The Execution of Sun Ra (Volume II): A conversation with Thomas Stanley

Luke Stewart

Written in 2014, The Execution of Sun Ra (Volume II) is a guide through the effects Sun Ra, as a human being, had on our culture. The works that had previously been written about him mainly focused on biographical information, a specific time period or series of works. In this book, however, author Thomas Stanley calls for the audience, and for the human race in general, to use Ra’s life and words seriously. Sun Ra made music for the 21st century while living in and being of the 20th century, and only in recent times has this longtime cult figure entered popular culture. Artists like Solange and concepts like Afrofuturism have placed Sun Ra—his music, his aura, his message—in the contemporary conversation. It is now, more than twenty years after his death (leaving of the planet) that his popularity is at its height with the continued touring of his Arkestra under the leadership of Marshall Allen, and it is the current generation that has embraced Sun Ra’s music without ever experiencing the live performance. More than a reflection of his life and work, The Execution of Sun Ra is a call to the 21st century—the century of Sun Ra—for abrupt change in mental and physical being for all humanity.

I met Thomas Stanley in 2008 at WPFW 89.3FM, a community public jazz radio station in Washington, DC. We were radio programmers who went back to back in the middle of the night. At that time, our late-night slots were dedicated to people who wanted to showcase more avant-garde forms of the music. Being decades my senior, Thomas reached out to me in many ways as a mentor figure, one who would help me in my early days as a radio programmer. He would share music and we would generally talk about the things we liked. A few years later, we were in a band together called Mind Over Matter, Music Over Mind (MOM^2), using electronic setups for sonic exploration and experimentation. Over the years we have continued to work together on various projects, including some of the research around his book. 

Thomas has been a key companion and guide in my own journey through the works of Sun Ra. When he was researching his book, I was also deeply engaged in finding the deep cuts and allowing myself to be influenced and inspired by Ra’s words and life. In a way, I was doing my part to help my friend, while continuing to develop my own connection with the music. At the behest of another mutual friend, and through interacting with Marshall Allen and Arkestra saxophonist/bassoonist Danny Ray Thompson, Thomas and I made a trip—or perhaps pilgrimage—to the Sun Ra house in Philadelphia, where we were able to comfortably chat with everyone present and even sit in on a rehearsal.

Thomas has thoroughly researched the works of Sun Ra, including perusing at least two archive locations plus a plethora of other private collections. What was delivered is a narrative of working through how we are supposed to feel about Sun Ra. How can his words and music be applied to our current condition ? How do we apply the concepts that Sun Ra spoke about, that his music was about ? In an urgent call, the author proclaims early on that “this book must be written now.” It is a statement portraying the author’s passion for Sun Ra’s music but, more importantly, his message.

In the below, Thomas’s words are in italics with my comments occurring after in plain text. 

On the themes of the book

Sun Ra as a therapeutic agent to resolve Arrested Development, which was his ultimate diagnosis of modernity. Modernity being everything that starts once Columbus’s spawn established their presence in the so-called “New World.” Destroy the Old World, take down all the sun symbols that Sun Ra reminded us, and begin the capitalist experiment by stealing Native land and African bodies. So, there was a reason why all that stuff happened, and it happened and now it’s time to move on. That’s what Sun Ra meant by “it’s after the end of the world.” So, I looked at Sun Ra as, well, the guy said he was here to help us. What does that mean besides doing great shows and dancing across the stage and outrageous gear ? What does that really mean that he was here to help us ?

Sun Ra has been compared to Steve Jobs, Jimi Hendrix, and even Jesus. The comparison to the religious character is most important in understanding the author’s level of reverence for his subject. It also reinforces the idea that Sun Ra is a catalyst ; his purpose was to instill drastic change in society that comes from the study of his concepts and acceptance of the power within. Sun Ra was really here to help us achieve Alter Destiny, a theme to which the author repeatedly returns. It is a concept meaning both “after the end of the world” and that through Sun Ra you can discover the power of changing one’s reality. 

Sun Ra claimed throughout his life that he was sent here to the planet Earth for a purpose. In really looking at what that purpose is and what he claims within, the author has found a vast amount of material to explore what he really meant by being here to help us. Where most volumes and reflections on Sun Ra focus on his artistic output, his music, and poetry, The Execution takes his words at their most literal and examines the implications of that way of thought and being. 

