Professor Sun Ra Has Got Something To Say To You
April 20, 2016 1:48 PM   Subscribe

It's Spring of 1971 and you're a student at UC Berkeley, where artist-in-residence Sun Ra is offering a lecture series entitled "The Black Man In The Cosmos." The Weather Underground is blowing up bathrooms. The Ed Sullivan Show is grinding to a halt. As the weeks roll on, Charles Manson will get the death sentence (later reduced to life in prison) and the Rolling Stones will drop Sticky Fingers. But you? You're in the pocket of something Next Level and way above all that noise. Sometimes Ra hauls in his keyboard and treats the class to extended solos. Mostly he delivers his own signature blend of arcane afrofuturistic dharma: Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four.

The reading list for the class:

The Egyptian Book of the Dead


Alexander Hislop: Two Babylons

The Theosophical works of Madame Blavatsky

The Book of Oahspe

Henry Dumas: Ark of Bones

Henry Dumas: Poetry for My People eds. Hale Charfield & Eugene Redmond, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press 1971

Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing eds. Leroi Jones & Larry Neal, New York: William Morrow 1968

David Livingston: Missionary Travels

Theodore P. Ford: God Wills the Negro

Rutledge: God’s Children

Stylus, vol. 13, no. 1 (Spring 1971), Temple University

John S. Wilson: Jazz. Where It Came From, Where It’s At, United States Information Agency

Yosef A. A. Ben-Jochannan: Black Man of the Nile and His Family, Alkibu Ian Books 1972

Constantin Francois de Chasseboeuf, Comte de Volney: The Ruins, or, Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires, and the Law of Nature London: Pioneer Press 1921

The Source Book of Man’s Life and Death (Ra’s description; = The King James Bible)

Pjotr Demianovitch Ouspensky: A New Model of the Universe. Principles of the Psychological Method in Its Application to Problems of Science, Religion and Art, New York: Knopf 1956

Frederick Bodmer: The Loom of Language. An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages, ed. Lancelot Hogben, New York: Norton & Co. 1944

Blackie’s Etymology
posted by Bob Regular (16 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
What a soothing, beautiful, musical voice.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 2:07 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Open Culture has more on Sun Ra.

I'd love to see what's on the blackboard...
posted by merelyglib at 2:12 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

"You're not in a place where truth can do any good." Berkeley can be so silly.
posted by uraniumwilly at 2:14 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Beginning at the stroke of midnight on May 22, KFJC will be broadcasting 24-hour "Month of Mayhem" special entitled A Night and Day of the Sun, starting Monday, May 22 @12am through Sunday, May 23 @12am, featuring "rare, live, alternative, and remixed music, plus art, poetry, philosophy, lectures, interviews, musician profiles, Arkestral maneuvers, live in-studio performances, and space explorations." If you miss it, you can download the show(s) for free from their Broadcast Archives page.
posted by christopherious at 2:19 PM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I didn't finish the first one.
Was that one paragraph?
posted by MtDewd at 2:20 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a Sun Ra fan from way back (got the concert T-shirt and everything) and it was fun to listen to his magnificent speaking voice. Unfortunately I had to close the tab after a while because he was purveying such complete nonsense (thought is from the Egyptian Thoth = "the oath"!), but hey, he was a musician, not a scholar (in the scholarly sense). Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 2:25 PM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Date: circa. 1980.
Place: A farmhouse on a dirt road in Northeastern Vermont.
Scene: Cast party following a high school play.
Me: Sixteen year old white boy from Vermont whose idea of alternative is Hugh Prather poems.
Significant Character: Mr. Owre, owner of the house, father of a golden eyed girl on whom I had a long enduring crush, and Sun Ra fan.
Event: Mr. Owre lends me a number of jazz records, amongst which is Spaceways by Sun Ra.
Result: I never did get that job at the bank.
posted by crazylegs at 2:34 PM on April 20, 2016 [23 favorites]

No wait
it wasn't Spaceways. I don't know which one it was. One of the 1,645 or however many records he made.
posted by crazylegs at 2:39 PM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I had no idea about these lectures. What a fantastic find. Thank you for sharing.

Slight tangent: back when SNL would take real risks with their musical guests (as opposed to silly risks of the Lana Del Rey variety), you'd find Sun Ra gracing the stage [from 1978]. I would bother to watch SNL if they still had the grit to showcase performers like Sun Ra. ...or Ornette Coleman. Or Klaus Nomi (singing back up to David Bowie, that is).
posted by nightrecordings at 3:00 PM on April 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

"They really thought I was some kind of kook with all my talk about outer space and the planets. I'm still talking about it, but governments are spending billions of dollars to go to Venus, Mars, and other planets, so it's no longer kooky to talk about space".

-Sun Ra, interview about the 'Music Theatre Project: Oedipus and Akhenaten.' (PDF)
posted by clavdivs at 3:15 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yes, that was unlistenable, but he was wonderful. Probably the same qualities that made that lecture unlistenable is what makes his music so innovative and cool. Sun Ra forever!
posted by latkes at 4:24 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Gonna file this one under "don't meet your heroes." Thanks everyone!
posted by rhizome at 4:36 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ok hhas eyveryone listened all the way through? What a wonderful total moonbat crazy guy (referencing the discussion of the ancients using lots 'h's and 'y's in their words) so incredibly smart musically. I saw him live twice, both insanely incredible performances. Starts out with great driving straight ahead big band jazz then at some point leaves the planet in ways that would have Schoenberg wild with envy and confusion. Just built up and out and over - sounds spilling off the stage, blasting the roof to saturn.
posted by sammyo at 6:10 PM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm almost certain one of my relatives took a class from him too, only it was at Dartmouth.
Music of the World, I think it was. Said it was one of his favorites.
posted by lalunamel at 6:38 PM on April 20, 2016

Did anyone really not expect him to be out to lunch?
posted by atoxyl at 7:23 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

now is the time when we launch the dream weapon
posted by blackfly at 4:37 PM on April 21, 2016

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