Given the rather daunting size of the Sun Ra catalog (over 100 known recordings, with plenty of semi-bootleg releases still turning up 20 years after his death) as well as its extreme stylistic breadth, there’s no set answer or even a remotely definitive list to give to someone when they ask “Where do you start?” when it comes to diving into the life’s work of the enigmatic Sun Ra.
In my own case, it was literally some Sun Ra CDs that I found, and that worked just fine for me, but finally veteran music journalist Kris Needs has provided a methodical and archival approach to Sun Ra’s oeuvre with the new 3CD box set, Sun Ra: A Space Odyssey.
Dating back to Sun Ra’s earliest days as a working musician and arranger in Chicago and his initial flight as a bandleader, for the most part, what’s on display here is slightly adventuresome big band music. The futuristic outer space mutant bop cacophony of the Arkestra was still to come, although there are hints of it aplenty in these early recordings.
Sun Ra: A Space Odyssey is the kind of detailed box set that could have only been put together by an expert’s expert, with a profound love for Sun Ra’s music. I can’t stop listening to it. Kris Needs has done music fans a great favor by compiling A Space Odyssey, I can only hope that he and Fantastic Voyage Records have future Sun Ra sets like this one in store for us. 10/10.
Below, Edward O. Bland’s 1959 quasi-documentary short, Cry of Jazz. Scenes of the Arkestra were filmed between 1956 and 1958, before the band and its leader began wearing the distinctive Egyptian and science fiction-styled headdresses and costumes they would later become well-known for:
The Band—Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson—performing live at the Syria Mosque auditorium in Pittsburgh on November 1st, 1970 at the height of their telepathic power as musicians.
The quality is superb here. The music is mythological.
“Time to Kill”
“This Wheel’s on Fire”
“Up on Cripple Creek”
Aleister X is strange. Not like your Nicki Minajs and Katy Perrys who think that throwing on a blue wig with matching contacts is a radical departure from the norm. No, Aleister X is genuinely strange.
It’s hard to get a handle on this mysterious performer/recording artist. Even after interviewing him, the easiest way I can find of summing him up is to say he’s like a hip-hop Lux Interior, from England. Even that doesn’t do him or his work justice. While on paper it reads as being self-consciously “out there”, through whatever artistic alchemy he possesses, Aleister X reigns in a whole world of disparate influences and really makes them work.
X has just released a new album titled Half-Speed Mastered on the Steev Mike label, and it’s a belter. Hack your way through the dense undergrowth of noise, stream-of-consciousness lyrics and hyperactive beats and you will be rewarded with deep pools of warm harmonies and gorgeous textures that befit an album influenced hugely by living in southern California.
It seemed only right that this occult-influenced English rapper living in LA would be featured on Dangerous Minds, and so here he is, answering questions exclusively for us.
Dangerous Minds: You are a man shrouded in mystery. Can you explain to the readers of Dangerous Minds who Aleister X is?
Aleister X: Yes I can. What most people don’t realize is I’m actually Lou Barlow (Dinosaur, Sebadoh, Folk Implosion).
DM: If you could sum up your aesthetic in 140 characters or less, what would it be?
AX: Without the character counter this will be difficult, but okay, sure: Post-Bitchin’ and
DM: Where does the album name Half-Speed Mastered come from?
AX: Back in The Davis, now defunct CBS Records made these special remastered “Audiophile Pressings” of certain albums. Known as Half-Speed Mastered from the process of allegedly mastering at half-speed, giving the albums an extended range, bigger sound. But I think they just put that logo on the album jackets and doubled the price, which is a very cool move.
DM: Half-Speed Mastered is like a mixture of experimental hip-hop, J-Pop restlessness and Californian psychedelia. Those seem like strange bedfellows but you’ve made it work. Musically, what were the main influences for the album?
AX: The Association, The Mammas And The Pappas, Kool Keith, Bruce Langhorne’s Soundtrack to The Hired Hand, Manny Fresh, KISS, Schoolly D, (early) Cornershop, DJ Screw, ZZ Top, Bad Company, AC/DC, CSN&Y, AWK, PTV “Godstar,” Blowfly, Foreigner, the real Van Halen, soundtrack to Pusher I, II, III, just to name a few.
DM: You’ve also mentioned California itself being an influence on the album, and the lyrics certainly suggest that. What are your favourite parts of Cali, and what in particular about that culture has had an impact on you?
