Melody Maker, November 4th 1989
by Simon Reynolds
photo portrait by Pat Blashill
SUN RA - DROPPING SCIENCE
In the summer, of 1989 I interviewed Sun Ra, through the auspices of a friend at A&M, for whom Sun Ra recorded a couple of so-so LPs around the cusp of the Nineties. It took place in a hotel in mid-Manhattan. He wore the robes and there was this sort of hovering presence of acolytes in attendance throughout. Very much an aura of... if not quite majesty, then certainly being ushered into the presence of a potentate, a very special personage.
"Interviewed" - more like, granted an audience. 90 minutes or thereabouts ensued of nodding my head while the great man dropped science in his soft, serene voice. It very quickly became very clear to me that any attempts on my part to steer the conversation or ask an actual, y'know, question would be both presumptuous and surplus to requirements. He just kept going.
I must have been in a hurry when it came time to transcribe and write it up, because all I have is a partial transcript, the choicest quotes, with other bits in paraphrase or shorthand. In those days, with only a few exceptions I always thriftily recycled interview tapes once they were transcribed. So Sun Ra's wit and wisdom was doubtless erased by something like the Snapdragons.
Which leads on to a further indignity: the fact that Sun Ra, Prophet-God of 20th Century Music, Ambassador for the Omniverse, etc, should end up in Sidelines, a section of Melody Maker comprised of quarter-page and third-of-page featurettes mostly about up-and-coming bands, with the occasional oldie / comeback/ reissue / twilight-of-career veteran. Doubtless with that particular issue, Sun Ra would have kept company with a runt-of-the-litter baggy bandwagon-jumper, a chill-out house chancer on Rhythm King, and perhaps a new project involving ex-members of Bomb Party and Gaye Bykers on Acid.
Below are most of the maxims, aphorisms and stories I transcribed from the "interview". For more on Sun Ra check also this Quietus 100th Birthday tribute by David Stubbs, whose copy of Disco 3000 I taped as my baptismal experience of Ra-ism when we were students, and with whom I would go see the Arkestra when they played the Fridge in Brixton in late 1985.
"The intellectuals were the ones who pushed jazz. Where I came from it was the schoolteachers, the intelligentsia."
"The intellectuals liked to have big bands to play at their social affairs. When I was in a big band, I never used to play bars or taverns, just social affairs."
"In the big bands, that's where they played big sounds, so their minds were expanded. Nowadays with these musicians who play in combos, their minds aren't as expanded."
"Jazz is a big band music for intellectuals, it doesn't come from the bottom - people who like it listen for the creativity not the monotony.
"Musicians just have the twelve notes, and they perform miracles with them. Music is a language, but unlike the alphabet which has twenty six letters, music only has twelve notes."
" Most trained musicians deal with what they are being taught, the known, But I'm dealing with the unknown - giving impressions of the unknown."
"I don't speak about the Universe cos that's the oneness of things, I'm talking about the Omniverse, the multiplicity of things, out in space, world after world after world"
"People trying to make this place home when they should be thinking about being citizens of the Omniverse, beyond the Universe - how can you get people on the street to think like
"What I'm saying is strange to your ears, but you should listen cos I was on this planet before you were born - an animal in a forest would be silent and listen to the strange sound"
"Right now freedom would do the students and the masses no good, forget it - they need not evolution but ever-lution. Their minds would have to advance."
"What Man is doing to this planet is the Omniverse's business now, and they are gonna eliminate mankind when they see what we done to it. Decline of the Indians, the Egyptians, whose five thousand empire eradicated."
" A reverend said that my music is world survival music. I did a very interesting interview with him and I said some things that even shocked me"
"Time is like a skiff - I saw that in a vision about Time. I have dreams - dream are instructive, they're also examinations or tests about how sharp your responses are. Every day you're being observed. Every thought you ever had is being written down - and you gonna be judged by that, and
what you should have done, would have down, could have done, oughtna have down. You get judged by all those different dimensions. This makes life very complex for human beings, but all the while they're thinking of love, or politics, and all the while they're being judged as cosmic or cosmo-beings.
Everybody has some part of them that's the cosmos part."
"People might shut their ears to what I'm saying, but if it's music it will go down into their subconscious and stay there."
