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Friday, July 8, 2011

Outer Spaceways Incorporated

In the late Eighties I was fortunate to catch Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra at a country & western club (!) in the San Fernando Valley called The Palomino. (Years later my band Trash Can School played there opening for The Laughing Hyenas, but that's another story). You'd never know it but Sun Ra, like any punk band, had a marvelous little merch stand going on. To this day I still have a cool t-shirt of The Great Master that I almost wore out.  I also scored a sweet concert program that was printed chapbook size and contained rare band photos, Ra's unique poetry, and excerpts of interviews where he espoused his philosophy on society, blacknuss, and the solar system. Here are a few excerpts I'm happy to share with you:

The very first Sun Ra album I ever owned was in 1972 and was a live album called "Nothing Is" on a record label every bit as mysterious as Mr. Ra, ESP-Disk. The cover showed Ra in his space outfit with a large flame covering most of his face and had the inscription, "At first nothing is..." and the back cover had a poem by him, "The Garden of Eatened". For a religious kid all these biblical undercurrents made a large impression on me and yet it all culminated in space travel.

The music inside was nothing short of a revelation: Ra playing his wild synthesizer and organ, and the three most intense saxophone players I ever heard this side of Kirk and Dolphy: Marshall Allen on alto, John Gilmore on tenor and Pat Patrick on baritone. I also liked the fact that the band loved to sing: "Sun Ra and his band from outer space will entertain you now"..."If you find life boring just the same old, same thing, come on sign up with outer spaceways incorporated"..."The next stop's Mars"..."This is the theme of tomorrow's land, a cosmic paradise"...I was hooked, and spent the next sumpteen years hunting down every Ra album I could find.

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The show at The Palomino was one of the most generous I've ever seen: Ra and his band played an eclectic mix of free jazz, space electronics, Tiki lounge music, vintage twenties big band jazz, wild hard-bop, and because they had recently contributed to an album of Disney movie tunes, even a few Disney movie covers. I think they did a song from "Peter Pan", and it was actually quite touching. Before you could shed a poignant tear they were off playing "Rocket Number Nine Take Off ToThe Planet Venus".

When the band played this ultra-eclectic mix I never thought that this was a show-off "we can play anything" orgy like so many other artists do. It merely highlighted the fact that Ra loved all kinds of music and even stated in his movie "Space Is The Place" that the greatest medicine for the ills of the galaxy was music.

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