AX: I just love the whole LA/Southland vibe. All The Industry history, the way locations have been used in films and TV so much they become meta-experiential, existing in the collective imaginations of the world, and my personal relationship to that. I love the Cheeseburger Culture, Fun Hog Culture, Rad Culture, Porn Culture, Creep Culture, Cult Culture, Home Invasion Culture, Cop Show Culture, Laid Back Culture, Awesome Weather Culture, all that cool shit California is known for. And the darkness surrounding and connecting it all. But it’s all SoCal to me.
DM: And what are the things you don’t like about it?
AX: Carl’s Jr, Silicon Valley, Wine Country, The Beach Boys, and Northern California.
DM: Robert Anton Wilson is one of the major influences for practically everyone at Dangerous Minds, and I see that you are also a fan of Discordianism. What is it about this “ideology” (term used loosely) that you like?
AX: RAW is a major influence on me as well. I love the blurry lines between fact and fiction. The mysterious secret origins of the original manuscripts surrounding The Principia Discordia is the most powerful thing about it. A lot of shit started with that.
However, the timeline for shit starting looks like this: Lovecraft - Cubism – Surrealism – Crowley – Himmler – Hoffman - Welles – Discordia – Illuminatus! Of course this is a Western–centric timeline, but that’s where the Mis/Disinformation Arts were perfected. Discordianism “liked” me first!
DM: Because I’ve only received the promo version, I can’t see who did the sleeve for Half-Speed Mastered, but I like it. What can you tell me about it? And is that Donny Osmond in the middle?
AX: I’m really glad you like it. You’re the first to even mention it. It’s actually a painting of the photo on the back of the KISS ALIVE album, done by American artist, Space Boss Corp, in 2005. The rumor was one of the kids in the photo was Tesco Vee, but that’s not true. I read in KISS Unmasked bio it was just some random nobody. But he was the first kid to ever make a banner for a band and hold it up at a rock concert.
DM: Tenuous link alert: the use of a “white square” on your sleeve makes me think of the “controversial” sleeve for David Bowie’s new album. What do you think of it? I think it’s lazy but I love Bowie’s current fuck-off attitude to press and promotion, and the industry in general, especially compared to his contemporaries like Lou Reed.
AX: David Bowie is a true master and has influenced everyone and everything. I’m happy to hear of his “fuck-off” attitude to press and promotion. He’s smart. He sees what’s going on. The artist has to do everybody’s fucking job now. Every single artist is working around the clock for free trying to get on Starbucks’ label. Why should David Bowie work for nothing? Lou Reed took a lot of shit for that album he did with Metallica. He ate crow. He’s Lou fucking Reed! He should’ve told those troll bitches to fuck-off too. And everybody thought Bowie made Lou soft! I like what I’ve heard of the new Bowie album. Great videos too.
DM: Beyond music itself, who are your main influences as an artist?
AX: Orson Welles (especially “F” For Fake”), Ray Johnson, Howard Hughes, Penn & Teller, Chris Burden, Christo, RAW (the man AND the WWE event), Steve Martin, Cheech And Chong, Tony Clifton, Eddie Murphy, Sacha Baron Cohen, Bela Lugosi, to name a few.
DM: Have you got any more videos/tours/releases planned for 2013?
AX: I’m musical guest on “The Chris Gethard Show” March 20. I’m releasing a massive double follow up to my 2011 release “Black Skull Music Mixtape Vol I” and “Half-Speed Mastered,” over 23 tracks. Just in time for summer. Possibly a limited US summer tour with Belgian breakcore artist, Sickboy. Possibly other shows. I don’t know how to book tours. I need some fucking booking agents with guts to realize the potential. I put on a great show. I’m a true entertainer, not just another bearded indie band of clichés. I’ve got fans all over the US and world begging for me to play. HELLO! (If yr in a bearded band of clichés, no hard feelings).
Alesiter X “LAX”
You can buy Half-Speed Mastered here. For (a little) more info on Aleister X visit his website, though I would recommend you subscribe to his entertaining Twitter feed for more regular updates, and check out the many videos on his YouTube channel.
In the early 1960s, advertising probably really didn’t get any more avant garde than this homage of Alain Resnais’ “mysterious” (some might say “confusing,” others “pompous”) Last Year at Marienbad, perhaps the ultimate incomprehensible “foreign film.”
Around the time of its 1961 release, Marienbad was much parodied. This seems more sincere than a lampooning, though.
It’s been said that Mexican juggler Rudy Cárdenas rehearsed 9-5 everyday, then went on and performed his act in the evening. Now that’s dedication.
During his long career, Cárdenas was a major star of stage and TV variety shows, from the 1950s-1980s, and he was regularly considered the world’s greatest juggler. But don’t take my word for it, judge for yourself.
