I DOUBT a league table exists of history’s strangest musicians but if one were created my vote would be for respected jazz composer and orchestra leader Sun Ra.
I watched a documentary about the man last night and he is out this world. Quite literally, in fact, if what he would have us believe is true.
The documentary starts with a jivecat TV newsman reporting on predictions of his arrival from space. It appears we are in the desert. Within seconds, a spaceship arrives. It looks like a cross between a Phillips Ladyshave and Playstation controller.
From it steps a sizeable middle-aged man, dressed in a gold gown and purple wig with splashes of violet make-up on his face. This is Sun Ra. He is accompanied by members of his Arkestra, dressed in robes and headwear of similarly wild colours and playing an equally otherworldly form of avant-garde jazz
The documentary features archive footage of Sun Ra holding forth at the foot of a sphinx, in concert and at rehearsal plus interviews with band members, jazz historians and contemporaries from the 1960s, of whom promoter and White Panther leader John Sinclair is the most entertaining.
During the course of the feature, we learn a number of things.
He claims to have been from Saturn and somehow managed to get his passport changed to reflect this.
- His came up with a philosophy based on ancient Egyptian myths myth with a belief in UFOs. He had never taken drugs.
- No one ever saw him express sexual interest in a woman or a man.
- He survived only on cat naps.
- His Arkestra all lived in one house together, rehearsing and playing around the clock.
- He was one of the first artists to start his own record label and released in excess of 200 records.
- During a European tour, he visited Egypt and took an eight-hour camel ride to see the pyramids. The camel was called Moses.
Sun Ra died in 1993, having suffered a number of strokes. During one hospital visit, the consultant who saw him asked where he was from. On hearing his patient reply ‘Saturn’ he feared brain damage and sent for a neurologist.
The neurologist arrived and, on seeing who it was in the hospital bed, said: ‘Of course he’s from Saturn. He’s Sun Ra.’
Here’s the documentary. It’s by Don Letts and it’s called Sun Ra, Brother From Another Planet.