On the book title

Volume I is not in print. Volume I of  The Execution includes the works of Sun Ra. He said that the word “execute” has a curious double entendre attached to it. You can execute a man, punish him, kill him. And, you can execute a plan. Put it into action. So, writing, as I was after Sun Ra’s earthly demise, I thought it was appropriate to talk about The Execution, Volume II as being Sun Ra’s plan being moved into action. Volume III is in progress. I’m currently writing a book that is part of the series. Love it or hate it, it will be even one more step removed from simply quoting or paraphrasing Sun Ra.

Borrowing directly from the vernacular of Sun Ra, the author describes his reasoning behind the peculiar title of the book—a clever title to attract the attention of curious readers and Sunny aficionados alike. Bound by the constraints of capitalism, it is a good idea in a marketing sense. This is also how the author, and perhaps Sun Ra himself, use illusion and deception to attract and stupefy, to entertain. 

Upon closer examination, however, the true meaning can be revealed, and it just might be a profound catalytic change. The author is showing how the process of dealing with Sun Ra has changed his being. He has adopted his subject’s double-speak wordplay, the mysterious mood, the suggestion of an ever-present deeper meaning. Again, using Jesus as a reference, “Sonny reminded us that the English word execute means to put a plan into action as it also means to kill. Jesus, he said, was killed by Pontius Pilate and that execution simultaneously put into action whatever plan was attached to the Nazarene’s unique presence in the world.” Just as Jesus’s ideas were executed, the author is attempting to galvanize people around the execution of Sun Ra’s ideas. 

On what happens when we take Sun Ra at his word

I go out on a limb every time I say this. I think that Sun Ra was one of the truly great minds of history. Like a Marx, like a Freud, like all those hegemonic white guys. Einstein, Newton . . . The way that those people might have understood certain kinds of social and physical processes, I think Sun Ra understood meaning and value at a very fundamental level. It was very much connected to his word games and how he played around with language, and I think there is in his ideas the possibility of leapfrogging ourselves out of this stasis and over these seemingly impassable problems and actually living the future that we think we’re in. 

We’re not in the future. This is just the 1950s on replay. The only thing that’s changed much is the technology. And “yeah yeah” black people can use toilets wherever they want to, and gay people can get married and there’s legal pot, but I still would say that socially and at the level of meaning and value, we are moving at a snail’s pace. So, I thought that Sun Ra’s art and his work was a huge resource for leapfrogging over this stagnation and actually doing something with our lives. 

On authority

I really think, in a painfully embarrassing Sun Ra sort of way, I was chosen for this job. I think that at some point in any number of interactions, he gave me the nod. He said, “I need a lot of people to do stuff for me, and you’re going to write that book.” The other people can write the other things : the biographies, the examinations of different periods of my life. You’re going to write the book that’s about the essence of my thought, and you’re going to pay for it ! (laughs) It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be the popular book, but that’s the one you have to write. So, I took that on.

We listen to Sun Ra—to some of his ideas that he doesn’t have degrees in—because he was so amazing at everything else he did. He was so amazing at the tireless effort that went into producing so much music in such a consistent direction for such a long period of time. So, we think to ourselves, well a being that can do all that, maybe they do know something ! It’s at least worth stopping and listening to an individual who is capable of all that. 

All great black men, whether it’s Malcolm or Martin, or your uncle Buddy, or whoever it is (laughs), they pass on and we salute them as “great men of faith.” At the church, or the mosque, there they were believing, believing, believing. I think that Sun Ra’s energy was an energy of skepticism. Just like every scientist knows that the posture that drives critical inquiry and scientific investigation is disbelief, not belief. Sun Ra understood that we don’t play our skeptic card as much as we should because we can’t socially. I’ve found quotes of Sun Ra and put them in the book that never get touched on by the people that say they “know Sun Ra” or “love Sun Ra.” He came to nullify all the religions and all the governments. He didn’t have any favorites. 

We are born into a social order, and we’re socialized into the lies, deception, and fantasies of that social order. That’s the truth, whether you’re a stockbroker’s kid born in the bosom of capitalism, and that’s the truth whether you’re a beautiful native child living in a hut in an idyllic village in some far-off part of the world. You are born into the lies, the fantasies, the hypocrisies of your parents, and it is taboo to say “damn, that doesn’t make any sense.”

