SPACE IS THE PLACE by John F. Szwed

SPACE IS THE PLACE

The Lives and Times of Sun Ra
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The late jazz musician Sun Ra, who claimed to be from Saturn, is vividly and respectfully portrayed and defended against those who thought this self-described jester of the creator was a crackpot. Sun Ra, born Henry Poole Blount in 1914, always elicited a strong response with his music and ideas. Norman Mailer claimed the strangely horrible music cured him of a cold. One jazz critic seeing a show in 1967 wrote, ``There is no pigeon-hole for it. It is ugly and beautiful and terribly interesting.'' Sun Ra's music was well grounded in traditional jazz, but his wild sensibilities could drive the music into extreme breakdowns of noise--not to be purposefully obtuse or avant-garde, but because Sun Ra was on an all-consuming quest for truth in his music, which he once called a cosmic newspaper. He rehearsed his band endlessly and discouraged drinking, drug use, and womanizing. This rigor was a surprising backdrop to what often seemed like ``love generation'' sensibilities. The band wore wild hats, old opera costumes or African clothes, danced in the aisles, and played with improvisational abandon. As elucidated by Szwed (Anthropology, Afro-American Studies, Music, and American Studies/Yale) Sun Ra's seemingly outlandish ideas make a certain sense. For instance, the musician's claim to be Sun Ra from Saturn is placed in the cultural context of ``ritual renaming'' among African-Americans, from Malcolm X to Duke Ellington. Much space is also devoted to explaining Egyptology and other important ideas that led Sun Ra to fertile areas of thought and creativity. Readers will find some of Sun Ra's ideas hard to swallow. Listeners to his music will find some passages difficult or unlistenable. But Szwed also makes a strong case for Sun Ra as creative genius. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: July 28th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-43589-1
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1997




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