“I think of myself as a complete mystery. To myself.” -Sun Ra
One of my favorite places in the world are record stores. I love the atmosphere and the coziness they possess. To me, a record store is a magical, romantic place to be. It’s where serendipity happens daily. I appreciate the big ones as they are like sanctuaries of Music, but my heart lies with the small, charming record stores owned by lovers of Music. God knows they don’t earn a lot, but they can’t imagine doing anything else. I love how they put their heart and soul into the store and because of it, walking through it is actually so intimate. And that’s the beauty of it. Every record is there for a reason. Behind every item lies a story. Tragically though, record stores are dwindling. They’re being overthrown by internet sales and music departments in super-markets. So I make an effort to support these precious places. And that is how I came across Sun Ra (as well as many other gems). I first heard of him in a record store in Ljubljana. Then, when I was in New York I went to a very special record store in China Town and after scouting for solid 30 minutes I asked the owner to tell me more about Sun Ra and maybe give me a recommendation. His eyes got brighter (this seems to be a common reaction when asking record store owners about Sun Ra). He went on to tell me bunch of stories about Sun Ra, where he saw him live, how he got hooked, then took me over to the CD’s, where he had a story for each one.
“In some far off place
Many light years in space
I’ll wait for you.
Where human feet have never trod,
Where human eyes have never seen.
I’ll build a world of abstract dreams
And wait for you.” - Sun Ra
And that’s how I got started with Sun Ra. I didn’t immediately like him. However there’s a certain mysterious aura about him, that sooner or later draws you back whether or not you initially knew it will happen. So after being indifferent at first, I eventually found my way back, wanting to find out more and more about him and his music. I found the less I thought about what it all means, and the more I just let myself go and let the music take me wherever it may, the more I was enjoying it. I guess it’s not for everyone, but I find his music amazing.
I’m astounded by the variety of forms that music can take, all the different meanings it can hold and all the different places it can take you. To me Sun Ra showed that beautifully. He was a bottomless well of artistry and creativity.
It wasn’t until last month, that his music really hit me(and inspired me to write this post). Sun Ra left our Earth in 1992, but his Arkestra continues to perform under Marshall Allen, who used to be in the original Arkestra. Last month, they came to Slovenia to a little town called Cerkno. Cerkno is renowned for hosting many jazz artist (through the festival, Jazz Cerkno). Going there for a concert in itself is an experience - an idyllic town snuggly put between the mountains, that during the festival lives for jazz. When I got there it seemed like the whole town woke up and proceeded to the main square where the concert was held. And the warm summer night with clear skies just added to the warm, homey feeling. Then just as the stars in the sky started to show up, so did the Arkestra - shiny and bright, one by one they came up on stage. Everyone was wearing a thought-out costume, that might consist of a shimmering cape and a hat for example. They were beautiful and otherworldly.
“The outer space beings are my brothers. They sent me here. They already know my music.” - Sun Ra
Then they began to play. Suddenly it all made sense - the music, the costumes, the philosophy, everything. It made perfect sense in that moment. I’m afraid I can’t describe it. It’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself, in person. The music showered upon me and I could feel there’s something big happening in front of me. It was a combination of this cosmic music and the whole stage moving and shimmering, everyone performing being in their own reveries, while at the same time where present to what they were playing. I sat there awe-struck. The music, the philosophy had a significant presence in the square. And the concert had it all - there were chaotic moments, as there were beautiful moments. It was complete, whole and perfect. The chanting in so many songs had a special quality too. There were moments when the band stepped down from stage and went through the audience, playing, singing, which was healing. It definitely was one of those concerts, when it’s done, something deep stays with you. My hour and a half drive back home through dark roads was something special. The music was with me.
This is definitely something that is well worth experiencing in person - and you might get a chance, the Sun Ra Arkestra is pretty active. Check out their website to see when they’ll be around and go check them out. If you don’t, you can still listen to the enormous treasure of music that Sun Ra left us. Here’s a really cool guide that might help.
This was a personal post - I might write another one that’s more about Sun Ra, especially if there will be some interest.
Anyway, leave a comment and let me know what you think.