David A. Martinelli
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Sun Ra's Background, Overview of Stylistic Traits, and Important Arkestra Members
Chapter 3: The Cosmic-Myth Equations of Sun Ra
Chapter 4: Musical Manifestations of Sun Ra's Equations
Chapter 1: Introduction
Sun Ra is a composer, bandleader, and multi-keyboardist who has led his own big band, called the Arkestra, for nearly 35 years. Sun Ra is of African-American descent, born in Alabama, and has since lived in Chicago and New York, and is currently based in Philadelphia. Sun Ra and the Arkestra have released over one hundred records, both on small and medium-sized jazz labels as well as on Sun Ra's own label, Saturn. The music they play covers a very wide spectrum, but they are mainly associated with the jazz or improvised music idiom. Sun Ra has developed a complex, multi-leveled philosophy1, which incorporates many different elements (for example, ancient Egyptian concepts and outer space imagery), yet when looked on as a whole reveals an underlying unity of purpose.
The purpose of this study is to look into this philosophy and to see how it has influenced specific musical elements. The bulk of this study will consist of an investigation of Sun Ra's beliefs. The main sources will be a number of interviews he has given in the past, and these will be amplified by his poetry and certain works by other authors dealing with similar or related topics. This analysis will look at the various themes that run through his philosophy and will show how these themes are interrelated. The next section will show how some of these themes are manifested in specific musical phenomena. It is not the purpose of this study to link every theme with a specific musical trait; rather, the focus will be on the important, general themes. The musical elements to be investigated are song titles, lyrics, records, instruments, repertoire, performance practices, and specific pieces. Through this analysis I hope to show that underlying the vast scope of philosophical concepts and musical elements is a consistent unity of purpose.
There are several precedents in the ethnomusicological literature for this type of study. Most focus on how particular cultural attitudes or world-views are manifested in musical forms. This type of study finds it most extreme expression in Alan Lomax's Cantometrics, where individual cultural attitudes, along with other determining factors, have one-to-one correspondences with particular musical traits, and that furthermore these are applicable on a world-wide basis (Lomax 1976). Others since then have focused on less all-encompassing goals. Steven Feld, for example, has shown how specific Kaluli metaphors concerning nature and sound are expressed in their music (Feld 1984). A similar approach was taken by Marina Roseman in her study of the Temiar of Malaysia (Roseman 1984). Both Feld and Roseman viewed this type of study as a basis for cross-cultural comparison. A similar approach was taken by Judith and Alton Becker, who showed how Javanese conceptions of time manifested themselves in a cyclic musical form (Becker and Becker 1981). Paul Humphreys' study of Pueblo cosmology and its relation to music falls along similar lines (Humphreys 1989), while Jane Sugarman's study of Prespa Albanians shows how conceptions of gender roles are manifested in musical performances (Sugarman 1989).
All of the above studies are concerned with cultural conceptions. Tim Rice has written that the role of individual creativity and experience in cultural expressions of music is an important area of focus that has often been overlooked (Rice 1987). Two studies that look into individual conceptions of music are James Porter's investigation of the role epistemics (individual conceptions concerning a piece of music) plays in musical change (Porter 1988), while Colin Quigley's dissertation on fiddler Emile Benoit seeks to show how the values held by a particular musician relate to musical creativity and composition (Quigley 1987).
This study is different from the ones cited above in that it seeks to examine a unique and comprehensive philosophy of life and existence that is held by a musician who, though concerned with his own people, feels himself as apart from humanity. This philosophy will then be related not just to musical sounds or forms, but to many other musical aspects. In fact, musical analysis will comprise only a small portion of this study.
This study will organize and clarify some of Sun Ra's concepts, and try to demonstrate how they express a unity of purpose. This does not mean that there will be an explanation for everything, or that this interpretation is the only reasonable one. At times this study may resemble the "open text" described by Clifford, subject to many reinterpretations (Clifford 1988: 46). Though Sun Ra's statements can be taken as "objective data", the inter-pretation of these may at times appear overly subjective. However, Chernoff has written that "Ethnomusicologists must recognize and go beyond the limitations of what has previously been considered objective social data" (Chernoff 1989: 73), and I believe all my interpretations are relevant to the topic at hand.
One thing this study will not attempt to do is to see Sun Ra as some type of personification of particular socio-cultural conditions or constraints. This study will not be concerned with social science. The focus of this study will be on the creative art form of music and the views expressed by one of its most unique creators.
There is a great deal of literature available on Sun Ra and his music. Although there currently is no biography, autobiography, or critical study of Sun Ra in existence, a number of books dealing with jazz and modern improvised music contain information on Sun Ra. Valerie Wilmer's As Serious As Your Life and John Litweiler's The Freedom Principle both have sections dealing with aspects of Sun Ra and his music. While both contain biographical information, Wilmer focuses more on Sun Ra's beliefs and the social situation of his group while Litweiler is centered more on musical analysis or interpretation. Ekkehard Jost's Free Jazz also contains a chapter on Sun Ra, focusing primarily on methods of analyzing Sun Ra's music from the 1950s to 1970s. LeRoi Jones' Black Music and Graham Lock's Forces in Motion both interpret Sun Ra in a wider sociocultural context. Jones, writing in the sixties, analyzes Sun Ra's relationship to the wider area of African-American musical aesthetics, as does Lock, who in addition offers some suggestions regarding the sources of certain aspects of Sun Ra's beliefs. Both also recognize the importance of Sun Ra's spiritual beliefs and proclamations. (Lock's book deals primarily with composer, performer, and conceptualist Anthony Braxton; it is subtitled The Music and Thoughts of Anthony Braxton. Lock's chapters on Sun Ra serve as a prelude to the main topic of his book). In addition, Barry McRae has written an essay on Sun Ra that has appeared in Jazz Journal consisting primarily of biographical information and stylistic analysis. Frank Kofsky's Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music deals primarily with African-American political movements of the 1960s and how they influenced the music of such artists as John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and Cecil Taylor. Kofsky also deals at length with critical reactions to this new music and its attendant political stance. Another important source of information on Sun Ra is C. O. Simpkins' Coltrane: A Biography. Although Simpkins deals briefly with Sun Ra's association with John Coltrane, he includes in his book a reproduction of one of Sun Ra's "Solaristic Precepts", a document that sheds much light on certain aspects of Sun Ra's beliefs.
Record (or CD) liner notes can sometimes include critical essays that contain important information or perspectives on the artists or performers involved. For this study, the following liner notes have been used as sources:
Joachim E. Berendt: It's After the End of the World
Dario Salvatori: New Steps
Victor Schonfield: Pictures of Infinity
W. Royal Stokes: Hours After.
Stokes and Schonfield are mainly useful because they include quotes from Sun Ra, while Berendt and Salvatori are more theoretical essays dealing with aspects of Sun Ra's aesthetics and performance practices.
The main sources of material on Sun Ra's beliefs are the numerous interviews with him that have been published in a variety of periodicals and books. Robert Rusch's Jazztalk and Len Lyons' The Great Jazz Pianists are two books that contain interviews with Sun Ra. Most of the interviews with Sun Ra have been published in music periodicals geared toward a more general audience. These include mainstream publications such as Downbeat, Melody Maker, Musician (aka Musician Player and Listener), and Rolling Stone, and "underground" publications such as Option, Butt Rag, and Reality Hackers.2 Keyboard magazine has published an interview by Len Lyons that is for the most part identical with the one in The Great Jazz Pianists, and has also published a very brief article by Bob Doerschuk.
There is also an hour-long documentary film on Sun Ra and the Arkestra by Robert Mugge called A Joyful Noise. This film contains performance footage and interviews with Sun Ra and Arkestra members John Gilmore, James Jackson, Danny Thompson, and Elo Omoe. It also includes rehearsal footage, a glimpse of the Arkestra's communal home, and one scene in Pharoah's Den, a local store run by Danny Thompson.
Sun Ra's poetry often amplifies or expands upon the philosophical statements made in interviews. His poems can be found on record jackets, and have also been published in a collection called The Immeasurable Equation. For this study I will use two versions of The Immeasurable Equation, both with the same date and publishing information but with different contents. There is also a pamphlet entitled Sun Ra that contains extracts from interviews, some of which are the same as the ones cited above and some which are not (none of the extracts in this pamphlet have citations). This pamphlet and one of the versions of The Immeasurable Equation were obtained at a Sun Ra performance.
Sometimes interviews with Sun Ra's musicians can provide various kinds of helpful information. Tam Fiofori has written a series of brief profiles of long-time Arkestra members Marshall Allen and Pat Patrick. There are also two longer interviews with John Gilmore by John Diliberto and Valerie Wilmer.
There are a number of sources that I will use in analyzing some of the possible roots of Sun Ra's beliefs. As stated in my methodology, this list is necessarily selective in that it would require considerable amounts of time and research to become fully acquainted with the number of ideas that Sun Ra has been influenced or inspired by in his lifetime. However, I believe that each of these sources is relevant to this topic, either as a possible influence on Sun Ra, or in helping to elaborate some of his ideas.
Since the literature on ancient Egyptian civilization and beliefs is vast, I will rely on two representative works by E. A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead and Gods of the Egyptians, Volume 1, that focus on some of the more basic aspects of Egyptian beliefs. I will also rely on George G. M. James' Stolen Legacy, a pioneering work linking Greek philosophy to ancient Egyptian beliefs, and a book which is also mentioned by Lock (1988: 20-21fn) as a possible direct influence on Sun Ra. Another extremely helpful work is Manly P. Hall's The Secret Teachings of All Ages, which is subtitled An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic, and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy, Being an Interpretation of the Secret Teachings Concealed within the Rituals, Allegories, and Mysteries of All Ages. The title accurately sums up the nature of this work. For this study, I will mainly use Hall's chapters on the Pyramids, the Sun, Pythagorean theories of music, and aspects of Christianity. Unfortunately, time and space constraints preclude an analysis of Sun Ra's beliefs as compared to Rosicrucian, Alchemical, Qabbalistic, and Masonic teachings.
Another figure whose works will be used to shed light on aspects of Sun Ra's beliefs is the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad has written on a number of topics that are relevant to the study of Sun Ra. Muhammad's books Message to the Blackman in America and The Fall of America both address a variety of topics, while The Flag of Islam explains the symbolism of the Nation of Islam's flag.
Further sources that are of help in interpreting various aspects of Sun Ra's beliefs are Mustafa El-Amin's Al-Islam, Christianity, and Freemasonry and Freemasonry, Ancient Egypt, and the Islamic Destiny and Carl Jung's Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky. Finally, scriptural perspectives will be provided by the Holy Bible, King James Version, and the Holy Qur'an, the version translated and annotated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, which in addition to commentary and footnotes also has a number of Appendices on topics relevant to this study.
Chapter 2: Sun Ra's Background, Overview of Stylistic Traits, and Important Arkestra Members
Sun Ra's Background
Sun Ra's biographical background is somewhat difficult to put together. Some of the information presented here is more a result of consensus opinions than absolute fact. The following account has been compiled from most of the interviews and essays on Sun Ra used for this study. The best basic biographical sketch, however, can be found in Wilmer 1977: 75, 81-92. Sun Ra's exact date of birth is unknown. The year of his birth has been estimated to be as early as 1910 and as late as 1928, but the consensus among most writers is somewhere around 1914 or 1915. The month and day are unknown, but his astrological sign is Gemini. Sun Ra was born (his term is "arrived") in Birmingham, Alabama, and his given name was Herman Blount. (This is another consensus opinion. Sun Ra has denied that his name was Blount--see Chapter 3). His first instrument was a kazoo or blowing through a comb, which he did at around age six (Rusch 1984: 64). He also learned music from a friend of the family named William Gray, who was a violinist, and by borrowing his sister's music books (she was taking piano lessons). Sun Ra was able to read music without any training (Lyons 1978: 16); however, he later acquired more formal music training. At this time, he was listening to his parents' records, which included such artists as Fletcher Henderson, Bessie Smith, and Duke Ellington. In high school, he was a member of several bands, including one led by Fess Whatley, and he also led his own bands. Some of these bands went on tours, and performed in areas such as Chicago, the East Coast, and the South.
He continued his education at Alabama A & M, a black college, where he majored in music education and teacher's training. He left the South in the late 1930s, spending time in Gary, Indiana and in Washington D. C., where he had private music instruction from Willa (or Lula) Randolph. At the end of the 1930s, he moved to Chicago, where he began his professional career and which was his base of operations for a long period of time.
In Chicago he played in a wide variety of blues, rhythm and blues, entertainment, and jazz bands. He also spent a period of time prior to 1946 in Nashville, performing with rhythm and blues artist Wynonie Harris. In 1946 he began one of his most important musical associations: arranging and playing piano for the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra at the Club deLisa. This lasted for a year. Although some of the musicians had difficulty with his arrangements, Henderson always supported him. This engagement was very influential in determining Sun Ra's later musical standards, such as discipline and orchestration, and he has always cited Fletcher Henderson as one of the true creators in the world of jazz.
In 1948, he performed informally with a trio consisting of Coleman Hawkins and violinist Stuff Smith. In this year he also made his recording debut with Eugene Wright and His Dukes of Swing, with a group that also included Yusef Lateef. Other activities in Chicago included playing with the Red Saunders band at the Club deLisa, and engagements at the Grand Terrace Club. In the early 1950s he led a nationalist group and began printing and distributing his own pamphlets.
In 1953 he was leading a trio with bassist Richard Evans and drummer Robert Barry at Shepps Playhouse and backing up a variety of different performers at the Club deLisa. Sun Ra's trio was joined by tenor saxophonist John Gilmore, who has played with Sun Ra almost continuously ever since. By the mid-1950s, this band had expanded into an eight-piece, which became known as the Myth-Science Arkestra, and they began playing in Chicago's Birdland and at the Roberts Lounge. In 1956 this band made its first recording for Transition Records, called Jazz by Sun Ra Vol. 1. (Jazz by Sun Ra Vol. 2 was recorded, but Transition soon went out of business. These two records were re-released by Delmark Records as Sun Song and Sound of Joy, respectively). At this time Sun Ra was also involved in recording his own music, and started his own label, Saturn Records. Since then he has recorded for both Saturn and a number of other record companies. Also in the late 1950s, Sun Ra and the Arkestra appeared in a film called The Cry of Jazz.
In 1961 the band left Chicago and went to work in Montreal. After this, the band moved to New York, which became its second major base of operations. Their first major engagement was at the Playhouse in Greenwich Village, where at one time a young Pharoah Sanders temporarily replaced Gilmore. Sun Ra also joined the Jazz Composers' Guild in the early sixties, which was a musicians' self-help and self-promotional group that also included Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, and Paul Bley. In 1964, Sun Ra and the Arkestra performed at the October Revolution in Jazz, which was a landmark series of concerts organized by Bill Dixon that showcased many new performers of the New Music (aka Avant-Garde or Free Jazz) as well as being an example of a self-run, self-promoted event. However, Sun Ra left the Jazz Composer's Guild soon after this.
In 1966, the band began its legendary Monday night engagement at Slug's . This lasted until 1972. In the late sixties, the band moved its base of operations to Philadelphia, where it has remained ever since. In 1971 the band performed in Egypt for the first time, and also during this period Sun Ra was an artist-in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1978 Sun Ra and the Arkestra made their first nationwide television appearance in the United States on NBC's Saturday Night Live. Ever since the early 1970s, Sun Ra and the Arkestra have maintained a fairly consistent touring and recording schedule, including many appearances in Europe at a variety of jazz festivals. As of this writing, Sun Ra and the Arkestra continue to tour and perform regularly in spite of a stroke that Sun Ra suffered in 1989.
When speaking of the stylistic development of Sun Ra's music, it is important to remember that Sun Ra and the Arkestra have always played a wide variety of music at any given time in their career. It is possible, however, to outline certain stylistic trends or emphases in certain periods of their career. Caution must be taken in making any assumptions, however, due to the lack of availability of most of Sun Ra's recordings and the inconsistent standards of documentation of those that are available.
Sun Ra's music of the 1950s presents a unique big-band conception. In his earliest recordings, Sun Ra employed such innovations as the use of electric keyboards, electric bass, two baritone saxophones, and tympani. His first electric keyboards were the Hammond organ and Wurlitzer electric piano; in subsequent years Sun Ra has used a huge variety of electric keyboard instruments. The music of this period is characterized by catchy, unique themes, pieces based both on chord changes (including several blues) and modes, and the incorporation of tympani solos. The horn and piano solos are for the most part in a conventional bop style. Exceptions to this are the unconventional mood pieces such as "Sun Song", which features a continuous bass and tympani ostinato and an organ improvisation by Sun Ra that is more concerned with sounds and textures than melodic development.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, percussion began to play a more important role in Sun Ra's music. Many of the pieces on The Nubians of Plutonia (1959) contain long, multiple-percussion solos. Percussion also plays an important role in the piece "The Beginning" from The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (1961). This latter record also features another innovation: simultaneous horn solos that move away from tonal bases.
In the early 1960s Sun Ra's music began to move farther away from any previous style of big band music. Atlantis features one of Sun Ra's earliest and longest unaccompanied organ improvisations, which deals mainly with moods, sounds, and textures. The recording The Magic City, from 1961, contains several pieces that are completely athematic and deal entirely with textures and different kind of sound combinations. This direction was continued on the 1965 recordings called The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vols. 1 and 2. In this period all of the musicians began to explore the complete range of sound possibilities on their instruments (or voices). Outstanding in this regard is the reed work of John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, Pat Patrick, and Danny Davis, the bass work of Ronnie Boykins, and the various keyboard explorations by Sun Ra. Other recordings from this period, such as Bad and Beautiful and Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow recall the earlier 1950s sound of the band.
In the late 1960s Sun Ra and the Arkestra entered what is called their "Intergalactic" phase. Performances in this period incorporated dancers, films, and light shows. Sun Ra began using a Moog synthesizer, which became an important sound element of the Arkestra. Some of Sun Ra's best synthesizer playing can be heard on the live recordings It's After the End of the World and Live in Paris 1970 and on the studio recordings called The Solar-Myth Approach Vols. 1 and 2. These latter recordings are among the best in Sun Ra's career, and each contains a wide variety of music, from the innovative forms and orchestrations of "Legend", "Spectrum", and "Strange Worlds" to the short, folk-like pieces such as "Outer Spaceways Incorporated" and "Pyramids".
Sun Ra's music of the early and mid-1970s continued in this vein. In 1972, another important recording was released, called Space is the Place. The title piece from this record has become Sun Ra's theme song, and can be heard at nearly every performance, usually as part of a medley. This record contains the original version, which is over twenty minutes long.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Sun Ra began what some have called his "revivalist" phase, incorporating many songs by earlier jazz artists into the Arkestra's repertoire. Some of these include Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train", Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp", and Horace Henderson's (Fletcher's brother) "Yeah Man!" Also included were a number of popular standards such as "Over the Rainbow", "Cocktails for Two", and "Yesterdays". Currently, Sun Ra's recordings and performances can draw on any or all of the above-mentioned styles, and surprises are always possible, such as when in 1989 they did a tour where the first set of each performance was devoted to the music associated with Walt Disney's films.
Sun Ra's Musicians
Many musicians have played in the Sun Ra Arkestra. Some have stayed for relatively short periods, while others have remained with the group for decades. The list given here includes many of Sun Ra's most important and long-serving sidemen, as well as other musicians who have gone on to (artistically) productive careers. Biographical sketches of some of these musicians can be found in Valerie Wilmer's As Serious As Your Life. Some of the dates of tenure listed below are taken from personnel listings on recordings, so they may only be partially accurate. Other biographical information can be found in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.
John Gilmore: 1956-current
Gilmore's main instrument is tenor saxophone, on which he is an excellent soloist. In addition he has played clarinet, bass clarinet, drums, and timbales, and has sung lead vocals. He has also performed with Andrew Hill, Art Blakey, Clifford Jordan, and Paul Bley.
Marshall Allen: 1957-current
Allen joined the Arkestra shortly after it was formed, and has stayed ever since. His main instrument is alto saxophone, on which he is a master of so-called "outside" techniques (overblowing, extreme registers, false fingerings, and tone quality manipulation). He also plays flute, oboe, and kora. Two of his specialties are the ballads "Prelude to a Kiss" and "Cocktails for Two".
Pat Patrick: 1956-current, intermittently
Patrick plays a variety of reed instruments. His two main instruments are alto and baritone saxophone. He has also played electric bass. In addition to playing with Sun Ra, he has played with Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Mongo Santamaria. He also composed the hit song "Yeh-Yeh", and was a member of the reed section for John Coltrane's Africa/Brass sessions.
James Jackson: 1960-current
Jackson plays bassoon, flute, and the Ancient Egyptian Infinity Drum, which he built himself. He has also sung lead vocals on "Mack the Knife" (on the record Live at Praxis '84, Vol. 2).
Danny Thompson: 1960-current
Thompson's main instruments are baritone sax and flute. He also runs a store in the Arkestra's neighborhood called Pharoah's Den and is in charge of the business end of El Saturn records.
Elo Omo: 1972-mid 1980s
Omo's main instrument is bass clarinet. He has also played alto sax, flute, and contra-alto clarinet.
Danny Davis: 1960-late 1970s
Davis' main instrument is the alto sax. He was an important soloist in the Arkestra.
Michael Ray: 1978-current
Ray is a trumpeter and lead vocalist. His stage presence is very energetic; during one performance, he unexpectedly leapt out into the audience during one of his trumpet solos.
June Tyson: ca. late 1960s-current
Tyson is the Arkestra's main vocalist. Her distinctive sound can be heard on "Space is the Place" and "Astro-Black". She is also a dancer and violinist.
Leroy Taylor: 1970-current, intermittently
Taylor is a multi-reedist, performing on bass clarinet, contra-alto clarinet, alto sax, oboe, and a bassoon fitted with a trumpet mouthpiece.
Ronnie Boykins: 1957-early 1970s
Boykins was one of the most important Arkestra members, and a very innovative bassist. He has also recorded with Archie Shepp, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Steve Lacy. He died in 1980.
Julian Priester: 1956-1957, current
Priester is a well-known trombonist. In addition to Sun Ra, he has played with Booker Little, Max Roach, Herbie Hancock, and David Holland. He left the Arkestra in the late 1950s, but has reappeared on their most recent recordings.
Ahmed Abdullah: late 1970s, current
Abdullah is a trumpeter. In addition to his work with Sun Ra, he has led his own recording dates. Although he left the Arkestra for a long period, like Priester he has reappeared on their recent recordings.
Vincent Chancey: late 1970s-early 1980s
Chancey is a French horn player. He has since performed with David Murray and Muhal Richard Abrams.
Craig Harris: late 1970s-early 1980s
Harris is a trombonist. He has also performed with David Murray, Henry Threadgill, and Muhal Richard Abrams, and has led a number of his own recording dates.
Clifford Jarvis: 1960s-mid 1970s
Clifford Jarvis is the drummer who has played with the Arkestra for the longest period. He has also recorded with Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, Yusef Lateef, and Randy Weston.
James Spaulding: late 1950s, current
Spaulding is an alto saxophonist and flutist. He played on some of the Arkestra's earliest recordings, and has reappeared on their most recent ones. He has also recorded with Pharoah Sanders and Freddie Hubbard and has led a number of his own recording dates.
John Ore: mid 1960s, current
Ore is a bassist who is perhaps best known for playing with Thelonious Monk in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Ore played with the Arkestra in the mid-1960s, and has reappeared on their most recent recordings. He has also recorded with Lester Young and Earl Hines.
