Mothership North: Tracing Parliament-Funkadelic’s Canadian Years, 1971-73

Don’t Miss the CBC Radio Documentary Funk Getting Ready to Roll, airing Sunday August 12.

Well, this CBC radio documentary sure hits the nail on the head. Both a fascinating story about the creative process behind Funkadelic’s wild 1972 double album America Eats Its Young and a terrific study of Toronto’s role in fostering this creativity, Canadian journalist David Dacks’ lovingly-compiled documentary makes for some great listening.

By 1971, Toronto had emerged as a standard destination for recording artists, big and small, as they toured the northeast. With its budding population (it would soon overtake Montreal as the largest city in Canada) and recent history as a kind of Haight-Ashbury North -- the Yorkville and Yonge Street hip music scenes had produced a raft of '60s-era talent, including such megastars as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Steppenwolf, Gordon Lightfoot, and the Band -- Toronto had a certain allure. There was a ripping party scene, too; but more importantly there was a large and committed audience of music lovers with ears to the ground.

As has been pointed out by many chroniclers of the history of Canadian music, though the domestic industry tended to eat its young, forcing local musicians to split for the United States if they wanted to break onto the charts, there was still a remarkably vibrant community of musicians who found the starving artist’s life in the Big Smoke to be preferable to struggling down south. Toronto, then, was a kind of incubator of talent.

The basic history of most of the major artists to spend time in the Toronto scene has been written (and, in some cases, explored extensively in biographies and autobiographies), but somehow the tale of George Clinton’s extraordinary collective and their time in the city has been mostly forgotten. “Toronto, oddly enough, was a hotbed of R&B interests at that time”, explains Rob Bowman, musicologist at York University, a fact that today surprises many. Indeed, it was such a hotbed that, when Geogre Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic needed a change of scene after years of heavy psychedelic drug use, and the end of a long, blistering decade of social (especially racial) turmoil in the United States, Toronto’s odd hotbed seemed to fit the bill. It didn’t hurt that they had found new management based in the city, and their previous home base of Detroit had just had its heart ripped out when Barry Gordy moved Motown Studios to Los Angeles. All told, about a dozen members of the P-Funk collective moved to Toronto in 1971. And they weren’t alone -- between the tens of thousands of draft resistors who’d been pouring into the city in recent years, there was a real community of Americans in early 1970s Toronto. “When we got up there”, recalls Clinton, “we found so many of our friends who had already moved there!”

But as fun as it is to hear tales of Toronto the Good (its longtime nickname, a derisive dig at the city’s pre-1960s no-vice reputation) and the way it inspired the Mothership metaphor, the real joy here is learning about the development of America Eats Its Young. A messy, stylistic gumbo of a double LP, AEIY holds a special place in the hearts of many P-Funk fanatics the world over. Here is the definitive story of its development. A Joyful Process, indeed.

Check out a clip from the upcoming special here. Funk Getting Ready to Roll airs on Sunday, August 12, 3 PM EST on CBC Radio 2, and 9PM EST on CBC Radio 1 / Sirius Satellite 159.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.