A few hours after posting

A few hours after posting my Yo La Tengo post, the same friend, actually doing his research (and unlike me), found a review of what the song, called “Nuclear War,” that YLT played Friday night in Brooklyn. The song was originally a Sun Ra song. Sun Ra, as you probably know, was a character from outer space, a black man who wore brilliant costumes and played eerily strange music replete with African folk music, free jazz, and rock parody.
In any case, YLT was singing his song. If, in the beginning, however, they would have identified (in other words, given credit where credit is due) to Mr. Ra, I would feel differently about YLT. But they essentially kind of ripped the song off without giving any context and the song itself was so over-the-top that left me reeling from their insensitivity and poor judgement. Alas, I don’t think every song, every artwork must be “contextualized.” I hate when museums put up a single painting with a text panel twice the size of the artwork. Alas, here is an excerpt of the review:
Nuclear War
With all his other accomplishments — futuristic space music visionary, African heritage and Egyptology propagator, electronics and synthesizers pioneer and big jazz band and swing preservationist — it turns out that Sun Ra was an early rapper as well.
At least the title track on this 1982 reissues preserves an anti-nuclear rap that Ra and the Arkestra were chanting once the leader heard about the potential meltdown at Three Mile Island, which was pretty close to the band’s Philadelphia home base. Ra, in fact, thought so much of his composition that he tried to interest Columbia Records in releasing it as single. Uncomfortable with a tune that used “motherfucker” in the lyrics Columbia passed, but Britain’s Y records eventually did release the single and a subsequent album.
Unsurprisingly, in the year of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, “Nuclear War” didn’t become a hit. But now you can hear the entire eight track LP on CD and find out what the fuss was about. In the time before parental advisory stickers the lyrics may have seemed beyond the pale. Take:
Nuclear war, nuclear war
Talking about nuclear war
It’s a motherfucker don’t you know
If they push that button yo’ ass gotta go.
Nuclear War is another entry for Sun Ra and the Arkestra that spent no weeks on the Hot 100. Instead it exists for us to enjoy for the ages.
— Ken Waxman

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