Chapter Three: The Cosmic-Myth Equations of Sun Ra
There are many different facets of Sun Ra's beliefs that can be discerned by examining the statements he has made over the years. In separating these aspects to be discussed individually, it is important to remember that each of these elements are not discrete, but are related to many of the other elements of his beliefs. This will hopefully be demonstrated in the following analysis. It is important to remember that some aspects of Sun Ra's beliefs will be relatively easy to grasp, while others will present more difficulty. What I hope to demonstrate by this study is that despite the fact that Sun Ra's belief system is essentially his own creation, touching on a number of different concerns, it is not a random, thoughtless assortment of varying ideas drawn from far-flung sources and articulated for the purpose of mystifying those who try to understand it. Rather, Sun Ra is concerned with fundamental issues affecting the human body, mind, and spirit, and this is the consistent thread that runs through most of his statements. Clifford has written:
Twentieth-century identities no longer presuppose continuous cultures or traditions. Everywhere individuals and groups improvise local performances from (re)collected pasts, drawing on foreign media, symbols, and languages. This existence among fragments has often been portrayed as a process of ruin and cultural decay (Clifford 1988: 14).
Sun Ra can be thought of as one of these twentieth-century identities, yet it is clear that he does not view himself or his music as a harbinger of cultural decay, but rather he sees his mission as the enlightenment and betterment of all humanity.
The first point that needs to be clarified is exactly what to call Sun Ra's beliefs. I have used the term "beliefs" up to now because it seems that this word is relatively neutral and uncommitted (as opposed to "religious beliefs" or "convictions"). Yet because of this, this term also seems inappropriate in discussing something that is neither neutral nor uncommitted. There are several other terms that may be applicable that come to mind: "world-view", "philosophy", "ideology", "religion", and "ethos" for example. Each of these terms could be applied with some degree of accuracy, yet all are lacking for various reasons. Geertz has clarified the terms "ethos" and "world-view" in the following passage:
the moral (and aesthetic) aspects of a given culture, the evaluative elements, have commonly been summed up in the term "ethos", while the cognitive, existential aspects have been designated by the term "world view". A people's ethos is the tone, character, and quality of their life, its moral and aesthetic style and mood; it is the underlying attitude toward themselves and their world that life reflects. Their world view is their picture of the way things in sheer actuality are, their concept of nature, of self, of society. It contains their most comprehensive ideas of order (Geertz 1973: 126-127).
The meaning of "ideology" is more difficult to assess. Geertz recounts the negative connotations of this term as stated by Werner Stark: ideology is "psychologically 'deformed' ('warped', 'contaminated', 'falsified', 'distorted', 'clouded') by the pressure of personal emotions like hate, desire, anxiety, or fear" (ibid.: 196-197). Geertz, however, assigns ideology a more positive function:
ideology names the structure of situations in such a way that the attitude contained toward them is one of commitment. Its style is ornate, vivid, deliberately suggestive; by objectifying moral sentiment through the same devices that science shuns, it seeks to motivate action (ibid.: 231).
Returning to the term "ethos", Jung provides a definition from his own unique perspective:
An ethos. . . is a difficult thing that cannot be formulated and codified; it is one of those creative irrationalities upon which any true progress is based. It demands the whole man and not just a differentiated function (Jung 1959: 62).
The word "philosophy" has been used more than any other to describe Sun Ra's beliefs. It seems to be the easiest one to apply, as it is a general, all-encompassing term. Manly P. Hall has even described it as something that
reveals to man his kinship with the All. It shows him that he is a brother to the suns which dot the firmament; it lifts him from a taxpayer on a whirling atom to a citizen of Cosmos (Hall 1952: CCIV).
When examining Sun Ra's beliefs, it becomes apparent that they contain elements of all of the above. Like ethos, they clearly have their own tone and character and they are certainly a creative product that to many people appears, if not irrational, at least inscrutable. They also take into account Sun Ra's view of the world, humanity, and himself, and so qualify as a world-view. They are ideological in that they have a clear goal and are usually articulated in ways that can easily be described as "ornate" or "vivid". And Sun Ra's beliefs include goals that clearly coincide with those of Hall's philosophy and even employ the same kind of outer space imagery.
However, Sun Ra has his own term for what could be called his ethos, world-view, ideology, or philosophy. This term is "equations". Sun Ra has made it clear that he is not dealing with philosophy. He has said "People ask me about my philosophy all the time, but it's not a philosophy, it's an equation" (Macnie 1987: 60). When asked "Has this sort of philosophy been with you ever since the beginning, ever since the (Fletcher) Henderson band?", Sun Ra responded
Philosophy is conjecture. I'm dealing with equations. That's different from philosophy. Philosophy is something like religion, it's a theory. It could be true or not true. But I'm not dealing with theories, I'm dealing with equations (Corbett 1989: 25).
In fact, in one interview, Sun Ra listed philosophy as one of humanity's preoccupations that prevents them from achieving any contact with higher realms:
They're just concerned with eatin' and sleepin' and sex and dope and politics and religion and philosophy and they're not concerned with anything else (Primack 1978: 41).
In an earlier interview, when asked about his religion, Sun Ra responded "Actually it's not really a religion, but I guess it's the nearest word you'll come to it on the planet" (Townley 1973: 18). Although this doesn't seem like a very strong denunciation, it is apparent from the Primack and Corbett interviews where Sun Ra classified religion. Sun Ra is not a philosopher or a preacher; he characterizes himself as "a scientist, I deal with equations. You might say a spiritual scientist and also a cosmo musical scientist" (Rusch 1984: 66). Sun Ra's poem "A Blueprint/Declaration" describes the nature of these equations:
One part of an equation
Is a blueprint/declaration of the other part
Yet differentially not. . .
It is nothing
If it is all
Still there are different alls
The end is all
But all is everything
Yet if everything is all/the end
It denies the other side of the end
For some ends
Have many points leading to their respective selves
And there are/is each/their many points
Leading out from their
(Sun Ra 1985).
This poem describes his equations in a way that might not be immediately understandable. The first section describes a simple duality, which is then amplified into a more multi-leveled form in the second part of the poem. Many of Sun Ra's poems do not deal with concrete images, so readers perhaps must deal with the poems on another level of understanding. Sun Ra's poem "Cosmic Equation" describes the type of individual whom these equations are intended for:
Subtle living equations
Clear only to those
Whose wish is to be attuned
To the vibrations of the Outer Cosmic World
Subtle living equations
Of the outer realms
Dear only to those
Who wish fervently the greater life
(Sun Ra 1965).
Sun Ra has described some of the sources of his equations. When asked "When did you first start formulating your philosophy?" Sun Ra answered, "Well, I didn't formulate it" (Townley 1973: 18). In his poem "Cosmic Equation", he describes how he received these equations:
Then another tomorrow
They never told me of
Came with the abruptness of a fiery dawn
And spoke of Cosmic Equations
In another interview, he says that he ways taught his equations personally by a non-human being who taught him "all kinds of things about Jewish mysticism, Egyptian, everything." Sun Ra adds that the key to using and benefiting from this information is the ability to put it together and use it properly (Steingroot 1988: 50). In the film A Joyful Noise he says "I'm talking about equations that are in their books, books from way back in ancient Egypt and Greece and Rome" (Mugge 1980). In another interview he refers to a course he taught at the University of California:
The title of the course was somethin' like "The Black Man and the Cosmos". . .I always gave them books to refer them to see that side of the truth. Unknown books. I'm talking about equations, and I was talking about equations that the world has bypassed (Barber 1983: 31).
John Gilmore relates how he became acquainted with these equations (he uses the term "philosophy"):
It was a long time before I peeped where Sun Ra was at spiritually. . .I mean things like the Bible and hundreds and hundreds of books I've read because of being around Sun Ra (Sato 1987: 56).
Gilmore also provides a connection between Sun Ra and the Black Muslims:
At the time when I got introduced to his wisdom, he was printing his philosophy on these papers, a lot of which the Black Muslims embraced. They started putting it in their newspaper as their own thing (ibid.).
This is not the place to decide who influenced whom. Suffice to say, there are several correspondences between Sun Ra's equations and Elijah Muhammad's writings, and these will be explored later in this chapter.
Sun Ra has often spoken about himself, in terms of his nature and his mission on this planet. (The role that music plays in this mission will be discussed later in this chapter). Sun Ra's name is also a statement about himself, and it is a name with many implications. Graham Lock has pointed out that "Sun Ra" is a rejection of a slave name (Herman Blount), and is a name taken from "the Sun God of ancient Egypt, one of the first and greatest of human civilizations, and an African civilization, a black civilization" (Lock 1988: 20). Lock also says that such a renaming of one's self in this context has a distinct political implication as well, and mentions Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali in connection with this. Elijah Muhammad, the leader who inspired Malcolm Little and Cassius Clay to drop their slave names in the process of attaining a new self-awareness and self-esteem, has written on the importance of one's name:
All nations of the earth are recognized by the name by which they are called. By stating one's name, one is able to associate an entire order of a particular civilization simply by name alone. . .It is only when we come to America and learn the names that our people are now going by that we discover that a whole nation of 20,000,000 black people are going by the names of white people. . .My poor blind, deaf, and dumb people are going by the wrong names and until you accept the truth of your true identity and accept the names of your people and nation we will never be respected becauseof this alone. . .A good name is, indeed, better than gold (Muhammad 1965: 54-55).
The name "Sun Ra" can be divided into two parts, "Sun" and "Ra". Ra is the ancient Egyptian god of the sun, and his attributes will be discussed later in this chapter, on the section on ancient Egypt. The sun is a prominent symbol or deity in many myths and religious beliefs. Instead of attempting a comprehensive overview of sun-symbolism, I will focus on two interpretations of the sun, as outlined by Elijah Muhammad and Manly P. Hall.
The flag of the Nation of Islam consists of a star and crescent against a red background. According to Elijah Muhammad, the star represents justice, the crescent (or moon) represents equality, and the sun (the red back-ground) represents freedom. Muhammad writes:
The significance of the SUN in our Flag is its Freedom of light, warmth, heat and life and vitamins of life. Allah (God) uses the SUN to condemn slavery. . .The fact that we are offered the SUN in our flag means that Allah (God) is offering to us the entire universe of man. For as the SUN covers all life and the whole of the nine spheres of planets that represent life--the SUN acts as a father and God over life in its work of giving light and dispelling darkness (Muhammad1974: 4).
Manly P. Hall describes the sun as a symbol of the threefold nature of man. Hall writes that the ancient sages divided the sun into three parts:
the spiritual sun, the intellectual or soular sun, and the material sun. . .Man's nature was divided by the mystics into three distinct parts: spirit, soul, and body. His physical body was unfolded and vitalized by the material sun; his spiritual nature was illuminated by the spiritual sun; and his intellectual nature was redeemed by the true light of grace--the soular sun (Hall 1952: LI).
In addition, Hall notes that these three aspects, spiritual, soular, and material, correspond to the threefold nature of God as embodied by the Holy Trinity, relating to God the father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit respectively. Finally, when these three parts of the solar power in man are united, "they form the Divinity in man" (ibid.). This concept of Divinity in man has a parallel in ancient Egypt, and will be discussed later in this chapter.3
Sun Ra has often been asked about his name, both in terms of what it means and how he came up with it. Most sources give Sun Ra's birth name as Herman or Sonny Blount. In one interview, Sun Ra denies that his given name was Sonny Blount (or Sonny Lee, another name that has been attributed to him), stating that "They be sayin' my name is Sonny Blount but that's not true. . .I got another name, but it's a secret name" (Primack 1978: 15). In another interview, Sun Ra states that his name "Sun Ra" was given to him by the creator. In the same interview, he describes how he derived the name Sun Ra from his given name Herman:
You've got this name "Herman" right there, but in the French language, it's spelled "Armand". . .If you bring it down to "Arman" and turn it backward, you've got "name Ra". . .If you turn it back, you've got "namreh." Reh is an old name of "Ra" (Steingroot 1988: 50).
Sun Ra's great-grandfather was named Alexander, which is another source of the name "Sun Ra":
"Alexander", "Zand-Ra." See, you've got this "Ra" right there. That's the "Sun Ra" right there, the "Zun Ra" (ibid.).
Sun Ra further says that as Herman he was named after a magician named Black Herman. Magic is another important part of Sun Ra's equations, and will be discussed later in this chapter.
Asked to define what his name means, Sun Ra answered "It's a name that has something to do with cosmology, and something to do with a connection with other planets. . .continuation of humanity and continuation of the universe" (Fiofori 1972a). A slightly different answer to this question is given in a later interview, where he says "Sun Ra is not a person, it's a business name. . .and my business is changin' the planet" (Corbett 1989: 28).
Before detailing in more depth how Sun Ra characterizes his mission, it is necessary to look into how Sun Ra characterizes himself. Attali has written
Gesualdo and Bach do not reflect a single ideological system any more than John Cage or Tangerine Dream. They are, and remain, witnesses of the impossible imprisonment of the visionary by power, totalitarian or otherwise (Attali 1985: 18).
Sun Ra can be considered as a visionary in this regard, and he has found several ways of describing the sort of imprisonment he feels as well as ways out of this imprisonment. Sun Ra has said repeatedly that he is not of this earth, and in analyzing why he feels this way one can interpret this kind of statement both metaphorically and literally. One way Sun Ra has characterized himself is as a member of an Angel Race. Sun Ra has described the characteristics of the Angel Race as follows:
The Angel race is somethin' dealin' on a celestial plane. . .the Angel race, the celestial beings, can conceive of Earth beings and also directly communicate with othertypes of beings. . .celestial beings see that they can't bechained by so-called depravity. Angels like their minds and spirits to take wings. . .They're artistically inclined(Primack 1978: 41).
This sounds similar to Manly P. Hall's description of a true philosopher:
He whose mind is enslaved to his bestial instincts is philosophically not superior to the brute; he whose rational faculties ponder human affairs is a man; andhe whose intellect is elevated to the consideration ofdivine realities is already a demigod, for his being partakes of the luminosity with which his reason has brought him into proximity (Hall 1952: XIII).
Sun Ra has never stated that he is a god. In fact, he has said
I know I myself, would never want to be a god, or even like God, because God got all these human beings on this planet, and I most certainly wouldn't want to be responsible for, or even had the disgrace that I made them (Mugge 1980).
Sun Ra's views on humanity will be expanded upon later in this chapter. Regarding his birth, Sun Ra has said that "My home planet is Saturn" (Shore1980: 48) and that the specific day of his birth, or arrival on Earth is very controversial and therefore he doesn't want to talk about it:
I arrived on this planet on a very important day, it'sbeen pinpointed wisemen, astrologers as a very important date. I arrived at the exact moment a very controversial arrival, so that's the only reason I don't talk about it. . .it's the way the stars were set at thatmoment, in a position where a spiritual being can arrive right at that particular point (Rusch 1984: 65).
Sun Ra thus views himself as different, apart from humanity. Whereas Attali talks about musicians who are imprisoned by totalitarian power structures, Sun Ra feels that he is imprisoned by the human race and planet Earth, and that he is not free. He says "I see myself as P-H-R-E but not F-R-E-E. That's the name of the sun in ancient Egypt. I'm not really a person at all" (ibid.: 66) and "Some people are controlled by forces on other planets. I am, so I'm not really free" (Lyons 1983: 91). Sun Ra also views himself as a leader, and as such is restricted by the rules of humanity:
They talk about freedom. Can they give somebody freedom that's different? Can they tolerate other types of beings? They've got this government of the people, by the people and for the people. They didn't include me. I'm a leader, I'm not the people (Rusch 1984: 66).
Leaders are not included in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. . .so this government is one-sided, it's a government of the people, for the people, andby the people, and it has no place for leaders. That's the reason I don't consider myself as part of it, because it hasn't anything for me (Mugge 1980).
I'd be more delighted if they said the government of the leaders, for the leaders, and by the leaders of the people, by the people, for the people, of the creator, for the creator, and by the creator (Steingroot 1988: 50).
Sun Ra's talk of being a leader and an Angel can be taken as an egocentric view of himself versus humanity. However, note that Sun Ra has said that he is not free, but is controlled by forces from other planets. Also, long time Arkestra member James Jackson has commented on the characteristics of a good leader as follows:
The one that made the best leader was the one that did the most outlandish thing or the thing that was not normal, or the thing that wasn't common. They went to new frontiers, or they did something that no one else thought to do. . .Sun Ra is, to me, a natural leader (Mugge 1980).
Sun Ra's poems "Of Kindred Folks" and "The Differences" address Sun Ra in relation to others. In "Of Kindred Folks" Sun Ra writes of trying to find others like him, using trees as a metaphor for himself and these others. The trees he seeks neither dwarf or are dwarfed by him, and are attuned to he "Whose leaves rustle with music to the soft accompaniment of the winds" (Sun Ra 1985). The poem "The Differences" approaches this feeling of otherness from another angle:
Sometimes in my amazing ignorance
others see me only as they care to see
i am to them as they think
according to the standard i should not be
and that is the difference between i and them
Sun Ra has also characterized this situation in a matter-of-fact way, stating "It's hard for a man to really give proper respect to anyone who says they're an angel or someone who says they're from other dimensions" (Steingroot 1988: 47).
Sun Ra, then, views himself as different, and this difference has obligated him to change humanity, a mission which he reluctantly accepts. His mission concerns "the destiny of humanity and what I possibly could do to help" and he feels that "I should always be doing what I was supposed to do on this planet, regardless of whether the planet responded or not" (Fiofori 1970a: 16). This mission is to help mankind, who "has failed spiritually, educationally, governmentally" and he is "right here as a bridge for them to get help" (Mugge 1980). Sun Ra sees that the way for humanity to improve itself is "to recognize the myth and become part of my mythocracy, instead of their theocracies and their democracies and the other -ocracies they got, they can become of a magic myth, the magic touch of the mythocracy" (ibid.).
Sun Ra recognizes that this is a difficult task. He has said that "What I'm doing is something that a lot of people have tried to do, but they have met defeat from humanity" (Townley 1973: 18). In more bitter words, he describes other reasons for his reluctance in accepting this task:
I never wanted to be part of planet Earth, and I did everything not to be a part of it. I never wanted their money or their fame, and anything I do for this planet is because the Creator of the universe is making me do it. . .If I can get out of enlightening this planet, I'll do so with the greatest of pleasure, and let them stay in their darkness, cruelty, hatred, ignorance, and the other things they got in their houses of deceit (Litweiler 1984: 144).
In fact, in one interview Sun Ra declares that
I did never want to be successful. I want to be the only thing I could be without anybody stopping me in America--that is, to be a total failure (Rusch 1984: 71).
Sun Ra's mission can be seen as an enormous undertaking, and in spite of resistance from people and his self-professed failure, he continues. Sun Ra views his music as the method whereby he will help humanity, and his views on his music in this regard will be discussed later in this chapter.
Another important aspect of the Sun Ra equation is his view of humanity and the planet Earth as a representative of humanity. That state of humanity is the motivating factor behind Sun Ra's mission and music, so it is necessary to look into what his view of humanity consists of. In this discussion it is important to keep in mind what the actual state of humanity is as opposed to what the potentials for humanity are. Sun Ra addresses both actual and potential man.
The actual state of humanity, the present reality of humanity, is not something to be envied in Sun Ra's opinion. He says that people are in a "state of savagery. . .worse than the heathens of ancient days" (Primack 1978: 41). Human beings are also, cruel, ignorant, and powerless. Sun Ra says
When people try to destroy the kindness and love in a person, they deserve the cruellest dimensions that the Creator can cast upon them. I am not going to pray for them, because enough good men have prayed for them and died for them (Litweiler 1984: 144)
Knowledge is laughable when attributed to a human being (Mugge 1980)
I feel that if the men on this planet would be honest with themselves, they would see that they have no power whatsoever (ibid.).
Manly P. Hall has written, concerning the current condition of humanity:
The twentieth century makes a fetish of civilization and is overwhelmed by its own fabrications; its gods are of its own fashioning. Humanity has forgotten how infinitesimal, how impermanent, and how ignorant it actually is (Hall 1952: CCIII).
Sun Ra also states that another problem with humanity is that they lack discipline, and have no freedom because they bow to death (Rusch 1984: 65). Sun Ra's views on discipline and death will be enumerated later in this chapter. However, in Sun Ra's view, humanity is not entirely to blame for its condition. He has said
I would tell people on this planet that there are forces: their job is to slow you up. And you supposed to keep moving. Forces could be the ancestors of people now living. The ancestors don't like what they see (Burks 1969: 18).
Sun Ra does not "harbor malice towards any man because man needs a lot of help. If I hadn't risen above mankind, I wouldn't know that" (Townley 1973: ). In fact, one of the reasons, in Sun Ra's view, why people have not been able to understand him, his music, or his intentions is because
you cannot explain it to people who are not spiritual minded in an advanced sense. . .who have used their time doing other things, other than the study and the being experience of spiritual evolution achievement (Fiofori 1970a: 14).
In his poem "The Bound Eternity", Sun Ra describes his feelings toward humanity:
I used to love the woman and the child and the man
Now, I hate the woman
I hate the child
I hate the man. . .
I hate what the woman has had to be and do
I hate what the man has had to be and do
I hate what the child has had to be and do
I hate this present world
(Sun Ra 1985).
Note that Sun Ra hates the present state of man, woman, and child not because of their inherent natures, but because of what they have been forced to be and do. Sun Ra sees that people have unattained potentials, and must achieve these in order to escape their present condition. Sun Ra has said "that the best hope for man is destruction" (Rusch 1984: 65). It can be inferred that Sun Ra does not mean literal, physical destruction, but rather a destruction of man's current nature to achieve a higher realm of awareness. Sun Ra's poem "Calling Planet Earth" says
There is something in the Cosmos called
Fellowship. Reach for it
(Sun Ra 1990).
Sun Ra has also referred to planet Earth in connection with the nature of humanity. According to him, love is not to be found on planet Earth: "There's no love on this planet. It dwells elsewhere, but it's our last hope to survive" (Lyons 1978: 50). He also says that
the truth about this planet is a bad truth, it's sad. The truth can't save you now. You gotta turn back to ancient wisdom, dreams, myth (Shore 1980: 48).
Here, it is possible to see how planet Earth is acting as a symbol of humanity. It is humanity that is responsible for the lack of love and the sad truth of planet Earth. Sun Ra's poem "Beyond the Truths" speaks of the isolatedness of humanity on planet Earth:
Too long we've dwelt on isolated earth. . .
Unaware of the things that lie/are beyond the truths
(Sun Ra 1985).
Another poem, "The Universe Sent Me", speaks of the potential for perfection of the planet:
This planet earth is a perfect place. . .
But still there is something missing here
A need long hidden from earth-guards gaze;
Of greater need than all the rest
In more recent interviews, Sun Ra has begun to speak of the planet Earth as a place that is merely rented by humanity, and that Sun Ra, representing the landlord of the planet, is preparing eviction notices for the people here. The landlord is not God, but the being that sent Sun Ra here. According to Sun Ra, this landlord has "never spoken before, but now he's saying, 'You haven't paid no taxes on the wind, and no taxes on the sun'. . .The earth belongs to someone, but that someone is not m-a-n" (Macnie 1987: 70, also Sale 1987: 57 and Corbett 1989: 28).
Although he has often spoken about his place among planet Earth and humanity, Sun Ra has rarely been asked specifically how he feels about America. In one interview where he was asked if he feels like an outcast in America, he replied
Well I made myself like that, because I didn't want to be part of what they doin'. It's gonna go the way the rest of the kingdoms went (Barber 1983: 31).
