Some pieces of wisdom from Sun Ra
Some of you may know that in 1988 I did a story for the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine (which like so many others, no longer exists) on Sun Ra. My proposal was to do a story on Lee Morgan, because I had met his sister Ernestine, and she had given me her brother Jimmy’s phone number. Jimmy became my ‘jazz uncle’ and we talked at length about Lee and many other things. We went to hear music together. But the policy of the magazine at the time was not to do features about people who were dead. So my editor made a suggestion: “How about that guy who lives in Germantown and thinks he’s from another planet?” I had been to enough Sun Ra concerts to know who he meant. I agreed, not knowing how very complicated it would all become. This was before computers, before Internet. This was libraries, phone calls, copious handwritten notes.
On the first day I called him (he was listed in the White Pages), Sun Ra talked for close to 3 hours. One might call it stream of consciousness. I can’t begin to quantify or really describe the conversation, so here are some excerpts:
On Religion: “Black people have been hoodwinked by someone they thought is God. Don’t be bothered by Satan who has the powers of Death. The Son of God didn’t win, how you gonna win? Something is wrong, they need another book, not the Bible. Instead of the Ten Commandments telling them ‘I shall not’, they need a book telling them what to do. All the different nations have their books: The Bhagavad Gita, The Koran. We need a book for all of humanity! Not God’s chosen people. Why should God put one group of people out there as His children? I was raised in a Baptist Church, they thought they were better than the sinners. Each nation has some very nice people in it. In the different European countries, they don’t look at me like I’m black or American. I have millions of friends, I have to tell them what they have to do to survive. I’m gonna tell them about their wonderful potential to bypass death!” Ra didn’t accept that he had a birthday, he called it an Arrival Day. He didn’t think he was going to die.
“Remember it is written, the last enemy to conquer is death. They already did it, they have to be told how they did it. I got to let them see they conquered death 2000 years ago when they crucified Christ. The Bible said he’s the firstborn of the dead.” (KB: what?) I’m always throwing some light out there. Jesus said, ‘I came to catch fire upon the earth.’ Why do people worship something like that? We’ve got to get back there to ancient days and look at myths of ancient countries. Child to the Sun! Not an apple tree, an Appeal Tree!!”
“I don’t remember being born. You cannot, according to cosmic law, say you were born if you don’t remember being born! Thou must survive!”
Imagine: it’s an ordinary Saturday afternoon, you get out the ‘white pages’… look up the name ‘Sun Ra’, dial the phone, and this is part of your first conversation.