk can mean all of these things at the same time, as Vincent notes: “The vision of P-Funk is clearly oriented toward uplift—of the individual, of black people, and of all people” (1996, 259). Indeed, while Clinton states that his music contains Black Nationalist themes, his view of Black Nationalism is not limited to Black people. “It’s really about the planet,” he states, claiming that all humans descended from a single individual somewhere in Africa, “We got different pigmentation, we all still from the same piece of life” (Corbett 1994, 284-285).
“Fantasy Is Reality”: The Creation Of Mythscape
Mr. Wiggles the Worm here
Sayin’ this is an underwater story in the fields of your mind
We’re swimmin’ past a clock who has its hand behind its back
On past reality, he ain’t lookin’ for a moment
-Parliament, “Mr. Wiggles”
While scholars have agreed that the music of Parliament seeks to foster a sense of unity—be it Black Nationalist, universalist, or both—the question this agreement raises is “How?” How does music loosely based around the plot of Afronauts returning to Earth from the Chocolate Milky Way to battle an unfunky being with a giant proboscis—played by a drugged-out band dressed in diapers, wedding dresses, and dry cleaner bags—do anything to unite audiences? It is my proposition that, through their science fiction themes, performances, costumes, album art, liner notes, and advertisements, Parliament provides mediated and decontextualized images of outer space or the bottom of the ocean (Atlantis) that, combined with other images and ideas about these unfamiliar spaces, can be contextualized within the mind of the listener. This turns these inaccessible spaces into familiar places in which characters such as Starchild and Dr. Funkenstein reside, battling to unite the universe through the powers of The Funk. These mythscapes of places such as outer space, along with all of the characters, histories, ideas, and stories contained therein, are then “brought to life” through devices such as performance, bringing the battle for unity and triumph of the Funk from the listener’s mind to the real world.
In this section, I intend to explain how Parliament provides images that promote the creation of mythscape. The next section will show how this mythscape is enacted to foster a sense of unity. Before moving on to a discussion of the creation of this mythscape, however, I would like to discuss a point of difference between the mythscape Parliament creates and that of Bennett’s study of the Canterbury sound: the absurdity of Parliament’s themes.
While Bennett’s argument deals with the use of mythscape to enforce ties between musicians with an actual city by people who believe these claims to be true, the mythscape that I am proposing is much more fantastic and not meant to be literally believed. While the idea of outer space being populated by funky Afronauts who have returned to Earth to unite people “in the rhythm of the One” was never meant to be believed as fact, this fantastic scenario can still create a fantasy world in the minds of listeners, not meant to be believed but still allowing for an escape to fantasy.
As mentioned above, Bennett notes that there is a three-step process in the transformation of a landscape into a mythscape. This process can be used to explain how Parliament transforms abstract space into familiarized place. First a landscape, which in this case is outer space, is subjected to audio-visual signifiers to become a mediascape. Parliaments album covers, stories, advertisements, and concerts include many of these signifiers. For example, the Mothership Connection album art features a picture of George Clinton flying through space on the Mothership, theme lyrics describe stories taking place in places such as a black hole in the Chocolate Milky Way, comic books included with the albums Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome and Gloryhallastoopid give pictorial depictions of these places as well as the characters that inhabit them. The many props and costumes that the band used in performances also provided images of outer space. Likewise, the Motor Booty Affair album included a pop-up version of Atlantis complete with character cutouts and concert tours for that album involved aquatic-themed costumes and props. The music itself, with its reliance upon technology has even become a symbol of other places, as evidenced in McLeod’s claim that the music possessed an “otherworldy mechanistic sound of various synthesizers and wah wah effects,” that manages to create an “exotic soundscape” (2003, 343). These images—whether they are cardboard cutouts of Atlantis, lyrics explaining a scene “occurring” in outer space, a light-up Bop Gun, a Mothership, or synthesized sounds—refer to or represent specific places. Because these places that these signifiers represent are inaccessible to most, the only way to experience this landscape is through mediated forms such as these, thus complying with the second step of Bennett’s process.