The distance that Sun Ra feels from mainstream America, and the fate that Sun Ra predicts for America, echo the sentiments of Elijah Muhammad. In his book The Fall of America, Muhammad urges his followers to separate from the evil of American society:
To integrate with evil is to be destroyed with evil. What we want--indeed, justice for us--is to be set apart (Muhammad 1973: 16).
Muhammad also forecasts the inevitable downfall of America:
The Revelation reads, in a prophecy relating to America, that she had in her a "hole for every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird" (Revelation 18: 2). . .Go to sleep to the reality of the judgement of America, a repetition of ancient Babylon's judgement, if you like to be caught in the snare. As God has said, He laid a snare for ancient Babylon (Jeremiah 50: 24) and ancient Babylon was taken in that snare (ibid.: 136-137).
Though not phrased with the same kind of detail as Muhammad, Sun Ra's views on America fall along similar lines. Yet Sun Ra does not view this fate as inevitable for humanity. Sun Ra has offered again and again to show people a possible way out of their current predicament. Some suggestions that Sun Ra has offered include the following:
When a person begins to see and feel his insignificance, then he can see his worth and worthlessness, and see that sometimes worthlessness and valuelessness and pricelessness are synonyms on another plane of understanding (Fiofori 1970a: 17).
I wanna calm people down, put 'em in a sort of dream state, between myth and reality. They just gotta learn to use their intuition. . .You got to learn to understand rather than overstand your position regarding so-called reality (Shore 1980: 66).
INSTRUCTION TO THE PEOPLES OF EARTH:
You must realize that you have the right to love beauty. You must prepare to live life to the fullest extent. Of course it takes imagination, but you don't have to be an educated person to have that. Imagination can teach you the true meaning of pleasure (Schonfield n. d.).
The question is: can man conquer
The self-destructive traits and habits
of Traditive-mind & his tradictived world.
Yes, it is time for man to either destroy
Himself and become what is
termed "a new creation" or through
profitable non-vain thought become
a superior-creation far greater than any
concept ever authorized by the State of
(from "Cosmic Potential", Sun Ra 1985).
Sun Ra has suggested that within every person is the potential for divinity, but that people need to become aware of this fact and recognize the importance of certain symbols:
People: no such thing as a man and a woman. That's over with. . .Everybody on this planet is a god. . .so they've got to find out what's the code, the rule for gods. . .you know they got certain symbols and things that you've got to be aware of (Corbett 1989: 25-26).
In discussing what some of these symbols might be, it is also important to elaborate Sun Ra's conception of human nature in relation to other ideas concerning this topic, in particular ancient Egyptian conceptions. Sun Ra has characterized human nature in two ways. One is a division into two, a duality, and another is a division into three. Sun Ra views the duality as a condition of opposites ("You can't have anything without its parallel and its opposite" (Mugge 1980)) and as part of the natural condition of humanity:
Each person is of the twoness. They've got two eyes, they have a right side and a left side, and it is the twoness that makes them one. So I'm dealing with the twoness and the multiplicities to try to impress the planet with the idea that the two is better than the one (Fiofori 1972b).
Mustafa El-Amin has written that "to enter Egypt you had to know that God created man to balance himself and that he should have two eyes but one vision, two ears but one sound" (El-Amin 1988: 45). Jung has written on the idea of this duality as being an essential part of a psychic totality:
The psychic totality, the self, is a combination of opposites. Without a shadow even the self is not real. It always has two aspects, a bright and a dark, like the pre-Christian idea of God in the Old Testament (Jung 1959: 42).
The idea of two being better than one also relates to Sun Ra's concept of the Omniverse, which is a step ahead of the Universe:
Omni relates to all, not just one, not Uni. You gotta get past oneness, at least get to twoness. The[n] you get attuned the right way, 'cos you got the at-two-en-ment (Shore 1980: 48).
The one is alright, but I like the attunement because it is of the atwo-en-ment (Fiofori 1970a: 17).
The word "atwo-en-ment", or attunement, is also a pun on the word atonement, or at-one-ment. The idea of the Atonement is "that Jesus was born for the sole purpose of dying for the sins of mankind" (El-Amin 1985: 79). The fact that Sun Ra prefers "attunement" to "atonement" should be kept in mind when Sun Ra's feelings toward Christianity are examined later in this chapter.
Sun Ra has also made several references to the threefold nature of humankind: the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. John Burks has commented that when Sun Ra speaks of transporting people into outer space (outer realms) that he "plans to get them out there 'mentally, physically, and spiritually'" (Burks 1969: 17). In addition, Sun Ra sees humanity as suffering from a three-fold energy crisis: "the world is sufferin' from an energy crisis in the body of human beings, in the mind of human beings, and in the spirit of human beings" (Primack 1978: 41). Sun Ra's poem "Calling Planet Earth" also makes reference to this three-fold division:
There is no need to cry
No need to be confused or bewildered
Listen to the three of us
me, myself, and I
(Sun Ra 1990).
In this case, the "me" would correspond to the physical body, the "myself" to the mind or intellect, and the "I" to the spiritual essence.
This threefold nature relates to the Sphinx, one of the important symbols of ancient Egyptian culture. In the riddle of the Sphinx, the answer to the question "What creature walks first on four legs? Then on two legs, and then on three legs?" is "man, the human being". The four legs, referring to a crawling baby, is also a reference to the physical or material existence of man. On two legs is the mature man, balanced on the two legs of physical and mental knowledge. The final stage, that of man assisted by a cane,
represents the physical, mental, and spiritual. Man is a triune being, what Percival calls the "Doer, Knower, and Thinker." The three legs represent man's mental development, it alludes to knowledge, wisdom and understanding. The third leg, the staff, represents spiritual understanding as well as one's life experience (El-Amin 1988: 45-46).
This riddle also refers to another threefold aspect of man's existence: birth, life, and death. Abdullah Yusuf Ali writes that the Muqatta'at, or abbreviated mystic letters that appear at the beginning of some chapters of the Holy Qur'an may also refer to birth, life, and death. For example, the letters "A. L. M." are found at the beginning of six suras in the Qur'an: ii, iii, xxix, xxx, xxxi, and xxxii. Ali notes that the "common thread" between all these Suras is "the mystery of Life and Death, Beginning and End." He adds that although there has been much effort to interpret these letters, "In mysticism we accept symbols as such for the time being: their esoteric meaning comes from the inner light when we are ready for it." His interpretation of these letters suggests that they are "symbolical of the Beginning, Middle, and End", and asks "are they not appropriate to the Suras which treat specifically of Life, Growth, and Death--the Beginning and the End?" (Ali 1934: 17, n25).
Recall that the sun has also been characterized as symbolic of this threefold existence (Hall 1952: LI). The pyramid, another important symbol of ancient Egypt, also manifests this three-fold nature, but as it is also symbolic on multiple other levels, I will save discussion of the pyramid for the section on ancient Egypt.
Sun Ra's conception of the divinity or perfectibility of man has precedents both in ancient Egyptian religion and Islam. Mustafa El-Amin writes:
In Al-Islam, the human being is placed on a plane of dignity. The Qur'an says that man was created in the best mould (95: 4)" (El-Amin 1985: 78).
Abdullah Yusuf Ali elaborates in his footnote to this verse:
There is no fault in God's creation. To man God gave the purest and best nature, and man's duty is to preserve the pattern on which God has made him (Ali 1934: 1759 n6199).
Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, the son of Elijah Muhammad, has also spoken on the inherent perfectibility of mankind:
"Adam was created a perfect human creature. . .Our belief is that Allah made Adam as He wanted man to be, and Adam was a human being, therefore, he could make a mistake. And the human limitations on our life does not mean that we are imperfect. So we can be perfect human beings without being God. . .The attraction in the human being's life, or the pull on the human being, is not toward error; it is toward perfection." (from a lecture in Cleveland, Ohio, November 8, 1987, cited in El-Amin 1988: 35-36).
In another lecture, W. Deen Muhammad discussed humankind in a wider cosmic context:
"Every animal, every plant, every human being. . .forms in the context of the cosmic world. . .your narrow picture of your identity makes you very small. ALLAH says 'O' man think not that your reality is bigger than the external reality'. He patterned man's life and his reality on the pattern and order of the universe. You have a universal discipline in your nature and being. . .If you lose those universal disciplines you will lose your well being. . .We need to know the role of matter, cosmic reality, in order to appreciate the role of man." (from a Los Angeles Lecture, 11/15/87, cited in El-Amin 1988: 76-77).
In ancient Egypt, human beings were seen as having the potential for attaining immortality and godhood. In discussing this in relation to Islamic concepts, it is important to remember the different conceptions of God or divine beings held by Islam and ancient Egyptian religion (for a comparison of these, see Ali 1934: 408-413). James summarizes the goal of the Egyptian mystery system as follows:
The Egyptian Mystery System has as its most important object, the deification of man, and taught that the soul of man if liberated from its bodily fetters, could enable him to become godlike and see the Gods in this life and attain the beatific vision and hold communion with the Immortals (James 1989: 27).
E. A. Wallis Budge elaborates on this in his Introduction to The Egyptian Book of the Dead:
When the Osiris of a man has entered into heaven as a living soul, he is regarded as one of those who "have eaten the eye of Horus"; he walks among the living ones. . . he becomes "God, the son of God", and all the gods of heaven become his brethren (Budge 1967: lxxi-lxxii).
In Egyptian religion, man is not divided into a duality or trinity, but into nine separate parts. These are
1) The Ka--the abstract personality,
2) The Khat--the physical body,
3) The Ba--the heart-soul,
4) The Ab--the heart, associated with the rational, spiritual, and ethical,
5) The Kaibit--the shadow,
6) The Khu--the spiritual soul,
7) The Sahu--the spiritual body,
8) The Sekhem--the power, spiritual personification, or form,
9) The Ren--the name (James 1989: 123-124, Budge 1967: lxi-lxix).
It can be seen that each of these, with the exception perhaps of the name, relate to or combine in some way the three aspects of physical, mental, and spiritual. The Ren, or name, however, is of equal importance, for according to James, "the Egyptians believed that in the absence of a name, an individual ceased to exist" (James 1989: 124). This is important to remember in light of Sun Ra's familiarity with Egyptian religion and his choice of his name.
This brief discussion of Egyptian religion will be expanded upon later in the section in this chapter on Egypt. In closing this section on the nature of humanity, a good summary is provided by Hall:
Man is not the insignificant creature that he appears to be. . .The invisible nature of man is as vast as his comprehension and as measureless as his thoughts. The fingers of his mind reach out and grasp the stars; his spirit mingles, with the throbbing life of Cosmos itself. He who has attained to the state of understanding thereby has so increased his capacity to know that he gradually incorporates within himself the various elements of the universe (Hall 1952: CCIV).
And finally, Sun Ra writes:
Once there was a man who lived for God;
Now where is a man who lives for man?
That he who lives for man may speak
To those who lived for God
And thereby man (each man among men) will live
In freedom from the tyranny of man
From the stupidity among men
From the brutality of darkness
("The Stage of Man", in Sun Ra 1985).
Birth, Life, Death and Immortality
In addition to being part of his views on humanity, Sun Ra has often spoken of the concepts of birth, life, death, and immortality in a more abstract, general way. Sun Ra has a different perception of the concepts of "life" and "death", one that looks beyond commonly accepted, rationalist meanings of these terms. For Sun Ra, life (and birth) and death are traps that humanity has the potential to avoid in order to obtain immortality.
The concepts of birth, life, and death are inextricably intertwined. Sun Ra has said that one of the things he is trying to accomplish is to "eliminate the idea of people being born. . . Because if they're not born they can't possibly die" (Wilmer 1966). Sun Ra sees a connection between birth and death, and states that changing the spelling of b-i-r-t-h to b-e-r-t-h reveals the relationship between these two ideas:
all the people that's died and buried, that's their berthday, b-e-r-t-h-day. It's a trickuration going on on this planet" (Burks 1969: 16).
His poem "Be-earthed" connects this idea to the planet Earth:
Those who are be-earthed
Berthed. . .
They are phonetically birthed in their berth;
They are placed in
In their place
(Sun Ra 1985).
By accepting their fate on planet Earth, and accepting the ideas of birth and death, people are "placed in their place". Sun Ra has addressed the finite, physical nature of the kind of death linked to this birth (berth):
All planet Earth produces is the dead bodies of humanity (Mugge 1980),
Man has no fate but to die and be in a box (Corbett 1989: 26).
A similar idea of this kind of death is presented by Elijah Muhammad, who links it to Christianity:
we are taught to look forward to a salvation that does not exist. Christianity offers you salvation after death. You must go down into the earth and rot. That kind of salvation I don't want (Muhammad 1973: 4).
Sun Ra has also commented on the Christian conception of immortality, or life after death:
Churches are always talking about immortality. . .But for righteous people only. I want everybody to have immortality (Thomas 1968: 19),
if they believe they die and go to hell, undoubtedly they do. But it ain't real. It's all fixed up according to their imagination (Steingroot 1988: 50).
Sun Ra is being ironic when he uses the word "righteous". When he uses this characterization, it can be taken as not meaning people who actually are righteous, but those who profess themselves to be.
Sun Ra's view on life and death is more transcendent. He speaks of a state of being beyond life and death. According to LeRoi Jones, "Sun Ra speaks of the actual change, the actual evolution through space. . .of the higher principles of humanity, the progress after the death of the body" (Jones 1967: 137). Sun Ra himself has said:
They always talking about freedom but they don't demonstrate they're free 'cause the bow to death all the time. . .I'm talking about something from other planes of existence. These people on this planet only understand life and death (Rusch 1984: 65, 71),
It's above and beyond life and death, beyond your so-called reality. What can life offer you but death? (Shore 1980: 48).
This idea of human beings having the potential to escape life and death has many precedents in religion and philosophy. Manly P. Hall has written:
Man may live two lives. One is a struggle from the womb to the tomb. . .Well may it be called the unheeding life. The other life is from realization to infinity. It begins with understanding its duration is forever, and upon the plane of eternity it is consummated (Hall 1952: CCIV).
Some of the ways that this idea has been addressed in Islam, Greek philosophy (by way of Egypt) and ancient Egyptian beliefs will be addressed here. In Islam, death means giving up attachment to the evils of physical life in order to obtain a better kind of spiritual life. For example, in the Holy Qur'an, Chapter 56, verses 60-61 it says:
We have decreed Death
To be your common lot,
And We are not to be frustrated
From changing your Forms
And creating you (again)
In (Forms) that ye know not.
Furthermore, Mustafa El-Amin points out that "In the Holy Qur'an, Allah says 'Mautu fa hayaa' (Die, that you may live)" and cites Imam Warith Deen Muhammad:
"death is a precondition or antecedent state for life." (Imam W. Deen Muhammad Speaks from Harlem, NY, p. 92). He also pointed out that the right conception of life will cause us to die to our misconception of life (El-Amin 1985: 191).
Looking back to Greek philosophy, we find a similar kind of idea. For example, in Pythagorean beliefs, life and death are related to the material and spiritual worlds. Materialistic life is spiritual death, and spiritual life is equated with material or physical death (Hall 1952: CCI). George G. M. James summarizes this Pythagorean belief as follows:
True life is not to be found here on earth, and what men call life is really death, and the body is the tomb of the soul (James 1989: 56).
However, the underlying thesis in James' book is that Greek philosophy is actually stolen Egyptian philosophy. An examination of Egyptian beliefs provides us with interesting parallels to this concept of life and death. According to Budge, the doctrine of eternal life is an essential, basic idea in Egyptian religion. One of the key aspects of this eternal life is the attainment of equality with the gods. This is reiterated many times in the funeral texts. For example, the funeral text of King Unas reads:
He [Unas] hath eaten the knowledge of god every, [his] existence is for all eternity, and to everlasting in his sah [spiritual body] this; what he willeth, he doeth, [what] he hateth not doth he do. Live life, not shalt thou die (Budge 1967: lvi-lvii).
A passage from the tomb of King Teta reads that when the King "is in heaven the seat of his heart is declared to 'be among the living ones on this earth for ever,'" which Budge interprets as
proof that the Egyptians conceived it possible for man to attain to all the attributes of a divine being. . .and at the same time to enjoy an existence upon earth as well as in heaven (Budge 1969: 162).
In another instance Budge describes how ancient Egyptians linked their fate to that of Osiris, hoping that through Osiris' "sufferings and death" the Egyptian's "body might rise again in some transformed or glorified shape" (Budge 1967: li-lii). Finally, one of the most explicit connections between the human and the gods can be found in the actual text of the Papyrus of Ani, upon which Budge's translation of the Book of the Dead is based. The passage reads:
[My] brow [is like that] of Ra, is my face open, is my heart upon its seat. I utter words, [I] know. I am Ra verily he himself (ibid.: 105).
Another aspect of Egyptian immortality is the partaking of corporeal pleasures. Though Budge has found no evidence for the actual reincarnation of the physical body (ibid.: lvii), he cites a passage where King Unas, after death, not only engages in hunting and eating, but actually hunts and eats the gods themselves, with the goal of attaining their godly powers:
he feeds upon men and also upon gods. He hunts the gods in the fields and snares them. . . He roasts and eats the best of them, but the old gods and goddesses are used for fuel. By eating them he imbibes both their magical powers and their khu's [spiritual souls] (ibid.: lxiii-lxix).
Budge also describes ancient Egyptian ideas of rebirth, the idea of which is linked to the sun-god, Ra. The sun god disappears every night to make his journey through the underworld (Tuat), taking the souls of the dead with him. Under the guidance of Osiris, these souls are reborn when Ra's boat passes from the eastern end of the underworld to rise again, this rebirth therefore being linked to the sunrise (Budge 1969: 173, 257-258).
This is by no means a complete summary of ancient beliefs on life and death, but it can be seen that all of these relate in some way to Sun Ra's declarations of going beyond life and death. This is not an easy task to achieve, and with it comes obligations. Jacques Attali writes of the difficulty of constructing a political economy whereby death can "be accepted for what it is: an invitation fully to be oneself in life" (Attali 1985: 127). Sun Ra has also spoken of the difficulty involved in being assigned this task, of being an "ambassador of death" (Steingroot 1988: 51):
In a sense I gave up my life. Most men give up their life and die. . .But if you give up your life and you're still livin' and you see all the world passin' you by--all kinds of persons getting famous, making money and you're told by the Creator, 'Don't have nothin' to do with that. Stand your ground.' You have all kinds of difficulties that other folks don't have. But that's a test" (Simpkins 1975: 95-96).
At this time it would be appropriate to go into more detail on the relationship between Sun Ra's equations and other ancient Egyptian concepts and symbols. Specifically, this section will deal with the symbolism of the pyramids and Egyptian conceptions of the deities, in particular the attributes of Ra.
The pyramids contain a wealth of symbolical significance, and there has been much speculation through the ages on the mysteries of the pyramids. Sun Ra has said:
The pyramids are standing there and they are throwing out some vibrations on the planet. They've got some definite meaning the planet does not fully know about (Fiofori 1972a).
The pyramid consists of a square base and four triangles. The measure-ments are such that if a line is drawn from the top of the pyramid to its base, and if this line is considered to be the radius of a circle, then this circle's circumference will be the same as the sum of the four sides of the base, which solves the problem of squaring the circle (Hall 1952: XLII, El-Amin 1988: 26-27). Jung describes the squaring of the circle as "a symbol of the opus alchymium" which "breaks down the original chaotic unity into the four elements and then combines them again, in a higher unity" (Jung 1974: 198).
The square base of the pyramid is symbolic of the number four. The four elements--air, earth, fire, and water--are represented by the number four, and thus four is a symbol of material essences. The concept of four is also manifested in the Tetragrammaton, which not only encompasses the four material elements, but the four "astral qualities of 1) vitality, 2) consciousness, 3) mind, and 4) intelligence." (According to the Gnostics, four represents a similar set of concepts: 1) silence, 2) profundity, 3) intelligence, and 4) truth) (El-Amin 1985: 170-172, 1988: 34, Hall 1952: XLIV). Imam Warith Deen Muhammad has pointed out that the four material elements correspond to human attributes, earth symbolizing the material or physical, water symbolizing man's moral nature, fire symbolizing wisdom, and air representing man's spiritual qualities. Furthermore, the Tetragrammaton, which consists of the sacred words "Yod-He-Vau-He", corresponds
to the four rivers that left the garden of eden and became heads (Genesis 2: 10), as well as the four beasts if the Bible (Revelation 4: 6-7), and the four angels of (Revelation 9: 14) (El-Amin 1985: 170).
From this square base emerge four triangles. The three lines of the triangle represent the physical, mental, and spiritual (El-Amin 1988: 38). If the sides of all the triangles are added together, this makes twelve which according to Hall symbolizes the twelve signs of the Zodiac. Hall also notes that:
If each base line be considered a square from which ascends a three-fold spiritual power, then the sum of the lines of the four faces (12) and the four hypothetical squares (16) constituting the base is 28, the sacred number of the lower world. If this be added to the three septenaries composing the sun (21), it equals 49, the square of 7 and the number of the universe (Hall 1952: XLIV).
Mustafa El-Amin points out that the number seven is also manifested in the pyramid in a simpler way, by adding the 4 of the base and the 3 of the triangle. He states that "The number seven represents completion; therefore, the pyramids allude to man's complete development" (El-Amin 1988: 38). Concerning the pyramid as a whole, he states:
the spiritual and symbolic meaning of the pyramid is of great magnitude because it speaks to the very soul and the essence of man. It alludes to the progressive development of the human mind and spirit. It reflects the intrinsic worth and the urge in man for mental vision and enlightenment (ibid.: 32).
Manly P. Hall succinctly summarizes the pyramid as "the gateway to the Eternal" (Hall 1952: XLIV).
Sun Ra has often spoken of the importance of ancient Egyptian civilization, and states that it should not be thought of as something that is of the past, but as a civilization which still has an affect on contemporary life. He has said:
Egypt was a determining factor for the world in ancient days, and it's got to the point where it's a determining factor again. . .Somebody preserved it for the world to find out something (Wilmer 1972: 48).
I know that the ancient Egyptians had something that is of great value to humanity at this point (Townley 1973: ).
In the film A Joyful Noise, Sun Ra says that the language of ancient Egypt is still spoken (Mugge 1980). James has outlined some of the curricula of the Egyptian mystery schools, which included such teachings as the Seven Liberal Arts (grammar, Arithmetic, Rhetoric and Dialectic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music) and the Secret Sciences (Numerical symbolism, geometrical symbolism, magic, the book of the Dead, myths, and parables). According to James, astronomy was important because it not only dealt with the stars, but also "with the knowledge and distribution of latent forces in man, and the destiny of individuals, races, and nations" (James 1989: 28, 135). James also states that the ancient Egyptian teachings have relevance for the present world. In addition to noting the similarities between the Egyptian sun god Atum and the modern scientific conception of the atom, he says:
Successful scientific research in the principles and secrets of nature lies in the study of Memphite Theology, whose symbology requires the key of magical principles for its interpretation. With this approach our men of science should be able to unlock the doors of the secrets of nature and become the custodians of unlimited knowledge (ibid.: 147-150).
As it says in the Book of the Dead, "Now I have entered into the place of hidden things" (Budge 1967: 189).
