At the HeadPress Bunker
Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
25Trip End Sep 05, 2007
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John Sinclair Radio Show #139
HeadPress Bunker, London
Tuesday, July 17, 2007 at 1:30-2:30 am [20-0722]
I went to London for a few days at the behest of my distributors at Turnaround to promote the new edition of GUITAR ARMY and ended up Monday afternoon at the underground headquarters of HeadPress publications to do an interview with David Kerekes. David, Dylan Harding and Lisa Stanton took me out to dinner at a nearby North End pub and then back to the Bunker, as they call their well-secured workspace, to get high, listen to records and, as it turned out, to make an episode of the John Sinclair Radio Show right there on the spot. Dylan and I talked a bit and played music from the house collection, including sides by John Coltrane, Son House, Charles Mingus, the Staple Singers, Deodato, Funkadelic, James Brown, Nick Drake, Miles Davis, and Sly & the Family Stone.
 Opening Music: John Coltrane: Cousin Mary (Alternate Take)
 Intro, ID & Opening Tokes with Dylan Harding & Lisa Stanton
:Son House: Death Letter
 Charles Mingus: II B.S.
 Staple Singers: When Will We Be Paid
 John Sinclair Comments & Conversation with Dylan Harding
 Deodato: Also Sprach Zarathustra
 Funkadelic: Whole Lot of B.S.
 James Brown: Stormy Monday
 John Sinclair Comments & Conversation with Dylan Harding
 Nick Drake: Saturday Sun
 Miles Davis: High Speed Chase
 Sly & the Family Stone: Positive
 John Sinclair Comments, Outro & ID
Hosted by John Sinclair for Radio Free Amsterdam
Produced, engineered, recorded, edited & assembled by John Sinclair
Mastered & posted by Henk Botwinik
Executive Producer: John Sinclair
Special thanks to Bill Godber, Jane Goodsir, David Kerekes, & Dylan Harding. Special thanks to Lisa Stanton for the stimulants.
Sponsored by Turnaround, HeadPress, Hempshopper & Eat at Jo's
© 2007 John Sinclair
Podcast by www.RadioFreeAmsterdam.com as #139 on July 23, 2007
After I got back to Amsterdam my host at the HeadPress Bunker, brother Dylan Harding, forwarded me a plea he had written in support of his friend Haf-fa-Rool, one of the principal keepers of the musical and cultural legacy of the great Sun Ra, prefaced by an impressive essay on the music and its proper place in our world. I'd like to pass it on to you here:
STANDING IN THE SHADOW OF SUN RA
By Dylan Harding
From the moment that the American inventor Thomas Edison created the means by which we could record vibrating airwaves the road to hell has been paved with the rotting carcasses of criminally unscrupulous record company executives, publishers, club owners, journalists, distributors, and all other forms of scum that prey on the creative talents of those that specialize in vibrating the air. Scouting for profit through sound recording has been the lifetime ambition of many a hustler, Saint Thomas Edison included. Musicians at his table always get served last, if at all.
Musicians create music through the medium of sound and ideas; scientists invent the technology to record and detect those sounds; beings from the murky world of commerce take that union and turn it into a business. A business based on allowing us the privilege of hearing those sounds. Recorded sound and musical ideas become property and with all property it has an owner.
Edison (son of a Canadian), the Bill Gates of his time, perfected the gramophone in 1877. His intention was to sell them and get rich. Subsequently, having one became all the rage. One of the side effects of his invention was that a viral epidemic of ale-swilling English children from the 1940's, invaded in their own bedrooms and with unbelievable names like John, Keith, or Brian, began to revive the learning of old forgotten American blues tunes from vinyl recordings.
Without any guidance, except perhaps from a brutish teenager, many drunken British children would spend hours alone in their cold musty piss-sodden bedrooms, listening to and learning from spinning black disks that enchanted them significantly. This unsupervised disaster ultimately led to them congregating in rather large crowds; and as if gripped by a deranged fever, like being on drugs, they would in chorus, chant some hippy shit about peace and love. Apparently, we should refer to this Dark Age of learning as the Renaissance. Thankfully, this persistent fever was finally eradicated by medical science with a substance commonly known as Disco in the year 1977.
To keep myself at a safe distance from the above mentioned, I am writing this whilst my eye occasionally glances at a palm-sized 80 GB sound storage device. It is connected to the internet and potentially, therefore, an enormous supply of source material, which has through the magic of nerd power turned to digital information and is, at a cost, at my disposal. For no other reason than to expand my curiously small mind, I hope one day to have access to every sound, film, television show, documentary, book, essay, poem, song, thesis, photograph, and painting ever created. As I type this my eardrum is vibrating to sounds created in the 1950's by Sun Ra (1914 - 1993).