Finally, in the third step, these images and bits of information delivered through the mediascape are recontextualized by listeners, creating new ways of imagining places. Focusing upon scholars as a particular type of listener, evidence of this is suggested through claims that Parliament’s music constructs some sort of “otherworld” as well as by the different interpretations of these worlds and the events that occur within them. Phrases such as Vincent’s (1996, 244) statement that “P-Funk’s fantastic science fiction created a series of spectacular ‘otherworlds,’” McCleod’s claim that Parliament’s music created “an exotic soundscape” (2003, 343), or Nama’s assertion that black music has functioned as an alternative site “where futuristic fantasyscapes populated by black people can find expression” (2008, 160) suggest that the authors have used these decontextualized images to construct their own images of place—using them to re-imagine and construct in these locations “otherworlds,” “fantasyscapes” or , in some cases “Black Nationalist utopias”—in a word, mythscapes.
The fact that these places are notably different in the minds of these different authors is further evidence to their individual construction. These differences are evident in the differing opinions of the authors, also discussed above, as to whether this place represents an all-Black utopia, a deliverance of all humanity, or some combination of the two. They are also evident in the differences in P-Funk mythology. While several of these differences are also mentioned above, in my general discussion of this mythology, there are a few more that I would like to call attention to.
The first is the differing views as to the purposes of the Mothership and the location of the future utopia brought about by the return of the Funk. Nama, for example claims that this utopia is in outer space and claims, “George Clinton’s Mothership symbolized cosmic salvation in the form of a superspaceship arriving in urban ghettoes across America to pluck black youth up so they could join the ranks of his funky Afronauts” (2008, 162). Friedman (1993), however, states that the landing of the Mothership signifies the return of the Thumpasorus peoples to earth and relates this return from space to a return to the Motherland of Africa, thus implying that this utopia is not in outer space, but on a refunkatized earth. Another example would be differing ideas as to the origins of Funk. Wright’s (2008, 43-44) claim that, in this mythology, Funk had its origins in the pyramids of ancient African civilization differs markedly from Vincent’s (1996, 255) claim that P-Funk was the cause of the universe.28
While I would argue that, in these cases, Friedman and Vincent’s interpretations are better rooted in the full body of Parliament’s lyrics and images (and thus the other two views were not forwarded in my original discussion of the mythology), all of these interpretations represent mythscapes—individual constructions of place from decontextualized and mediated images.
Thus the place-images disseminated by Parliament provide the means for listeners to create mythscapes. These places—complete with the many characters, themes, and plots that reside within them—are constructed by the individual based upon these images. At least in the case of these particular authors, these constructions do have significant differences, but they all involve the same set of characters and they all depict utopias based in some sort of unity—be it universal or specifically Black. While these mythscapes provide the possibility of an idealized and unified world, they involve inaccessible places and also remain locked within the minds of their creators. While they speak of unity they are not able to, in themselves, establish the unity that Clinton and others argue P-Funk strives to create. In the next section, I will show how, through devices in different songs and performances, Parliament tries to establish a communion between these mythscapes and reality to foster a sense of unity and create, if only for a short while, a unified place through performance.
“The Mothership Connection”: Bringing Mythscape to the Real World
‘Cause funk is not domestically produced
It is responsive to your mood
You can score it any day
On WEFUNK, we-funk, HO!
Parliament uses several devices that allow listeners to connect the mythscapes they have created to their everyday lives. Many of these devices are associated with Parliament’s live performances and involve performative enactment, which present aspects of the mythscape and mythology as if the mythscapes exist outside the minds of the listener and the myths are actually taking place, allowing the listener to “believe,” if only jokingly and for the sake of having a good time—that these fantasies are being actualized. Thus, the ideas of unity and utopia present in the mythscape can be brought into contact with reality to foster the real sense of unity within the performance space that Clinton seeks and scholars claim in statements such as “P-Funk is designed to bring the spiritual world down to the level of its participants, so that everyone on this earth and beyond can groove together, on the One” (Vincent, 1996, 264).
