Sun Ra (1914-1993)

Space Poetry

  1. Message To Earthman 2:17
  2. I Seek A New World 1:48
  3. I Am Trying To Find Myself 2:26
  4. The Damned Air 3:30
  5. I Am Strange 3:11
  6. My Children 3:47
  7. If They Only Knew 4:13
  8. I'm Not To Blame 1:15
  9. I Am An Instrument 1:35
  10. Once Upon A Time 2:32
  11. All In The Realm Of Death 1:42
  12. Death Speaks To The Negro 3:25
  13. I'll Wait For You 1:23
  14. At Night 1:39
  15. They Can't Accept Me 1:16
  16. I Am Not A Fantasy 2:04
  17. My World Is The Space Way 1:10
  18. Strange Worlds In My Mind
  19. I Gotta Get Away 7:22
  20. Know What It's Like On My Planet 12:11
  21. The Outer Darkness Part One 7:27
  22. The Outer Darkness Part Two 4:26
  23. This Is My Day 2:46
  24. The Scheme Of Words 1:03
  25. Black Holes In Space 2:36
  26. A Better World 4:28

Avant jazz, with plenty of offbeat and exotic touches, and some weird electronics too – but over the music, there's also vocals on every track – some recited by Ra himself, with a focus on his more poetic lyrics – some delivered by the enigmatic Yochanan, or vocalist Roy Stubbs. Tracks are shorter than usual Saturn album tracks – making us guess that some of these were intended for singles, although a number of cuts here are from unreleased tapes and rehearsals, too. Included here are two longer numbers with Ra telling these cool little stories over music, "I Gotta Get Away" and "Know What It's Like On My Planet" – both richly illustrated not only by the backings, but also by his vivid narration – surprisingly dramatic at times, with a bad-rapping feel that's almost funky! Also here are two versions of "The Outer Darkness" – one with a repeated text by Wisteria, over weird electric backings – the other with June Tyson over even wilder electronics! Other tracks are from a 1977 on-air performance in Philly – very spiritual numbers that include "Black Holes In Space", "This Is My Day", "A Better World", and "The Scheme Of Words" – with Ra up front and lots of weird voices over organ in the back.

The Berkeley Lecture, 1971

1. The Berkeley Lecutre

In early 1971 Sun Ra was artist-in-residence at University of California, Berkeley, teaching a course called "The Black Man In the Cosmos". Rather few students enrolled but the classes were often full of curious persons from the surrounding community. One half-hour of each class was devoted to a lecture (complete with handouts and homework assignments), the other half-hour to an Arkestra performance or Sun Ra keyboard solo. Reading lists included the works of Madame Blavatsky and Henry Dumas, the Book of the Dead, Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons, The Book of Oahspe and assorted volumes concerning Egyptian hieroglyphs, African American folklore, and other topics.

Sun Ra on WXPN, Christmas Day, 1976

1. Side A

2. Side B

Sun Ra reading his poetry to the accompaniment of the Arkestra.

On Christmas Day 1976, Sun Ra read a selection of his poems accompanied by music on the program "Blue Genesis" over the University of Pennsylvania's radio station WXPN. The choice of poems and their sequencing offers what Sun Ra thought was most important in his writing. Here are key words like "cosmos," "truth," "bad," "myth," and "the impossible,"; attemtion to phonetic equivalence; the universality of the music and its metaphysical status; allusions to black fraternal orders and secret socities; biblical passages and their interpretation; and even a few atuobiographical glmipses. The poems were read softly, with little expressions, the music punctuating the words, with the heavy echo and delay in the studio sometimes reducing the words to pure sound without meaning. -- from "Space is the Place: The Life and Times of Sun Ra" John Szwed.

John Cage Meets Sun Ra

1. Side A

2. Side B

From the album: John Cage Meets Sun Ra, Meltdown MPA-1 (1987). Alternates performances by Sun Ra-Yamaha DX-7; and Sun Ra-voc. Sideshows by the Sea, Coney Island, NY, 6/8/86. [Album jacket plus Andrejko]

Sideshows by the Sea was the last surviving freak show along the Coney Island boardwalk. Ra and Cage's appearance was duly announced by the barker outside. Other portions of this concert, which included Pharaoh Abdullah processing and dancing, and Ra and Cage performing together, may have been recorded but haven't been issued.