The Egyptian gods, according to James, were put into a group of nine called the Ennead, consisting of the sun god Atum at the head, and four pairs of gods created from the substance of Atum: Shu and Tefnut (air and moisture), Geb and Nut (earth and sky), Osiris and Isis, and Set and Nephthys. James notes that these nine gods correspond to the nine planets, and also that the "worship of the planets began in Egypt" and that "the Egyptian temples were the first observatories of history" (James 1989: 118-119, 145-146). Budge has also written on the nonetary grouping of gods, which he termed "paut" or "nine". Budge writes that the priests of Annu (Heliopolis) grouped the "nine greatest gods of Egypt" into a paut neteru ("company of gods") consisting of Tmu, Shu, Tefnut, Seb, Nut, Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys. Tmu was the chief god of Annu, and was later combined with Ra to form the composite god Tmu-Ra (Budge 1967: xcvii).
The Egyptian sun-deity was known by many names, for example Atum and Ptah, and combined with other gods such as Tmu, but the most well known name for the Egyptian sun god is Ra. (In the legend of Ra and Isis, Ra says "I am of many names, of many forms" (Budge 1969: 378)). The word "ra" itself, according to Budge, meant "operative and creative power" and as a proper name meant "creator". In physical form Ra consisted of a human body with a hawk's head, and "on his head wears his symbol. . .the disk of the sun encircled by the serpent khut." In his right hand he holds the Ankh, the symbol of life, and in his left hand he holds the sceptre, the symbol of sovereignty (Budge 1969: 322-323). Ra was the supreme creator. According to Budge:
He was One, and the maker of "Gods" and men; he was the creator of heaven, earth, and the underworld; he was self-begotten, self-created, and self-produced; he had existed for ever and would exist for all eternity; he was the source of all life and light; and he was the personification of right and truth, and goodness, and the destroyer of evil (ibid.: 48).
In the "Book of Knowing the Becomings of Ra," Ra in the form of the god Neb-er-tcher, says "I was the creator of everything which came into being; now when I had come into being myself, the things which I created and which came forth from out of my mouth were many" (ibid.: 294). As the god of the sun, Ra was responsible for rising in the sky every day, and from this he came to symbolize "the victory of right over wrong and of truth over falsehood" (Budge 1967: cxi). In the Papyrus of Ani, Ra also represents the future: "Now Yesterday Osiris is, now Tomorrow Ra is" (ibid.: 30). In keeping with the Egyptian conception of the potential for man to share attributes with the gods, Ra is said to have once been a king of Egypt, and every ruler of Egypt since then was shown to have the blood of Ra in his veins (Budge 1969: 329). Furthermore, the figure of the Sphinx near the Pyramids of Giza is a representation of Heru-khuti, a form of the god Horus who was also one of the principle forms of Ra (ibid.: 470-472). Considering the importance of names, we can see that Sun Ra has indeed chosen a formidable namesake.
Another Egyptian deity whose attributes would make him important to Sun Ra's equations is Thoth, the god of writing and wisdom. Ra and Thoth are closely related in that both are referred to as One, and both were self-begotten and self-produced. Thoth has also been referred to as "the reason and mental powers" of Ra, and possesses powers even greater than those of Ra (ibid.: 401, 407). Budge summarizes some of the powers of Thoth as follows:
His knowledge and powers of calculation measured out the heavens, and planned the earth, and everything which is in them; his will and power kept the forces in heaven and earth in equilibrium; it was his great skill in mathematics which made proper use of the laws upon which the foundations and maintenance of the universe rested (ibid.: 407-408).
Although Sun Ra has rarely invoked Thoth in his statements, it will be seen how the attributes of Thoth are important in that they relate to another aspect of Sun Ra's equations, the importance of outer space.
Magic, Myth, and the Impossible
Sun Ra often invokes the terms "magic", "myth", and "impossible" when describing what he is doing, and when trying to help others understand what he is doing. According to Attali: "Levi-Strauss. . .has tried to show that music in our society has become a substitute for myth" (Attali 1985: 28). Sun Ra has not substituted his music for myths, but rather has incorporated the ideas of myths, magic, and impossibilities into his larger overall equational scheme. Myths and music are not substitutes, but are united: both are used for the same purpose simultaneously, the music incorporating the myth and vice versa. Sun Ra feels that it is important for people to move away from the realm of realities and possibilities and into the world of myth and impossibilities. For Sun Ra, magic, myth, and the impossible are all means to the same end and thus work together. For example, myth and the impossible are linked as follows:
Reality has touched against myth/humanity can move to achieve the impossible/because when you achieve one impossible the others/come together to be with their brother, the first impossible/borrowed from the realm of myth (Fiofori 1970a: 14).
In the following passage, myth and magic are linked to each other and with the concept of immortality:
Those of the reality have lost their way. Now they must listen to what myth has to say. . .Somewhere else on the other side of nowhere, there's another place in space, beyond what you know as time. Where the gods of mythology dwell. . .These gods dwell in their mythocracy, opposed to your democracy, and your monocracy. They dwell in their mythocracy, a magic world that makes things to be. These gods can even offer you immortality (Mugge 1980).
In Sun Ra's view, the present state of humanity is tied to reality, and it is magic which offers the key for humanity to reach its full potential:
I'm paving the way for humanity to recognize the myth and become part of my mythocracy, instead of their theocracies and their democracies, and the other -ocracies they got, they can become of a magic myth, the magic touch of the mythocracy. . . And I'm sure that the myth can do more for humanity than anything they ever dreamed possible (ibid.).
Sun Ra's poem "Living Parable" clearly outlines how myth can be used to achieve a higher understanding:
Wisdom on abstract planes
uses myth as a medium to understanding
Thus a living parable to the outward or inward truth
Is every myth
(Sun Ra 1985).
Sun Ra has on several occasions mentioned "The Kingdom of Not". This kingdom is a symbol for the potential things that are not yet to be, and it is also a link to the role of music in Sun Ra's equations. In the poem "Of Notness" it reads:
The Kingdom of not
A realm of myth
See the mythery
Of the non-existent-mystery
It is not but yet is. . .
A realm of angelic-celestial myth
And no one knows where
But still it is ye always there
(Sun Ra 1985).
Sun Ra elaborates on the Kingdom of Not and its ties to music in this passage:
The insistent idea is that people will have to change their tune and that tuning should be in tune with the intergalactic outer universe which is everything which is not yet in. And this is the meaning of the Kingdom of not and its phonetic note. . .the music of not touches upon the realm of myth of the outer-alter potential. . .The eternal endless mythology spectrum hieroglyphic parallel/duology presence (Sun Ra n. d.).
Magic is linked to the impossible in the following statement where Sun Ra says, "If I thought of it as magic, I would think of it as impossible" and goes on to say "If I was going to deal in magic I would have purple magic, blue magic, all the different types of magic" and not just the commonly considered "black" magic and "white" magic (Burks 1969: 16). It is also important to remember that Sun Ra's given name was Herman, and that he was named after a magician named Black Herman, "one of the greatest magicians that ever lived" and that "probably I've got some of his attributes" (Steingroot 1988: 50).
Sun Ra also believes that the key to humanity's survival lies in the impossible. He says "Everything that's possible's been done by man. I have to deal with the impossible" and "the only way the world's gonna survive, this impossible thing. I'm talking about impossibilities" (Corbett 1989: 26, 24). Consistent with this Sun Ra has described his mission, "to change five billion people to something else", as impossible, but "I've been ordered to do it" and he says that as a Gemini, he is "quite pleased to [do] the impossible" (ibid.: 26, 27, Macnie 1987: 62). Words play an important part in the impossibility. Sun Ra's poem "Words and the Impossible" states that "the way to the impossible is through the words" (Sun Ra 1985), and accordingly, one of the way Sun Ra describes himself is as a "wordologist" (Steingroot 1988: 50).
One of the ideas that Sun Ra cites more often than any other, and whose importance he continually stresses, is that of discipline. He has said that art does not begin with imitation, but with discipline (Lyons 1978: 17). Discipline is an extremely important attribute for his musicians to have, and comments from Sun Ra and some of his musicians concerning discipline will be included later in this chapter. According to Sun Ra, humanity may think that they are free, but they are not because they lack discipline. This lack of freedom and discipline keeps them tied to death (Rusch 1984: 65). He has said:
the foundation of all freedom is discipline. The universe itself demonstrates a discipline and nature demonstrates discipline everywhere you look. Nature variates things and it has this precision and discipline in doing this (Fiofori 1972b).
Because humanity at this time lacks discipline does not mean that it is impossible for them to achieve it, and it can be inferred from the above quote that if humanity is a part of nature or the universe, then it has the capability for discipline inherent within it. Imam Warith Deen Muhammad has commented on this inherent capacity along similar lines:
"You have a universal discipline in your nature and being. It is that universal discipline that accounts for your well-being. If you lose those universal disciplines you will lose your well being. . .man has benefitted from the perfect working, order, and courses of the heavenly bodies" (from a Los Angeles Lecture, 11/15/87, cited in El-Amin 1988: 76-77).
Sun Ra has mentioned that one of the places where he learned about the importance of discipline, as well as being a leader, was from a secret organization called American Woodman he joined at the age of ten (Rusch 1984: 64-65). To try to instill the idea of discipline into young people, Arkestra member Danny Thompson runs a store in their neighborhood called Pharoah's Den, for the purpose of teaching the neighborhood children about precision and discipline, as well as about outer space and ancient Egypt (Mugge 1980).
Sun Ra has said, concerning ancient Egypt, that "somehow [it] is thought of as a kingdom of bondage. It would be better to say the kingdom of discipline. The kingdom of precision" (Mugge 1980). George G. M. James has outlined how discipline figured into the initiation rites and teachings of the Egyptian mystery systems. According to James, an initiate into the Egyptian mysteries must exhibit the following "ten virtues" or "ten commandments":
1) control of one's thoughts,
2) control of one's actions,
3) devotion to purpose,
4) faith in his teacher,
5) faith in his ability to learn,
6) faith in himself to wield the truth,
7) freedom from resentment when being persecuted,
8) freedom from resentment when being wronged,
9) the ability to distinguish right and wrong,
10) the ability to distinguish the real and unreal.
Through keeping these ten commandments, the initiate would eventually remove the ten fetters of the soul, paving the way for him to attain a divine, godlike state (James 1989: 104-106). It can be seen that all of these virtues involve some sort of discipline on the part of the initiate.
By using the term "ten commandments" in this context, James alludes to the more well-known Ten Commandments of the Old Testament (Exodus 21: 3-17, Deuteronomy 5: 11-12). In the Egyptian Book of the Dead there are found the Negative Confessions, the ancient Egyptian code of ethics, which have been "traced as the likely source of the Ten Commandments" by Dr. Yosef A. A. ben-Jochannan (Lock 1988: 280fn). In all, there are forty-two of these confessions, which represent a self-imposed disciplinary code of behavior. Several of these confessions correspond to the Ten Command-ments. For example:
not have I robbed. . .not have I slain men. . .not have I despoiled the things of the god. . .not have I spoken lies. . .not have I committed fornication. . .not have I set my mouth in motion [against any man]. . .not have I defiled the wife of a man. . .not have I cursed God. . .not have I borne false witness (Budge 1967: 198-204).
When it is recalled that Moses had "learned the various signs and symbols of Egypt, and the various spiritual and human sciences that Egypt had to offer" (El-Amin 1988: 55), this can lead to some interesting speculation. By invoking ancient Egypt in connection with discipline, Sun Ra implies some interesting things about the nature of Christianity and the Bible, which will be discussed later in this chapter.
Sun Ra has often spoken about himself in relation to black (African and African-American) people, and critics have often commented on the relationship between Sun Ra and wider aspects of black culture.4 Joachim Berendt has related the complete Sun Ra experience (myth, music, and performance) to the more ancient currents of African and African-American aesthetics where "the split between body and soul. . .nature and idea. . .art and life. . .terrestrial and the supernatural--or, as for Sun Ra, the extra-terrestrial" does not exist. He goes onto say that this lack of a split may lead white and European audiences, unaccustomed to such a unity, to interpret Sun Ra as naive. However, Berendt writes:
There is no naivete in Black Art. It did not exist when in the Harlem of the twenties the dancing girls of the Cotton Club exhibited white Broadway-show junk to Duke Ellington's "jungle sounds". . .It does not exist but in the heads of white critics and in the boos of juvenile simplifiers (Berendt 1972).
LeRoi Jones has succinctly characterized Sun Ra and the Arkestra as a "black family" and their music as a "beautiful black sound-world" (Jones 1967: 129-130).
Sun Ra's statements concerning black people exhibit a sort of dichotomy. On the one hand Sun Ra feels unity with and a desire to help black people, but on the other hand he feels alienated and apart from them just as much as from humanity in general. Sun Ra has stated that one of the ways for black people to help themselves is by being more disciplined:
I'm concerned with black because to me black people are not in tune with their natural selves. So I have to start with them because if they're not reconciled to the equation, then the world never will be anything. . .The rest of the nations have had some sort of discipline or order or government. But they haven't. . .I . . .have to set up some sort of discipline program for black people (Burks 1969: 17),
Now when I speak of Black, I am speaking of more than what others speak of. I am speaking of ancient Black people and ancient Black Wisdom people, who are of the natural government of nature by the oath of their ancestors (Fiofori 1970a: 15).
One of the ways Sun Ra sought to do this in the earlier stages of his career was by leading a nationalist organization and distributing his own pamphlets that
expounded a doctrine of self-improvement to the Negro population. . .They drew attention to the accelerating spiral of technical progress and. . .pointed out that the most effective way to defeat the existing status quo was to seek qualifications in professions such as electronics or engineering (McRae 1966: 15, also Wilmer 1977: 81).
Frank Kofsky called Sun Ra a nationalist militant and someone who refused to "be a pawn for the white-owned recording industry" (Kofsky 1970: 92-93).5
Sun Ra's ideas of discipline, independence, and self-improvement are echoed in the writings of one of the most important figures in black nationalism, Elijah Muhammad. For Elijah Muhammad, black nationalism does not mean merely strong rhetoric or renunciation of the standards of white culture, but means taking concrete and productive steps toward the eventual goal of an independent, sovereign black nation. The first step in this process is for black Americans to "think for self first". He writes:
One of the greatest handicaps among the so-called Negroes is that there is no love for self, nor for his or her own kind. This not having love for self is the root cause of hate (dislike), disunity, disagreement, quarreling, betraying, stool pigeons, and fighting and killing one another (Muhammad 1965: 32).
He also advocates an educational curriculum where the topics of black history and culture, "the civilization of man and the universe and all the sciences" are emphasized, with the goal of creating unity among black Americans and giving them the ability to provide jobs for themselves (ibid.: 39-41). Other important goals are acquiring land and gaining the respect of other independent nations (ibid.: 220-232 and 301-302).6 Muhammad recognized the importance of individual self-discipline as well, urging his followers to
make your neighborhood a safe place to live. . .Rid yourselves of the lust for wine and drink and learn to love self and kind before loving others. . .unite to create a future for yourself. . .Build your own homes, schools, hospitals, and factories. . .Build an economic system among yourselves (ibid.: 171).
Graham Lock has noted that Sun Ra's desire to help black Americans was also shared by George G. M. James (Lock 1988: 21fn). In his book Stolen Legacy, James states that the reason for his book, which demonstrates that Greek philosophy was stolen from black Egyptians, was to help liberate blacks from "the chains of traditional falsehood, which for centuries has incarcerated them in the prison of inferiority complex and world humiliation and insult" (James 1988: 158). James called his program "The New Philosophy of African Redemption" and believed that the mental liberation of black people would be beneficial not only for them, but the whole world (ibid.: 153-162). Sun Ra has characterized ancient Egypt as a "pivot point as far as Africa is concerned" and said that "everything that the world knows today about Black Culture is in a sense capsuled over in Egypt" (Fiofori 1972b). By continually recalling the greatness of ancient Egyptian civilization and culture and linking it to modern black Americans, Sun Ra exhibits a kinship to a black scholarly trend that includes not only James, but Cheikh Anta Diop (The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality), Dr. Yosef A. A. ben-Jochannan (Black Man of the Nile and His Family), and Ivan van Sertima (Blacks in Science Ancient and Modern).
However, like his views on humanity at large, Sun Ra is disappointed by the fact that, as he sees it, black people have not yet met their potential. He has said "look at what the Black race did in America and it's not what I can be proud of" (Wilmer 1977: 87) and "I couldn't approach black people with the truth because they like lies. They live lies" (Schonfield n. d.). He has even joked "I'm the black sheep of the white race and the black sheep of the black race. . .which makes me the blackest of all!" (Barber 1983: 31). In spite of this, however, Sun Ra has not abandoned his duty towards black people. He has said "I'm sincere in the wish for Black people to make progress and to do everything that is more profitable to them mentally, spiritually, and physically" (Fiofori 1972b), and he hopes to achieve these goals through discipline, education, and his music.
Space, the Planets, the Universe, and the Omniverse
Sun Ra often uses outer space imagery when describing his concepts. This imagery includes references to the universe, the omniverse (Sun Ra's own term), the cosmos, infinity, and various planets. For Sun Ra, outer space is the source of everything that exists outside of humanity's baser impulses and physical state. He has said "All planet Earth produces is the dead bodies of humanity. . .Everything else comes from outer space, from unknown regions" (Mugge 1980). The universe is a perfectly balanced natural phenomenon that affects and is affected by everything. According to Sun Ra, "Everything in the universe is so delicately balanced. If you snap your fingers it goes all over the universe" (Burks 1969: 18). The universe is also a representation of discipline, which ties it to another important part of Sun Ra's equations (Fiofori 1972b). The universe also plays an important part in directly influencing Sun Ra's actions. He has said that he is controlled by forces outside of this planet (Lyons 1983: 91), and that the universe is the source of his ideas: "Infinity. . .does not hesitate to sponsor infinity-projects" (Fiofori 1970a: 14).
According to Sun Ra, everyone is susceptible to these cosmic forces. Sun Ra has spoken of John Coltrane in relation to this idea. Coltrane was another musician to whom spiritual understanding was of prime importance, and in Sun Ra's view, Coltrane had
unleashed some cosmic forces in his mind. When you do that, you really reach out into the universe and those forces can be antagonistic to man (Primack 1978: 16).
Sun Ra has criticized other musicians such as Archie Shepp and Cecil Taylor, whom he says "were not talking about Space or Intergalactic things. . .They were talking about Avant-Garde and the New Thing" (Fiofori 1970a: 16). "Avant-garde" and "New Thing" were terms used by critics to describe movements in improvised music in the 1960s. Sun Ra has also spoken of a form of cosmo-politics, which, unlike Earth politics, "is all about the greater Universe" (Fiofori 1972a).
However, beginning in the early 1980s, Sun Ra devised a new term to replace "universe", which to him had become outdated. This new term was "Omniverse", which according to him "relates to all, not just one, not Uni" (Shore 1980: 48). He has also said:
I'm talking about the solar system and galactic things. . . They say things about other worlds, solar systems, but they never talk about the omniverse because that word isn't in the dictionary. But they will come to omniverse" (Sale 1987: 57).
Sun Ra has also described the space or omniverse age as a way of moving into the future. In his poem "Prepare for the Journey", he writes:
This is the space age. . .
A new direction
Beyond the gravitation of the past. . .
You will learn to journey with courage. . .
To reach the splendour days
Of the even greater tomorrow of the Cosmo-age
(Sun Ra 1985).
Other poems have stressed the importance of moving into the future instead of relying on the past. For example, in "The Shadow of Tomorrow" he writes:
The past is yesterday. . .
Yesterday belongs to the dead, tomorrow belongs to the
(Sun Ra 1974a).
In the liner notes for his record Atlantis, Sun Ra expands on this idea:
Too many people are following the past. In this new space age, this is dangerous. The past is DEAD and those who are following the past are doomed to die and be like the past (Sun Ra 1973).
This may seem like an unusual statement in light of Sun Ra's reverence for ancient Egypt. However, it is important to remember that Sun Ra's primary concern is for humanity to achieve its full potential, which it does not exhibit now and therefore must be a future state of being. The poem "The Shadow of Tomorrow" clarifies this:
The wisdom of the past is the light of the past
The light which is to be is the wisdom of the future
The light of the future casts the shadows of tomorrow
(Sun Ra 1974a).
Another type of outer space imagery used by Sun Ra is references to specific planets. The aspects of planet Earth as it relates to humanity have already been discussed. Sun Ra has also addressed some of the more general, cosmic aspects of planet Earth. One of Sun Ra's "simpler" equations concerns why this planet is called Earth. By rearranging the letters of the word "three", one comes up with the word "ereth", or Earth.7 Earth is the third planet from the sun. In the Greek alphabet, the third letter is gamma, or "g". The sciences relating to the earth are called "g-eography" and "g-eology" (Corbett 1989: 25).
Sun Ra has also made references to the planet Jupiter. In one interview he said that he "would rather be on Jupiter" than Earth because "it's exexpressibly [sic] beautiful, splendorous, pure happiness. I can see why the word 'jovial' came from Jupiter" (Shore 1980: 66). In another interview, Sun Ra stated that he had actually been to Jupiter, guided by a shadow-like being, and that travelling to other planets made him "really be true to myself instead of being programmed or oriented to something else" (Corbett 1989: 23-24). Sun Ra's linking of Jupiter to happiness should be kept in mind when his views on the true, creative music he calls "jazz" are discussed.
Sun Ra has said that he was born on the planet Saturn. An examination of the planet Saturn shows that this was not a random, impulsive statement. Manly P. Hall has linked Saturn to the seven churches of Asia described in Revelation 1: 4, based on the hypothesis that these seven churches corresponded to the seven planets (including the moon) that were known of in ancient times. He adds, "From Saturn, the soul would naturally ascend through the door in the Empyrean" (Hall 1952: CLXXXVI). In the interview in Reality Hackers, Sun Ra and Ira Steingroot discuss some of the other attributes of Saturn, for example that Saturn is associated with the color black in alchemy, that the Jews worshipped on the seventh day (Saturday), the day of Saturn, and that the six-pointed star represents the sixth planet, or Saturn (Steingroot 1988: 51). Manly P. Hall has commented on the symbolism of the six-pointed star:
Man's three bodies are symbolized by an upright triangle; his threefold spiritual nature by an inverted triangle. These two triangles, when united in the form of a six pointed star, were called by the Jews "the Star of David". . .These triangles symbolize the spiritual and material universes linked together in the constitution of the human creature, who partakes of both Nature and Divinity (Hall 1952: LI).
Thus it can be seen that there is a connection between the planet Saturn and other symbols of human unity associated with Sun Ra's equations, such as the sun, the Sphinx, and the Pyramids.
Mention of outer space and space travel brings images of flying saucers to mind. Interestingly, Sun Ra has not mentioned flying saucers in any of the interviews used for this study. He has, however, mentioned space ships in some of his song titles (see Chapter 4). Also, the image of flying saucers has been associated with him by others, for example, in Valerie Wilmer's interview with Sun Ra called "Flying Saucers Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha!" (Wilmer 1966).8
Jung has analyzed the flying saucer phenomenon, and his interpre- tation provides several interesting correlations with some of Sun Ra's concerns. For Jung, flying saucers are not a fad or tools of some kind of political conspiracy, but rather are of extreme importance and demand to be taken very seriously. His introduction to his book Flying Saucers contains this startling, uncharacteristic passage:
These rumours, or the possible physical existence of such objects, seem to me so significant that I feel myself compelled, as once before when events were brewing of fateful consequence for Europe, to sound a note of warning. . . It is not presumption that drives me, but my conscience as a psychiatrist that bids me fulfil my duty and prepare those few who will hear me for coming events which are in accord with the end of an era. . .It would be frivolous of me to conceal from the reader that reflections such as these are not only exceedingly unpopular but come perilously close to those turbid fantasies which becloud the minds of world-improvers and other interpreters of "signs and portents". But I must take this risk. . .I am, to be quite frank, concerned for all those who are caught unprepared by the events in question and disconcerted by their incomprehensible nature. Since, so far as I know, no one has yet felt moved to examine and set forth the possible psychic consequences of this forseeable change, I deem it my duty to do what I can in this respect (Jung 1959: 15-16).