This enactment is preempted by concert advertisements. In one commercial, created by Casablanca records to announce the release of The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein and the P-Funk Earth Tour, pictures from a prior concert featuring the band dancing in outrageous costume, the landing of the Mothership, the emergence of Dr. Funkenstein (Harris, Gooch, and Suhs 2009). While it was displaying these images and playing the band’s music, the voiceover spoke of how the Tour was “heading toward Earth” and that audiences would be able to “meet Dr. Funkenstein himself.” In saying this, the characters, myths, and mythscapes constructed by the listener are presented are not only acknowledged, they are presented as part of an actual event, in which these events are brought to life and mythscape is brought into contact with everyday existence through the performance. Like an announcement that Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny will be visiting a local mall, these advertisements present the concert as a place to go to experience something fantastic—a place where fantasy can become reality.
Within the concert itself, the enactment of P-Funk myths further serve to bring myth and mythscape to life. Costumes play an important role is this process, creating within the performance space a sense of an alternate reality where anything is possible. This is described by Vincent in his statement that “[v]isually, the band’s look suggested—and the huge show created—an alternate reality, ‘dressed in diapers and leotards, as genies and wolf-men…looking like a cross between Star Trek and Sanford and Son’” (1996, 254). While many costumes were meant to be simply outrageous, such as guitarist Gary Shider’s customary garb of a diaper, other costumes portrayed characters from the mythology. For example, George Clinton often dressed as Dr. Funkenstein—usually either sporting an outfit similar to that on the Clones of Dr. Funkenstein album cover or bedecked in a fuzzy, all-white outfit featuring an oversized hat and a fuzzy white cane. Likewise, the character of Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk would wear an oversized false nose and, in tours for the Motor Booty Affair, band members would also dress as sea creatures.
Supplementing the costumes were a large array of props, including pyramids; the Bop Gun, which was often brought onto the stage by Gary Shider, who, suspended by wires, flew it in above the crowd; and a giant flashlight used during the song of the same name (Vincent 1996, 245). Arguably the most spectacular of these props—and definitely the one to get the most attention from scholars—is the Mothership. Its landing symbolized the “Mothership Connection”: the joining of imaginative and fantastic mythscape with everyday life through “a detailed myth-in-performance” (Corbett 1994, 17). The enactment of this scene, combined with the fantastic props, create a space where mythscape comes to life and myth becomes believable—a place where the utopian and unifying ideals of the places and events in Parliament’s music can be transferred to the concert space to create an atmosphere of solidarity and partying. As Vincent states notes concerning the landing of the Mothership during a concert, “the landing of the Mothership serves as a metaphor for the ‘chariot’ responsible for bringing ‘the chosen’ to the Promised Land. The ‘chariot’ is a myth, yet this chariot was real” (1996, 258).
Further adding to the live experience of this mythology is the band’s use of audience participation. For instance, during one live show the band members, anticipating the arrival of the Mothership, asked if the audience believed and told them that it was “time to testify” by joining the band in singing “Swing down, sweet chariot. Stop and let me ride” (Parliament 1996). In an animated video played at some concerts that follows the plot of the comic included with Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome, the audience is greeted by Dr. Funkenstein, who announces to them that they are just in time to watch the final showdown unfold (Papasean 2009). This video, like other means of audience involvement, not only includes performances by major characters, it also shows these characters addressing the audience, further involving crowd members in the story line. Another example of this involvement is when audience members were encouraged to shine their own flashlights—which were sold at the concerts in deference to the song of the same name—in order to strengthen the power of the Bop Gun and force Sir Nose to dance, thus involving the audience in the process of refunkatizing the planet (Parliament 1996).
