Sunday, February 24, 2008

Space Is His Place; or, The Toga Party of the Spheres

It's easy to be weird when you're an ancient Egyptian from Saturn but nobody's ever accused Sun Ra of not giving it his absolute best shot. A lot of your Afro-Saturnians take a somewhat low-profile approach to life on this dull orb, dressing as the rest of us dress (more or less), speaking as we speak, sticking mostly to the sidewalk, crossing on the green. After all, when in Rome, join the toga party. Not Sun Ra, though; never a believer in shining his light 'neath a bushel basket, for at least the last 25 years he's let his Supra-CosmoPsychic origins speak for themselves. Say it now and say it loud: I am heliocentric ectoplanetary form made flesh, and I AM PROUD!

As you can well imagine, keeping an Intergalactic Arkestra together for two and a half decades is no small task. Consider the difficulties of assembling such an outfit in the '50s, when the big bands were withering away and the roster of those bands playing Basie-derived sub-atomic squonk was even smaller than it is today; when the majority of Afro-Saturnians were still passing, and thus rather loath to assemble themselves on the bandstand wearing fish-scale gold skullcaps and beam-reflective silver capes, especially when the bandstand haberdashery of the day called for something sharp in a dark Continental suit and a one-stripe tie, with maybe an off-the-stand addition of a sports-car cap set a jaunty angle for class,dash, and panache.

This time, though, Sun Ra and the Arkestra were playing Berkeley Square. That the nightclub is considered primarily as a new pave/wunk rock outlet makes no diff to Sun Ra; the Anglo-Plutonians who occupy such places dress in a manner that clashes wonderfully with the Arkestra's raiment, and besides, Sun Ra's always considered himself something of a teen idol anyway. "When we was playin' over in Portugal, the place we was playin' at wasn't that full up and the teenagers come in over the fence. 'Cause they didn't have no money anyway. Over there if they don't like you, they th'ow corncobs at you. Didn't th'ow any at us." He's talking to this guy from a radio station wearing a white leather motorcycle jacket named Uncle Mark — the guy, not the jacket— and Sun Ra's road manager and some guy with a notebook and another guy with a knit cap jammed full of dreadlocks are all in the dressing-room with them, all of them listening as Sun Ra runs it down. There's a little boy with a shirt that says he's Superman curled up asleep inn the corner on a ledge. "That's why musicians should be on TV more," Sun Ra says, "the ones that are doing something, 'cause in Mexico every Sunday they got all types of music on TV, got musicians from all the different places there, all the sections of the country, I guess, and jazz — they don't play too much good jazz in Mexico, the musicians."

Popular as he is the world over — and he is; most of Europe greets the Arkestra with the sort of welcome that America's cultural commissars reserve for visiting ballet troupes or noted French filmmaker/philosophers — Sun Ra refuses to restrict himself. After a recent swing through England and Scotland, some promoter apparently approached him with an exclusive offer that would have set the Arkestra to touring the length and breadth of the British Isles indefinitely. "Can't do that, 'cause we dealin' on a psycho-spiritual plane . . . can't be signin' up with one nation." And while he's on that plane, and before the No Smoking signs come on, there are some other things he'd like to accomplish. "I suppose there's such things as spiritual criminals," he tells Uncle Mark. "I'm trying to get them to let me be their lawyer, so I can talk to God for them."

Sun Ra is a pretty steady extemporizer, rolling right along, steady as a river with none of the rush. He takes his time, lets the pauses have their places, but the only thing that stops him dead full is when the fellow in the blue blazer and sandals comes in. He comes in on a glide — none too easy in so small a room, and he sweeps over to Sun Ra and gives hime a big wide hug. "You're lookin' good!" he says. "Lookin' good!"
Sun Ra nods and smiles, accepting his due. The fellow in the blazer has those hipster moves, those Love You Madly hipster moves you don't see much any more, graceful and direct. Smooth, like a knife slicing soft margarine on TV. He's telling Sun Ra about some woman they both know (or that he thinks Sun Ra knows, at least; if Sun Ra does know her, he doesn't seem too very interested in hearing about her) and about where the hipster is living. "I was living in the Village," he tells Sun Ra. "But now I'm out here."

"It can be nice here," says Sun Ra. "You got—"

"I don't think I'd want to live back there again. Oh, to visit, sure. To visit. But to live there again? Uh-uh."

Sun Ra is determined. "I'd like to live in Greece, there along the Adriatic, the Mediterranean. It's nice there, lots of sun—"

"Oh, the sun in Italy is just—"

"With them old temples and columns and—"

Superman stirs in the corner a little and goes back to sleep. The hipster in the blazer and the sandals shares a few more memories with Sun Ra, then he gets up to go. "Been wonderful seein' you again," he says. "You're lookin' great!"

Sun Ra gives him a benificent smile and a parting nod and gets back to his interview. He gets around to the suppression of creativity. "I saw a man with roller skates had a motor on 'em and the po-lice came over and made him stretch out and said 'You can't do that 'round here — you operatin' a motor vehicle . . .'"


Anonymous said...
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TK Kerouac said...

Cool blog!

TK Kerouac said...

TK Kerouac's HNT

I'll invite you to my Kerouac blog

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