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The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra's…

The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra's Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner… (edition 2006)

by Sun Ra, Anthony Elms (Editor), John Corbett (Editor)

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Title:The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra's Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets
Authors:Sun Ra
Other authors:Anthony Elms (Editor), John Corbett (Editor)
Info:WhiteWalls (2006), Edition: annotated edition, Paperback, 144 pages
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The Wisdom of Sun Ra: Sun Ra's Polemical Broadsheets and Streetcorner Leaflets by Sun Ra



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Companion to Corbett's edited Pathways to Unknown Worlds, the emphasis in Wisdom of Sun-Ra is upon primary source material rather than the commentary and transcribed interviews in Pathways. Corbett provides a helpful and brief introduction, then sends the reader directly into Sonny Blount's obtuse but strangely compelling diatribes.

There are two versions of each broadsheet / sermon. In the first section are presented scans of the original manuscripts: closely typewritten pages with cramped margins, strikeouts, marginalia, and replete with idiosyncratic spelling, punctuation, capitalization. The final section presents the transcripts, and though some of Sun Ra's stylings are retained, it's key to have reference to the scans.

It's clear that despite the obtuseness of some passages, Sun Ra had a vision and it is both sincere and serious. Having only the barest of exposure to his spaceways / freakout costumes and imagery, largely distilled through others such as Bootsy Collins, I now suspect these frames were selected precisely to dilute or temper the radical content he presented. (In fact it is Corbett who raises this possibility in his introduction, but it only strikes home after reading the broadsheets.) In short, while music was obviously a major concern of his, Sun Ra was equally focused on race relations, social re-engineering, a connection with the divine (if not the sacred), and exploding the myths of institution and personality which so dominate politics and social power. That he did this by counterposing his own myth is in hindsight brilliant: simultaneously public and private, available to any initiate taking the time and effort to uncover it.

Corbett writes: "[These manuscripts] offer an amazing, sometimes shocking view into the early uncut investigations of Sun Ra, his imaginative and angry reinterpretations of scripture, his scintillating and absurd etymologies, his beloved equations, his powerful analysis of racial epithets and black vernacularisms, and a few intimations of his later preoccupation with space." [6] Corbett suggests Sun Ra was a powerful influence on the Black Muslims: true or not, his viciously provocative exegeses turn Biblical passages inside out, and make the Black American the true descendant of Abraham. These sermons come across as serving the moment, though, as at times Jesus is an exemplar and at other times those following Jesus are characterized as duped and untrue to the Creator. Sun Ra delivers these ideas as barbs and insults to what can be supposed to be a black audience.

The broadsheets make dense reading, with concepts and turns of phrase surfacing among multiple broadsheets, at times explained pages after they are first introduced. I suspect these conversations were as much an intellectual exercise for Sun Ra as they were a message to be delivered on a Chicago street corner. The etymologies are especially reminiscent of word associations: not literally true, I'm not persuaded Sun Ra understood them as defensible etymologies so much as they are provocative collisions of meanings and sounds (God and Guard, for example, are "phonetics" in Black English, and he ran with the possibilities suggested by these 2 words). In that way, perhaps similar to how he thought of music and musical ideas.

There is nothing about Sun Ra's music or musical activities in this work, and Sun Ra refers to contemporary music in these sermons only rarely. ( )
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0945323077, Paperback)

From the Arkestra to his experiments with synthesizers, Sun Ra was one of the most inventive jazz musicians in history. Yet until now, there has not been a collection of his earliest writings that reveal the beginnings of his work as philosopher, mystic, and Afro-Futurist. This new volume unveils over forty newly discovered typewritten broadsheets on which Sun Ra expounded his wholly unique philosophical message. 

While in Chicago during the mid-1950s, Sun Ra preached on street corners and occasionally created scripts to accompany his lectures—intricate texts that invoke science fiction, Biblical prophecy, etymology, and black nationalism. Until this point, the only broadsheet known to exist was one given to John Coltrane in 1956. These newly unearthed writings attest to the provocative brilliance that inspired Coltrane. Sun Ra annotated many of them by hand, and together the sheets reveal fascinating new aspects of his worldview.

The Wisdom of Sun Ra is an invaluable compendium of writings by one of the most intriguing and influential jazz figures of the century.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:17 -0400)

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