This connection between mythscape and reality is not limited to live performances. As stated in the Parliament: Live album promotion (Harris, Gooch, and Suhs 2009), Dr. Funkenstein and the P-Funk Earth tour were more than capable of invading your home. In order to establish this connection between mythscape and reality in a private setting, Parliament relied on Sir Lollipop Man and Mr. Wiggles the Worm: the deejays of WEFUNK radio. Sir Lollipop Man, announcing to all that he has taken control of the radio, provides another sort of link between the listener’s mythscape of outer space and the everyday world in which one is simply listening to the radio. Rather than simply playing music, Parliament constructs a scenario in which the descendents of the Thumpasorus people have hijacked the radio to deliver highly addictive P-Funk to the planet in order to begin the process of making the earth funky once more. Likewise, Mr. Wiggles announces that he is the deejay for the Motor Booty Affair, serving as the connection between the listener and a giant party taking place in the city of Atlantis. In so doing, Parliament uses the radio to create a “mass-mediated community” and “real-life alternative public sphere,” a place where a community made up of listeners and characters residing within a mythscape are brought together through the radio and mythscape is allowed to commune with reality.
“There Is Nothing The Proper Attitude Won’t Render Funkable”: Conclusions
When the syndrome is around
Don’t let your guard down
All you got to do is
Call on the funk (moving in on you, baby)
To dance is a protection
Funk is your connection
All you got to do is
Funk and dance
-Parliament, “Bop Gun (Endangered Species)”
The music of Parliament is seen by scholars as well as by George Clinton himself as trying to create a sense of unity or “to bring the spiritual world down to the level of its participants, so that everyone on this earth and beyond can groove together, on the One“ (Vincent 1996, 264). In order to do this, the band has created a Afrofuturistic mythology, set in inaccessible spaces such as outer space, which it disseminates through stories and images found within their music, lyrics, promotional videos, and live performances. Listeners, otherwise unable to experience these spaces, can use these images to construct elaborate mythscapes and turn distant spaces such as these into “known” places that include within them characters and story lines that promote unity. As they are individually constructed, these mythscapes may vary between individuals; some may neglect specific events that are seen to occur in others and the type of unity that these worlds stress may differ depending upon who has created the mythscape.
Because all of these mythscapes are based upon the images disseminated by Parliament they do contain similarities. These similarities—such as those between characters, places, or end goals of unity and the refunkatization of the planet—are then capitalized upon by the band, who uses devices such as enactment to create a link between the listener’s lived world and the mythscape of his or her creation, allowing for the promise of unity and utopia found within the mythscape to spread and implant itself beyond the mythscape and create the sense of unity that the band strives to foster.
Appadurai, Arjun. 1990. “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Economy.” Public Culture 2 (2): 1-24.
Bennett, Andy. 2002. “Music, Media, and Urban Mythscapes: A Study of the ‘Canturbury Sound.’” Media, Culture, and Society 24: 87-100.
Blacking, John. 1982. “The Structure of Musical Discourse: The Problem of the Song Text.” Yearbook for Traditional Music 14: 15-23.
BlackSciFi. 2008. “George Clinton, Fred Wesley, Bootsy Collins Explain The Funk.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jG4t7_xV6ks&feature=related. Accessed November 3.
Brown, Matthew P. 2008. “Funk Music as a Genre: Black Aesthetics, Apocalyptic Thinking and Urban Protest in Post-1965 African-American Pop.” Cultural Studies 8 (3): 484-508.
Clinton, George. 2010. “Funkateerz: Funkcyclopedia.” http://www.georgeclinton.com/htmlversion/gc/funkateer_funkcyclopedia.htm. Accessed December 14.
Corbett, John. 1994. Extended Play: Sounding Off from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Dery, Mark. 1995. “Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delaney, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose.” In Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture, edited by Mark Dery, 179-222. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
EbonyJetMagazines. 2008. “George Clinton ’89.” http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=aBNvL6nsEtk&feature=fvw. Accessed November 3.
