Space Music: Parliament Funkadelic and the P-Funk Mothership


Starchild (George Clinton) emerges from the P-Funk Mothership. (Image courtesy Casablanca Records)

At this point in the Space Music series, we must turn our attention to the P-Funk Mothership AKA the Holy Mothership. You probably know this as the vaguely Apollo-esque UFO that P-funk icon George Clinton emerged from onstage during live performances of Parliament Funkadelic. But it is so much more.

The P-funk mythos is rich and complicated, but allow me to summarize what we know. In 1975, a being known as Starchild descended to Earth in the Mothership on a mission to bring funk to the human race. Starchild, however, was but an agent of one Dr. Funkenstein, a funk mastermind from beyond the stars. And as it turns out, the secrets of the funk were on Earth all along, hidden in pyramids by ancient funkanauts until such time as humans were ready to reclaim their secrets. In an effort to deliver the salvation of funk to everyone on Earth, Dr. Funkenstein created a race of clones to deliver the message. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwX069RA0vw]

As the above promotional video illustrates, the P-Funk theology has its own villains as well, in the form of Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk master of the diabolical Placebo Syndrome, which causes people to stop thinking and dancing. Nose's aim is to put our minds to sleep, forcing us into a mental/spiritual "Zone of Zero Funkativity" -- a sort of entropy of groove. Oh yeah, the forces of Funk win out in the end, but the forces of unfunk returned again (this time underwater) in "The Motor Booty Affair." There's even another cartoon.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Isn't all of this just a psychedelic Afrofuturist metaphor for African American liberation in 20th century? Isn't the Mothership just a product of space race and UFO enthusiasm? Sure, that's a valid claim. And if you really want to get into the religious and philopshic elements of P-Funk, you should wade into Brian Benson's "Transcefunkadentalism" and Scot Hacker's "The Cosmology of P-Funk."

But this is a science blog, people, and we're going to talk the science of the P-funk Mothership. Let's look at the details:

Parliament bassist Bootsy Collins funks it up. And yes, he has a Twitter account. Click to experience it. (Paul Bergen/Redferns/Getty Images)

Funky Ancient Astronauts: You may giggle at the notion of P-funk, platform shoe-wearing space men visiting primordial man, but I guarantee you that members of the Center for Ancient Alien Research do not. While certainly not the most scientifically accepted way of viewing the technological ascent of man, the theory isn't without its supporters. In 1966, Carl Sagan even chimed in, speculating that the possibility of historic extraterrestrial contact might be worth further examination. Just consider the ancient Shak?kidog? Dog? figurine: goddess, space suited alien or delirious funky priest from the Chocolate Milky Way Galaxy? You be the judge.

Funky Pyramids: On a similar note, can you explain just how the great Egyptian pyramids were built? No, you cannot. Because even though most modern Egyptologists agree they used a system of ramps to raise their massive stones, a great deal of decidedly unfunky bickering continues on the exact ramp structure. Given the pyramid-shaped UFO allegedly sited over Moscow last month, who is to say funk space men DIDN'T hide their groovacious secrets inside the ancient monoliths? And given the state of the Russian music scene, doesn't it make perfect sense that a funk vessel would merely pass over the Kremlin instead of land there? The time isn't right, comrades.

The Placebo Syndrome: P-funk front man George Clinton was pretty upfront about the Placebo Syndrome's connection to modern consumerism. Consider recent reports that the human brain treats money like a drug. Modern gurus continue to remind us that "money can't buy happiness," and Buddhists have been saying grasping is the root of human misery for thousands of years. Can the funk make you happy? I am sorry to say that HSW does not have an article about this, but as the funk encompasses music, dance and artistic expression, I think the answer is clearly yes. Read Is there a link between music and happiness? and this U.C. Berkley op-ed on the neurosceintific links between dancing and joy.

The Funk: So just what is the funk? Is it enlightenment and, if so, is the P-funk state of "Funkentelechy" (the "actualization of funk rather than its potential") a mental state akin to Buddhahood? Or perhaps the funk is something subatomic. After all, it seems to empower spaceships as well as humans. Might the Large Hadron Collider be on the verge of creating a man-made funk particle? Or is George Lucas funkier than we give him credit? Maybe the funk's a microbe, engaged in a Midi-chlorians-esque symbiotic relationship with its human host.

So ponder your funk, gentle readers. And, by all means, explore the cosmic archives of The Motherpage for even more information. So much funky weirdness and great music awaits you.

EDIT: Some of you might best know the Mothership from the animated funk video on the Old Greg episode of BBC's "The Mighty Boosh." You can view the short here and observe some non-cannon funky adventures.

Need more space music? You'll find it all right here.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.