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Who Executed Sun Ra?
Documentarian Ken Burns’ 19-hour revisionist tome Jazz was first aired in 2000 and managed to serve up its feel-good story of African American classical music as "the purest expression of American Democracy” without one mention of the artist known to the world as Sun Ra. Jazz’s black power avant garde is generally given short shrift by this and other official narratives, but Burns manages to reduce this critical chapter of jazz history to an encapsulated vignette on John Coltrane and a brief mention of artistic master Cecil Taylor (offered only as a set-up for one of Wynton’s brother’s to diss the 84-year old pianistic genius and the movement with which he is most often associated.) Sun Ra’s uninterrupted life of musical composition and performance took him around the globe and resulted in hundreds of highly sought recordings over the course of more than a half-century. His famed multi-generational Arkestra remains among the longest runs in big band history and has been a continuous spawning ground for a litany of brilliant solo performers (like Julian Priester and Pharaoh Saunders), but the mythic minstrel of Saturn didn’t even get a footnote in Burns sweeping epic.
Jon Szwed’s outstanding ethno-biography Space Is The Place (Da Capo Press, 1998), goes a long way towards offsetting Burn’s inexplicable omission, as does archival work by academics such as John Corbett and independent researchers like Christopher Eddy and former Arkestra member Michael D. Anderson. While on earth, Sun Ra presented himself as an angelic ambassador from the Creator of the Cosmos. His mission was no less than catalyzing an epoch of renewed human possibility. He was a flamboyant bridge between the lost wisdom of Ancient Egypt (Kemet) and the space age. In The Execution of Sun Ra, author and cultural theorist Thomas T. Stanley has dared to take on the inspiring, if sobering, implications of Sun Ra’s “Myth-Science” approach to human salvation. In a compelling 200-page read, supplemented by rare photos of the late musician, Stanley connects Ra’s vision for earthly progress to a fascinating mix of occult, archaic, and futuristic thinkers.
The Imperative of Alter Destiny
"The non-musical residue of Sun Ra’s life is a noxious, fluffy speck of toxic, life-renewing co(s)mic lint – once activated, a particle of deceptive potency. Sun Ra made us laugh at and with him to make his point, to remind us that having ended the world, our journey was really just preparing to begin, and this, for a young species that is understandably a little insecure about its sense of historical progression, is laughable in the extreme. In that spirit, if the Execution of Sun Ra makes you laugh or seems a tale that can only be taken with a kilo of salt, then I have achieved a mode of communication that is appropriate to my task.
"But I believe that as you read this tale of mercy and madness you will, like I, begin to hunger for the release of our Alter Destiny. You will sense the reinvigoration of your natural spirit as you drape your imagination across the template of possibility offered by Sun Ra’s bold and timely intervention. You will thirst for the horizons of brother and sisterhood made possible by a resetting of this dog-eared battle that has passed for civilization over these last few thousand years. You will understand that you hold in your hand the fulfillment of religion’s promise to reboot the cosmic motherboard and give us a second roll of the dice only, without the religion. And you will begin, I think, to appreciate the practical beauty of an imminent eschatology that does not require waiting on angels. The Angel already came. He had an orange beard. The Angel has left the building." (excerpt - all rights reserved)
About the Author
Dr. Stanley, whose dissertation explores Butch Morris’ Conduction method has previously co-authored an oral history on P-Funk. His work as a music writer, radio programmer, and curator with the non-profit Transparent Productions collective has put him in the midst of advanced musical expression since the late 80s. Stanley actively advocates sonic culture as a means of activating alternate ontologies and engaging alternate timelines.
Thomas Stanley is an assistant professor of sound art and consciousness in the School of Art at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He has written and lectured extensively on emerging musical cultures. As an artist, performer, and curator, Stanley has been an integral part of a burgeoning experimental music scene along the Baltimore-Washington corridor. His work attempts to exploit the capacity of sound and music for anchoring, framing and energizing our subjective experience of macrotemporal texture (history). Currently, within the trio Mind Over Matter Music Over Mind he constructs and deploys sampled and electronically generated music. He is also featured in Stranger, a documentary film about seminal P-Funk and Talking Heads keyboardist Bernie Worrell.
Read the chapter Dr. Stanley contributed to Live Movies, a textbook on new media published in 2006.
Risks and challenges
This section is intended to address potential obstacles to the publication of the Execution of Sun Ra which may arise after its successful funding. The manuscript is in the final processes of completion and revision. If the author does not DIE or SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST, this book will happen, even if it has to be handwritten on rolls of toilet tissue. Now there's a funky limited edition, if ever there was one.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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