Are you happy?

This is an irritating question I get asked, especially by family. Let me be clear: NOBODY can be truly happy right now. Humanity is facing existential threats on multiple fronts. This is the Coronavirus War, which is the revolutionary war to prevent WW3 & MAD. Trotskyists are on the side of rationality & science, while capitalism is about irrational greed & class dominance. The Coronavirus War must be won by Trotskyism, otherwise we all die. The only way someone can claim to be happy under these conditions is if they are smugly self-satisfied and/or deluded.

Happiness is a relative term. I’m happier than I was in the past, but I don’t claim to be completely happy & fulfilled. There’s still too much work to be done. Only trifling minds can believe in their deep happiness. We have a social system where there is a class of people who can check-out whenever they please because they are taken care of. It’s nice if you can get it, but it’s not for me. Historical materialists posit that eventually their bubbles & illusions will be shattered by reality.

Donald Trump is part of this parasitic elite, full of anger among other bad things. Every MAGA supporter is like him, so none of these people can be happy. Trump’s pathology is that he is a sociopath. Sociopaths have no empathy, they revel in meting out cruelty & abuse, always targeting the weak when they are most vulnerable. Soft targets are the lifeblood of sociopaths & fascists, which feeds their bottomless appetite for hate, violence & terrorism.

All this is constructed on a mountain of lies which include historical falsification, anti-Semitism, and the perpetual use of the Big Lie. Fascists have fully adopted the techniques of US intelligence agencies & military. Most of the shock troops from the 1/6/21 US Capitol assault were recruited from far-right sympathizers in the police, firefighters, military, etc.

US Secret Services agents subpoenaed to turn over their cell phone data from 1/6/21 deleted all their texts, messages, etc. Far-right sympathizers in US police, military & intelligence agencies were the organizers & foot soldiers in Donald Trump’s coup attempt on 1/6/21. The 1/6 Committee led by Republican Party war-hawk Liz Cheney sought to whitewash all this filth & criminality, by pinning the entire blame on the actions of a single individual– Donald Trump. The facts overwhelmingly prove otherwise. Facts are stubborn things.

The FBI monitored the entire planning & unfolding of 1/6, with agents planted & active at all levels, and they did nothing to prevent an armed assault on the US Capitol building when Congress was in session, going through the ceremony of certifying a presidential election. After the 1/6 insurrection fizzled-out, the coup-plotter-in-chief began his next campaign to deal with the consequences & political fallout. First, Donald Trump intimidated Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell into not impeaching him during his swift (second) impeachment trial in the weeks after January 6, 2021.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican whip who was initially shocked & outraged over being a target of enraged MAGA vigilantes, checked with his grassroots supporters, (who both said don’t cross Trump) and thus jelly-spine Mitch caved-in to the Godfather of the Republican Party. Mitch McConnell swallowed his indignation, as well as his sworn duty to protect the US Constitution, uniting his party colleagues in voting “No” to impeachment, when no clearer case of criminality against American law could be imagined.

It was the best chance the Republicans ever had to handle Trump once and for all, and possibly redeem themselves (somewhat) in the eyes of the vast majority of Americans who STRONGLY disapproved of Trump’s coup attempt. The Republicans couldn’t do it because the political fallout would have been too devastating for the far right, whom they must protect at all costs. It would have killed the Republican Party, because Trump the Nazi became the Republican Party in 2016. Republicans, more than anyone else, can’t endure short-term pain & long-term sacrifice.

For historical reference, Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial was part of the Democrat attack campaign on him for beating Hillary Clinton in Election 2016. If there is one thing Donald Trump is genuinely good at, it’s a legal battle. If you’re going to beat Trump in court, you had better have the goods on him– and the resources to outlast all his dirty-tricks. Trump is a maestro at appealing verdicts, delaying, deflecting, denying, counter-suing, buying judges, ignoring rulings, etc.

The ruling establishment grievance for his first impeachment trial was that President Trump held up covert military aid to Ukrainian neo-Nazis for a few months. That’s it. For a long, long time in top-level US military planning circles, Ukraine has been considered the leading front in the war against “Russian interference,” whose goal is regime change in Moscow. These olden cold warriors lead humanity recklessly into the 21st-century with their nuclear brinkmanship & empty bluster. All of them are hard-headed & senile, along with being sore losers. These qualities are widely considered red flags for serious leadership positions, but under elite capitalism being stupid, heartless & greedy makes you most qualified for leadership.