Ellis, Thomas Sayers. 2008. “From the Crib to the Coliseum: An Interview with Bootsy Collins.” In The Funk Era and Beyond: New Perspectives on Black popular Culture, edited by Tony Bolden, 33-50. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Feld, Steven. 1984. “Communication, Music, and Speech About Music.” Yearbook of Traditional Music 16: 1-18.
Feld, Steven and Aaron A. Fox. 1994. Annual Review of Anthropology 23: 25-53.
Friedman, Ted. 1993. “Making it Funky: The Signifyin(g) Politics of George Clinton’s Parliafukadelicment Thang.” Accessed November 3, 2010 http://music.eserver.org/text/Friedman-Making.it.Funky.html.
Frith, Simon. 1989. “Why Do Songs Have Words?” Contemporary Music Review 5 (1): 77-96.
Harris, Larry, Curt Gooch, and Jeff Suhs. 2009. “Trailers/Videos.” http://www.casablancabook.com. Accessed November 3.
McLeod, Ken. 2003. “Space Oddities: Aliens, Futurism and Meaning in Popular Music.” Popular Music 22 (3): 337-355.
Nama, Adilfu. 2008. Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Papasean. 2009. “Parliament Funkadelic Concert Cartoon ‘Placebo Like A Mug.’” Black Planet Music. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJP801WdnqU&feature=related. Accessed November 3.
Parliament. 1976a. Mothership Connection. Casablanca, LP.
–––. 1976b. The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein. Casablanca, LP.
–––. 1977a. Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome. Casablanca, LP.
–––. 1977b. Live: P-Funk Earth Tour. Casablanca, LP.
–––. 1978. Motor Booty Affair. Casablanca, LP.
–––. 1979. Gloryhallastoopid: Or Pin the Tail on the Funky. Casablanca, LP.
–––. 1980. Trombipulation. Casablanca, LP.
–––. 1993. Tear the Roof Off (1974-1980). Casablanca, Compact Disc.
Parliament-Funkadelic. Parliament, Funkadelic: Live, 1976-93. Sequel Records, Compact Disc.
Thompson, Dave. 2001. Funk. San Francisco: Backbeat Books.
Vincent, Rickey. 1996. Funk: The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of the One. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
Wright, Amy Nathan. 2008. “A Philosophy of Funk: The Politics and Pleasure of a Parliafunkadelicment Thang!” In The Funk Era and Beyond: New Perspectives on Black popular Culture edited by Tony Bolden, 33-50. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
1While, as discussed above, this project deals specifically with the scholar—a particular kind of listener that thoroughly examines lyrics, album art, and other objects while ostensibly relying less than most listeners upon their own experiences in their creation of musical meaning—this statement could, and in my view does, include any listener.
2Wright (2008, 43-44) claims that, within this mythology, funk had its origins in the pyramids of ancient African civilization.
3“Trombipulation”: “I have recalled that my ancestry/Reached far beyond Cro-magnon/In front of Neanderthal, ahead of Java/I was jivin’ before Piltdown, I am the missing link.”
4“Even Cro-Nasal Sapiens and the Thumpasorus Peoples lived side by side in P(eace).”
5“But soon there arose bumpnoxious empires led by unfunky dictators. These priests, pimps and politicians would spank whole nations of unsuspecting peoples — punishing them for their feelings and desires, constipating their notions and pimping their instincts until they were fat, horny and strung-out.”
6“The descendants of Cro-Nasal Sapiens fell in line, for their credo was ‘Get over by any means necessary.’ They slicked their hair and lost all sense of the Groove.”
7“Prelude”: The concept of specially-designed Afronauts/Capable of funkatizing galaxies/Was first laid on man-child/But was later repossessed/And placed among the secrets of the pyramids/Until a more positive attitude/Towards this most sacred phenomenon,/Clone Funk,/Could be acquired.”
8“P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up).”