It was John Willett’s review of William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch, in the Times Literary Supplement, that led poet and writer, Dame Edith Sitwell to make her famous statement about the book, in 1963.
Willett was a writer, critic and, most importantly, translator of Bertolt Brecht’s plays. His translations so impressed the playwright that it led to their collaboration on the Berliner Ensemble’s historic 1956 London season. Yet, for such a seemingly radical critic and writer, Willett hated Naked Lunch and made his thoughts well known in a review headlined “Ugh!”:
“[Naked Lunch]...is not unlike wading through the drains of a big city . . . [It features] unspeakable homosexual fantasies . . . ...such things are too uncritically presented, and because the author gives no flicker of disapproval the reader easily takes the ‘moral message’ the other way…..If the publishers had deliberately set out to discredit the cause of literary freedom and innovation they could hardly have done it more effectively…”
Appearing not long after the controversial trial and publication of D. H. Lawrence’s infamous Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1960, it seemed to many of England’s older and moneyed class that their world was under very real threat from the Barbarians at the gates.
One such figure, was Dame Edith, who upon reading Willett’s review fired off the following missive to the TLS:
To the Editor of the Times Literary Supplement
[published 28 November 1963]
I was delighted to see, in your issue of the 14th instant, the very rightminded review of a novel by a Mr. Burroughs (whoever he may be) published by a Mr. John Calder (whoever he may be).
The public canonisation of that insignificant, dirty little book Lady Chatterley’s Lover was a signal to persons who wish to unload the filth of their minds on the British public.
As author of Gold Coast Customs I can scarcely be accused of shirking reality, but I do not wish to spend the rest of my life with my nose nailed to other people’s lavatories.
I prefer Chanel Number .
Edith Sitwell, C.L.
What Dame Edith failed to grasp was that to a generation of young, free-thinking individuals, this letter was the perfect encouragement to go and buy the book.
Though Mr. Burroughs and Mr. Calder had made no small an impression at the Edinburgh Festival in 1962 (though arguably upstaged by the legendary spat between Communist poet Hugh MacDiarmid and Beat writer Alexander Trocchi), it is fair to say, this letter was amongst the best publicity they could have had for Naked Lunch.
Edith Sitwell is sadly neglected today, and her poetry, biographies, and one experimental novel are now mainly left to the reading lists of academics. Yet once, Edith and her brothers Osbert and Sacheverell, were the English Avant Garde—but time, fashion, politics and a World War soon usurped their position.
The poem mentioned in her letter, Gold Coast Customs (1930), was Sitwell’s own (almost Ballardian) tale of the horrific barbarism lurking beneath the artificiality of civilized humans in the city of London.
The following clip is of Dame Edith discussing her life, her parents and Marilyn Monroe, in 1959.
This week, I’ve been wandering around DM Towers dressed like this. While it’s been fun to whack about with a 9-iron, I doubt I looked as cool (or as cheesy) as these two guys: Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould in Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H.
M*A*S*H was the first ‘X’ certificate film I sneaked into, when I was about 14. It was on a re-release with the pornographically titled The Last Hard Men, which was (disappointingly) a western starring Charlton Heston, James Coburn and Barbara Hershey. An interesting double bill that nearly explains what was good and bad about the seventies
Backstage a singer prepares. He smokes, drinks a glass of beer, jokes, and talks with friends and fellow musicians. In the streets outside, people move towards the theater, where a neon banner announces ‘JACQUES BREL’.
Somewhere, there’s a better quality version of this, but think of it as a home movie, or as vintage footage, not seen since it was first broadcast on British TV, in November 1966.
Brel was on his farewell tour, and this was his final performance in Paris, at the Olympia. It was a powerful and emotional appearance. Brel left the stage exhausted after 7 curtain calls, his angular face strained, his shirt and suit soaked with sweat. That same month, the Belgian singer performed for the last time in London, before traveling on to New York for his final American shows at the Carnegie Hall in December 1966 and January 1967.
Brel said he was fed up seeing his ugly mug plastered everywhere in the papers and on TV, but the truth was the intensity of his stage performances demanded all of his emotion, and all of his energy, and there was only so long Brel could live at such a pace.
He bought a yacht, said he would sail around the world. Recorded songs for a new album. Then, on May 16th, 1967, Jacques Brel walked on stage in Roubaix, France, to give his final concert.
With thanks to NellyM
Bonus—Jacques Brel, his final concert in Amsterdam, 1964, after the jump…