THE ART OF “RIPPING OFF”: SUN RA, DYLAN AND CREATIVITY

See entries to the “Caption Challenge” at the end of Post.

In last weeks post, you saw a video which was built on Sun Ra’s cryptic chant ” Gonna rip the mask, Rip the mask off batman.  Look out Robin, gonna get you too.”  At the time, I had no clue what the chant was about.  Similarly, when I made the video (over a year ago), I was not clear what meaning, if any, I was trying to convey (for a more in- depth discussion of the place of meaning in art read the exchange on the Forum page of this blog.)  In writing this post, I may have some to a better understanding of both the original chant and my video.  Let me know what you think of my interpretations.

As I looked at this video last week, I was struck by the realization that it would never have existed if I had not had my close encounter with Sun Ra over 20 years ago.  This realization, was sparked, in part, by having read Jonas Lehrer’s Imagination: How Creativity Works.  Lehrer starts off talking about the importance of the brain in the creative process.  But, the bulk of the book is about how we enhance one another’s creativity by being interconnected.  Lehrer refers to Bob Dylan’s compositions to make his point:

….the original folk compostion is obviously there, a barely concealed inspiration. While it would be easy to dismiss such songs as mere rip-offs–several of them would almost certainly violate current copyright standards–Dylan was able to transform his folk sources into pop masterpieces.  (pg. 246)

I’m not comparing myself to Dylan but “ripping-off” Sun Ra’s “rip off” chant was the start of a chain of associations that led to the final creation.  When I started the video, I felt that visual images of just Batman and Robin would get boring.  The Lone Ranger was an obvious addition, since he was a childhood hero for me and he wore a mask to rip off.  I had no idea what Sun Ra thought his chant was about but to me it entailed stripping superheros of their authoritative mystique. If so, I thought, why not incorporate other figures who might be seen as superhero, even though they don’t wear actual masks.  So Bush and Obama came to mind first and then Buddha and then Christ.  Now clearly, all these “superheros” are not the same.  They don’t all have actual masks and for others the mask is simply a metaphor for our conditioned persona.  One might argue that Buddha and Christs, as “authentic persons”, should not have any masks at all to be ripped off.  In their cases, I believe that the mask stands for all the expectations and perceptions that are piled on them by many of their “followers”.  Within the Zen tradition, it was legendary Chinese Zen master Lin Chi, who encouraged his students rip the mask off the historical Buddha (See Quotes from Lin Chi to the right) .

Having entered into issue of spiritual authority, I realized that the essence of most spiritual disciplines is to strip/rip off the conditioned trappings that make up our persona (ego) and that it made complete sense to include myself among the heros needing a mask removal.  The last part of the video attempts to convey that beneath our individual masks, we are all the same and we are all “authentic”, like Christ and Buddha.

I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to substitute “creative” for “authentic”.  Free of conditioned expectations or assumption about who we have to be, we can be truely creative in fashioning our own lives.

 

I’ll bet that that is the meaning behind Sun Ra’s silly chant.

 

Caption Challenge Results

This picture shows performance artists Hsieh and Linda Montano who spent one year between 4 July 1983 and 4 July 1984 tied to each other with an 8-foot-long rope. They had to stay in a same room while not allowed to touch each other until the end.  Below are the captions sent in for this image.  The next post begins a series on performance art

1. Being in a relationship.

2. Married Bliss.

3. “Give me two more inches please.”

4. “Let go that rope”.

5. The tug of war event was not very popular at this year’s picnic.

6. “Want to jump rope?”

7. “Coz I’m so tied, tied of waiting-

Tied of waiting for youuuuuu.”

8.  “Whatever.”

.

 

 

 

 

 

MY CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH A CREATIVE ALIEN.

The title of a Documentary film about Sun Ra

 

In my last post I explored the creative benefits of being an alien from another planet, which is how the jazz musician Sun Ra saw himself.  In this post, I will examine how my creativity was affected by a “close encounter” with this alien.  In the next post I’ll look at what Jonas Lehrer (Imagine: How Creativity Works) says about the importance of such “close encounters” to the creative process, in general.  (Also see the “Caption Challenge” at the end of this post.)

Sun Ra and I both lived in or around Philadelphia in the 1980s.  A friend and I decided

Sun Ra with Mask

to go to a Sun Ra concert in neighboringCamden N.J.  It was held in a run down Community Center in the middle of one of Camden’s poorest neighborhoods.  There were supposed to be refreshments before the concert, but by the time we arrived the Arkestra had eaten their way through the goodies.  The concert was held in a small basement room with a tiny stage crammed with the band members wearing weird costumes.  I was not really a big fan of Ra’s music (and am still not) so what I remember best is just the sheer weirdness of the spectacle.

Tibetian Monks

At one point, about mid-way through the concert, Sun Ra got up from the keyboards and came down into the audience.  Shortly , each member of the band stopped playing and followed him down the stairs.  Soon the whole band was walking up and down the aisles chanting something  in unison. I could not make out the words at first since the band members were on the far side of the auditorium.  It was a simple, non-melodic refrain,  that had a hypnotic quality to it.  Because it was chanted in unison and Sun Ra and the band maintained a serious demeanor , I felt like I was witnessing some sort of mysterious ritual.  As the line of musicians came closer to where we were sitting,  I began to figure out what they were chanting with such solemnity.  This was the chant:  “Gonna rip the mask, rip the mask off Batman.  Look out Robin, gonna get you too”.

That scene has stuck with me over the years and, as you will see,served as an inspiration for my first music video.  Click on the link below to see the short video on YouTube.  At the end of the video, click on return arrow to finish reading this post and to respond to today’s “Caption Challenge

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkAPFPLiNoI&feature=plcp

After watching this video you may have the same kind of response as you did to the video featured in What the ____ is that Video About?, namely: “What the _____is this video about?”  Fair enough.  I’ll try to tackle that in my next post where we’ll return to some of the ideas put forth in Lehrer’s book.  Be sure to send in your caption for the image below, which will pop up again in future posts.

YOUR CAPTION HERE