Pictures of Sun Ra often suggest chaotic hybridity: priestly futuristic costumes and sets, ancient Egypt and the planet Saturn forming a palimpsest of past and future utopias. His sound synthesized big band, swing, hard bop, reggae, Afropop, electronic music, and Walt Disney musicals. His references—expressed in his lyrics, poetry, and pamphlets—showcased this eclecticism too: Kabbalah, gnosticism, freemasonry, pan-Africanism, Zen. When he taught a course at the University of California, Berkeley in 1971, his syllabus included The Egyptian Book of the Dead; the theosophical works of Madame Blavatsky, the nineteenth-century Russian medium; Henry Dumas, a brilliant poet gunned down by New York City Transit Police in 1968. He often cited George G.M. James’s Stolen Legacy (1954), which claimed that Greek philosophy had filched its ideas from Egyptian mythology.
In Sun Ra’s various writings and interviews, he always maintained that there was a metaphysical basis for what he called his “equations”: non sequitur chains of koans and runes, of numerology and etymology. He had a bit of the guru’s antiphony of the individual and the collective to him. Sun Ra was always gathering disciples, yet set himself apart from them. His biographer, John F. Szwed, quotes Sun Ra as saying, “I know what they’re talking about, but they don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m in the midst of what they’re doing but they’ve never been in the midst of what has been impressed upon my mind.” He was lone wolf and lupine leader, Anubis presiding over the vast nothing of the black world, the underworld, and outer space.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor