George Clinton, bandleader for Parliament, Funkadelic, and the P-Funk All-Stars and hero to potheads everywhere, was also the most visible 1970s manifestation of Afrofuturism, a distinctly black and ultratechnological phenomenon. The symbol of Clinton's quixotic imagination was the mothership, an Apollo-inspired conical stage prop that blinked and strobed to its own beat during his shows. Now, what began as an outsider musical phenomenon will be enshrined at the Smithsonian, the Washington Post reports.
Clinton and his band of merrymakers could seem silly -- indeed, they invited silliness, reveled in it, wearing wildly improbable costumes on stage (Clinton's Afronaut uniform was bedsheets scribbled on with crayon) and just having more fun than seemed logical or possible. But beneath the wild chop of the show, there was a mythological depth to their gatherings. In his excellent book, Black Space, Cal-State University Northridge scholar Adilifu Nama found in Clinton an accessible version of "cosmic blackness" that used sci-fi imagery to present a mesmerizing vision of uplift and change. Nama quotes Ricky Vincent's distillation of Clinton's importance:
P-Funk's fantastic science fiction created a series of spectacular "other worlds" that Africans could inhabit freely, in which one could be loving, caring, sensual, psychedelic, and nasty without fear of cosmic retribution, and whites simply did not exist. The symbolic connections of P-Funk's concepts to one's earthly struggles for freedom were felt by many listeners, particularly black teenagers. Furthermore, the assertion of a black worldview that incorporates modern technology, the demographics of the seventies, and a black aesthetic was a profound theoretical breakthrough, despite the silliness. Such grand visions of black people were not found in black film, black literature, or black politics in the late 1970s.
For those familiar with the easy-to-parody George Clinton of the last few years, it's easy to miss that his particular vision of black science fiction had a fantastical power. Unmoored from anything everyday, the P-Funk galaxy was an escape, but given the deteriorating state of many black neighborhoods during the 1970s, the value of escape should not be overlooked. And lurking inside the vision of flying away to some better world was the idea that you could come back to transform this world with your bop gun, and what not.