[It’s similar to] Terence McKenna : I’m in trouble already for bringing these two thinkers together. A white guy that promoted psychedelics in a particularly bombastic way, and this Afrocentric icon on the other hand. McKenna said that psychedelics are a way of getting past the questions that we’re not allowed to ask. For the questions that are taboo, psychedelics lowers the resistance and allows us to ask them. I suggested that Sun Ra is a forty-year ayahuasca trip for our entire culture, and that his whole purpose was to get everybody to deeply question the authority of the things you’ve been socialized into, and to see what a world on the other side of that skepticism would look like. Americans like to think that they are the progressive ones, leading the world socially in defeating all the bad “-isms.” Every day we come up against evidence that that conceit is unjustified. Every time they close the lid on another coffin of someone killed by police violence or killed in one of these silly, absolutely unnecessary wars, and we’re still running around talking about “support our troops.” I don’t have any troops ! I don’t have anyone fighting for me, I fight for myself. 

We did a fundraiser for ICE OUT OF DC. Somebody has to take a step back and not look at the thing so closely because you won’t see the whole picture. So, no one has to remark on the fact that what is happening in the homes of families from Guatemala, from El Salvador, from Mexico, from so many places, it’s the kind of disruption that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written about. That novel created enough guilt and skepticism in American society about the system of slavery that next thing you know, John Brown has started the Civil War. Really when you look at it, here’s this big structure that we can’t seem to think beyond. People will say “Thomas, Sun Ra was a Republican so he can’t be an anarchist.” He’s a Skeptic. And the nation-state, come on. Where do we get this idea that there is something morally equivalent between someone breaking into your house, and someone sneaking into your country across some imaginary line. Where did we get that ?

I had to do some research on Don Cherry. He was like, these passports, what a bad idea ! Where did they come from ? We’ve segregated ourselves according to the colors of flags rather than the color of skin. It’s the same thing, isn’t it ? We want success and improvement within the familiar framework that were socialized in, and those two things are irreconcilable. We want to put out the fire that is burning up the planet, and yet still want to rock our Nikes and drive our SUVs. We can’t convert this thing that we’re doing over to some kind of non-fossil fuel quick enough, so we have to figure out how to stop and turn and go the opposite way. 

The author devotes an entire chapter explaining his personal relationship to Sun Ra, his music, and his philosophy. It has to be stated clearly and honestly, as a relative outsider to the accepted world of Sun Ra research. Having personally met and spent time with Sun Ra himself, as well as members of the Arkestra, goes a long way to winning over the often skeptical aficionado. 

In this chapter there are a lot of personal retellings and stories from the author’s own history. Entire pages go by without even a mention of Sun Ra. A long story about working in a mental health facility where the author became “well acquainted with the charisma of the insane.” In other words, the author is telling the audience that he’s seen crazy, and Sun Ra ain’t crazy. So that leads us to ask, what if Sun Ra was actually telling the truth about all the things he’s saying ? Here is where the premise of the book is revealed.

On difficulties in presenting Sun Ra

One of the things with Sun Ra, compared to any other jazz musician and maybe to any other musical artist period, is that when you add up what the man generated in terms of words from song lyrics to onstage monologues to formal and informal interviews, there’s a ton of material to start with. I love Sun Ra, but I don’t work from a place of hero worship. I work from a place where he’s a guy who’s got ideas and what those ideas are. I don’t think Sun Ra really wanted to take the time to stop and have a serious debate about his very serious ideas. So, everything was always cloaked and almost self-undermined by the platform of absurdity. Of course, Sun Ra was pulling your leg. How could anybody who looked like that and talked like that be NOT pulling your leg. And I think that was intentional. I think that was Sun Ra’s way of saying, look . . . I’m basically self-educated and I don’t think that the world is ready for a Negro to roll up his sleeves intellectually and duke it up with these doctors and scientists and what have you. And yet I think that what he was talking about was the kind of stuff that turned out to be at the top of the list of academic concerns that “serious” people are dealing with. There’s this abundance of material and you’re wading through it. This guy had an opinion on just about anything you can have an opinion on, and there’s so much forest there that you could easily get lost in the trees. So, for me it was kind of like, dive in. And as you’re swimming around, reach out and the things that you can internalize, those are the things that will help you float. It was tough. It was hard work because Sun Ra’s primary nemesis was death. He saw himself as our champion against death, and this is on a number of levels. On the carnal level, you had an individual who was committed to mastering a craft where if your body holds out you can conceivably just get better forever. And he had to wrestle with it. I saw it in him as a human being. I saw him so disappointed when his body started falling apart. He was embarrassed that his mortality was on public display, and that despite all his efforts he wasn’t able to put death in the bag. 