Jung was writing in the midst of the Cold War, when the possibility of nuclear annihilation was leading people to move their "projection-creating fantasy. . .beyond the realm of earthly organizations. . .in to the heavens into interstellar space, where the gods once had their abode in the planets" (ibid.: 25). Jung is not so much concerned with the literal accounts and descriptions of Ufos, but rather with what they represent as a symbol from mankind's psychic totality. Jung suggests that Ufos are a "psychological projection" or "visionary rumor" based on a
psychological situation common to all mankind. The basis for this kind of rumor is an emotional tension having its cause in a situation of collective distress or danger, or in a vital psychic need" (ibid.: 23-24).
For Jung, the "psychic nature" of Ufos is a salient part of the reality of the Ufo phenomenon (ibid.: 116). He characterizes Ufos as a "living myth" (ibid.: 27) and goes on to link Ufos with a prominent symbol of psychic totality or unity, the mandala. He describes the Ufos as
an involuntary archetypal or mythological conception of an unconscious content, a rotundum, as the alchemists called it, that expresses the totality of the individual. . .a symbolical representation of the self (ibid.: 31).
The round shape of the Ufos also links them to another totality symbol, God, who "in his omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence is. . .something round, complete, and perfect" (ibid.: 32). Jung also found a connection to ancient Egypt; the interpretation of Ufos as a "'God's eye'. . .can be found in ancient Egyptian mythology as the 'eye of Horus', who with its help healed the partial blinding of his father Osiris, caused by Set" (ibid.: 44). Jung concludes his analysis by suggesting that the Ufos are a synchronistic phenomenon, stating that
The psychic situation of mankind and the Ufo phenomenon as a physical reality bear no recognizable causal relationship to one another, but they seem to coincide in a meaningful manner (ibid.: 118).
Another writer who spoke of a form of Ufos as a symbol of change is Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad based his interpretation on Ezekiel's vision of the wheel (Ezekiel 1: 16, 19), viewing this as a prophecy for the judgement and destruction "of the present world of the enemies of Allah". Muhammad described a wheel-shaped "Mother Plane", a heavily armed, "small human planet" that would bring about this destruction (Muhammad 1965: 291). He writes:
In Ezekiel's vision concerning the wheel, he said that he heard the voice of one tell the other to take coals of fire and to scatter it over the cities; this means bombs. . .The plane is to drop bombs which would automatically be timed to burrow quickly to a position of one mile below the surface of the earth where they are timed to explode (Muhammad 1973: 238-239).
Muhammad added that one possible source of the flying saucers was this mother plane (Muhammad 1965: 291).
Sun Ra has spoken of critically of several of the aspects of Christian-ity, and in particular the Bible. Sun Ra's equations owe little to Christian concepts, at least as they are commonly understood and employed. Sun Ra has never professed to being a Christian. (Neither has he professed to being a Muslim, although certain Islamic concepts correspond to some of his equations). Sun Ra has spoken about being influenced by a force from another realm. However, in regards to his views on Christianity, he was influenced by a more down-to-earth source: his parents. He says, "I had some different kind of parents. They say you make your own Heaven and Hell, they don't go to church" (Rusch 1984: 64).
Sun Ra has spoken harshly of those who claim to be "righteous". Concerning immortality, he has said
Churches are always talking about immortality. . .But for righteous people only. I want everybody to have immortality (Thomas 1968: 19).
Sun Ra describes himself to be beyond Christian concepts when he says:
they're teaching that God wants all the righteous people, and. . .the devil wants all the unrighteous ones. . .They might get in God's heaven by being righteous and get in the devil's kingdom by being unrighteous. That won't help them with me (Mugge 1980).
In an interview with Graham Lock, Sun Ra mentions the damage that he feels black Christians have done:
the righteous people got in control and they put up churches and things. They thought they didn't need music so they didn't support art and beauty. You might as well say goodbye to America, it can't survive wihout art. Like the Bible says, if you're righteous overmuch you're gonna destroy yourself (Lock 1988: 18).9
Lock has also interpreted Sun Ra's embracing of ancient Egypt as running counter to Christian beliefs:
Ra's espousal of ancient Egypt would have grated with the righteous who, in adopting Christianity and its Bible, tended to identify with the persecuted Israelites and thus saw Egypt as the enemy (ibid.: 21fn).
Sun Ra has countered Christian interpretations of ancient Egypt with statements such as "somehow ancient Egypt is thought of as the kingdom of bondage. It would be better to say the kingdom of discipline. The kingdom of precision. The kingdom of culture, beauty, art" (Mugge 1980). His poem "The Flesh" begins with a pun on the word "Israel":
Israel. . .Is Ra El?. . .Ra Is El
El is Ra
L is R
(Sun Ra 1985).
The Hebrew word for power or God is "El" (Budge 1969: 63-64) and one basis for the assertion embodied in the above excerpt is the fact that according to Sun Ra, "'R' is the same as 'L' in ancient languages" (Burks 1969: 17). (Abdullah Yusuf Ali goes into more detail on the equivalence of L and R; see Ali 1934: 481).
One figure who is a link between ancient Egypt and Christianity is Moses. Writers such as George G. M. James and Manly P. Hall have suggested that Moses was an initiate in the Egyptian Mystery System. Hall writes:
The word Moses, when understood in its esoteric Egyptian sense, means one who has been admitted into the Mystery Schools of Wisdom and who has gone forth to teach the ignorant concerning the will of the gods and the mysteries of life (Hall 1952: CXXXIII).
James suggests that Jesus was also an initiate:
it would be well to mention that all the great leaders of the great religions of antiquity were Initiates of the Egyptian Mystery System: from Moses, who was an Egyptian Hierogrammat, down to Christ (James 1989: 40).
In his poem "Be-earthed", Sun Ra offers an interpretation of the nature of Jesus:
Now ge is one of the symbolical names of earth,
We might as well consider that Ge's is earth's
And Ge's us is Earth's us
(Sun Ra 1985).
This could very well be interpreted as a statement that Jesus was an (extra) ordinary human being. Other scholars have linked Jesus to the sun. Mustafa El-Amin writes that "the idea of Son of God is a corruption of the term 'Sun' god" and points out that the name "Jesus" is "derived from the two sun gods called Hesus and Kristos" (El-Amin 1985: 77, 90-91). Manly P. Hall adds "For reasons which they doubtless considered sufficient, those who chronicled the life and acts of Jesus found it advisable to metamorphise him into a solar deity" (Hall 1952: L). In addition, Jung recounts the story of a man named Orfeo Angelucci, who had a vision of being visited by beings from outer space in which, among other things, he was told that Jesus
was called allegorically the Son of God. In reality he was the "Lord of the Flame", "an infinite entity of the sun" and not of earthly origin (Jung 1959: 122).
Sun Ra has also interpreted the concepts of the Garden of Eden and Judgement Day in his own way. In his poem "The Garden of Eden", he sees it not as a paradise, but as a place of stagnation and destruction:
Alas, for those within the Garden of Eden
The Eden Garden
The Eating Garden
The Eatened Garden
Where the bones and flesh of the inhabitants are eaten. . .
Now they are in the garden of eating being eaten
This is the meaning of The Garden of Eden. . .
They are the chosen ones
The begottened begardened
Restin' in their place of berth. . .
A rebirth is being born again
A cryptic word of crypt-intent
(Sun Ra 1985).
Concerning Judgement Day, though Sun Ra does not deny that there will be one, he describes it in his own way:
I am looking for people to make Judgement Day a reality. And to realize that neither God or anybody else is going to judge humanity. They have to do the judging of what is proper for them to survive (Mugge 1980).
Sun Ra has spoken repeatedly about the Bible. For him, the Bible is something that has the potential for being very dangerous if not interpreted correctly. John Gilmore recalls that one of Sun Ra's early interests was interpreting the Bible:
he used to print little pamphlets and papers instructing people on biblical interpretations and things that they had never thought of (Wilmer 1985: 16, also Sato 1987: 56).
Sun Ra describes why he decided to undertake interpreting the Bible as follows:
there wasn't no need bein' an intellectual if I couldn't do somethin' that hadn't been done before so I decided I would tackle the most difficult problem on the planet. . .finding out the real meanin' of the Bible, which defied all kinds of intellectuals and religions (Primack 1978: 15).
To do this, Sun Ra went to ancient languages, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Japanese and Chinese philosophy, among other things. Sun Ra concluded, "I know the meaning of that book" (ibid.).10
Sun Ra has spoken of being oppressed by the Bible from an early age. He says:
Ever since I was a subteenager I've had to fight against a force that is doing its very best to keep people from hearing me, from knowing me. I had this solid battle with this force that was trying to humiliate me, trying to break my spirit. . .[This force] comes out of the Bible (Steingroot 1988: 50).
Sun Ra calls it a "trouble book" and says that "the people who have it" are "using it in the wrong way because they don't understand" (ibid.).
In Islam, the Bible is also treated very critically. In the Qur'an, it is written:
Ye people of the Book! [the Bible]
Why reject ye
The Signs of God,
Of which ye are
Ye people of the Book!
Why do ye clothe
Truth with falsehood
While ye have knowledge? (iii: 70-71).
Abdullah Yusuf Ali, in Appendices II and III of his translation of the Qur'an, describes in more detail how the Bible is viewed by Muslims (Ali 1934: 282-287).
Black American Muslims Elijah Muhammad and Mustafa El-Amin have also written critically of Christianity and the Bible.11 Elijah Muhammad writes that Christianity has failed the black race in three ways:
First, Christianity has failed you because it was the religion which first placed you in slavery. Secondly, Christianity has failed you because through its doctrine of turning the other cheek it has rendered you incapable of defending yourself in the hour of peril. Thirdly, Christianity has failed you because it has caused you to forsake the pursuit of justice in this world in pursuit of an illusory and nonexistent justice beyond the grave (Muhammad 1973: 12).
Muhammad stated that although there is "plenty of truth" in the Bible if it is correctly understood, as a whole he characterized it as "the graveyard of my poor people" and "a Poison Book" (Muhammad 1965: 95). Mustafa El-Amin describes the failures of Christian teachings and of the God of the Bible as follows:
Reader, ask yourself, has sin decreased in the world since the time of Jesus or has it increased? Has not sin increased? Then what good was this so-called blood sacrifice? It never happened, and to suggest that it did, especially for the reasons generally given, is an insult and blasphemy of the Creator. The Bible presents God as a failure. First He tries to make a righteous man but fails; the man Adam disobeyed. Then he raises a prophet named Lot, but he sleeps with his daughter. Noah gets drunk; David conspired to have his general killed so he can get Sheba, his general's wife. Then He causes Mary to have an unnatural birth so that Jesus could be murdered in hopes that man would cease his sinful ways, but that failed (El-Amin 1985: 79).
Two of Sun Ra's interpretations of the Bible can be found in his poem "The Flesh" and one of his "Solaristic Precepts", which is reproduced in Simpkins' biography of John Coltrane. (It is not exactly clear whether the document reprinted in this book is the same one that Arkestra member Pat Patrick gave to John Coltrane). "The Flesh" contains an interpretation of the well-known verse "And the Word was made flesh" (St. John 1: 14). By using the equivalence of L and R, Sun Ra writes:
The word that was made flesh was made fresh
It is the new. . .new test. . .new tester
New Testament. . .
Words made fresh
The word was made fresh
Thus is the cosmic reach
Dark meanings brought to light
(Sun Ra 1985).
The "Solaristic Precept" begins "To those who seek true wisdom, the bible should be considered as the Code (Cod) word instead of the Good word or God word." This is followed by a long explanation that is very difficult to understand or interpret. However, the document concludes with the following: "Secret Keys To Biblical Interpretation Leading To True Eternal Being--The Number 9". This is followed by a table consisting of the numbers 1 through 99 arranged in eleven vertical columns, each containing nine numbers (Simpkins 1975: 99-100).
The number nine is a very significant number. Nine plays an important part in the Egyptian Mystery teachings: the Ennead is composed of nine gods who correspond to the nine planets, and human beings are conceived of as having nine elements (James 1989: 118, 123-124, Budge 1967: lxix). In the Qur'an it is written "To Moses We did give Nine Clear Signs" (xvii: 101) which are 1) the Rod, 2) the Radiant Hand, 3) drought, 4) short crops, 5) epidemics among men and beasts, 6) locusts, 7) lice, 8) frogs, and 9) water turning to blood (Ali 1934: 378, n1091). Mustafa El-Amin interprets these nine signs, as well as the riddle of the Sphinx, as being a key to enter ancient Egypt. The numbers of the riddle of the Sphinx, 4 legs + 2 legs + 3 legs, equal nine. El-Amin writes, "it is the knowledge of the nine that allows one to enter Ancient Egypt" (El-Amin 1988: 45-46).
El-Amin goes on to give further interpretations of the number nine. He writes that nine is symbolic of the union of the material (represented by 4) and the spiritual (represented by 5). Four has already been discussed as a symbol of the material. El-Amin describes the meaning of five as follows:
"Five represents a circle", and Ancients identified the circle with the heavenly bodies of the planets and moon, thus five represents "the heavenly or higher order" (El-Amin 1985: 168, 1988: 5-9).
El-Amin also describes the ways in which nine is found in the crucifixion of Jesus. The cross and the figure of Jesus on the cross both comprise four 90 degree angles, which totals to 360, which when added together produces nine (3 + 6 + 0 = 9). Furthermore, it is written that in the ninth hour Jesus gave up the ghost and died (St. Mark 15: 34). El-Amin interprets this as meaning that "the spiritual was separated from the material which caused him to die; he no longer operated with the knowledge of nine" (El-Amin 1988: 47, 98-99).
Further manifestations of the number nine in the Bible are noted by Manly P. Hall, who describes how nine is found in two of the significant numbers in the Book of Revelation. These numbers are the mark of the beast (666) and the number of the redeemed, the followers of the Lamb (144,000) (Revelation 13: 18 and 14: 1). Adding the digits of both of these numbers results in nine, which Hall describes as a "symbol of man. . .in the path of his resurrection" (Hall 1952: CLXXXVII-CLXXXVIII).
It is not important whether these interpretations of nine are the exact ones intended by Sun Ra. None of these explain the table of the numbers 1 through 99, for example, yet all of these interpretations do make sense on their own terms and do show how nine is manifested in the Bible. Jung has described the nature of numbers as "a mysterious something midway between myth and reality, partly discovered and partly invented" (Jung 1959: 110). It is up to the readers of Sun Ra's "Solaristic Precepts" to determine the ultimate significance of nine to the Bible.
Following the discussion of Sun Ra's view of the Bible, it is important to clarify his conception of "The Creator". To Sun Ra, this creator is not a supreme, perfect being, but rather an entity that is in the process of evolving itself, "God as Evolution", according to LeRoi Jones (1967: 199). Sun Ra views the creator as being a natural phenomenon, akin to his view of the universe. Sun Ra describes it as a "natural being" which is "not necessarily Divine" and neither good nor evil (Burks 1969: 18). Sun Ra characterizes the creator as a "superior being", contrasting it to a "supreme being" as follows:
"superior" can always get better and better and better. "Supreme", it's finished (Corbett 1989: 27).
This creator is the source of "the created realm of Beingness" that we all inhabit, and is also the motivating factor behind Sun Ra's mission and music. (Fiofori 1970a: 17). He has said, "What I'm doing concerns the creator of the universe[,] it doesn't concern me at all" (Townley 1973: 14) and "My music comes from the creator of the universe" (Simpkins 1975: 98). Sun Ra's conception of the creator is perhaps then more closely related to the ancient Egyptian conception of a divine being (for example, Ra) than anything else; it is certainly not the same as the God of the Old or New Testament or the Qur'an. Sun Ra has never attributed a specific name to this creator, however.
Many musicians working in the modern improvised music idiom resent it when the label "jazz" is applied to their music. Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Yusef Lateef, and Anthony Braxton are only a few of those who feel that the term "jazz" immediately pigeonholes their music or ascribes unsavory connotations to it. It is obvious that when listening to the wide variety of music that is called jazz that the term has become nearly meaningless in any useful way. How can one term be used to describe music as varied (or even mutually exclusive) as that of Kenny G and Albert Ayler, or even one musician such as Miles Davis ('Round About Midnight vs. Sketches of Spain vs. Nefertiti vs. On the Corner etc.)?
Sun Ra, however, is not one of those musicians who avoids the term "jazz". His music is at least as stylistically diverse as that of Miles Davis, yet he embraces the term jazz. He has even called himself "the spirit of Jazz" (Rusch 1984: 71). Sun Ra ascribes positive connotations to the word "jazz". For him, jazz is a term that describes a music whose essence is spontaneity and happiness. He defines what he calls "pure jazz" as "that which is without preconceived notion, or it is just being" (Fiofori 1970a: 14) and that if it attains perfection, then it is "finished, and if it sounds finished, it doesn't have any spontaneity left, and then it isn't jazz" (Shore 1980: 51).
Happiness is another essential part of Sun Ra's jazz. Sun Ra feels that early jazz artists, and in particular big bands, were the best exponents of this happiness. The figures Sun Ra cites as examples include Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Fats Waller, Lionel Hampton, and innumerable unknown bands that never became famous. Sun Ra has described their music as "truly natural Black beauty" and "a natural happiness of love" (Fiofori 1970a: 14). Sun Ra views the decline of the big bands and the move toward smaller ensembles as one of the evils of America (Lock 1988: 18). Sun Ra has also implied that jazz is more than what others think of when he said, "I didn't say that jazz was just created, I say it was created in Babylon, and played in ancient Egypt" (Primack 1978: 16).12
Jazz also serves a function that is a very important part of Sun Ra's equations: it acts as a bridge to another realm. He has said:
jazz did serve as a bridge. . .to somewhere or nowhere at all or some no place unknown like intergalactic (Fiofori 1970a: 15).
Sun Ra also speaks of pure jazz as a pure, "unmanufactured" avant-garde, played for the "pure joy of it", and which unfortunately is something valuable that the world neglected due to ignorance and lack of understanding (ibid.: 14, Shore 1980: 66).
Sun Ra's Music
Sun Ra clearly hopes that his music, his jazz, will fulfill the functions and embody the happiness of pure jazz, the unmanufactured avant-garde. As can be expected, his music is the topic that he has addressed more often than any other in his interviews. He has described the nature and role of his music in many different ways, yet there is a unity of purpose that underlies all these descriptions. The ways he has described his music can be broken down into four general categories: its basis, nature, function, and requirements.
One of the most important elements that Sun Ra's music is based on is feelings. This goes with Sun Ra's view that the original, creative music called jazz was a pure music, based on naturalness, spontaneity, sincerity, and feelings. Sun Ra characterized the playing of saxophonist John Gilmore as embodying these aspects: "his mind has expanded. . .outside of what they might call jazz although it is a superior form of jazz because it's built on sincerity, it's based on feelings" (Primack 1978: 16). Sun Ra also views his music as based on "three energy factors", which correspond to the human attributes of mind, body, and spirit (ibid.: 41). Sun Ra has described his music's base in black culture in an interesting way. When asked if he was performing "black music", he answered, "I would say that it's black from the point of view that it's still got the darkness of myth. And it really pinpoints ancient Egypt in a definite way" (Burks 1969: 17).
Sun Ra has used a wide variety of terms to describe the nature of his music. Most of these incorporate some form of outer space imagery. One such word is "intergalactic", which Sun Ra used to characterize his music of the late sixties and early seventies. To Sun Ra, intergalactic music is "really outside the realm of the future on the turning points of the impossible" and "in hieroglyphic-sound: an abstract synthesis and analysis of man's relationship to the universe" (Fiofori 1970a: 15, 17). He has also applied the term "omniverse" to a later stage of his music, beginning around 1980. Concurrently with "omniversal", he has also called what he is doing "world music" (Shore 1980: 48). For Sun Ra, world music (and a world musician) would have equal relevance in any country and would incorporate everything "from the traditional. . .to the future" (Rusch 1984: 67). He has also described his music as being from "psychic sphere planes" and from a "celestial plane", both implying something that is beyond planet Earth (Sale 1987: 57, Corbett 1989: 24). Sun Ra has also described his music as simple, and that often it is non-musicians who have an easier time comprehending what he is doing rather than musicians. One of the reasons for this, Sun Ra believes, is that non-musicians base their reactions on feelings and not what they think should be right or wrong (Macnie 1987: 62, Corbett 1989: 23).
Sun Ra has also used the term "bridge" to describe his music. This bridge leads to a better, potential future, a future "that's not supposed to be but that is better than is supposed to be" (Stokes 1989). As a bridge it corresponds to the space age, which according to Sun Ra is another symbol of humanity's reach for a better future. His poem "Points on the Space Age" ties his music together with the space age:
This is the music of greater transition
To the invisible, irresistable space age. . .
Outer space is big and real and compelling
And the music which represents it must be likewise. . .
The isolated earth age is finished
And all the music which represents only the past
Is for museums of the past
(Sun Ra 1974b).
John Gilmore has described Sun Ra's music as being "on another planetary level" and as such it must be "suitable for the age we're moving into, the 21st century" (Diliberto 1984: 62). Attali has written that "Music is prophecy" and announces "a vision of the world" either as a "mirror of reality" for Marx or an "expression of truth" for Nietzsche (Attali 1985: 11, 6), or, perhaps, as a "bridge to a new age" for Sun Ra.
Sun Ra's music serves other functions besides acting as a bridge to the future. Most of these functions have to do with influencing and changing his listeners in some way. For example, he has said that his music is intended to "coordinate the minds of people into an intelligent reach for a better world, and an intelligent approach to the living future" (Schonfield n. d.). He has also described his music as "sound music, for sound minds and bodies" (Shore 1980: 48), and something that can help to counteract bad vibrations that people get from outer space (Thomas 1968: 19). In more down-to-earth words, Sun Ra described his music as something that "can touch the unknown part of a person. It can awaken part of them that we're not able to talk about" (Lyons 1978: 50).
Sun Ra has also likened his music to painting and storytelling. He has said that he is "actually painting pictures of Infinity" with his music and that if people would listen to it, they would "find that mine has something else in it, something from another world" (Wilmer 1966). In the film A Joyful Noise, he says:
Every song I write tells a story. A story that humanity needs to know about. In my music I speak of unknown things, impossible things, ancient things, potential things. No two songs tell the same story (Mugge 1980).
Sun Ra's views of music's functionality echo those of ancient Egypt and Pythagoras. James has described how music's role was defined by the Egyptian mystery systems:
Music meant. . .the adjustment of human life into harmony with God, until the personal soul became identified with God. . .It was therapeutic, and was used by the Egyptian priests in the cure of diseases (James 1989: 28).