Of course, as the true reasons for the first impeachment campaign against Donald Trump became apparent, and with strong Republican Party support, he was acquitted in the Senate. The whole matter was considered bogus by rational observers, with the real issue of arming Ukrainian neo-Nazis stricken from discussion, thus feeding into President Trump’s hand.

The Democrats do that very well, and Bush v Gore is perhaps the best example. Conservative Democrats (always claiming to be vaguely liberal) never mention how Election 2000 was stolen by Bush/Cheney. In the end it was Democratic Party leadership, bowing not to the will of the voters, but to a right-wing US Supreme Court which ruled that since the Electoral College decides the election for US President, there is no need to count all the votes in Florida.

The final counting of all Florida ballots, particularly the Miami area which leaned ~85% Democrat, was stopped by Republican lawyers. Governor Jeb Bush organized his machinery, while mobs of angered right-wing supporters stormed voting precincts where tens of thousands of uncounted ballots remained in storage. They were never to be counted, as the Supreme Court ruled 5-4, in favor of not counting all the ballots. Antonin Scalia authored the majority opinion, which was a legal & democratic travesty– the ‘justice’ of a mafia don.

Having lived in Central Florida for over 25 years I can say that most people oppose the right-wing politics of Florida, but that will never be allowed to express itself at the ballot box. Republicans took over the governorship of Florida in 1998, and they will never give it back without it being taken from them. In 2022, the Florida political machinery is solid Nazi with Trump hunkered down in exile at his Mar-a-Lago luxury compound, and Ron DeSantis in the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee.

The Villages, FL is a key financial & political base for the far right, to counter the liberalism of Sanford/Orlando in Central Florida. Massive right wing capital went into building the sprawling retirement community known as the Villages out of swampland in the late-1990’s. Politically the Villages first came to prominence as the right-wing Tea Party in 2009, which was their reaction to Barack Obama winning the presidency, and then later as rabid MAGA Trump supporters. For instance, much of the racist ‘birther campaign’ against Barack Obama was incubated in the Villages, which brands itself as “America’s Friendliest Hometown”. Between fits of hysterical anger towards Democrats & anything vaguely left-wing, Villagers like to think of themselves as happy & enlightened.

For the Democrats, the ideological front lines of mainstream propaganda (since ~1972, and then Barack Obama for sure) has been identity politics as a tool to divide workers & youth. The Nazis have white supremacy, anti-Semitism, vigilante militias, etc, and that ugliness largely speaks for itself. Most working people are repulsed, and you don’t have to convince too many educated people that the KKK is horrible, and that the Holocaust was a massive war crime. The lunatic fringe of Holocaust deniers, Q-Anon nuts, right-wing militia groups, etc, are now all that’s left of Donald Trump’s political base. The political establishment is trying to put the Republican Party back together again, after Humpty Trumpty forever shattered it on 1/6/21.

The MeToo campaign under the banner of liberal feminism is also fascism, but of a different stripe. MeToo has the power of illusion (feminine beauty), claiming to be a force for progress, but in fact it’s a nefarious tool for political reaction. The MeToo campaign is a McCarthyist witch-hunt, organized & led by the CIA Democrats, targeting leftist artists & top talent. Artistically speaking, this has a chilling affect on those who remain. MeToo is not a movement, but a cynical campaign whose core message is vote Democrat.

Both major parties like nothing more than a well-framed debate in the corporate media. For instance, what always gets mentioned in every spectrum of the fake media are Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Here we have a madman completely turning facts, science & history on its head, which gives the Democrats ammunition. The Democrats then use that ammunition to attack Trump (and everyone else) from the right. Trump may still command an audience of supporters, but they are ever-dwindling. The window of opportunity for fascism to regain power is closing fast, but this is not due to the efforts of the Democrats.

As Joe Biden said after 1/6, “We need a strong Republican Party… We need unity with the Republicans [fascists].” Indeed he does. People are now starting to realize that the Democrats are just as fascist as the Republicans, maybe even worse because of how they lie about it.

Their fascism is perhaps most apparent in their dictatorial control over the trade unions, bloated with corporate bureaucrats assigned to sell out the rank-and-file in all industries. The Democratic Party is the party of the CIA, the leading purveyor of misinformation on the planet. Their covert deceptions provide fuel for the big lies of Nazis everywhere. It’s a self-perpetuating system of hate & inequality called capitalism, dictated & financed on Wall Street, and then veneered-over with debased politics & vapid pop culture.

International socialism is how to overcome all this ignorance, hatred & inequality foisted upon us by the madmen & madwomen who own capitalism. To all oppressed workers, youth & socialists: Keep organizing rank-and-file workplace committees, along with school & neighborhood safety committees– everywhere!! That coalesces international labor power politically under the banner of Trotskyism. That’s how to win. It’s also how to be happy.


Manufacturing Music in 2022

Country music artist Miranda Lambert did it again with Palomino, which has plenty of crossover appeal. It’s my choice for the best mainstream album of 2022, in any genre. Conspicuously absent from most ‘2022 best-of’ lists, I’ve noticed.

Brian Eno & PJ Harvey are continually intriguing artists I follow. They endure & gracefully evolve by becoming multi-media artists. Thus they don’t fit so nicely on the limited ‘best-of’ lists published by most critics.

Beyonce, Megan Thee Stallion, Harry Styles, Wet Leg, BlackPink, etc, are production-heavy industry creations. These performers dominate most of the corporate media’s best-of-2022 music lists. These fans & boosters should credit the producers more, and realize what that means– particularly its limitations.

Mediocre & dull music is now precisely MIDI-ed, EQ-ed & compressed, which allows for better dynamics– yielding a cleaner & louder sound. Bass is boomier than ever, and distortion is crunchier in all ranges. Beats are mostly electronic, or at least enhanced by digital effects. That’s the sound of today, from pop & rap to punk & heavy metal. Much of this ‘excitement’ is achieved by computerized digital processing. It’s the same process in film, television & crypto.

Hillary Clinton w/ Pussy Riot_2014

The nefarious #MeToo campaign bears much of the current responsibility for this lack of excitement & innovation in popular culture. Many talented performers (in all fields) have been cancelled by a Democratic Party-led identity politics campaign in its feminist (Me Too), racialist (Black Lives Matter), and LGBTQ-activist incarnations. All are corporate funded, anti-science & pro-war. The “punk” spearhead for this CIA campaign has been Pussy Riot (pic above), who have been hyped in the Western media as a “protest art collective,” while being officially designated as foreign agents by the Russian government.

The list of performers who have been cancelled in music, as well as film, television & theater is staggering in terms of top talent, and irreplaceable in terms of art. You simply can’t replace a Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, or Bill Murray in film. In music, you can’t replace a Michael Jackson, Ryan Adams, or Roger Waters. If they can be attacked and taken down by cynical politics, resting on a mountain of lies & baseless allegations, then who is safe from this?

It’s nearly impossible to be an artist under these conditions. The industry hype machine allows nothing subversive (left-wing) to enter into popular consciousness. In fact, they censor it harshly. We are nearing the end of the ‘American Idol era’ in popular music, when a handful of industry big-shots & gatekeepers were allowed to control everything the public saw & heard– on the radio, television & online.

In 2022, most music fans are bored with Justin Bieber, Brittany Spears, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Adele, etc. No one expects any of them to age well. There’s not enough talent there. None of them come close to matching Prince, Madonna, Gloria Estefan, Chuck D, or Tupac in their primes. Anyone inspired by that is driven underground these days. I believe the best music of 2022, in every any genre, was underground. This means most people, myself included, never heard it.


Coronavirus War update: crypto collapse

Effective altruism has melted away and it’s been replaced by the slogan– make investors whole again! Especially the small ones, because they can least afford the losses, blah, blah, blah…

As a socialist, I feel very little sympathy for anyone in the crypto market. It’s been a scam from the start, and if you didn’t recognize that, then you deluded yourself. These fanatics are capitalists to the core, who do no productive work, and only got into crypto to make money for themselves. They look at all the odds stacked against them, while ignoring simple logic (AKA– FUD), to make themselves believe they can get something for nothing. People have to learn at some point, and while cases like Elon Musk (bitcoin whale) are beyond hopeless, those who can’t afford big financial losses in crypto are just as much part of the problem. Their fundamentalism blinds them.

These wanna-be’s envy criminals like Elon Musk, the fascist billionaire. Taking a look at his CV for just the past few weeks, Elon Musk has drained his core company Tesla, selling it’s stock at a premium before it goes bust, to finance his takeover of Twitter which has cost him tens of billions of dollars to date. He had to do this because all his bitcoin busted before he’d done any due diligence on Twitter, but after he’d committed to buying it. Some genius huh? So now, advertisers & users have abandoned what was once the 2nd-most popular social media platform, as Musk took it over and turned it into a toxic wasteland. Twitter has gone the way of MySpace, via Mein Kampf.

Even Donald Trump, who has 88 million followers on Twitter, won’t return to the platform after Elon Musk re-instated his account with much fanfare. Trump started Truth Social, his proprietary platform, on which he posts exclusively– to his 2 million followers. Donald Trump wants to be president again, yet he accepts 1/44th the social media reach, because more importantly he wants to make money for himself. Trump does this by pumping his brand. Every other industry he’s ever branded himself in has gone bankrupt, or if it’s still in existence, is under federal investigation for tax fraud or some other form of criminality.

So of course, Donald Trump has now launched his own crypto, a $99 NFT of trading cards in his image. It will be worthless in the near future, but you can still own those images & digits in cyberspace. Of course, if you keep them in a cold wallet with responsibility for your own keys, you will lose 99% of your crypto, according to Changpeng Zhao, the Binance CEO & crypto whale.

It’s tough to pass on crypto when you die because 1) the keys are hidden and hard to get to, because if they aren’t, you’ll get hacked and lose everything instantly; and 2) inheritors often aren’t familiar with the crypto world, and thus getting through all the online steps needed to liquidate can be an insurmountable task. Even with crypto exchanges such as Binance, this is an issue, but Changpeng Zhao didn’t mention that.

Some crypto industry leaders who got burned in the FTX collapse, are now calling for regulation. Crypto is deregulated finance by definition, hence the industry term “de-fi.” According to the libertarian economic model, de-fi opposes centralized finance, breaking the bounds of national banking by creating an international currency on the foundations of freedom & privacy– [* until it all collapses and they need a bailout]. What libertarians never strictly define are these emotionally-charged terms: freedom & privacy, which means they can mean anything. To SBF & Co., it means the freedom to embezzle everyone’s crypto on his exchange in the privacy of his luxury villa in the Bahamas.

That’s life in a post-modernist world, and it’s what happens when you are too lazy to strictly define important core values within the community. The ‘crypto community’ was built on vague altruistic ideals which could be changed or discarded at any time, by any actor, because those were the rules everyone allowed from the beginning. The crypto community isn’t the cooperative idealistic paradise it markets itself to be. Just about any crypto investor would steal a kajillion dollars of crypto if they thought the could get away with it. How can anyone regulate with these industry-wide ethics? Crypto has been around for only thirteen years or so, and yet its demise is imminent.

Crypto lacked a credible core philosophy to justify its existence. Ask any crypto believer, and none of them will take you any further than what I’ve just spelled out. It’s all about making money by doing no real work. These are lazy & privileged kids along with mathematical whizzes who learned computers, but got on the wrong track from the start. None of them understand the fundamental nature of money and what it represents. They just want to create an algorithm that makes money for themselves. Crypto-currency is anti-productive & anti-social to its core.

No more cheap money from the Fed, along with rising costs for electricity to mine crypto, means this fake industry is about to go tits-up. Only massive infusions of liquidity on a daily basis (from a central source) are keeping this crypto boondoggle afloat. The big hedge fund investors & venture capitalists are already lining themselves up for another bailout. Congress will have bi-partisan support for this, but the rub is the crypto industry has been so discredited in the eyes of so many people that another such corporate bailout is a tough sell politically.

The crypto industry is a joke because everyone in politics has taken money from these criminals, but none of them can clearly explain why crypto has value. The same applies to economists, industry experts, talking heads, etc. Tens of millions of dollars a day (minimum) is what is going into the crypto market to keep it “legitimate.” Cold wallets won’t save any investors because it is the crypto itself (bitcoin, ether, etc) that is worthless. Blockchains are becoming too costly to maintain due to rising energy prices. This inflation crisis has been caused by unlimited QE for over a decade, and accelerated by the disastrous official response to COVID-19, and the US-provoked war in the Ukraine.

Bitcoin’s value to the ruling classes is that it’s a tool for laundering large amounts of cash. Imperialist governments & their intelligence agencies have many uses for this, all nefarious & undemocratic. So the question of questions for SBF & Co. in the wake of the FTX/Alameda Research scandal is: Where is the money?

Where did all that crypto go? What about FTX’s ‘Aid for Ukraine’ campaign launched last spring? Where did all the aid money go? Who was/is connected to all this? Both the Democrats & Republicans have prominent figures in their upper circles who participated in this criminality. The first step in damage control is to silence SBF. His arrest in the Bahamas on Tuesday (Dec 13), after weeks of delaying, was timed to prevent his sworn testimony, via Zoom, to US Congress. Tens of millions of people would have watched that, waiting for bigmouth SBF to spill the beans on everybody. As mentioned in my last piece on FTX, this case has Jeffery Epstein-type implications, and must be handled very carefully by the ruling elite, otherwise the truth will get out and the establishment will be publicly discredited.

The crisis of capitalism has become an existential issue, so what is at stake is the ruling class’ right to rule. If politicians and their media apologists can’t convince the working people to bail out the crypto industry to avert an “economic collapse,” then the game is over. This is their greatest fear being realized, and their only answer is more lies, more attacks on living standards, and more hate & violence. That’s what happens when you start with no ethics and then become financially bankrupt.

For the ruling classes, any major wildcat strike or other form of labor shutdown can only be met with media hysteria & demonization, followed by physical attacks from right-wing goon squads aided by the police, intelligence agencies & the military. Workers & youth must organize into workplace & neighborhood committees with the goal of taking control over worker production & neighborhood safety. Uvalde proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that the cops have no interest in protecting teachers & children, etc. Productive workers & youth must organize & unite to protect each other from the propaganda & violence of all the world’s ruling classes.

The Coronavirus War concludes it’s third year with an increase in fascist propaganda & policy by every nation. In China, the origin of COVID-19 from human-animal crossover in a Wuhan wet market, the ruling bureaucracy has just ended its Zero-COVID policy which had been successful for its duration, but only within its borders. COVID-19 is a global virus that mutates constantly, and is increasingly evading vaccine immunity. US President Joe Biden has declared the pandemic over, when clearly it isn’t. Trump denied the pandemic was real, so Biden is merely following the fascist policy of his predecessor. That’s what Democrats do, as anti-science reigns supreme in the pseudo-academic, liberal, middle-class milieu that is obsessed with race, gender & sexual orientation.

This crypto collapse marks a turning point in the Coronavirus War, which up to this point the fascists (of all stripes) have been winning. Fascist ideology has long-since been rejected by the working masses of the world, while right-wing corruption rules over them. Now, fascist money is becoming increasingly worthless, which makes it harder for them to buy people. This weakness is being exposed daily, in the collapses of crypto exchanges & lenders. Crypto auditors (who love their big fee$) won’t even stand by their “all good” asset ratings anymore, deleting them from their sites, etc.

The leading industry site is Coin Desk, which is tangled-up in the FTX collapse in a myriad of ways. Fundamentally there is no honesty in their “journalism” because there are deep dark truths about crypto which they can never reveal– not even to themselves. When yet another exchange halts withdrawals, and Coin Desk reaches out to that company for a comment, it’s either 1`) No comment, unavailable, no response; or 2) public relations BS such as, “we’re working to make investors whole again… our fundamentals are sound,” etc.

So… where’s the money?


Sun Ra and his Arkestra: an appreciation

The most unfindable musical artist of the 20th-century was Sun Ra. As someone with a rock perspective who has purchased records & music since childhood, there is no artist as confounding as Sun Ra and his Arkestra. His classic Saturn records were pressed in limited quantities, usually 75-100 at a time, and were only available through the mail, at live performances, and in select neighborhood record stores in Chicago & New York.

It wasn’t until his Philadelphia period (1972-1992) when his music began to become available to consumers in big-chain & indie record stores. Sun Ra signed to ABC/Impulse in 1973 for a huge multi-record deal, and delivered them in amazing speed, but was quickly deleted when new management took over ABC in 1975– and was never paid. That’s how it goes in the music business, and few knew it better than Sun Ra.

Sun Ra knew how to survive & sustain and he did it in an ever-creative way. He lasted because he retained the joy of music which is what keeps us young. It’s the kids who always decide what’s hip & cool in music, and to maintain the leading edge in avant-garde jazz for 40 years, Sun Ra made it a point to stay in tune with new music of all genres. This is an artist who completely absorbed all the classic songbooks & jazz standards of pre-WW2 popular music, and was more musically advanced than Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, etc, the pioneers of be-bop.

Sun Ra’s Supersonic Jazz (1956) through Jazz in Silhouette (1958) are indisputable jazz masterpieces. Early Sun Ra and his Arkestra compares favorably to Miles Davis during his classic John Coltrane Quintet era. That’s where Sun Ra starts. From there, he launched a vessel known as his Arkestra, which was meant to take your mind into outer space. In doing this, Sun Ra left the rest of the jazz world in his space dust.

There was too much corruption & evil on planet Earth, so Sun Ra sought an outward trajectory for his music & live act. And Sun Ra had possibly the greatest act ever. It was an assault on the audience’s senses, in musical & visual terms. The crazy costumes & all his theatrics kept people at a distance and off-balance. This created a safe space for Sun Ra & his band to perform.