The other way to look at it is that, historically, death is the motivational factor to distort how we live. The whole Judeo-Christian premise is that we have a little time on earth and then we die. Then if we’ve done everything we’re supposed to, we have like cake in heaven forever and ever and ever. Our lives are constrained and distorted by tremendous pressures to defeat death by leaving permanent monuments here. Whether those are monuments of a very strict and literal sense like the Washington monument, or monuments like our children, our family, our clan, our social order. These are things that are supposed to outlive us because we are painfully aware of how fragile and short our time is. It just fucks us up and we don’t know what to do with it. 

The author tells a long story about working at a mental hospital. He was intimately experienced with the mannerisms and behaviors of truly “crazy” people. Based on the author’s experience with the mentally ill, he could make an amateur diagnosis that Sun Ra probably was just as crazy as all the other jazzmen of the day. After all, mentally ill genius is the tradition of the great jazz pianists. “So I played with the idea that Sun Ra was a functional schizophrenic. . . . Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell were both famously compromised.”

“Of course, no sooner had I formed my amateur diagnosis, than it had ruled itself out.” Ruled out by the fact that Sun Ra maintained an exceptionally rigorous schedule as a musician, bandleader, and businessperson. He is, in fact, a singular figure in the history of music for having held together a band of sometimes more than two dozen people for multiple decades. This level of achievement could not be attained from the mind of a functional schizophrenic. It is here that the author states the case for the authority of Sun Ra himself. Many in the Sun Ra community, even, possess strong doubts about his philosophical activities, preferring to focus instead on the music, which for many is profound and interesting enough. Thomas borrows his authority as a mental health worker to rule for himself and the audience that Sun Ra is in fact not crazy. Therefore, what does it mean if Sun Ra was telling the truth, or at least his truth ? Again, the premise is developed here.

On Death

I think one of the quotes that always stands out for me is that Sun Ra would say to the band, “Other men will ask you to give up their life for them. I’m asking you to give up your death for me.” 

I spent a lot of time in the book talking about how modern medicine has pushed back the veil of death through all of these new understandings about oxygen deprivation and the brain, keeping people cold when they’ve had cardiac arrest, etc. You have to wonder, what society would be like if death didn’t pose such a hard stop at the end of our time here, and I think Sun Ra is asking a lot of those questions.

On deviations in topical issues, exemplifying the effects of Sun Ra

I wanted to show how your thought changes when it’s been dislodged by a sufficiently strong dose of Sun Ra. I wanted to show how that if you have enough of his thought in your system, all your other thoughts would change. I wanted to show that you don’t write about Freud’s ideas about the self-conscious and the ego and say “Freud” on every page. You don’t write about Marx and his ideas about history and capital and power and say “Marx” on every page. To take Sun Ra’s ideas and apply them to personal life and social life proves that they’re good ideas. I knew I was running the risk of people saying, “well you know it’s not really Sun Ra, it’s really you.” Well YEAH. That’s how applied knowledge works. This is Sun Ra’s ideas in my hands, and I’m doing as much as I can with it, and I wrote one book. What can you do ? You get some Sun Ra ideas. Take a big dose, get it in your system, let it move around, and then you do something with it. I bet it won’t be what you’re doing.

If you just take a superficial path, a light dose of Sun Ra, he is extremely suited to a very closed narrow reading of Afrocentricity. He wore ankhs, he dressed in garb, he quoted Ancient Egypt, “oh my gosh.” Spoke in that beautiful Southern drawl. As much as I miss his music, I miss hearing him talk. I miss hearing all that Southern antiquity in his voice and everything that means. I miss it.

When you look deeper into Sun Ra, he wasn’t that guy. He wasn’t the guy to throw red, black, and green around and say look here, he’s just like Marcus Garvey. He really isn’t. The notion that Sun Ra’s utility, being his value and purpose, was just sort of to give black people another hero so they can feel better about themselves, fuck that. The man had an idea about planet Earth being a place that was in need of development, rehab. It’s stuck. 