9Ibid.: “I was diggin’ on y’alls funk for awhile.”; “Mothership Connection (Starchild)”: “We have returned to claim the Pyramids.” Some scholars, most notably Nama (2008) believe that, rather than returning to Earth to restore the Funk, the Mothership has returned to rescue African-Americans by recruiting them into the ranks of Mothership Afro-nauts.
10“P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)”: “Good evening./Do not attempt to adjust your radio, there is nothing wrong./We have taken control as to bring you this special show./We will return it to you as soon as you are grooving./Welcome to station WEFUNK, better known as We-Funk/…So kick back, dig, while we do it to you in your eardrums./And me? I’m known as Lollipop Man, alias the Long-Haired Sucker.”
11“Mothership Connection (Starchild)”: “I am the Mothership Connection.”
12A theory that simply states “Give the people what they want/when they want/and they want it all the time.” (“Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication”).
13This ultimately succeeds, as evidenced in the lyrics to “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)”: “You’ve got a real type of thing going down, gettin’ down/ There’s a whole lot of rhythm going round/We want the funk/Give up the funk/We need the funk/We gotta have that funk.”
14This is a tentative claim that I base upon the traditional landing of the Mothership in concert during the song “Mothership Connection (Starchild)” from this album. However there is no specific reference to the landing of the Mothership in the album itself and, in the same song, Starchild referenced “Doin’ it up in the Chocolate Milky Way,” implying that the Mothership is in outer space during at least a portion of the album.
16“Children of Productions”
17The “Force by which Funk gets stronger.”
18“Placebo Syndrome”: “When all the smiles are out of town/You’re going round and round/You find the Syndrome/When your ups lift you down/Your placebo is too weak/You’re in the Syndrome.”
19This is depicted in the cartoon “Placebo Like A Mug,” included in Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome and played before some live concerts (Parliament 1977; Papasean 2009).
20“Mr. Wiggles”: “Comin’ to you from #1 Bimini Road,in beautiful downtown Atlantis.”
21This can be seen on the Motor Booty Affair television promotion (Harris, Gooch, and Suhs 2009).
22“Deep”: “We need to raise Atlantis from the bottom of the sea/Dancing ‘till we bring it to the top.”
23“Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop).”
24This scene is depicted in a cartoon included with the album Gloryhallastoopid (Parliament 1979); “Theme From The Black Hole.”
25This is claim is very loosely substantiated however, based upon the idea of the “Big Bang Theory” as presented in the album as well as the explosion sound shortly following Sir Nose’s victory in “Theme From The Black Hole.”
26“Trombipulation”: “I, Sir Nose D’voidoffunk, wish to declare,/That using the membrane,/I have recalled that my ancestry.” There is some confusion of whether Sir Nose, Starchild, and other characters are the same beings that originally lived together in peace or descendants of the original Cro-Nasal Sapiens and Thumpasorus people. The tension between these two possibilities is especially evident within this song, where Sir Nose recalls that his ancestors were funky Cro-Nasal Sapiens, but then goes on to state that he jas “jivin’ before Piltdown” and that he is “the missing link.”
27Ibid.: “I, Sir Nose D’voidoffunk wish to declare/I am the funkiest”; “Crush It”: “I, Sir Nose Junior promise to, give up the funk.”
28Wright’s claim is most likely taken from Starchild’s statement in “Mothership Connection (Starchild)” in which he announces that the mothership has “returned to claim the pyramids.” While Vincent’s claim, which is based on information throughout Patrliament’s discography and statements by Clinton himself, is much more firmly based within the corpus of Parliament’s work, my claim is that individuals are free to construct their own narrative based upon, or disregarding the materials put forth by the band.
Kurt Baer is a graduate student in Ethnomusicology at Indiana University. His research interests are in the role that music plays in constructing and reflecting senses of space, place, and time and his current research focuses upon pong lang music of Northeastern Thailand as an expression of and means of constructing identity.