The Damned Air

1. The Damned Air 3:30

“There is no place for the past in the realm of the future,” Ray Stubbs darkly intones over a quivering and querulous trumpet and piano in his 1962 performance of Sun Ra’s apocalyptic poem “The Damned Air.” As a vocal performer, Stubbs is emblematic of a rich tradition of male African American narration whose style is marked by an affected gravity and seriousness of purpose. (Think James Earl Jones as Darth Vader or Brock Peters concluding remarks on Miles Davis’s A Tribute to Jack Johnson.) This is significant for it is a vocal presentation entirely at odds with Sun Ra’s own voice, humorous, mocking, and faintly effeminate. When Sun Ra speaks, the sentences rise and fall, jerking backwards and forwards in the hyperbolic, playful yet sinister manner of a psychotic Riddler. When Stubbs takes the microphone, the lines pour out of his throat with the deep strength of ancient rivers, a Paul Robeson or Langston Hughes’ inspired journey to the center of all human existence and the root of immutable truth.

Thus, “The Damned Air” tells us that the Earth has been left only a “damnable inheritance,” and that the root of the problem springs from the very soil that provides each of us with life and assures each of us sorrow, pain, and death. In the classic Western formulation, such sufferings were redeemed and made holy by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, but that was before Man’s second fall, in the slave ships of the Atlantic, the belching smokestacks of factories, the ashes of Auschwitz and Hiroshima. It was from such events that a new school of philosophy emerged in the second half of the twentieth century, rejecting the eschatological promises of religion and science, and embracing the absurdity and meaninglessness of life. But Sun Ra is neither an existentialist nor is he a postmodernist. He believes in a world where there is meaning beyond Sisyphus pushing his rock and deeper than the linguistic entanglements of Derrida and Barthes. A world where truth and redemption can still be found, not in science, but rather in science fiction, in the embrace of the impossible, the metamorphosis of the human soul through the balm of music and the return to ancient and Afro-centric beliefs that speak not to the ugly, diseased origins of man, but rather to his limitless destiny. Thus, there is no place for the past in the realm of the future because there will be no future until the past is extinguished forever, erased by the holy light of new planets, galaxies, universes, and multiverses. Or as Sun Ra writes in this poem, “another kind of forever.”

There can be no doubt that it is beliefs like this that have caused generations of skeptics to roll their eyes at the mention of Sun Ra, the sight of his band’s silly costumes or the endless aphorisms found in its performances. But at the center of this philosophy lies a truth that is now undeniable: that human history has not been an inevitable march towards a brighter future, that the world as constructed by Christianity, capitalism, and imperialism of all kinds is indeed doomed to self-immolation, and that man’s only hope is to radically reject the present and to dream of new and previously unimagined futures. The Arkestra’s music thus serves precisely the purpose its name commands—as a last hope for humanity to escape the rising flood waters and to claim the very thing that Frantz Fanon demanded in The Wretched of the Earth, written around the same time Sun Ra composed this poem: “For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must make a new start, develop a new way of thinking, and endeavor to create a new man.”


the damneded air

around the earth
circles the infinity of the damneded air
the damneded inheritance of the earth
are the same vibrations it ever was
we need new air
we need the air that vibrates with the
sound of another kind of mind
we need the beam of the future to strike
the earth
like the lightning and the power of a
in order that the dying embers of the past
should suddenly be extinct
there is no place for the past in the realm
of the future
except temporarily as an exhibit of that which is taboo
because the past is the past
and the future is the future
the eternity of the limited past
was for those who were taught the limited
the unlimited reach of the future is
another kind of forever
there is an inner darkness and there is an
outer darkness
those who become subjects of the inner
darkness dwell therein
those who become subjects of the outer
darkness shall dwell there out
out is the way of the outer
and in, the way of the inner
and in of the inner in
is different from the end of the outer in
because the outer in is the outer on
out is the outer and in is the inner
the way out is the way to living, breathing
let's blast the damneded air and claim the
right to be a part of the outer heavens and
outer space
that we might live and breathe and be
eternally alive
let's blast the damnded air
the imprisoning circle that bans the earth
with the echoes of the dead truth of the
damneded word
lets the light shine upon the darkness
that enchains the meaning of the
knowledge that has been used as the law
to destroy

Sun Ra in UbuWeb Film