Marvin X Jacmon, a cat from the Nation of Islam, was one of my best sources for the book. He said that what I learned from Sun Ra, and you can see this if you research, everything after Egypt is a reiteration, a watered-down version, of the dynastic order of the pharaohs. Big buildings, big institutions, big ideas about metaphysics, god, eternity. Sun Ra was saying that was great for 3,000 years, and now we’ve got sequels and they’re running out of gas. Now here we are, really into the 21st century, let’s do something different. Black people have a roll because of what we’ve witnessed and still hold memory of in our collective consciousness. We’ve been androids. You take a human being and make them an android not by ripping out their brain and replacing it with a CPU, you take a human being and you mess around with their programming. The code is just language. And you socialize that human being into thinking that they really aren’t a human, and that they can be used here at the disposal of the guy that wrote the program. We’ve been flesh bots. We’ve been robots. So now it’s like “been there, done that.” What’s the real future look like ?

Power is the antithesis of control.

We need power, but control is not on the table anymore, that’s not the objective anymore. Look at how vast the universe is. Our destiny is to interact with all of that. Somebody thinks that the program is to destroy this planet. The elite will build starships and as the planet is dying, they will pack up and get on these spaceships and go out and colonize these other planets. I don’t think that’s how it works. I don’t think we get our permission slip for interstellar travel until we restore this planet. 

Sun Ra lived in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. People don’t think of a man who’s identified with an urban lifestyle in urban settings as a naturalist. But Sun Ra was deeply attuned to the natural world and the necessity of our responsibility to be a part of this cohesive whole that includes all the life that’s here. I think the next hundred years could be the best hundred years of human history, but we have to put down what’s in our hands to pick up the next round of work. 

That’s the execution, the implementation of Sun Ra’s optimistic and utopian vision of what the planet could be. 

On equations

“Had the evidence of Sonny’s equational analysis of the planetary condition been limited to onstage and backstage rants, lyrical content, or even his voluminous recorded interviews, we might still be justified in viewing his work as thinker and teacher as simply an appendage to his life as a performing musician, an elaborate epiphenomenon.”

Sun Ra felt the need to document his work, more so than any other jazz musician. He sought a full equation between the Music and the Message, his planetary call for evolution.

On Afrofuturism

You told me that the term comes from a white literary critic. I agree with you that there is something tired and grating about our culture being subsumed under somebody else’s label, again. And yet, if you play a bass or a saxophone and you swing, if you don’t call what you do jazz, you won’t get work. In a positive sense, what I’ve seen is that Afrofuturism tends to draw together younger black people that I might have more of an affinity with than older black people. I’m a generational outcast. I’m the sixty-year-old black dude that doesn’t want to hear anymore P-Funk . . . and I want to hang out with people who want to solve problems, not just bitch about them. So, in my head, Afrofuturism is Afrocentricity with an upgrade. It’s an understanding that socially on this planet you cannot escape the centrality of White Supremacy as the major axis of oppression. But I don’t think you can reduce all the suffering and all the contradiction, and all the problems here to an idea about white people punishing everybody else. The historical evidence is that white people cannibalize each other. You can ask the coal miner, you can ask the Northern Irish, there’s lots of people you can talk to about that !

I think Sun Ra’s “Afro future” was Alter Destiny. This is where it gets trippy. I think Alter Destiny is a “when” that constitutes a “where.” Sun Ra says Space is the Place, but where’s the place ? The place becomes apparent as soon as we get to the time, and the time is up to us. History is full. Its project was unifying the planetary system through a techno-economic gesture of brutal and sweeping effect, and it’s done. The stuff that’s leaking out of history is Alter Destiny, and there’s going to be more. I quoted Sun Ra in the book saying, “first there’s going to be chaos, and then utter chaos, then right then you’ll look for the Alter Destiny to step in.” I can stand with the “resistance” and be every bit as upset as everyone else about the bigot in the White House. But I can take a step on the Alter Destiny side and say that this is systematic of an empire in decline. This is a dying order clutching at straws, and perhaps when this one is exhausted there won’t be anymore.

I ask people to imagine a world without calendars. Imagine getting things done without that grid to place your activity across. Imagine a social order where the expectation is NOT that you’ll spend the best part of everyday, except Saturday and Sunday, involved in some kind of economic activity to build wealth. Imagine everything else that we can do above what we’ve already done. And all of those things are in reach once we click those gears and get into the time that’s right here, but we’re not aware. Alter Destiny is in the world, but we can’t see it yet. 

It is useful to remember that the man known as Sun Ra was born Sonny Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, during the peak of racial oppression. Lynchings were commonplace ; segregation was the law of the land and the basis of social behavior. White supremacy was frequently on display. Even so, he was a different individual, a weirdo for anywhere, but especially Birmingham in the early 1900s. What he saw and experienced would be conflated into his biographical mythology, having experienced a relative wealth of culture in the Magic City, as it was known.