John Coltrane, Andre 3000, Frank Zappa, Cecil Taylor, Sylvester Stewart and Charles Mingus all speak of Sun Ra's influence. Although acclaimed in the rest of the world, Sun Ra was, and is, little known in his country of birth, the U.S.A. As with many American musicians ahead of their time, Sun Ra found his audience elsewhere. Music fans, particularly in Europe, not only found his musical freedom and experimentation fascinating, but also understood his showmanship as being in line with some of Europe's more daring avant-garde artistic movements. When attending a Sun Ra concert, you would not watch a group of self-absorbed free jazzers hoping to be revolutionary; you witnessed a theatrical and musical masterpiece that was unlike anything else. Depending on the circumstances he may well have had up to 60 musicians on stage with him.
Although issued a birth certificate from the state of Alabama, Sun Ra's actual birthplace was the planet Saturn. At a time when white America's fear of commies, invasion from outer space, and civil rights was at its highest point, being black and from another planet must have made some sit uncomfortably on the old rocking chair, as they looked upon the fading of their world. It is the classic, was he or was he not joking, double bluff. Only a master trickster like Sun Ra could pull off a lifetime of provocation- intended musical performances, which combined pedigreed improvisers and Dadaist vaudeville antics. If you did not get it then it was not his role to explain it to you.
Although his name does not appear alongside Armstrong, Parker, Ellington, Davis or Coltrane in standard jazz histories as one of the greats, his place and influence as a musician, composer, educator, and performer within the history of 20th century American music should not be reduced to a footnote. The above-mentioned gods knew of him, he was one of their own, and understood implicitly what he was playing at. They too could feel like beings from another planet-one road trip through the Deep South would ensure that.
Another eventual consequence of Edison's invention was to reduce the need to attend live music performance to hear music. Sun Ra's life was dedicated to keeping the core of his band working. The economics of running a big band, let alone one as outside the spheres as his, can only seem strange to any good citizen that has a regular job. Many of Ellington's international tours were funded by the State Department; he was considered a good will ambassador abroad, yet curiously enough, although a living genius was unable to attend some hotels at home due to having incorrect skin pigmentation. Finding paying work while sticking to your artistic principles is a financially risky pursuit. Sun Ra was so unique that fortunately his iconic status allowed his band to stay afloat, just.
When Lennon and McStarbucks would write a song it would be transcribed by an employee to sheet music, registered with their publisher, and ownership would be established. They would then share royalties according to whatever contract they had signed. This is a standard procedure that most songwriters follow. However, what procedure do you follow if the driving force behind your musical output is to create musical improvisations based on sketches and loose instructions from a conductor or composer?
Sun Ra worked and created in the latter scenario, and as a result, as could be expected, his estate is in disarray. An example of his instructions and sketches, taken from a 1985 work entitled "Manifesto-Purpose and Intent," is as follows: "21st Century of sound. In a diverse dimension and derivative sub-tones and over-tones." This is followed with further "musical indicators" throughout the piece, such as "city in the clouds," "love in outer space," "bridge of the outer darkness." There is not a musical note in sight yet musicians could perform under his guidance.
I currently have in my group of friends a man that was a friend and confidant of Sun Ra. Haf-fa-Rool travelled alongside Sun Ra and his band for many years. He has witnessed first hand the life lived by musicians, brave and crazy enough to follow in the shadow of Sun Ra.
Musical improvisation is hazardous to the financial health of those who create it and equally so to those who inherit the rights to it. Haf-fa was entrusted by Sun Ra to administer his legacy and he is currently doing this without financial recompense. Without the aid of music business lawyers he battles against a chaotic paper trail of dubious origin in an attempt to establish his rightful role. He has been doing this since 1993.
Sun Ra's music is being played constantly all over the world, but where the royalties for this are going is anyone's guess. Haf-fa would love this to be resolved, as income generated could be spent spreading the philosophical, intellectual, comic, and cosmic message of Sun Ra to new generations of music devotees. Perhaps all it possibly will take is the generous help of a person with a little bit of expertise in music publishing. A few helpful hints and some simple guidance would possibly change this situation enormously.
It is saddening to see the legacy of one of music's true originals in such turmoil. Although many of us try to help Haf-fa when we can, we are all, first and foremost, musicians and worshipers of music and not experts on the ins and outs of music publishing royalties. Sun Ra has left us all better off by vibrating the airwaves in a way that only a being from Saturn can. It is a great shame that the fruit of his legacy and cultural creation may possibly wither on the vine. Strange fruit. Strange fruit indeed.
August 26, 2007