This is revolutionary music which still resonates, and thus Sun Ra had to be careful with politics during his lifetime. As a black man from the Deep South, he learned that he would never be taken seriously by white intellectuals in the 1950’s and beyond, so he was better off creating a myth of himself and then used that myth as a vehicle to drive his music.

Sun Ra maximized his influence by minimizing his political risk. Sun Ra was never a socialist politically, but it is in his music and how he lived. Sun Ra and his Arkestra lived communally so they could rehearse & play whenever Sun Ra needed them, which was all the time. There was never any money, so things were shared. Sun Ra lived by many socialist principles without identifying himself as a socialist. Ultimately, this carries more artistic weight than his Afro-futurist act, no matter how much he believed it.

Sun Ra was very much a black man, meaning he was proud of his race and wanted to help others like him. While he had dalliances with the Black Panthers & other such organizations, he never fully subscribed to any of their programs of black nationalism or militancy. Sun Ra and his Arkestra were thrown out of the Black Panther house in Oakland in 1972 because of this. It was Eldridge Cleaver & COINTELPRO that forced the split. Sun Ra was a black universalist, as opposed to a black nationalist– a man of the Omniverse (1979).

One of the great ironies (and there are many) of Sun Ra’s music is that it was often more accepted by white audiences (particularly European), than by black listeners of his day. As an avant-garde artist in NYC, Sun Ra  co-mingled with the Velvet Underground & MC5, and were very influential on acts such as Funkadelic & Pink Floyd.

It’s important to understand that when someone mentions “Sun Ra,” they are also talking about an Arkestra of virtuoso musicians. John Gilmore was at least the equivalent of John Coltrane on tenor sax. Marshall Allen & Danny Davis were virtuoso multi-instrumentalists in the alto range on sax & woodwinds. Pat Patrick had one of the fattest baritone sax sounds ever. Ronnie Boykins could coax sounds out of his stand-up bass that brings you to tears & makes you shiver. Everyone played percussion at some point, as Sun Ra used polyrhythms & percussion-as-texture better than the rest.

June Tyson added the dimension of a woman’s voice to what up to that point was an entirely black male ensemble. June Tyson joined the Arkestra in 1968 (or so), and would stay with Sun Ra until her death from breast cancer in November, 1992 at age 56. June Tyson never recorded with another artist. Sonny died 6 months later, and John Gilmore, who was in deteriorating health for years, died in August, 1995 at age 63.

Other significant members of the Sun Ra Arkestra over the decades included: Tommy “Bugs” Hunter, Clifford Jarvis, Robert Cummings, Ali Hassan, Roger Blank, Teddy Nance, Jimhmi Johnson, Chris Capers, Pharoah Sanders (whom Sonny named), Danny Ray Thompson (who also doubled as Sonny’s de facto manager), Akh Tal Ehah, Eloe Omoe, James Jacson, Dale Williams, Hayes Burnett, Samarai Celestial, and many, many more.

Perhaps the most confusing & challenging part of Sun Ra’s music is the space chord, which is when members of the Arkestra all wailed different tones on their instruments as loudly as they could at the same time. This is Sun Ra calling for a space chord, which creates a LOUD combination of sounds– full of tones, harmonics & rhythms that will change the flow of the music. Sun Ra developed this disciplined/undisciplined avant-garde compositional technique to allow free improvisation to move forward, finding new forms & creative directions.

Sun Ra was a master talent collector. If you’re going to build something that lasts 40 years, and then beyond your Earthly death, you constantly need fresh talent. This infuses the artist and provides what is needed to innovate with new ideas. Musical talent means you can play well and have a passion to be part of something remarkable. Sun Ra’s reputation as a master made it easier to find the talent he needed, and he was always receptive to it, where most old-guard musicians (in any genre) feel threatened by young talent.

As an artist you have to learn to go with the flow, when the general direction is forward. You can influence more effectively if you stay young in the mind, and that’s the revolutionary concept behind the music of Sun Ra. By orienting towards youth & new ideas, Sun Ra transcended much of mainstream jazz, as well as capitalist politics.

Sun Ra was the pioneer of Afro-futurism which can be defined as a black astrological myth. As mentioned, it was a great act. Sun Ra read a lot of books, but mostly obscure ones, it appears. John Szwed’s biography Space is the Place (1997) lists a lot of them as books on numerology, Egyptian mythology, etc, along with sci-fi space travel and NASA/UFO stuff.

