My Life in the Cutout Bins: Sun Ra/Pathways To Unknown Worlds
It's a long story, but I was a seventh grader who was interested in free jazz. And I loved the weird and the 'out there' in the form of novelty pop records and Dickie Goodman soundbite records and performers like Screamin' Jay Hawkins, or Kordit Panda. But Sun Ra was in a class by himself. His music was delivered via a big band, but it was steeped in free jazz improvisation, and he played organ and piano while leading the group, like an avant garde Duke Ellington or Count Basie. Most interesting of all, Ra claimed to have come to planet Earth from Saturn, his home planet. And this wasn't some idle publicity stunt that he merely tossed off. Sun Ra had developed an elaborate cosmology that encompassed not only his music, but his wardrobe, his language, and his very being.
It took a while for it to sink in that Ra was presenting black people in America with an alternative history that combined Egyptology, science fiction, black music, and garb that presented he and his band as either Gods from outer space here for our edification and enlightenment, or else as high priests of black culture playing something similar to Hesse's glass bead game. It presented black culture as elevated rather than debased, and it helped posit a future where black people would not only exist, but excel culturally. It was a vision that was repeated by other visionary black musicians, including George Clinton and his Parliament group and Earth Wind & Fire.