Sun Ra's linking of outer space to music recalls the Pythagorean idea of the music of the spheres. According to Manly P. Hall, "Pythagoras conceived the universe to be an immense monochord, with its single string connected at its upper end to absolute spirit and its lower end to absolute matter". The seven planets known at that time corresponded to seven heavens, which when they sang together produced "perfect harmony which ascends as an everlasting praise to the throne of the creator". This music is inaudible to those who are preoccupied with material existence, and if "the human soul regains its true estate it will not only hear the celestial choir but also join with it in an everlasting anthem of praise to that Eternal Good controlling the infinite number of parts and conditions of Being" (Hall 1952: LXXXIII). This idea clearly finds a parallel in Sun Ra's belief that his music can serve as a means to a higher form of being for those who have the ability to hear it as it was intended to be heard.
Sun Ra has described some of the requirements for playing his music properly. Sun Ra chooses "musicians who believe in discipline, harmony, and precision" (Mugge 1980). According to him, discipline refines a musician's skills, but can also be very taxing. He says:
If they can handle the discipline they stay; if not, they go. If they make one wrong note, they might get talked about for a month. But if you can't take criticism, you can't grow (Macnie 1987: 62).
Sun Ra prefers that his musicians play from memory, in order to preserve the feeling of spontaneity, and to force them to play more from intuition and feeling (Shore 1980: 51). When they do read, they must be able to play every note with a certain nuance, and "if they don't have that nuance, it won't sound right" (Lyons 1978: 17). The fact that Sun Ra feels that his music plays an important role in developing the mind and spirit of his listeners means that it is very important for it to be played correctly. He says:
I can't have it twisted or distorted, because if there's a slight flaw in the message, and somebody listens to it, that could really lead them wrong (Doerschuk 1987).
Long time Arkestra members Marshall Allen and Pat Patrick have commented on the positive aspects of these requirements. Allen has said that it has made him "become a more sincere and disciplined musician" (Fiofori 1971a); Patrick has said that Sun Ra "is the type of musician that inspires you to improvement" and that "there is always something to be learned from him" (Fiofori 1971b).
One of the things that has distinguished Sun Ra from others working in the improvised music idiom is his emphasis on the so-called "extra-musical" or "theatrical" elements of performance. Over the years, Sun Ra's performances have included, depending on his budget and the performance venue, costumes, dancers, films, and light shows. The costumes are extravagant and colorful and often incorporate outer space or Egyptian motifs. Light shows and dancers seem more common to rock concerts than to so-called jazz concerts. Some have interpreted these visual aspects as a way to mask or divert attention from the inferiority of the music (Jost 1981: 191). Others, however, have pointed out that Sun Ra's aesthetic of a total performance experience has its roots in African and African-American culture. Dario Salvatori writes of Sun Ra and theatricality as follows:
Theatricality. . .A parody of normality, an exacerbate dilatation of the physical time requested for the gesture or the thought. . .Sun Ra's theatricality is often. . .a dilated revisitation of a tradition which he feels like his own. The scandal that the Arkestra may provocate is similar to that which the minstrels might cause during their "shows" in America or in Europe. . .But, comparing, shouldn't we consider a much wider scandal Al Jolson's treacherous mask? Is it more scandalistic to continuously renew the own tradition, or to steel [sic] an exogenous culture just for "economical" interest? (Salvatori 1978; for other views on Sun Ra from this perspective, see Jost 1981: 191 and Lock 1988: 22-23).
On the connection between his performance practice and black culture, Sun Ra says that his use of these elements comes from "my natural blackness" which he has maintained "By isolating myself from Black folks in America and by isolating myself from white folks in America. I'm ME and that's more than either one of them can say" (Wilmer 1977: 90).
Sun Ra has clarified the reasons for his incorporation of these various visual elements. The main reason why Sun Ra employs these various visual devices is simple: for expression. Music, dance, costumes, colors, and movements are all different aspects of expression. He has said, "I might want to dance, maybe that's the way to reach people at a certain point. Instruments might not be able to do it. Maybe a hand movement will do it" (Primack 1978: 16). On another occasion, he said, "costumes are music. Colors throw out musical sounds, too. Every color throws out vibrations of life" (Corbett 1989: 26).
When asked why he uses costumes, Sun Ra's answer falls along the lines of "Why not?" In one interview, he describes how people reacted to his use of costumes in the early days:
I had a special space hat with a light on top and people said to me, "Why you got to have a blue light on the top of your head?" I said, "'Cause I feel like it!. . .We'd come out in opera clothes and they thought that was weird, but they used the costumes in the opera, so why couldn't we use it? (Primack 1978: 16).
For those who think of his use of costumes as something humorous, Sun Ra says, "Most of the time the avant-garde looks so serious. . .They don't look like they're really having fun. . .I want people to laugh at the costumes I have on" (Macnie 1987: 62).
The use of lights and other visual effects contributes to a unified form of artistic expression which is important to have in order for the full effect of a Sun Ra experience to be felt. He uses these various elements "so that the people can see as well as hear the sound-image-impression of everything" (Fiofori 1970a: 15). All are important parts of Sun Ra's "cosmic drama" (Stokes 1989).
The audience too plays a role in Sun Ra's equations. He feels that people are musical instruments who have harps in their ears and who need to be tuned up. Sun Ra feels that music can affect these harps to produce various reactions in his listeners:
People have two harps in their head, their ears, just like a harp. They hear by the strings in their ears. If I play something very strange, then some strings that never vibrated before will vibrate. The whole nervous system will become alive (Sale 1987: 55, also Corbett 1989: 24).
Sun Ra has also described the overall structure of human beings as being similar to strings, and like stringed instruments, humans need to be tuned up occasionally:
People are composed of strings like a stringed instrument--their nerves, their muscles, nothing but strings. So from time to time they have to be tuned up just like a musical instrument. That's why people talk about a sound mind and a sound body. This "sound" is really musical (Townley 1973: ).
Sun Ra has also compared heart beats and eardrums to drums (Stokes 1989). Some people, on the other hand, are more "like rests, and they won't make a sound when pressed. . .that seems to be their function" (Fiofori 1970a: 17). In terms of audience participation, Sun Ra says that when the people become energized by the music, then "they become part of the band." Sun Ra describes this as "total creativity" (Primack 1978: 16).
Sun Ra has often spoken of the qualities of music in more general terms. The metaphor he uses most often is that of language, and usually he uses the phrase "universal language". The attributes he ascribes to the universal language of music are similar to those of the other aspects of his equations.
Leonard Meyer has written that "Music is not a 'universal language'". Meyer likens a musical language to a spoken language, stating that the ability to comprehend music from different cultures or with different aesthetic criteria than what one is accustomed to is like being able to understand a foreign language. One can appreciate the sounds and perhaps get the general idea without knowing the language, but complete under-standing is not possible unless one can speak the language (Meyer 1956: 62-63).
Sun Ra, on the other hand, applies the term "universal" in a more literal way. Sun Ra's universal music goes beyond the differences in human beings, which when compared to the vastness and unity of the cosmos are petty. Music as a non-universal language is a concept tied to the planet Earth; music as a universal language implies that music is the language of the universe.
The universal language of music has many powerful attributes according to Sun Ra. One of the possibilities for the universal language of music is to unite all of humankind. Sun Ra says, "Music is a universal language and most certainly could be a national language to communicate to different nations" (Rusch 1984: 68). This music can also act as a key to a better, potential future:
Cosmic music is a place of tomorrow, it is the dimension and the balanced perspective of tomorrow . .It speaks to the worlds of the greater potentials awaiting the peoples of the worlds at every future point on every future plane (Burks 1969: 17).
Sun Ra describes the characteristics of an "intergalactic" music which links it to the concept of black:
Intergalactic music is of the outer darkness. . .
And from that point of view:
It is Black-Infinity. . .
It is Cosmo-Nature's music. . .
And he who is not dark in spirit will never know. . .
I speak of a different kind of blackness,
The kind that the world does not know. . .
It is the cosmo-bridge to the Dark Unknown Eternal
("The Outer Darkness", in Sun Ra 1985).
Music is also a way for the musician to communicate directly to the throne of the creator, which places a great obligation on the musician:
Music is a universal language and what. . .musicians are playing. . .goes to the creator as your personal ambassador and your personal nemesis (Mugge 1980).
Sun Ra's thoughts on these cosmic attributes of music are akin to those of Anthony Braxton. In Graham Lock's review of Braxton's Tri-Axium Writings, he summarizes and quotes Braxton's views on the nature of music as follows:
form, and the elements of form, such as harmony and rhythm, are linked to cosmic correspondences and the transmission of forces: "creativity can be viewed as a manifestation of a given cosmic, social, and vibrational (cultural) alignment and the science which determined how a given form is actualized is related to spiritual, mystical, and functional considerations with regard to what I will call higher forces" (Lock 1988: 310).
In opposition to the positive attributes of cosmic or universal music are the destructive elements of commercially oriented or derivative music. Sun Ra sees the spirit of humanity as starving due to an overabundance of commercial music. He says:
you have a lot of commercial folks on this planet who took the music and used it to make money, but now people have heard so much of that music they've been sated with sound. But the spirit, it gets very little food I'd say. . .I think the people on this planet are starving their spiritual selves (ibid.: 17).
Sun Ra places the responsibility for most of this situation on the musicians. He has said that "a lot of musicians compromise" and that this means "they don't understand their mission upon Planet Earth (Stokes 1989).
He has also characterized musicians as selfish and who play mainly "to satisfy their ego and so that someone can applaud them" (Wilmer 1977: 77).
Sun Ra has a warning for these musicians: "There are a lot of voodoo rhythms out there, and some of them are deadly" (Macnie 1987: 62). Thus the imitative and commercial music of these musicians is, as Attali says, "the monotonous herald of death" (Attali 1985: 125). The rest of the world also shares in this responsibility. Sun Ra says:
The world has got to put up musicians who care about humanity. They can no longer push up those who just turn out commercial, people who just care about themselves (Lock 1988: 19).
Sun Ra sees the above type of musician as in marked contrast to those whom he calls the creators and innovators. These musicians, such as Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and Fats Waller, cared about humanity and their music was "a natural happiness of love. . .fresh and courageous; daring, sincere, unfettered" (Fiofori 1970a: 14). Sun Ra feels that the decline of the big bands meant the loss of this kind of spirit, which was replaced by a more self-serving musical emphasis. He says:
You used to have a case with black musicians where they'd communicate with each other, have some respect for each other (Primack 1978: 41).
Sun Ra views this kind of respect as developing one's own ideas and not imitating others. He says:
This is a planned strategy by people to bypass particular Black musicians that were the masters. And to put some more Black musicians up there who are imitators. They put the imitators up there instead of the creators (Rusch 1984: 67).
As a result, Sun Ra, who views himself as one of the creators, has had to endure a lot of hardship during his career. Cynics may view this as an excuse for the relative obscurity and lack of commercial success that Sun Ra has had. Yet the final assessment of whether Sun Ra ranks with these creators or is just a "pretender to the throne" must lie with each individual listener and must be based on a familiarity with the most important part of his equations: the music.
Chapter 4: Musical Manifestations of Sun Ra's Equations
The Cosmic-Myth Equations of Sun Ra are manifested in every level of his music. Song titles, lyrics, and record covers all express themes related to the various aspects of these equations. Sun Ra's aesthetics are also manifested in his use of various musical instruments, his extensive repertoire, live performances, his record company, and finally in the actual musical forms and sounds.
Sun Ra has hundreds of original compositions. Some are obscure items that have only appeared once on hard-to-find records; others have become standards that are included in nearly every live performance. The titles of many of these compositions recall several of the important themes of Sun Ra's equations that have been discussed in the previous chapter. These themes have been expressed in song titles consistently throughout Sun Ra's career, from his first recording, Sun Song, to his most recent (at the time of this writing), Purple Night. Thus, Sun Ra's listeners become exposed to his ideas regardless of whether they are familiar with his interviews or poetry and the concerns expressed in them. (Instead of citing which recordings each of the following song titles are from, I will refer the reader to the Discography which is located in the Appendix).
The most prevalent theme in Sun Ra's titles is that of the cosmos, universe, or outer space. This theme can be expressed alone or in combination with other ideas. More general ideas of outer space are found in such song titles as "Cosmos", "The Cosmos" (these are two different pieces), "Celestial Realms", "Distant Stars", and "The Outer Heavens". Specific attributes of the cosmos or universe are expressed in titles like "The Satellites are Spinning", "The Cosmo-Fire", "Lights on a Satellite", "Cosmo-Energy", "Friendly Galaxy", "Irregular Galaxy", and one of Sun Ra's best-known compositions, "Space is the Place."
Space is also associated with love and the blues. The ideas of love or romance are found in titles like "Space Mates", "Space Fling", "Love in Outer Space", "Celestial Love", and "Romance of Two Planets". Many of Sun Ra's recorded blues performances also have outer space associations in their titles, for example "Kosmos in Blue", "Cosmo Party Blues", and "Cosmo Journey Blues".
Other titles refer to specific planets ("Planet Earth", "Saturn", "On Jupiter", "Next Stop Mars"), other cosmic phenomena ("Cluster of Galaxies", "Nebulae", "Stars that Shine Darkly"), and the beings who dwell out in the cosmos ("The Others in Their World", "From Out Where Others Dwell", "Moon People", and "They Dwell on Other Planes").
Sun Ra's titles also link space to more mysterious or mythical ideas, for example "Of Heavenly Things", "Cosmic Chaos" (a term used in Egyptian mythology to describe the state of existence before the birth of the universe), "Hidden Spheres", and "Pathways to Unknown Worlds". Space is also linked to the idea of blackness in titles such as "Astro-Black". Finally, outer space is linked to music and jazz in titles such as "Sun Ra and his Band from Outer Space", "Of Sound Infinity Spheres", "Cosmo Rhythmatic", "Space Jazz Reverie", and "Jazz from an Unknown Planet".
The sun is also referred to in many titles, with a variety of associations: music ("Sun Song", "Dancing in the Sun"), myth and science ("The Sun Myth", "Sunology"), humanity ("Children of the Sun") and aspects of the sun's existence ("For the Sunrise", "Sunrise", "When There is no Sun").
Another recurring theme is that of space travel, which can be found in such titles as "Rocket Number Nine", "Journey Among the Stars", "Moonship Journey", "We Travel the Spaceways", "Strange Celestial Road", "Cosmonaut-Astronaut Rendezvous", "Walking on the Moon", "Space Shuttle", "When Spaceships Appear", "As Spaceships Approach", "Journey Stars Beyond", "Journey Towards Stars", and "Journey Outwards".
A theme related to outer space is that of the future or tomorrow. Sun Ra has described the space age as a way for humanity to reach a better, potential future. The idea of the future is found in titles like "Future", "New Horizons", "Music from the World Tomorrow", "Where is Tomorrow", "Looking Forward", and "Of the Other Tomorrow."
Many of Sun Ra's titles refer to places, mythical or real, that exist or have existed on this planet. Many song titles refer to things associated with ancient Egypt, for example "Ankh", "Ankhnaten", "Pyramids", "Tiny Pyramids", and "Pharoah's Den". The title "Starships and Solar Boats" links the boats used by Ra in his journey through the underworld with the modern idea of starships. Other titles that refer to present or historical places are "Nubia", "Africa", "Watusa", "Aiethopia", "Yucatan", "India", "Overtones of China", "China Gates", and "Ancient Ethiopia". Other titles refer to legendary or lost kingdoms, such as "Mu", "Lemuria", "Bimini", and "Atlantis". Forests are another recurring theme, found in titles such as "Exotic Forest", "Black Forest Myth" and "Song of Tree and Forest".
Magic and myth also play an important part in Sun Ra's song titles. In addition to the titles cited above, other titles referring to myths and magic are "The Magic City", "Legend", "Myth Versus Reality", "The Mystery of Two", "Hidden Fire", and "Of Invisible Them". Sun Ra's concept of the Kingdom of Not is found in a song title of the same name.
Many song titles refer to various states of being, in keeping with Sun Ra's concern for the betterment of humanity. The song titles imply different states of mind and being, as well as potential destinies of humanity. Among the former are such titles as "Imagination", "Enlightenment", "Strange Dreams", "The House of Eternal Being", "We Live To Be", and "Angel Race". Sun Ra also has several songs titled "Discipline", for example "Discipline 27", "Discipline 33" and "Discipline 99". (Whether by design or by coincidence, all of these numbers imply the number nine). Sun Ra's songs dealing with fate include "Fate in a Pleasant Mood" and "Nuclear War".
Song lyrics are closely related to song titles in that they both provide immediately perceivable references to Sun Ra's concepts. Many of the songs listed previously include lyrics. The song lyrics are usually short, consisting of anywhere from one or two lines to a number of different verses, some of which are expanded upon or combined improvisationally in live performances. The melodies attached to these lyrics are usually diatonic, catchy, and relatively simple. At other times, the lyrics are either chanted or spoken in an enhanced, recitatory tone of voice. The lyrics I will consider here are those dealing with the themes of outer space, Sun Ra, and the state of humanity.
Sun Ra's lyrics dealing with space are numerous and varied. Some of them are very short and involve Sun Ra and the Arkestra in some way. For example, the song "We Travel the Spaceways" goes
We travel the spaceways
From planet to planet.
"Outer Spaceways Incorporated" deals with a similar idea:
If you find earth boring
Just the same old same thing
Come on sign up
With Outer Spaceways
Some of Sun Ra's songs deal with specific planets. For example, "Rocket Number Nine" goes
Rocket Number Nine take off for the planet Venus,
Venus, Venus, Venus
Zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom
Up in the air
Up, zoom, up, zoom
Up in the air
The song "On Jupiter" describes the planet as follows:
Skies are always blue
From palest tint
To deepest, darkest hue
Other songs relate space to other ideas. For example, "Astro-Black" incorporates the role of music and the idea of blackness as follows:
Astro-thought in mystic sound
Astro-black of outer space. . .
Astro-black American. . .
To those of Earth and other worlds
Listen while you have the chance
Find your place among the stars
Listen to the outer world.
Sun Ra's theme song "Space is the Place" links the idea of outer space to the unattained human potential:
Space is the place
Space is the place
Space is the place, yeah
Space is the place. . .
There's no limit
To the things that you can do
There's no limit
To the things that you can be
Your form is free
And your life is worthwhile.
Other songs are about Sun Ra himself. For example, on the song "Angel Race-I Wait for You" from the record Live at the Pit-Inn, Sun Ra sings
I know that I'm a member of an Angel Race
My home is somewhere there out in outer space.
Another song dealing with the nature of Sun Ra is "Along Came Ra", which is performed in the film A Joyful Noise. This song links Sun Ra to the god Ra:
When the world was in darkness
And darkness was ignorance
Along came Ra
The living myth
The living mystery
These verses are sung by June Tyson and the Arkestra to accompany Sun Ra's entrance. He then steps to the microphone and says:
I have many names
Names of mystery
Names of splendor
Names of shame
I have many names
Some call me Mr. Ra
Others call me Mr. Re
You can call me Mr. Mystery
A number of Sun Ra's lyrics focus on the nature and fate of humanity. These can range from the real and palpable ("Nuclear War") to the more abstract ("I'll Wait For You"). The former, dealing with nuclear annihilation, confronts the listener with harsh, no-nonsense language:
Talkin' about nuclear war
It's a motherfucker
Don't you know
If they push that button
Your ass has got to go
Most of Sun Ra's songs are not this direct or earthbound. More typical are those that speak to the potential and nature of humanity. For example, the duality of myth and reality is addressed to the listener in the song "Myth Versus Reality" as follows:
If you are not a myth, who's reality are you?
If you are not a reality, who's myth are you?
"I'll Wait For You" speaks of a place somewhere in another realm:
In some far place
Many light years in space
I'll wait for you
Where human feet
Have never trod
Where human eyes
Have never seen
I'll build a world
Of abstract dreams.
Another song, "Children of the Sun", addresses the unity of all humanity:
Children of the sun
You are children of the sun
Each and every one
Is a child of the sun. . .
For the sun shines on everyone
The good and the bad
The righteous and the wicked.
"Fate in a Pleasant Mood" and "Dreams Come True" both speak to a better future. For example, the former goes:
Fate in a pleasant mood
Can change your destiny
And all you got to do
To change your destiny
Is to find fate
When fate is in a pleasant mood.
"Dreams Come True" is an interesting song, incorporating the standard 32-bar AABA pop song format and chord changes that hearken back to the 1930s. The first three verses are:
Dreams come true I know they do
If you believe in love
Mine came true and yours will too
I swear by the stars above
Dreams come true they just have to
True as the moon above
Mine came true and yours will too
If you believe in love
Dream of romance
Strolling down lovers' lane
In a trance
And dream it over again.
The song "Enlightenment" links humanity's well-being to music, and in an extended performance from 1984 (on Live at Praxis '84, Vol. 3) Sun Ra describes the essence of true jazz, recalling Duke Ellington:
The sound of joy
The space-fire truth
Sometimes it's music
Rhythmic equations. . .
It's so strange
They tried to fool you
Now I got to school you
If it don't swing
It ain't jazz
'Cause it don't mean a thing
Ain't got that swing. . .
Now Bessie Smith
Oh that's jazz
And Duke Ellington
Now that's jazz
And Louis Armstrong
Oh that's jazz
And Fletcher Henderson
Oh that's jazz
And Billie Holiday
Oh that's jazz. . .
On that's jazz.
References to Sun Ra's equations are also found on the actual records themselves, in the form of photographs, cover art, and poetry, as well as in the actual existence of Saturn Records, Sun Ra's self-run record label. In the following discussion, Sun Ra's non-Saturn recordings will be discussed separately from the Saturn recordings.
When Sun Ra is shown on record covers, he is nearly always dressed in very colorful clothing. Rarely does he appear dressed in street clothes. Usually his dress incorporates Egyptian or space-suggesting motifs. For example, on a series of Impulse reissues of Saturn recordings, Sun Ra is shown wearing a variety of capes and flowing gowns decorated with stars, planets, or hieroglyphics (see especially Super Sonic Sounds, The Nubians of Plutonia, Atlantis, The Magic City, and one which is not a reissue, Astro-Black). The cover of the 1972 release Space is the Place shows Sun Ra wearing an Egyptian pharoah's headdress topped by a solar disk. Other notable cover photos of Sun Ra are found on his most recent releases, especially on the two Black Saints (Reflections in Blue and Hours After) and the two on A & M Records (Blue Delight and Purple Night). Record covers have also included photographs of the Arkestra in performance, which often show the colorful costumes worn by the Arkestra members as well as the futuristic stage decorations. For examples see The Solar Myth Approach Vol. 2, Live at Montreux, and The Other Side of the Sun.
Other record jackets employ the outer space motif. Cosmos has an uncredited cover painting depicting what one's point-of-view would be like if standing on the planet Uranus and viewing the rest of the planets lined up and leading towards the sun. The cover of The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 2, designed by Paul Frick, features an antique chart of the solar system, depicting the planets and their rotations. Beneath this is a series of portraits, consisting of, from left to right, Leonardo da Vinci, Copernicus, Pythagoras, Sun Ra, Galileo Galilei, and Tycho Brahe.