I don’t criticize Sun Ra for his taste in books, but I will say this limited him intellectually when it came to dealing with the Frankfurt school of post-modernism (Paris pseudo-intellectuals praising him with babble), and the powers of the state. Sun Ra didn’t dare approach Marxism, because the era of HUAC and red-baiting anti-communism made it impossible for him to do so.

Sun Ra would tell people he came to this Earth from Saturn (the planet of disciple & sacrifice) to make his music which humanity needed, and nothing was going to interfere with that. Marxism would have blacklisted Sonny forever, and then no one would have heard of Sun Ra. Sonny was smart enough to know the circumstances that limited him, and then adapt.

There are so many sides to his genius, and it takes a long time and a lot of listening to even begin to get your head around Sun Ra. Ask any fan. The best place to start is anywhere you can. But if you are reading this with serious interest, then you really owe it to yourself to get a few Saturn records. In total, all his eras are filled with amazing titles, and what you like often depends on individual taste & preference.  By 1986, his releases are compact disc format. Mayan Temples (1990) is his last release before he was debilitated by a series of strokes in November 1990. He still went on stage, but could no longer perform the Sun Ra magic. By the end of 1992, Sonny had to return to his family in Birmingham, Alabama due to terminal illness. Sun Ra died of complications from pneumonia on May 30, 1993 at age 79.

Leadership of the Sun Ra Arkestra has since been assumed by Marshall Allen (above), the only original member remaining. In 2020, at age 96, Marshall Allen recorded & released Swirling, perhaps the final Sun Ra Arkestra studio recording. Marshall Allen still lives in the House of Ra, which he owns in Germantown, Philadelphia. I hope that place becomes a registered national landmark at some point. It should be already.

What Sun Ra did was impossible. There was no money. This avant-garde keyboardist, composer & bandleader was an outcast of the jazz world because he broke too many rules and never apologized for it. The gatekeepers never forget that, and up to today their wrath towards Sun Ra still applies. In this era of vinyl re-issues for everyone, too many Sun Ra titles are still hard-to-find or ridiculously overpriced in the re-sale market. No one deserves a contemporary & comprehensive catalog re-issue more than Sun Ra.

Sun Ra is still being suppressed because his music is revolution. If people widely discover Sun Ra, then all of a sudden all those lame mainstream records will never sell again. “The Network” can’t have that, and neither can the artificial & overpriced re-sale market. That’s why there aren’t very many Sun Ra records available when you first look for them.

By the 1970’s Saturn Record releases became more infrequent, as Sonny was suspicious that his business partner Alton Abraham wasn’t giving him all the money he deserved, so he began making deals with any label he could. Sun Ra also formed a new label with a NYC partner and called it Enterplanetary Koncepts, which pressed & distributed his records. Today, many classic Saturn titles have been re-issued on Enterplanetary Koncepts, and other labels including Cosmic Myth and Evidence. As a starving artist the motto is: Anywhere you can find the money. Thus, there were a lot of record labels that issued Sun Ra recordings.

Modern Harmonic is a great record label that is active in re-releasing classic Sun Ra titles, as well as unreleased stuff. Artyard is a UK indie label that is also keeping the faith in Sun Ra. Artyard was a distributor of a few key Ra titles including Horizon (1971) Antique Blacks (1974), Sleeping Beauty (1979), and On Jupiter (1979). Many of Sun Ra’s 1970’s live albums from Europe & beyond were off-label releases. In the 1980’s, more of his studio projects fell to such labels too.

  • BTW, in parenthesis after the title, is listed the recording date, not the release date. Sun Ra makes you do this, otherwise his catalog is a mess, because many early Saturn records were recorded in Chicago (1954-60), but not released until many years later when he was based in NYC (1961-70). When sequencing Sun Ra titles, do it by recording date and they will make more sense when listening.

Sun Ra creates difficulties that you never face with any other artist. His catalog is well over 200 albums, plus singles & EP’s. Since his death, there has been a plethora of new releases, new-found tapes, live concerts, compilations, etc. The hardest part is figuring out what you need, and what you can pass on. A lot of that depends on your taste and (of course) your budget.

About a dozen Saturn albums from Chicago, and 20+ NYC-era albums are essential, with the later being more space music. By summer 1970, Sun Ra finally began to tour Europe & the world. There are a lot of live concert recordings from this period up until his death. This is where you have to be picky, and identify titles in eras of interest.

