In Maryland, George Clinton, Parliament-Funkadelic and a missing Mothership
Monday, April 12, 2010
This is a story about a UFO.
Not just any UFO. The Mothership.
It might be the most awe-inspiring stage prop in the history of American music and it belonged to funk legends Parliament-Funkadelic. Since the Mothership vanished in Prince George's County in 1982, rumors of its whereabouts have mutated into local lore: It burned in a fire. It was disassembled. It was stolen. Scrapped. Kidnapped. Thrown in the woods. Chained to a truck by a drug dealer and dragged to funk-knows-where. The band's most devoted followers say it flew off into space.
This is a story about trying to find it.
In concert, the Mothership was last spotted in Detroit in 1981, belching dry ice fumes and flashing kaleidoscopic light. An aluminum flying saucer, it was about 20 feet in diameter and decked out with dazzling lights. Below it stood a band of otherworldly eccentrics celebrating the hard-won freedoms of the civil rights movement in a freaky, fantastical display.
Darryll Brooks remembers the last time he saw the Mothership. It wasn't in Detroit. It was in a junkyard in Seat Pleasant. Brooks last saw it there because Brooks is the guy who threw the Mothership away.
It was the spring of 1982 and Parliament-Funkadelic frontman George Clinton and his bandmates were battling debt, drug addiction and each other. Brooks, who ran the group's Washington-based tour production company, says the only way he could pay the band's debts was to pawn its gear. With no place to store a spacecraft, he dumped the Mothership in a junkyard behind a Shell station on Martin Luther King Jr. Highway. But 28 years later, its final resting place remains a mystery.
Here's where it isn't: In that Seat Pleasant junkyard.
Here's where it might be: Sleeping peacefully beneath a quilt of P.G. County kudzu.
Ask Seat Pleasant residents about a missing UFO and you'll get puzzled looks and a few laughs. Tromp through the neighboring woods and you'll cut your hands on the thorny bramble. You'll also find abandoned tires, mattresses, vacuum cleaners -- but no spaceships.
Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist Garry Shider resides in Upper Marlboro, not too far from where the ship disappeared. Maybe he knows where to find it.
"Aw man," Shider says. "You ain't gonna find the Mothership."