The Impulse reissues of Saturn recordings contain a series of cover paintings depicting fantastic or surreal scenes. It is not known how much influence, if any, that Sun Ra had in designing these covers; the fact remains that people looking at these paintings would have to associate them with Sun Ra regardless of who decided what the cover designs would be. The cover of The Magic City, by Don Bied, features a shape in the middle, the front of which resembles a rocket, while the back is the tail end of a horse. In the middle of this shape is a surreal scene of mountains and a river. Beneath this shape the heads of a man and a woman drink from two teats on the underside of this shape. Above this are a distorted house, doorways, and windows that resemble the sets from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The cover of Angels and Demons at Play, by Cathy Endfield, depicts an idyllic scene with a tree, mountain, and a castle. In the foreground a dark-skinned, male "demon" courts a blond, light-skinned female "angel". Other demons and angels fly above them. Hanging prominently in the tree is a snake. The cover of The Nubians of Plutonia, by John Lykes, depicts a scene possibly from some other planet. There are a number of figures in the foreground: a mostly-naked woman with a bird perched on her knee, a naked man walking and carrying a globe of light in his hand, and another naked man wrestling a tiger. A river runs through the middle of this scene, passing under a gateway bearing the name "Plutonia" which is topped by a ringed planet with a tree growing out of it. In the sky rays of sunlight shine through the clouds. Lykes also did the painting for Atlantis. This depicts a scene of fantastic destruction, presumably of the lost continent of Atlantis. In the sky a huge round shape is shooting beams of destruction at the city below. In the background is a city engulfed in flames; in the foreground people are jumping into the water to escape. There are also a number of flying saucers present in the sky.
The record covers may also contain a number of poems or other writings by Sun Ra. Poetry has been a consistent feature of Sun Ra's record covers, and although not included with every record, it can be found from Sun Ra's earliest recordings (Sun Song) to his latest (Purple Night). These poems also convey many of the concepts outlined in Chapter 3, and some of them have already been cited in that chapter. Song lyrics may also be printed on the covers, as is the case with "Astro-Black".
Sun Ra's Saturn recordings present a different set of ideas. Saturn is Sun Ra's own record label, which he started early in his career and has maintained ever since, releasing records concurrently with whatever other record companies he may be signed to. Sun Ra is one of the first improvised music artists to take control of his career in this way; others include the Jazz Composers Orchestra Association (JCOA), Alice Coltrane's short-lived Coltrane Records, Andrew White's Andrew's Music, and Horace Silver's Silveto Records. (For more information on this, see Wilmer 1977: 227-240).
Saturn Records exists in a world completely apart from that of the mainstream music business. The records are very difficult to find; occasion-ally they can be found in non-chain or used record stores. They can also be ordered through the mail, or bought at Sun Ra concerts. Cover designs can vary. Some, such as My Brother the Wind, Vol. 1 and Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow, feature a cover drawing on the front, and poems, song titles, personnel listings, and an address on the back. Recently, the covers have consisted of either a plain white jacket with hand-drawn cover art, or plain white or plain black bulk-ordered covers with no cover art whatsoever. Documentation also varies. Personnel are rarely listed; song titles may or may not be listed on the label, but they are usually not on the cover. Sometimes the only documentation is the title of the recording written on the label and a catalog number written on the record itself, in the space between the last song and the label. Examples of the latter include Rose Hued Mansions of the Sun, Temple U, and Primitone. On other occasions, the song titles are listed on the label but the recording itself has no title. For discographical purposes, records like these are usually cataloged according to the first song on side one (in the cases where the sides are differentiated). Sometimes the same record can be issued with two different covers. An example is Children of the Sun. One version contains a cover with a hand drawing and song titles listed on the record label, the other consists of a plain white cover with the title Children of the Sun written by hand, and a blank label with no song titles. While all of this may make Saturn Records seem like a low-budget or less than professional company, the fact remains that throughout his career, Sun Ra has successfully continued to record, manufacture, and distribute his own music with complete independence from any aspect of the established music business.
Moving towards the actual music, we find many ways in which Sun Ra's equations play a role. One of the most prominent is the wide array of musical instruments that the Arkestra has employed over the years. From his first recording, Sun Ra has sought to expand the instrumental resources employed by jazz artists. This is one way that Sun Ra has gone beyond those he cites as demonstrating the true spirit of jazz, such as Duke Ellington or Fletcher Henderson.
The Sun Ra Arkestra makes use of all the standard jazz band instruments. Included in this group are the saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone), trumpet, trombone, bass, piano, guitar, and drums. When it began in the mid-1950s, the Sun Ra Arkestra was set apart from other groups of the era by employing a tympanist (Jim Herndon), electric and acoustic bass (Victor Sproles and Wilburn Green), and electronic keyboards that were available at the time, for example the electric piano and Hammond organ. Various other percussion instruments, such as timbales, gongs, bells, and chimes were also used. By the late 1950s, the Arkestra had begun to use many other kinds of percussion instruments as well, with nearly all the members doubling on percussion. Flutes were also featured prominently on some pieces from this era.
In the 1960s, more instruments were utilized. Oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, and piccolo were added to the reed section, and the bass marimba was featured prominently in many pieces (most notably on The Magic City and The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 1). Vocals also began to be incorporated regularly. Instrumental resources were further expanded in the 1970s by adding bassoon (played in the normal fashion and with a trumpet mouthpiece instead of the reed), contra-alto clarinet, english horn, French horn, mellophone, vibes, kora, violin, and James Jackson's Ancient Egyptian Infinity Drum. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Sun Ra began using guitars more frequently, employing either funk, rock, or jazz-oriented tone colors. The reed players also began using the EVI, or Electronic Valve Instrument (heard on the Live at Praxis '84 recordings).
Sun Ra himself is noted as an innovator for his use of various electronic keyboard instruments. During the course of his career he has incorporated a huge variety of these. The Wurlitzer electronic piano was featured most often in the 1950s; in the early 1960s he began using the clavioline, a one-voice instrument (i. e., capable of playing only one note at a time) that simulated the sound of strings. He also began using a variety of electronic organs, though interestingly, he has rarely used the Hammond organ. (On Atlantis, he is listed as playing "Solar Sound Organ" and "Solar Sound Instrument" (Litweiler 1984: 147)). Other electronic keyboard instruments he used in this era were electronic celeste, solovox, and clavinet. Beginning in the late 1960s, Sun Ra began playing the Moog synthesizer, which had just been invented. Sun Ra incorporated the entire sound-making potential of the instrument, and stayed for the most part away from the way the instrument was most commonly used (for sound effects and for solo lead lines). He also began playing a Yamaha electronic organ, which he used both for a variety of sounds and more conventional harmonic and melodic roles. The Yamaha organ featured a pitch bending capability that Sun Ra often employed into his solos (for example, "Pathways to Unknown Worlds"). In the mid to late 1980s, Sun Ra began using digital synthesizers, such as the Yamaha DX7, which has a very different sound from that of the Moog. (For more on the instruments he has used, see Lyons 1978).
Sun Ra's use of the latest in electronic instrument technology can be seen as keeping in line with his goals to move into a future space age, and his use of various percussion and other instruments from around the world tie in with his desire to be a "world musician" (Rusch 1984: 67). Sun Ra summarizes his reasons for incorporating such a wide variety of instruments in the following passage:
I never consider any instrument in the category of no value in the composer's world of creation; it is all according to the time, the place, the performer, the particular need of the composition, and the circumstances involved (Fiofori 1970b: 39).
The stylistic range of Sun Ra's music is similarly vast. Every Sun Ra recording features something that he hasn't done before. John Diliberto has written, "In Sun Ra's Arkestra all music is possible" (Diliberto 1984: 62), a statement that is continually verified by his records and live performances. John Gilmore, who has been with the Arkestra since 1956, says "You never get stagnant with Sun Ra. . .Just when you think you know what he's going to write, he'll come out with some other stuff that you didn't know he could write" (Sato 1987: 57). Some of the stylistic trends in the Arkestra's history have been described in Chapter 2. In this section I will cite specific pieces to expand upon the previous discussion.
The Arkestra's early music consisted mainly of swinging, hard-bop style pieces, ballads, blues, and mood pieces. The arrangements were often intricate and there were no extended solos. Representative pieces from this era are "Brainville", "Saturn" (see Jost 1981: 184-185 for an analysis of this piece), "El Is A Sound of Joy", the ballad "Possession", the blues "Reflections in Blue" and "Blues at Midnight", and the mood pieces "Sun Song" and "Kingdom of Thunder".
In the late 1950s and 1960s the stylistic range broadened further. "Aiethopia", from The Nubians of Plutonia, has a stately modal theme played over a bass and baritone sax ostinato and extended percussion solos. "Africa", from the same record, has a harmonized wordless vocal theme over a wordless "doo-wop" style bass vocal. "The Shadow World" consists of a complex unison theme over a very fast tempo, and features a number of solos that incorporate a variety of "outside" techniques. "Cluster of Galaxies" consists mostly of gongs and other percussion sounds played through an echo device. "Exotic Forest" is another mood piece; a slow ballad which features Marshall Allen's oboe. Pieces such as "Abstract Eye" and "Outer Nothingness" are more abstract explorations of timbres and instrumental combinations. Near the end of the 1960s a number of vocal pieces were included, such as "Outer Spaceways Incorporated", "Imagination", and "Theme of the Stargazers". During this period Sun Ra also incorporated the Moog synthesizer. "Seen III, Took 4" and "Scene 1, Take 1" are both solo synthesizer pieces.
In the 1970s Sun Ra continued to refine and expand his stylistic range. New ideas include a piece for flute duet and an acappella vocal piece (both on The Soul Vibrations of Man), unaccompanied piano solos (Solo Piano, Vol. 1), and the inclusion of a number of standards, including "Take the 'A' Train", "Prelude to a Kiss", "Exactly Like You", Lady Bird", "Yesterdays", and "Flamingo". The 1980s saw Sun Ra and the Arkestra incorporating funk ("Strange Celestial Road"), more standards, mostly from the early jazz era, such as "Big John's Special", "Yeah Man!", "Limehouse Blues", and "King Porter Stomp", and a joint project with John Cage, released as John Cage Meets Sun Ra. It should be emphasized that when new material is added, older material and ideas are not abandoned, but developed. Listeners never have the opportunity to become complacent or bored; there is always something new and unexpected to be heard from the Arkestra.
A Sun Ra live performance exhibits many of the characteristics noted previously in Chapter 3 and this chapter. The following description comes from three Sun Ra concerts I attended in 1989 and 1990, all at The Palomino Club in North Hollywood. The recording that comes closest to matching the format of these concerts is Live at the Pit-Inn, Tokyo, 8/8/88. The stage of the Palomino Club is relatively small, so the musicians were positioned fairly close together. The arrangement of players was the same each time. On the far left was Sun Ra at the piano. Close to him were the bassist and guitarists. In the front row were the reeds, behind them were the trumpets and trombones. In the back were the two trap drummers, and the percussionists were on the right side next to the brass. Vocalist June Tyson sat offstage when she was not singing or playing violin. The exact composition of the band varied each time, but present at all three performances, besides Sun Ra, were long-time Arkestra members John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, James Jackson, and Michael Ray. A huge array of instruments were laid out on the stage, mostly reeds and various percussion instruments. All were ready to be used, though many were not. Underneath the chairs were stacks of sheet music.
Each performance consisted of two sets of approximately an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half duration. The first set began with the Arkestra members entering the stage one by one, starting with the drummers. As the musicians entered, they began playing a rapid, energetic collective improvisation. When all the musicians were on stage, the entire band would crescendo. Then Sun Ra would make his entrance, accompanied by Tyson. After Sun Ra had reached the stage, the band would crescendo further, and then when Sun Ra gave the signal they would all stop simultaneously. After this, the Arkestra would play a number of songs, until the finale, which consisted of a medley of songs, including "Space is the Place", "Outer Spaceways Incorporated", and "We Travel the Spaceways", during which all the Arkestra members would march through the audience singing and clapping, some accompanying themselves with hand-held percussion. After circling through the audience several times, the band would exit by marching to their dressing rooms. The second set was structured similarly, although the beginning was less formal. An exception to this rule was when the Arkestra was doing its "Tribute to the Music of Walt Disney" tour. For this, the first set consisted entirely of songs from Walt Disney's films, though it ended in a similar way: with the Arkestra members singing "Let's Go Fly A Kite" while marching through the audience.
For the most part there was no predetermined set list. Often pieces would begin with Sun Ra playing an introduction at the piano. The musicians would recognize the song and find their music (if they needed it) during this introduction. Songs were not announced either before hand or at the end. Many of the pieces were recognizable, however, such as "Yesterdays", "Prelude to a Kiss", "Children of the Sun", "Halloween", "East of the Sun, West of the Moon", "Yeah Man!", "Over the Rainbow" and "'Round Midnight". Though the song order was not known before hand, it was apparent that the arrangements for all of them had been carefully rehearsed. At the same time, however, there was always a feeling of spontaneity in the performance. At certain times some Arkestra members would come to the center of the stage and do a solo dance. At another time, during a collectively improvised piece, several of the horn players suddenly jumped into the audience and began playing solos to individual audience members. On the whole the performance was a clear demonstration of freedom and spontaneity coupled with precision and discipline, the net effect being an uplifting of all the audience's spirits.
Several of these same concepts--freedom, discipline, precision, spontaneity, the unexpected--can be found in specific pieces in Sun Ra's repertoire. The pieces I have chosen to analyze here are two extended pieces: "The Sun Myth", from The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 2, and an untitled piece from Rose Hued Mansions of the Sun.
Analyzing pieces of this nature presents a challenge. Neither piece has a conventional formal structure: there are no chord changes (for the most part), recurring melodic themes or easily recognizable forms such as the 12-bar blues or 32-bar AABA forms. John Litweiler and Ekkehard Jost have both analyzed pieces like this in an impressionistic, descriptive way. Key to both of their analyses are relating the music to the song titles. Litweiler analyzes the long, multipart piece "The Magic City", which is similar to both of the pieces to be analyzed here, linking the various sections to the idea of a Magic City, and describing the varying emotional attributes of each section (Litweiler 1984: 146). Jost, in a more systematic fashion, analyzes several of the pieces from The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 1, which are similar to "The Sun Myth" except that they are much shorter. Jost describes the rationale for his programmatic analyses as follows:
Sun Ra has always been concerned with translating an idea into music. . .The titles of his pieces function in that process as captions or mottos. . .Now (1965) the transformation of figurative or emotional ideas no longer occurs by writing out a composition. Instead, the motto expressed in the title piece directly intervenes in the process of improvisatory creation (Jost 1981: 188).
Jost analyzes three pieces in this manner: "Outer Nothingness", "Dancing in the Sun", and "Nebulae". Though this method is successful on its own terms, the depth of his analysis or interpretation is dependent on the richness of associations inherent within the titles. Furthermore, Jost points out the limits of this style of analysis by stating that longer pieces, such as "The Sun Myth", "contain a profusion of forms and a diversity of emotional levels, which can hardly be reduced to a single programmatic idea" (ibid.: 189). This method becomes even less applicable when the piece has no title, such as the one from Rose Hued Mansions of the Sun.
A fuller analysis of these kinds of pieces must incorporate a degree of subjectivity. It is easy to objectively describe a succession of sounds; it is more difficult to try to ascribe some other meaning to them. Litweiler and Jost are both successful in this regard, if one-dimensionally so. The following analyses will try to mix objective sound and formal descriptions with a subjective linking of musical elements to Sun Ra's important basic equational concepts.
There are many sun myths. In listening to Sun Ra's "The Sun Myth", it seems that rather than trying to achieve a musical representation of a pre-existing sun myth, Sun Ra instead has created his own, purely sonic sun myth. "The Sun Myth" contains several different sections, employing a variety of musical ideas. It begins with an unaccompanied bowed bass solo by Ronnie Boykins, who is soon joined by cymbals and tuned drums. The overall mood is one of sparseness. Drums, percussion, and bass alternate solos and ensemble playing. John Gilmore enters on tenor sax, accompanied by increasing activity from the percussion. Tenor sax and bass play long, high tones. When the tenor sax stops, Sun Ra enters on electronic keyboard. Sun Ra and Boykins then improvise dense, fast lines accompanied by percussion.
The next section begins with the baritone sax playing softly. It then gets louder and begins a trio improvisation with the bass and keyboard, accompanied by percussion. The trumpet then enters, and then all the horns enter and begin to crescendo, playing clusters over the keyboard and percussion. The next section is distinguished by a fast rhythmic pulse played by the cymbal, plucked bass, and piano chords. This is the first time in this piece that there has been any kind of explicit, steady rhythmic pulse. This backdrop accompanies trumpet and alto sax solos, and a tenor and baritone sax duet. The dynamic level also increases and decreases in this section.
This is followed by a slow section, consisting of the keyboard accompanied by bass slides and piano chords, with no percussion. The piano chords transform into clusters, the percussion enters, and the overall dynamic level increases. The tempo then slows down, and all the horns enter playing high, wailing lines. This subsides, and the piece concludes with a bowed bass and keyboard duet, accompanied by piano chords, soft percussion, and soft baritone sax.
Like a myth, which consists of different stories, "The Sun Myth" contains different, contrasting sections. One possible interpretation is that the beginning and end of this piece, which are similar in mood, suggest a cyclical form akin to the rising and setting of the sun. However, some of Sun Ra's important ideas are also expressed in this piece. The variety of changing sections, each of which contains a distinct musical mood and form, shows the importance of discipline and precision in the Arkestra's music. It is a different kind of precision than is usual for a big band, where all the different sections--reed, brass, and rhythm--must play together in a unified manner in order to swing. There are no unison lines or chord changes to follow in "The Sun Myth"; the discipline lies in playing according to the mood of each section and communicating with the other instrumentalists. Ronnie Boykins is outstanding in this regard; the form of this piece is almost determined by the different bass playing techniques he employs. Spontaneity is another important idea expressed by this piece. It is hard to imagine a "score" for this piece. Though the form is clear and interaction between the musicians important, the piece contains a kind of spontaneity in that beyond the general guidelines, the performers are free to play as they feel appropriate. This does not imply an abrogation of responsibility; rather, it obligates the musicians to discipline themselves and play carefully in order to maintain the integrity of each section as well as the piece as a whole. The music may come close to a feeling of randomness, but never reaches that point. The tension between the feeling of spontaneity and near-randomness, and that of control and discipline is one of the compelling aspects of this piece.
The untitled piece from Rose Hued Mansions of the Sun is another multi-sectional, extended piece. It begins with a lengthy, fortissimo wailing section featuring all the horns, vibes, and drums. This section is punctuated by a number of stops and starts, performed by all the musicians simultaneously. The section ends with an ominous, slow march that gradually speeds up. This leads to the next section, which begins with an unaccompanied synthesizer solo by Sun Ra. The drums enter, playing extremely fast. The alto sax enters, mimicking the synthesizer sound. Sax, drums, and synthesizer combine into duets and trios.
The next section begins with an unaccompanied tenor saxophone solo, played in the extreme high register with a very intense sound. The organ then enters, accompanying the saxophone with sparse chords. The saxophone stops, followed by an organ solo, again by Sun Ra. The organ alternates solo lines and clusters, and features pitch bending which makes it sound similar to the tenor sax.
The next section begins with the organ fading out, and a rhythmic pulse played by the congas. The organ plays a tonal piece, accompanied by horn riffs and rhythm. This is succeeded by a brief duet between congas and bass. Then a baritone sax enters, playing a solo, and is soon joined by another baritone sax, the keyboard, and the drums. This leads to a loud, polyphonic section where horns and drums collectively improvise. The section ends with a synthesizer noise, followed a by a section featuring synthesizer and drums only.
The piece suddenly changes to an unaccompanied organ solo, playing a slow, wistful, but at the same time aggressive piece, based on an easily discernible melody and tonally-based harmony and counterpoint. This piece gradually becomes more distorted, and the piece as a whole ends.
The same principles of discipline and spontaneity found in "The Sun Myth" occur in this piece. The main differences here are an overall heightened intensity, manifested in the introduction and the solos, and the alternation of tonal and non-tonal sections. The intensity of the beginning of this piece can often become forbidding, driving listeners away if they resist. However, Sun Ra believes in the transcendent properties of music. If music is to be really transcendent, it must push beyond the acceptable customary boundaries. The length and intensity of the collective improvisations and solos push way past most conceptions of music (or "jazz"), and listeners can share in this transcendent, cathartic experience with the musicians if they allow themselves to do so. The tension between discipline and spontaneity found in "The Sun Myth" is broadened here to include a tension between tonal and non-tonal sections. The organ solo at the end of this piece provides a marked contrast to the beginning, and ends the piece with a reflective mood.
Sun Ra presents a unified conception, incorporating music, myth, and performance into his multi-leveled equations. Every aspect of the Sun Ra experience, from business practices like Saturn Records to published collections of poetry to his 35-year career in music, is a manifestation of his equations. Sun Ra seeks to elevate humanity beyond their current earthbound state, tied to outmoded conceptions of life and death when the potential future of immortality awaits them. As Hall has put it, "In this era of 'practical' things men ridicule even the existence of God. They scoff at goodness while they ponder with befuddled minds the phantasmagoria of materiality. They have forgotten the path which leads beyond the stars" (Hall 1952: CCIV).
Sun Ra's equations may prove difficult to take seriously for some. Those who insist on separating the equations from the music, praising the beauty of the music while laughing off the equations, are only doing themselves a disservice. As has been shown, the various ideas that Sun Ra employs, the idea of duality, the pyramids, the Sphinx, the sun, Ufos, the planet Saturn, and the number nine, all symbolize one thing: the potential unity of the human entity, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
The accusations of charlatanism have long since faded. Lock has pointed out that Sun Ra is part of a musical-spiritual lineage in creative improvised music that also includes Duke Ellington, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Cecil Taylor, Horace Tapscott, and many others (Lock 1988: 305). Sun Ra and the Arkestra have survived for over 35 years, creating and performing their own music on their own terms, surviving within a country that has only acted with hostility toward one of its most beautiful art forms. The Cosmic-Myth Equations of Sun Ra prevail.
This discography has been compiled from a number of sources. These include the articles by Julian Vein (Vein 1967) and John Diliberto, which contains a John Gilmore discography that lists many of Sun Ra's recordings (Diliberto 1984). Other information is from records from my own collection and a number of record reviews. The individual entries will include whatever information is available, including the title of the record, song titles and recording date. The discographies by Geerken, Stahl, and Bruyninckx have not been used to due limited availability.
I. Non-Saturn recordings
1. Sun Song (Delmark 410)
Brainville; Call for All Demons; Transition; Possession; Street Named Hell; Lullaby for Realville; Future; New Horizons; Fall off the Log; Sun Song.
Recorded July 12, 1956.
2. Sound of Joy (Delmark 411)
El is a Sound of Joy; Overtones of China; Two Tones; Paradise; Planet Earth; Ankh; Saturn; Reflections in Blue; El Viktor. Recorded November 1957.
3. Super Sonic Sounds (Impulse AS 9271)
India; Sunology; Advice to Medics; Super Bronze; Soft Talk; Sunology Part II; Kingdom of Not; Portrait of the Living Sky; Blues at Midnight; El is a Sound of Joy; Springtime in Chicago; Medicine for a Nightmare. Recorded 1956.
4. Angels and Demons at Play (Impulse AS 9245)
Tiny Pyramids; Between Two Worlds; Music from the World Tomorrow; Angels and Demons at Play; Urnack; Medicine for a Nightmare; A Call for All Demons; Demon's Lullaby. Recorded 1955-1957.
5. Jazz in Silhouette (Impulse AS 9265)
Enlightenment; Saturn; Velvet; Ancient Aethiopia; Hours After; Horoscope; Images; Blues at Midnight. Recorded 1958.
6. We Travel the Spaceways (Impulse 9292)
Interplanetary Music; Eve; We Travel the Spaceways; Tapestry from an Asteroid; Space Loneliness; New Horizons; Velvet. Recorded 1958-1959.
7. Fate in a Pleasant Mood (Impulse AS 9270)
The Others in Their World; Space Mates; Lights on a Satellite; Distant Stars; Kingdom of Thunder; Fate in a Pleasant Mood; Ankhnaton. Recorded 1959.