A man of his time, once he reached Chicago, he was immersed in the burgeoning culture of soap-box, on-the-corner preaching. At this moment, however, it was noted as being a hotbed for grassroots black political, religious, and spiritual revolution. Ra quickly joined the fray, learning as much as he could while also developing and delivering his own brand of revolutionary soap-box talk. His would be about liberation not on the Black Star Line, but on a spaceship.

“. . . Sun Ra would have to be seen as a black nationalist . . . Sun Ra can be neither credibly severed from the African-American
tradition nor accurately contained within it . . .”

Throughout his career, Ra was reaching out specifically to the black community. From his assisting Amiri Baraka in his early presentations of the Black Arts Movement in Harlem to his participation in FESTAC, the legendary festival in Nigeria, Ra has always been concerned with reaching black audiences with his music and message. He was a true elder statesman for the revolutionary generation of the ’60s and ’70s, giving lectures and debates to anyone who would listen.

On alter destiny

Sun Ra told me that Alter Destiny is like the vice president. If the president messes up, you don’t like what he’s doing, you pull him out of there and you put the vice president in. Our destiny is dystopic sci-fi. A planet of very few winners and many, many losers, and technology maintaining that inequality in perpetuity. If you want to buy into that and roll the dice, or position yourself with the elite, you can try it—but there’s nothing logical about that. Sun Ra said that you can flip the script and do something entirely different. You can move into an ecology of awareness that actualizes justice, and obviates race, war, money, and the nation-state. Alter Destiny isn’t a project that we are executing. The planet really is a spaceship, and Alter Destiny is its preprogrammed and inevitable destination. Resistance is futile.

On Sun Ra and God

This is a touchy one because ultimately, I want people to like Sun Ra. And I don’t think that most people’s ideas about religion and God are consistent with Sun Ra’s. So, if you really start exposing what he felt about that whole matter, I think you alienate people. 

Sun Ra had an acute awareness of how “make believe” for the human being does not simply constitute falsehood, but it can, under special conditions, constitute myth, and myth can be much more consequential than mere reality. 

I think Sun Ra was performing for us the dance of Moses, the dance of Isaiah, the dance of anyone who came down from the mountain and said, “You know what God told me ? Well check it out.” He was performing that for us and doing it in such a campy, kitsch sort of over-the-top absurd way, that we were supposed to get that that’s the way it went down thousands of years ago ! We were supposed to get the fact that all of those dudes were well intentioned people who knew that a little “white lie” could go a long way toward helping people if it was the right falsehood. That’s what it’s about.

Sun Ra spoke of God the way you might talk about a neighbor that has loud parties or something. He was not one to grovel on the ground and assume a position of passive obedience before the divine. He very much felt like whatever the divine intention is, if we can still speak on that, that’s built into the cosmos, that’s what you serve. You serve it by being active, by being a creator. Creation is a challenge. Because if you make something and it wasn’t there, you’re challenging the establishment. If I make a song, and that song wasn’t here yesterday, I’m saying that “perfect world” that God created yesterday, wasn’t perfect. It was imperfect in precisely this way. It needed my song, and here it is.

It’s all about hyper-creativity. Right now, we’ve created so many different ways that you can use your telephone to order a sandwich. And that supposedly proves how advanced we are. Bring that hyperactivity closer to home. Bring the idea that everything can be improved closer to you. To be creative isn’t to follow a trend. Sun Ra is an iconoclast because he didn’t stand with anybody. He was not allowed to participate in the closing parade at FESTAC in Nigeria, because Sun Ra wasn’t down with everybody having to do the Black Power salute. That’s the kind of guy Sun Ra was. Anybody who is into something that is clique-ish and group-oriented should be very careful about embracing Sun Ra as their hero, because that’s not where he was at. He was a loner going back to Birmingham. 

Birmingham, man. The most segregated city in America. Then there’s this young black teenager standing out on the corner in a toga and sandals, giving his own interpretation of the Bible ! He took enormous risks. His resistance to World War II. The induction office kept sending him mail, but he thought they had to be joking. Everybody knew he was a musician. He wasn’t going to war ! He didn’t care how evil you told him the other side was, he got business to do. And he paid for it, they locked him up ! He wasn’t about groupthink. I’m not saying he wasn’t about togetherness, because a band is ultimately a band that sounds good to the extent that you can create togetherness.

The Execution of Sun Ra (Volume II): A conversation with Thomas Stanley