Hanging Out With The Man From Saturn

Several people have asked me to tell the story of my encounters with Sun Ra.

Over a span of about six or seven years, I caught Sun Ra and his Arkestra in Boston at least eleven times. While that’s not a lot by Deadhead standards, it’s probably more than I’ve seen any other musician live, with the exception of the great khyal singer Bhimsen Joshi.

To an alienated, jazz-obsessed teenager in Boston’s western suburbs, the knowledge that there was a bandleading madman who claimed to be from outer space was incredibly welcome. My high school library maintained subscriptions to a wide variety of periodicals — the usual suspects (Time, Newsweek, Life), some slightly more unconventional choices (The New Yorker, Ms.), and a few that were pretty bizarre. Of these last, there were three that made a huge impression on me: The Village Voice (where I first read about conceptual art, Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman), Source: Music of the Avant-Garde (where I first heard of Cornelius Cardew, Christo, Steve Reich and Alvin Lucier), and Downbeat (where I kept up to date on all the latest jazz happenings, and where I first learned of the existence of Sun Ra).

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