8. The Nubians of Plutonia (Impulse AS 9242)
Plutonian Nights; The Golden Lady; Star Time; Nubia; Africa; Watusa; Aiethopia. Recorded 1959.
9. Atlantis (Impulse AS 9239)
Mu; Lemuria; Yucatan; Bimini; Atlantis. Recorded 1960.
10. The Magic City (Impulse AS 9243)
The Magic City; The Shadow World; Abstract Eye; Abstract "I". Recorded 1961.
11. Bad and Beautiful (Impulse AS 9276)
The Bad and the Beautiful; Ankh; Just in Time; Search Light Blues; Exotic Two; On the Blue Side; And This is My Beloved. Recorded 1961.
12. The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (BYG 592111)
Bassism; Of Wounds and Something Else; What's That; Where is Tomorrow; The Beginning; China Gates; New Day; Tapestry from an Asteroid; Jet Flight; Looking Forward; Space Jazz Reverie. Recorded 1961.
13. Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow (Impulse 9294)
Cluster of Galaxies; Ankh; Solar Drums; The Outer Heavens; Infinity of the Universe; Lights on a Satellite; Kosmos in Blue. Recorded 1962.
14. Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy (Impulse 9291)
And Otherness; Thither and Yon; Adventure-Equation; Moon Dance; Voice of Space. Recorded 1963.
15. Other Planes of There (Impulse 9273)
Other Planes of There; Sound Spectra; Sketch; Pleasure; Spiral Galaxy. Recorded 1964.
16. The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 1 (ESP 1014)
Heliocentric; Outer Nothingness; Other Worlds; The Cosmos; Of Heavenly Things; Nebulae; Dancing in the Sun. Recorded April 1965.
17. The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 2 (ESP 1017)
The Sun Myth; A House of Beauty; Cosmic Chaos. Recorded November 16, 1965.
18. Nothing Is. . . (ESP 1045)
Dancing Shadows; Imagination; Exotic Forest; Sun Ra and His Band from Outer Space/Shadow World; Theme of the Stargazers/Outer Spaceways Incorporated/Next Stop Mars. Recorded May 1966.
19. Pictures of Infinity (Black Lion CA 693 65.115)
Saturn; Song of the Sparer; Spontaneous Simplicity; Somewhere There; Outer Spaceways Incorporated. Recorded 1968.
20. My Brother the Wind, Vol. 1 (Impulse 9289)
My Brother the Wind; Intergalactic II; To Nature's God; The Code of Interdependence. Recorded 1970.
21. Night of the Purple Moon (Impulse 9287)
22. Out There A Minute (Torso 33132)
Love in Outer Space; Somewhere in Space; Dark Clouds with Silver Linings; Jazz and Romantic Sounds; When Angels Speak of Love; Cosmo Enticement; Song of Tree and Forest; Other Worlds; Journey Outward; Lights Of a Satellite; Starships and Solar Boats; Out There a Minute; Next Stop Mars. Reissue of Saturn material recorded in the late 1960s.
23. Nuits de la Fondation Maeght, Vol. 1 (Shandar SR 10001) reissued as Live in Paris 1970 (Recommended Records RR 11)
Enlightenment; The Stargazers; Shadow World; The Cosmic Explorer.
24. Nuits de la Fondation Maeght, Vol. 2 (Shandar SR 10003)
Friendly Galaxy Number Two; Spontaneous Simplicity; The World of Lightning; Black Myth; Sky. Recorded 1970.
25. It's After the End of the World (BASF MPS 20748)
Strange Dreams/Strange Worlds/It's After the End of the World; Black Forest Myth; Watusi, Egyptian March; Myth Versus Reality/Angelic Proclamation/Out in Space; Duos. Recorded 1970.
26. The Solar-Myth Approach, Vol. 1 (Affinity AFF 10)
Spectrum; Realm of Lightning; The Satellites are Spinning; Legend; Seen III, Took 4; They'll Come Back; Adventures of Bugs Hunter. Recorded 1970-1971.
27. The Solar-Myth Approach, Vol. 2 (Affinity AFF 76)
The Utter Nots; Outer Spaceways, Inc.; Scene 1, Take 1; Pyramids; Interpretation; Ancient Ethiopia; Strange Worlds. Recorded 1970-1971.
28. Astro-Black (Impulse 9255)
Astro-Black; Discipline "99"; Hidden Spheres; The Cosmo-Fire. Recorded May 1972.
29. Space is the Place (Blue Thumb BTS 41)
Space is the Place; Images; Discipline 33; Sea of Sounds; Rocket Number Nine. Recorded October 1972.
30. Pathways to Unknown Worlds (Impulse 9298)
Pathways to Unknown Worlds; Extension Out; Cosmo-Media. Recorded 1973.
31. Cymbals (Impulse 9296)
32. Crystal Spears (Impulse 9297)
33. Cosmos (Inner City IC 1020)
The Mystery of Two; Interstellar Low-Ways; Neo-Project #2; Cosmos; Moonship Journey; Journey Among the Stars; Jazz From an Unknown Planet. Recorded August 1976.
34. Live at Montreux (Inner City IC 1039)
For the Sunrise; Of the Other Tomorrow; From Out Where Others Dwell; Of Sound Infinity Spheres; The House of Eternal Being; God of the Thunder Realm; Lights on a Satellite; Piano Intro/Take the 'A' Train; Prelude; El is the Sound of Joy; Encore 1; Encore 2; We Travel the Spaceways. Recorded 1976.
35. Solo Piano Vol. 1 (IAI 37.38.50)
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child; Cosmo Rhythmatic; Yesterdays; Romance of Two Planets; Irregular Galaxy; To a Friend. Recorded May 20, 1977.
36. Unity (Horo HDP 17-20)
Yesterdays; Lightning; How Am I to Know?; Lights; Yeah Man!; King Porter Stomp; Images; Penthouse Serenade; Ladybird/Half Nelson; Halloween; My Favorite Things; The Satellites; Rose Room; Enlightenment.
Recorded October 1977.
37. New Steps (Horo HDP 25-26)
My Favorite Things; Moon People; Sun Steps; Exactly Like You; Friends and Friendship; Rome at Twilight; When There is no Sun; The Horo. Recorded January 1978.
38. Other Voices, Other Blues (Horo HDP 23-24)
Springtime and Summer Idyll; One Day in Rome; Bridge on the Ninth Dimension; Along the Tiber; Sun, Sky and Wind Rebellion; Constellation; The Mystery of Being. Recorded January 1978.
39. Visions (Steeplechase SCS 1126)
Astro; Utopia; Visions; Constructive Neutrons; Space Dance. Duet recording with vibist Walt Dickerson, recorded July 11, 1978.
40. Lanquidity (Philly Jazz 666)
Lanquidity; Where Pathways Meet; That's How I Feel; Twin Stars of Thence; There are Other World (They Have Not Told You Of).
41. The Other Side of the Sun (Sweet Earth 1003)
Space Fling; Flamingo; Space is the Place; The Sunny Side of the Street;
Manhattan Cocktail. Recorded 1978-1979.
42. Strange Celestial Road (Rounder 3035)
Strange Celestial Road; Say; I'll Wait for You. Recorded 1980.
43. Sunrise in Different Dimensions (Hat Hut 2R17)
Untitled; Untitled; The Shadow World; Cocktails for Two; 'Round Midnight; Ladybird/Half Nelson; Big John's Special; Yeah Man!; Untitled; Love in Outer Space; Untitled; Queer Notions; Limehouse Blues; King Porter Stomp; Take the 'A' Train; Lightnin'; On Jupiter; Untitled. Recorded February 29, 1980.
44. Of Mythic Worlds (Philly Jazz 1007)
Mayan Temples; Over the Rainbow; Inside the Blues; Intrinsic Energies; Of Mythic Worlds.
45. Nuclear War (Y RA 1)
Nuclear War; Sometimes I'm Happy. Recorded 1982.
46. Sun Ra Meets Salah Ragab (Praxis CM 106)
Sun Ra: Egypt Strut; Dawn. Cairo Jazz Band: Ramadan; Oriental Mood; A Farewell Theme. Recorded May 1983.
47. Live at Praxis '84, Vol. 1 (Praxis CM 108)
Untitled; Children of the Sun; Nuclear War; Reflections in Blue; Fate in a Pleasant Mood; Yeah Man!; Space is the Place/We Travel the Spaceways.
Recorded February 27, 1984.
48. Live at Praxis '84, Vol. 2 (Praxis CM 109)
Untitled; Untitled; Mack the Knife; Cocktails for Two; Over the Rainbow; Satin Doll. Recorded February 27, 1984
49. Live at Praxis '84, Vol. 3 (Praxis CM 110)
Big John's Special; Untitled; Days of Wine and Roses; Theme of the Stargazers/The Satellites are Spinning; They'll Come Back; Enlightenment.
Recorded February 27, 1984.
50. John Cage Meets Sun Ra (Meltdown MPA 1)
Recorded June 8, 1986.
51. A Night in East Berlin (Leo LR 149)
Intro; Prelude to a Kiss; Space is the Place/We Travel the Spaceways; Interstellar Low-Ways; The Shadow World/Rocket Number Nine; Images; Love in Outer Space; Space is the Place. Recorded June 28, 1986.
52. Love in Outer Space (Leo LR 154)
D.27; 'Round Midnight; Fate in a Pleasant Mood; Blues Ra; Love in Outer Space/Space is the Place; Big John's Special.
53. Reflections in Blue (Black Saint BSR 0101)
State Street Chicago; Nothin' From Nothin'; Yesterdays; Say It Isn't So; I Dream Too Much; Reflections in Blue. Recorded December 1986.
54. Hours After (Black Saint BSR 120 111-2
But Not For Me; Hours After; Beautiful Love; Dance of the Extra Terrestrians; Love on a Far Away Planet. Recorded December 1986.
55. Live at the Pit-Inn, Tokyo, 8/8/88 (DIW 824)
Introduction-Cosmo Approach Prelude; Angel Race-I Wait For You; Can You Take It?; If You Come From Nowhere Here; Astro Black; Prelude to a Kiss; Why Was I Born; Interstellar Low Ways. Recorded August 8, 1988.
56. Blue Delight (A & M CD 5260)
Blue Delight; Out of Nowhere; Sunrise; They Dwell on Other Planes; Gone With the Wind; Your Guest is as Good as Mine; Nashira; Days of Wine and Roses. Recorded December 5, 1988.
57. Purple Night (A & M 5324 2)
Journey Towards Stars; Friendly Galaxy; Love in Outer Space; Stars Fell on Alabama; Of Invisible Them; Neverness; Purple Night Blues. Recorded November 1989.
II. Saturn Recordings. Those that have been reissued on Impulse list record titles only. For song titles refer to the previous section.
1. Featuring Pharoah Sanders and Black Harold (165).
2. Universe in Blue (200).
3. Fate in a Pleasant Mood (202, reissued as Impulse 9270).
4. Interstellar Low Ways (203)
Onward; Somewhere in Space; Interplanetary Music; Interstellar Low Ways; Space Loneliness; Space Aura; Rocket Number Nine. Recorded 1959.
5. Super Sonic Jazz (204, reissued as Impulse 9271).
6. Jazz in Silhouette (205, reissued as Impulse 9265).
7. Other Planes of There (206, reissued as Impulse 9273).
8. Visit Planet Earth (207)
Planet Earth; Eve; Overtones of China; Reflections in Blue; Two Tones; El Viktor; Saturn. Recorded 1958.
9. Secrets of the Sun (208)
Friendly Galaxy; Solar Differentials; Space Aura; Love in Outer Space; Reflects Motion; Solar Symbols. Recorded 1961-1962.
10. The Magic City (403, reissued as Impulse 9243).
11. Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow (404, reissued as Impulse 9294).
12. When Angels Speak of Love (405)
Celestial Fantasy; The Idea of it All; Ecstasy of Being; When Angels Speak of Love; Next Stop Mars. Recorded 1963.
13. The Nubians of Plutonia (406, reissued as Impulse 9245).
14. Angels and Demons at Play (407, reissued as Impulse 9242).
15. Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy (408, reissued as Impulse 9291).
16. We Travel the Spaceways (409, reissued as Impulse 9292).
17. Deep Purple (485).
18. Strange Strings (502).
19. Atlantis (507, reissued as Impulse 9239).
20. Holiday for Soul Dance (508).
21. Monorails and Satellites, Vol. 1 (509).
22. Sun Sound Pleasure (512).
23. Continuation (520)
Biosphere Blues; Intergalactic Research; Earth Primitive Earth; New Planet; Continuation to Jupiter Festival.
24. My Brother the Wind, Vol. 1 (521, reissued as Impulse 9289).
25. Night of the Purple Moon (522, reissued as Impulse 9287).
26. My Brother the Wind, Vol. 2 (523).
27. Space Probe (527).
28. Bad and Beautiful (532, reissued as Impulse 9276).
29. Discipline 27-II (538)
Pan Afro; Discipline Eight; Neptune; Discipline 27-II.
30. Some Blues But Not the Kind That's Blue (747).
31. Disco 3000 (CM 178).
32. Soul Vibrations of Man (771)
Contains five untitled compositions.
33. Taking A Chance on Chances (772)
Taking A Chance on Chances; Lady Bird; Over the Rainbow; St. Louis Blues; What's New?; "A" Train.
34. Secrets of the Sun (9954).
35. Space Probe/Primitone (14200)
Sun Ra and his Band from Outer Space/Shadow World; three untitled compositions.
36. And His Outer Space Arkestra (18144).
37. Nidhamu (77771).
38. Horizon (1217718).
39. The Invisible Shield (144000).
40. My Favorite Things (1014077).
41. Cosmo Sun Connection (SRRRD 1)
Fate in a Pleasant Mood; Cosmo Journey Blues; Cosmo Sun Connection; Cosmonaut-Astronaut Rendezvous; As Spaceships Approach; Pharoah's Den.
42. A Black Mass (unnumbered).
43. When the Sun Comes Out (2066/402).
Circle; The Nile; Brazilian Sun; We Travel the Spaceways; Calling Planet Earth; Dancing Shadows; The Rain Maker; When Sun Comes Out. Recorded 1962-1963.
44. Dark Myth Visitation Equation (1272).
45. Discipline 99 (61674).
46. The Antique Blacks (81774).
47. Sub-Underground/Temple U (92074)
Contains four untitled compositions.
48. What's New (52375).
49. And His Cosmic Swing Arkestra (7976).
50. Somewhere Over the Rainbow (7877)
We Live To Be; Gone With the Wind; Make Another Mistake; Take the 'A' Train; Amen Amen; Over the Rainbow; I'll Wait for You.
51. Sound Mirror (1978-2).
52. Media Dream (1978-3).
53. Sleeping Beauty (11179).
54. God is More than Love Could Ever Be (72579).
55. Omniverse (91379).
56. On Jupiter (101679).
57. I, Pharoah (6680).
58. Rose Hued Mansions of the Sun (91780)
Contains three untitled compositions.
59. Aurora Borealis (10480).
60. Beyond the Purple Star Zone (123180).
61. Dance of Innocent Passion (1981)
Dance of Innocent Passion; Omnisonicism; Intensity; Cosmo-Energy.
62. And His Arkestra (1981).
63. Oblique Parallax (72881)
Oblique Parallax; Vista Omniverse; Celestial Realms; Journey Stars Beyond.
64. Hiroshima (11-83)
Stars that Shine Darkly; Hiroshima.
65. A Fireside Chat With Lucifer (1984-1).
66. Celestial Love (1984-2)
Nuclear War; Retrospect; Makeup; Celestial Love; Sometimes I'm Happy; Interstellerism; Blue Intensity.
67. Dreams Come True (1984-3)
Dreams Come True; Back in Your Own Backyard; Otherness Blue; Pleasant Twilight; Walking on the Moon; Just Friends; Under the Spell of Love; Dancing Shadows.
68. Ra to the Rescue (1983-220)
Ra to the Rescue Chapter 1; Ra to the Rescue Chapter 2; Fate in a Pleasant Mood; When Lights are Dark; They Plan to Leave; Back Alley Blues.
69. Just Friends (1984).
70. Children of the Sun (101485)
Cosmo Party Blues; Space Shuttle; Fate in a Pleasant Mood; They Plan to Leave; When Spaceships Appear; Fragile Emotions Blues; Drummerlistics; Children of the Sun.
71. Gemini (9121385)
Outer Reach Intensity Energy; Cosmos Rendezvous; Barbizon; The Double That. . .; The Ever Is. . .; Stars That Shine Darkly (pt. 2).
72. Hidden Fire (1293188)
Three untitled compositions.
Ali, Abdullah Yusuf, translation and commentary
1934 The Holy Qur'an. n. p.: The Holy Koran Publishing House.
1985 Al-Islam, Christianity, and Freemasonry. Jersey City: New Mind Productions.
1988 Freemasonry, Ancient Egypt, and the Islamic Destiny. Jersey City: New Mind Productions.
1985 Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
1983 "The Joy of Life." Melody Maker 58 (Nov. 19): 30-31.
Becker, Judith and Alton
"A Musical Icon: Power and Meaning in Javanese Gamelan Music," in Wendy Steiner, ed., The Sign in Music and Literature. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Berendt, Joachim E.
1972 Liner notes to It's After the End of the World. BASF MPS 20748.
n. d. Progressive Jazz Discography, Vol. 4: Sh-Z. n. p.
Budge, E. A. Wallis
1967 The Egyptian Book of the Dead. New York: Dover.
1969 The Gods of the Egyptians, Volume 1. New York: Dover.
1969 "Sun Ra." Rolling Stone #31 (April 19): 16-18.
1989 "The Relevance of Ethnomusicology to Anthropology: Strategies of Inquiry and Interpretation" in J. DjeDje and W. Carter, eds., African Musicology: Current Trends, Vol. 1.
1988 The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
1989 "Sun Ra's Celestial Seasoning, 1985." Butt Rag #5: 21-28.
1984 "John Gilmore: Three Decades in the Sun's Shadow." Downbeat 51 (May): 26-28, 62.
1987 "Sun Ra: Jazz From Another Planet." Keyboard 13/1: 65.
1984 "Sound Structure as Social Structure." Ethnomusicology 28/3: 383-409.
1970a "Sun Ra's Space Odyssey." Downbeat 37 (May 14): 13-17.
1970b "Moog Modulations: A Symposium." Downbeat 37 (Jul. 23): 34, 39.
1971a "Right Sound at the Right Time." Melody Maker 46 (Mar. 27): 24.
1971b "Pat's Rhythm Thing." Melody Maker 46 (Apr. 10): 28.
1972a "Sun Ra's Duality." Melody Maker 47 (Feb. 5): 28.
1972b "Sun Ra's African Roots." Melody Maker 47 (Feb. 12): 32.
1982 Chronological Discography of the Acoustic Works of Sun Ra. Athens: Hartmut Geerken.
1973 The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.
Hall, Manly P.
1952 The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Los Angeles: The Philosophical Research Society, Inc.
Holy Bible, King James Version
1989 "Form as Cosmology: An Interpretation of Structure in the Ceremonial Songs of the Pueblo Indians." Pacific Review of Ethnomusicology 5: 62-88.
James, George G. M.
1989 Stolen Legacy. Newport News, VA: United Brothers Communications Systems.
1966 "Toms and Tomming: A Contemporary Report." Downbeat33 ( Jun. 16):24, 44.
1967 Black Music. New York: Quill.
1981 Free Jazz. New York: Da Capo Press.
Jung, Carl G.
1959 Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky.New York: Mentor Books.
1974 Dreams. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kernfeld, Barry, ed.
1988 The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. London: Macmillan Press, Ltd.
1970 Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music. New York: Pathfinder Press.
1984 The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958. New York: Quill.
1988 Forces in Motion: The Music and Thoughts of Anthony Braxton. New York: Da Capo.
1976 Cantometrics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
1978 "Sun Ra: Interstellar Prophet of Jazz." Keyboard 4/12: 16- 17, 50.
1983 The Great Jazz Pianists. New York: Quill.
1987 "Sun Ra is the Heaviest Man in this Galaxy. . ." Musician #99 (January): 60-62, 70.
1966 "Sun Ra." Jazz Journal 19/8 (August): 15-16.
Meyer, Leonard P.
1956 Emotion and Meaning in Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
1980 A Joyful Noise. New York: Rhapsody Films.
1965 Message to the Blackman in America. Newport News, VA: United Brothers Communications Systems.
1973 The Fall of America. Chicago: Muhammad's Temple of Islam, No. 2.
1974 The Flag of Islam. Chicago: Elijah Muhammad.
1978 "Captain Angelic." Downbeat 45/9 (May 4): 14-16.
1988 "Context, Epistemics, and Value: A Conceptual Performance Model Reconsidered." Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology: Issues in the Conceptualization of Music 7/1: 139-170.
1987 Creative Processes in Musical Composition: French-Newfoundland Fiddler Emile Benoit. Ph. D. Dissertation: University of California, Los Angeles
1987 "Toward the Remodeling of Ethnomusicology." Ethnomusicology 31/3: 469-513.
1984 "The Social Structuring of Sound: The Temiar of Peninsular Malaysia." Ethnomusicology 28/3: 411-445.
Rusch, Robert D.
1984 Jazztalk. Seacaucus: Lyle Stuart Inc.
1987 "Sun Ra: I Have the Feel." Option M2(March/April): 54-57.
1978 Liner notes to New Steps. Horo HDP 25-26.
1987 "John Gilmore: The View From Within." Option M2 (March/April): 56-57.
n. d. Liner notes to Pictures of Infinity. Black Lion CA 693 65.115.
1980 "Sun Ra." Musician Player and Listener #24 (April/May): 48-51, 66.
Simpkins, Cuthbert Ormond, M. D.
1975 Coltrane: A Biography. New York: Herndon House Publishers.
1987 Sun Ra Materialen/Sun Ra Materials. Rev. ed. Freudenberg, Germany: Tilman Stahl.
1988 "Sun Ra's Magical Kingdom." Reality Hackers #6: 46-51.
Stokes, W. Royal
1989 Liner notes to Hours After. Black Saint 120 111-2.
1989 "The Nightingale and the Partridge: Singing and Gender among Prespa Albanians." Ethnomusicology 33/2: 191- 215.
n. d. Sun Ra. No publishing information given.
1965 "Cosmic Equation," liner poem to The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 1. ESP 1014.
1973 "The Dead Past," liner notes to Atlantis. Impulse AS 9239.
1974a "The Shadow of Tomorrow," liner poem to Angels and Demons at Play. Impulse AS 9245.
1974b "Points on the Space Age," liner poem to Super-Sonic Sounds. Impulse AS 9271.
1985 The Immeasurable Equation. Philadelphia: El Saturn Records.
1990 "Calling Planet Earth," liner poem to Purple Night. A & M 5324 2.
Thomas, J. C.
1968 "Sun Ra's Space Probe." Downbeat 35 (Jun. 13): 19-20.
1973 "Sun Ra." Downbeat 40/21 (Dec. 20): 18.
1967 "Sun Ra on Saturn and Savoy." Jazz Journal 20: 19, 22.
1966 "Sun Ra: Flying Saucers Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha!" Melody Maker 41(Oct. 29): 8.
1972 "Sun Ra: In Search of Space." Melody Maker 47 (Nov. 4): 48.
1977 As Serious As Your Life. London: Allison and Busby.
1985 "John Gilmore: A Quiet Screamer from Mississippi." Wire # 17 (July): 14-19.