Archive for December 30, 2009

Calling Planet Earth

Posted in Jazz, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on December 30, 2009 by telescoper

Sun Ra, one of the most extraordinary composers and bandleaders of the 20th Century,  was born Herman Poole Blount in Bimingham, Alabama, on 22nd May 1914. From the 1950s, until his death in 1993, he led various combinations of musician in bands with various permutations of names involving the word Arkestra, such as the Blue Universe Arkestra and the Solar Myth Arkestra. He himself played keyboards, sometimes solo and sometimes with huge bands  of over 30 musicians; his music touched on virtually the entire history of jazz, from ragtime to swing music, from bebop to free jazz. He was also  one of the first musicians, in any genre to make extensive use of electronic keyboards.

He never achieved mainstream commercial success, but was a prolific recording artist with a cult following, partly fuelled by his outrageous claims to have been born not on Earth but on Saturn and the fact that much of his music was to do with space travel. Quoted in Jazziz magazine

They really thought I was some kind of kook with all my talk about outer space and the planets. I’m still talking about it, but governments are spending billions of dollars to go to Venus, Mars, and other planets, so it’s no longer kooky to talk about space

Quite. In fact, Sun Ra developed a complex performing identity based on his music, “cosmic” philosophy, and poetry. He abandoned his birth name, took on the persona of Sun Ra (Ra being the ancient Egyptian god of the sun), and often dressed in the style of an ancient Egyptian pharoah, as in the video clip. In other words, he was very odd.

At this point you’re probably thinking this is all a bit “New Age” and heading in the direction of Charlie Parker‘s Private Hell, one of my favourite Gary Larson cartoons:

However, although I admit Sun Ra’s music is eclectic, outrageous and sometimes downright mystifying, it also has a marvellous coherence to it maintained as his style evolved over four decades and is consistently imbued with a powerful sense of the Jazz tradition.  In fact, I think Charlie Parker would have approved. I know I do! Anyway, whatever I think, the music of Sun Ra has withstood its skeptics and detractors for generations and long may it continue to do so. The world needs more of his kind.

Here’s a typically psychedelic number, Calling Planet Earth.

Christmas Cats

Posted in Columbo with tags , on December 30, 2009 by telescoper

Since the end of the year is drawing near and I’m not in the mood for writing anything strenuous, I thought I’d post a short update about Columbo. When I went up to Newcastle on Christmas Eve I left him in the capable hands of an expert pet-sitter, who obviously took good care of him as he was in fine fettle when I arrived back on 27th December. He’s since returned to his routine of eating and sleeping and appears to be well.


He’s going to be 16 on March 31st 2010, which is pretty old for a tom cat. It’s hard to believe he’s been with me for so long. Alhough he’s slowed down quite a bit over the years, he still has his moments as you can see from the picture above, which I found yesterday on my old mobile phone. It shows the scene of a recent crime, although the perpetrator appears to have made no attempt to effect a getaway. Judging by the squashed state of the decedent, I’d say the cause of death might well have been being sat on. Columbo hasn’t caught many mice or other rodents and hasn’t made much attempt to eat them on those rare occasions when he has managed to nab one. This particular victim is still basically in one piece, although clearly it has seen the last of its days.

Back in Newcastle I had the chance to see again the three cats that employ my mum to look after them. They’re all female cats, very small and dainty ones, and I’d guess that if you added them together they still wouldn’t weigh as much as Columbo. The oldest one is called Lucy, and she’s also the friendliest and most communicative. She’s also particularly fond of shoelaces. Then there’s Tilly and Daisy, who are much quieter. There’s a curious kind of hierarchy of power amongst them though, because Lucy is quite scared of Daisy who must be the boss of the house.  I couldn’t help wondering how Columbo would have got on had I taken up there to see them all. There would have been skin and hair flying, of course but, although he’s a big galoot, I wouldn’t put money on him winning a fight against any other cat no matter how small. He’s too much of a softie.