For me with live Sun Ra, it’s the early mini-Moog stuff from 1970-71 that excites me the most. It’s a historical fact that Sun Ra was the first to perform live with a mini-Moog. See the liner notes in the 2012 re-issue of My Brother the Wind, Vol 1 (1970) for details on this. There are now at least 100 titles of live Sun Ra, so listen first on YouTube, etc, and decide on what you like. I estimate there are, at minimum, about 75 titles (65 studio, 10 live) that you need to understand Sun Ra’s music.

Sun Ra made so many live albums because 1) he invested in the technology early and learned how to use it; and 2) it made him money. Sonny learned how to record himself early, so when his Arkestra finally launched in the mid-1950’s, he completely understood micing, acoustics & recording principles so well that he would always get the best recording the available technology would allow. Sun Ra was his own sound engineer & producer [!] for most of his career. When he was finally recognized as an artist in Europe in the summer of 1970, Sun Ra started recording every concert he could, and would do so until he couldn’t physically go on stage anymore. If the tapes didn’t get lost, damaged, destroyed, etc, it almost always turned into a record release, sooner or later. It’s still happening.

Philadelphia-era has some of the hardest-to-find Sun Ra albums. For instance, in January 1978, Sun Ra went to Rome with John Gilmore, trumpeter Micheal Ray, and drummer Luqman Ali to record as the ‘Sun Ra Quartet.’ Those are hard-to-find and expensive when you do. A few other off-label/European releases such as Cosmos (1976), etc, are coveted Sun Ra oddities.

It’s a crazy market for Sun Ra, and it will test all of your skills as a music connoisseur & consumer. It’s a great unknown world, with mind-blowing rewards, but all kinds of snares & pitfalls to discourage you. For example, many Sun Ra titles have more than one cover image. Some titles are different names for another already-existing record, such as Jazz by Sun Ra, Vol 1 (1956), which is also titled Sun Song (1956) on a different record label. Cosmo-Earth-Fantasy (1974)  and Sub-Underground #1 (1974) is another example of this. Live in Egypt, Vol 1 (1971) and Dark Myth Equation Visitation (1971) is yet another. It’s easy to buy duplicates of what you already have because things are so confusing.

AllMusic normally has a reliable artist discography, but for Sun Ra it’s a mess. AllMusic still lists The Sound of Joy (1956) as Sun Ra’s first album, when it’s actually his third. It gets worse from there, with bad dates and disorganized titles up & down his regular album & compilation discographies. This makes everything tougher for someone trying to research Sun Ra, and is part of the subtle censorship he still receives. AllMusic would never let this happen to Count Basie or Wynton Marsalis.

The John Szwed biography is essential, and the 2020 edition has a correct discography for his albums & singles which lists by recording date. Sun Ra records make a lot more sense when you can play them in order, as there is a logical progression to his catalog. But you need to know the correct sequence. Most artists don’t present this problem, but with Sun Ra it’s a different world, as he created much of this confusion by design.

It’s difficult to make comparisons to Sun Ra because he was such a unique figure in jazz music. Only Duke Ellington & Miles Davis have his longevity of relevance, but they both fit squarely within the mainstream and were critically accepted in their day. Sun Ra’s acoustic piano playing is comparable to Thelonious Monk, but Ra was also the master of all electric keyboards, which Monk wasn’t. Sonny was the first to record with electronic keyboards– in 1956. He could play the clavioline (precursor to the analog [Moog] synthesizer), all types of electric organs, rocksicord (electrified harpsichord), and finally Moog synthesizer & mini-Moog. Sun Ra was arguably the most prolific & aggressively experimental synthesizer artist ever.

Sun Ra was avant-garde, which doesn’t get the respect it deserves, particularly with the critics who are supposed to be fair & unbiased, but really are not. Influential critics from Nat Hentoff to Scott Yanow clearly have their favorites & pariahs, and Sun Ra is the latter for them. Outside of jazz, Fela Kuti, the multi-instrumentalist Afro-beat artist from Lagos, Nigeria; Brian Eno; and Sonic Youth, an art-rock band from NYC, are probably Sun Ra’s best comparables.

What makes Sun Ra an artist of special interest is that he’s a 20th-century figure who will be more appreciated in the 21st-century & beyond. There’s a lot to learn from Sun Ra. He started his Saturn label as a way of taking control of his music. He did it in the 1950’s when no other artist comprehended doing such a thing. He created an inimitable persona to protect & promote himself. He lasted & was prolific, building an Arkestra that continued on after his death. Sun Ra humbles you because an as artist you know you will never come close to matching his output, and he inspires you by opening your mind to new creative possibilities. That’s the dialectical rub which makes Sun Ra so magical & revolutionary.