" Everyone asks where you from - even in America - so I say Egypt. Wouldn't accept that I'm from US - so I said that I'm an Ancient American - I don't know about anything about Africa so I can't call myself Afro-American like some militants of the so-called Black America."
"Everything in nature changes, why shouldn't I? Like flowers or clouds - there are no two alike."
"I became aware of other dimensions when I was 3 years old. I was strange to my family and they was strange too. Same with my friends, very good friends, but I was a stranger to them too. I was part of them, but there was another part of me they knew nothing about, and I never discussed it.
I could see they were stopped before they started. I was right too. Maybe I could have helped them, if I had discussed the other side of me."
"I can see the destinations - like with the Chinese students [of Tianamen Square protests], I could see; they're in trouble. And sure enough, they all got shot. They're not gonna make it, cos they don't have the cosmos on their side, cos they're against their elders. The cosmos is on the side of the elders. The students might be 'right', but the cosmos doesn't care about 'right'. The elders have authority and seniority."
"The students spend all their energy on that, but they don't have any foundation, cos they don't have any music. When one of the emperors banned all instruments except for the flute, that was the downfall of China. You've got a period of vacuum in Chinese culture, and they better get down to making some music and beauty before they go after anything else. Cos the cosmos don't care about anybody unless they've got some culture. If you don't, why should they be interested in you. Why should you be interested in every grain of sand, or blade of grass, or every little ant? And that's what we are to the cosmos. They got their own standards."
" I would say humanity is in trouble - they being judged by some cosmos standards. And they don't know their standards."
"My job is probably the most neglected factor in the universe. I knew when I was three years old that I had to do something I didn't want to do, tell people all about this. I didn't even want to play, then. I dedicated my so-called life to the Creator, in that seeing that he's seen and heard everything, I'd play something he'd never heard before.
"Here's something you've never ever experienced before. I have to play for this Creator because other things coming from this planet he's not pleased with - it's like static, pollution in every way, mental, physical, that's all that goes up there.
"That's my advice to musicians - do something that the Creator might sit up and take notice of."
"I did this to maintain a low profile, but it didn't work. I was a great failure at maintaining a low profile. See, the whole world wants to know what I've been doing, ten minutes ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago.
"Fifty years ago I was singing a song "we take a trip to outer space, next stop Mars. That was fifty years ago. So people should have listened to me.
"Hitler put his Mein Kampf and then tried to apply. I put my book out there too, but it's in music. But I'm going to apply it too. Interplanetary travel is now a reality. All of what I said has come true. But that's what I was saying fifty years ago. Now I'm far in advance I'm the top innovator on the planet, and if I'm English American that makes me belong to England and England needs an innovator they haven't got one."
"Born, or so they say, in Alabama, but I say I'm from Saturn, not born there.
"I'm more of a spirit than a human being, this is not my body. Your body belongs to your mother and father, it's part of the reproduction system, and what's reproduced cannot be part of Creation, it's just a facsimile. That body is not really you. What is you is your spirit, which comes from Eternity. The way you look you've been brainwashed to thinkof as you. Now it's time to get acquainted with you."
"I don't really live in time, there's no yesterday and no tomorrow it's all continuous fabric."
"I'm explaining what I do, but I'm saying that I've touched the unknown, the real Creation. You have to be real advanced to do that, and talking about righteousness is the wrong way to get there. The Creator told me that he doesn't regard no person as good person or bad person. Doing good things does not make them good, and vice versa. Every living thing is ensured, they are his children, you got the ant nation, you got the ostrich nation, all of them following the laws."
"How could a kingdom as powerful as Persia fall? They fell because something happened to the music. Same thing happening to the West - you got the commercial forces."
"I'm in human form and nobody in human form has ever done the proper thing for solving the riddle that is humanity. Each one before failed - the prophets failed. Humanity is still on the treadmill. There's a possibility that I might do it."
"Learn from the birds and animals - they got better societies and family relations than humans."
"The Bible says a lot of stuff about Man - that he's filth and abomination - that are not conducive to my happiness. So I refuse to be Man."
