Oral History Challenge: Interviewing Aliens

There are tough interviews.

And then there are ones that may seem impossible.

Like interviewing someone who believes he is from Saturn.

Back in 1992 I interviewed avant-garde  and idiosyncratic jazz pianist Sun Ra. Born Herman Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, he called himself Sun Ra. He was living in a dilapidated Philadelphia row house when I interviewed him the year before he died.

Sun Ra. Image from Duke University. <http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/2009/07/sunra.html>

Known for his outlandish costumes and renowned for concocting unheard-of chord progressions, Sun Ra was one of the most prolific African-American composers and artists of the 20th century. He was also a very difficult interview. The subject of anthropologist/folklorist John Szwed’s 1998 book,  Space Is The Place: The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra, Sun Ra remained an enigma right up to the end. How do you keep an interview moving forward when you ask your subject how old he is and he replies, “”I’m not documented as having been born.” Okay.

The weather system formerly known as Tropical Storm Nicole is wreaking havoc on the D.C. area so to lighten things up a bit I thought I’d cut-and-paste some excerpts from one of my more memorable interviews:

DSR: Describe your music…
Sun Ra: It’s about the universe.

DSR: How’s that work?
Sun Ra: It’s about creativity.

DSR: Where does your music come from?
Sun Ra: It comes from sincerity, from the universe.

DSR: Why did you become Sun Ra?
Sun Ra: Well, because Blount wasn’t my name, so I had to get a name that was me.

DSR: Wasn’t it the name you were born to?
Sun Ra: No.

DSR: What name were you born to?
Sun Ra: I didn’t recognize no name.

DSR: Is it true you had a stroke in 1990?
Sun Ra: Yes.

DSR: How are you recovering?
Sun Ra: I’m taking therapy. I’ve been to Europe, just got back.

DSR: I read where you’ve said you’re immortal. Do you still think that after the stroke?
Sun Ra: No, I’m not interested in that aspect.

DSR: Why? I heard that you once said that you didn’t have a birth and you won’t have a death.
Sun Ra: No, they said that. I said we aren’t indicating a death.

DSR: If you are not mortal like the rest of us, how do you explain the stroke?
Sun Ra: ‘Cause everybody’s under a bad auspice on this planet. I reckon it’s God’s way of doing things.

DSR: How old are you?
Sun Ra: I don’t have no birthday, so I can’t say truthfully.

DSR: Some writers say you were born in 1915.
Sun Ra: That’s wrong.

DSR: When did you come into existence?
Sun Ra: Before 1915.

DSR: 1910?
Sun Ra: No.

DSR: Before that?
Sun Ra: No.

DSR: Do you have a year in mind?
Sun Ra: 1914.

DSR: Do you observe any time passage?
Sun Ra: I’m not documented as having been born. I’m not documented as ever having a birthday.

DSR: How do you worship God?
Sun Ra: Listening to t.v.

DSR: You just listen to television?
Sun Ra: Yes.

DSR: How do you find God in the t.v.?
Sun Ra: I’m dealing with equations. I wrote a book about equations. I just saw one of my equations on t.v. The man was standing in the cemetery and he said, “This is a place of equality for everybody.”

© 2010 David S. Rotenstein

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