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One Track Mind: Sun Ra, "It's After the End of the World" (1972)

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By Mark Saleski

Like mystery novels, poetry, or any other form of art, music has a lot of uses. We're sad and pull out those old Son House records. Happy? How about some Speaking In Tongues-era Talking Heads? Is romance in the air? Perhaps some Diana Krall? Naughty? I'd go for Cassandra Wilson. Some people put on music as background noise, something that might keep a person company while being mostly ignored. Personally, I've never done this (in fact, I don't even understand it), but see no reason to hold this sort of behavior against a person. None of this is to imply that particular musical styles can only serve single purposes. The blues might cheer up one person, while the next needs some light Afro-pop. Now...what about music that is not only not easily characterized, but is just plain difficult to listen to? Here is a case where the images and emotion evoked by the music can be infinitely more difficult to pin down.

And now we arrive at Sun Ra.

I woke up this morning thinking that I'd like to listen to some Son Ra. It wasn't an unwelcome thought, but certainly an odd one since my thoughts in the first five minutes of wakefulness don't usually go beyond “Do I need to visit the bathroom?" and “Geezuz, why the hell isn't it Saturday?." No matter, I took this oddity in stride (while heading toward the coffee grinder) and made a mental note to dig out Space Is The Place.

“It's After The End Of The World" contains three basic elements. The first is Ra's ominous Moog synth growl. The second is June Tyson's repeated intoning of “It's after the end of the world...don't you know that yet?." This is completed by a wailing saxophone that at first might be taking direction from the dirgy synth tones, but then begins to shriek a post-apocalyptic blues.

Or...it's just a bunch of noise. Of course, I don't really believe that. It just seems right to give the probable majority view equal time. But what do I get out of it? On this particular morning, those sounds—and especially the echo-filled spaces in between—seemed to mirror the disjointed and incomplete thoughts bouncing around in my brain parts.

This is clearly not music for everybody. On the other hand, I wouldn't wish my state of mind on anybody either.

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