"There's a lot of good people that are poor, but a lot of good people that are rich.But it's written that it's harder for rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel through the eye of a needle. That's discrimination.Why should a rich person be imposed on or kept out of somewhere?"
"I'm from somewhere else, definitely. If I was "born", I definitely existed somewhere else before birth."
"If life was real - it would protect you. You go out there and you see all those poor people - that's life - going hungry for days in a very rich country - that's life. America getting ready to build more jails - is that life? - of course it is! And those undertakers, and these hospitals where people are suffering - is that life? So I'm looking at all that, and thinking: I'm not part of that.
"I prefer to part of myth. I say: history is his story. Mystery is my story."
"I can use the so-called Bible to do it - even though it's unprofitable to humanity - but I can turn around bits of it. 'Turn your other cheek to your enemy' - I don't recognise any enemies - the whole world is my friend, or should be, cos I'm doing something that's in their interest.
"Everyone on the planet should do everything they can to help me."
"The Cross - it's a crossword - the Bible is a giant puzzle you have to figure out. Ministers can't do it.
I can figure it out. I can figure out hieroglyphics - I've been taught by higher forces.
"But I don't want to be out there leading people, I 'm a scholar."
"In Chicago, a so-called black man said: 'God made the Universe in six days, on the seventh he rested. And he aint done a damn thing since'. I was standing there utterly amazed.
"In Penn Station, 3 in the morning, another so-called black man was saying 'God is with me - he been with me a whole life time. I don't mind telling you, I don't mind telling the police, I don't mind telling the world . But he been fucking me up'. I listened - I was utterly amazed.
"What caused that man to say that??"
"I saw a black man on TV and he turned to the camera and said 'God can kiss my black ass'.I looked with utter astonishment."
"Looking at the black people of America, I can say that these three men were right. God is messing people up. I seen in Bible where it says that God is delighted when his children defeat him in battle. And where it says I have given them laws that are evil.
"I go through the Bible with a red pencil
"It's a book where nobody managed to break the code - except me.
"People say it's the Good Book - how can it be good when it's got people murdering each other, betraying each other?
"I had to get the equations. The Cosmic Forces say yeah it's a good book, in that it's accurate, God says he'll do certain things and he makes good his word, even though what he does is bad.
"In Hebrew ra is evil, but in Ancient Egypt it means sun, it means good. Same word, but different meaning. And in England and America the word doesn't mean evil cos when you go to a football match everybody shouts "ra, ra" which is a good cheer.
"So why is it that in Hebrew territory it means evil? Somebody switching values, made good into evil. And Bible says woe unto he who makes good into evil and evil into good.
"So the world got to get together and rectify the duplicity of words, cos that's why we're in this mess.
- black people came into this country as goods, not men and women. Good is spelt god in some European countries - they came into America as gods - don't have any second names, the mark of being a King for the Hebrews. That's why America having difficulty with black people - because how can youtake a god and make a man out of him?
"They say black is beautiful. How can they prove it, though?. I have the mathematics to prove it . For in the Benine language in African, the word 'belack' means beautiful in that language. So I can get humanity out of this through words."
"How am I gonna do it? Set up my blueprint. I've been talking for a long while about setting up my Omniversity, I could set up my Outer Space Employment Bureau. But I am just going to
sit back and not get involved. Only thing I got involved in was Leroy Jones Black Theatre in Harlem."
" I'm here to help".
"A cab driver in London said to me 'I'm a musician. maybe I can be in the band'. I say 'where's your instrument?. 'Left it at home'. 'That's a five hundred dollar fine'. A bit later, 'I didn't do too well as a musician, maybe I can just be the janitor, sweep up afterwards'. 'Where's your broom?'. 'I don't have one'. 'That's another five hundred dollar fine'. So he's says 'I've only just joined the band and I've lost 1000 dollars'
"I like the English sense of humour"
"The seventh sense after sixth (ESP) is humour.
"There are nine senses - I deal with the nine all the time."
"Doubleday rejected my poetry. Said it might as well have been written in a foreign language."
"I'm the ambassador of the Creator of the Universe"
"But I'm not looking for followers. People want to put up defences, because they are addicted to the monotony. The status quo."
"People who aren't attuned to the cosmos are like babies - and when babies come along you have to look after them, they can't survive"