• Jerry L. Burrell

Dr. Funkenstein

Updated: Feb 14, 2019


“Are you sure he was in Algebra?”

The Hill Jr. High school counselor asked, as she was reading the transfer papers my previous school provided.

My Mom asked me if the schedule the counselor was looking at was indeed my class schedule from Morey Jr. High where I was transferring from.

“Yep!”

I said and began imagining myself wearing a diaper, platform shoes and playing a guitar on stage next to Bootsy Collins.


They don’t give out certificates for good behavior or safety patrol or Knife & Fork club in Jr. high school so I had to find other ways to be validated. Getting love and attention for straight A’s in 6th grade made me even more committed to excelling in school. I knew I was going to go to college and even though I had no idea how at the time, I knew being a good student was part of the process.


The counselor continued,

“It’s just that here at Hill Jr. High, Algebra in the 8th grade is usually for advanced students.”

and then she caught herself.


Her judgment of me after less than 2 minutes of meeting me didn’t matter that much. I had begun to get used to being underestimated, looked down on and otherwise not belonging. I knew I was not ordinary but embracing that as a jr. high school student is not very easy to do. Jr. high has a way of making you want to belong and in Jr. high that sometimes means being ordinary and fitting in.


I did my best.


I wanted to be liked. To be cool. To be a part of a clique but it seemed that no matter what, I always felt the need to pretend I was this or that in order to fit in.

What I really wanted to be was a member of Parliament/Funkadelic (P/F) and get funked up on the Mothership with George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and Bernie Worrell.

Dr. Funkenstein descending from the Mothership


It was powerful for me to witness the unapologetic rejection of the ordinary that P/F displayed in their music, their shows, their album covers and their interviews. They wore outlandish costumes and it was not unusual for one of them to just be on stage in a diaper and platform shoes.


P/F created a world I wanted to live in and it was at times like that meeting with the school counselor that I would enter this world. In her world, I was ordinary and couldn’t keep up with the advanced students.


In the world P/F helped me create, anything was possible. With a slide in my glide and a dip in my hip I could hustle on board the MATHership. (see what I did there?)


How in the world could this counselor compete with that.


George Clinton and his funk crazed band mates created a world with characters like Sir Nose d’Voidoffunk, Star Child, RumpOfSteelSkin and Dr. Funkentein. The Mothership was a space ship where the best parties in the universe took place non-stop. This world resonated with me and inspired me to explore just what made me significant. Was it certificates, straight A’s, horse drawings or could it be something way out there beyond the event horizon that I just had not traveled far enough in my imagination to connect with.


As my chosen career, I wore costumes as a professional acrobatic entertainer for a decade and a half and with my teammates created a world where ordinary guys became Sports Super Heroes with names like FX, Eclipse, Ozone, C4, Reflex and DK. Their mission is to inspire young people to discover their true purpose and fulfill it.


The freestyle acrobatic dunk shows that we've created over the years reject the ordinary. They are spectacles. I constantly seek ways to do what has never been done before in our industry in the same way that P/F constantly broke new ground and inspired a generation.


I am convinced that those places you sought significance while growing up, have a way of influencing your life’s work in really almost magical ways.


It’s not lost on me that one of P/F’s most successful songs “Flashlight” ends with the chant “Everybody’s got a little light under the sun!” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6F7xbF7OnxU)


What a dope and encouraging way to remind a kid like me that regardless of what an 8th grade counselor thinks of me, I got my own light and I better let it shine.

I believed that then and I believe that now.


Thanks George Clinton!

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