10 Artists Inspired By Alien Encounters
Just like brushes with the divine, imagined encounters with alien life have often been a source of artistic inspiration. Early cultures illustrated suspiciously modern technology, and Renaissance paintings are littered with odd flying objects. And it didn’t stop there. Even in modern times, visitors from another world continue to find their way to some of our most popular writers, musicians, and entertainers.
With his signature shaved head, tailored suits, and occult interests, Grant Morrison quickly became the comic book world’s first true rock star. Prior to working on household names like Batman, X-Men, and JLA, Morrison spent six years at the helm of his own series, The Invisibles. The story follows a group of techno freedom fighters trying to peel back the layers of a world that has been living in a false reality. With its manic blend of time-wielding overlords, ancient folklore, and cyberpunk visions, it’s almost no surprise to learn that these ideas were the product of a cosmic encounter.
According to Morrison, during a visit to Kathmandu in 1994, he was sitting on the roof his hotel when aliens began appearing in droves. They showed him a “sea of pure information,” explained the “larvae” state of our universe, and asked him to pass on this knowledge to the rest of us. Speaking at Disinfocon in 1999, Morrison revealed that The Invisibles was his attempt to share the knowledge he obtained from his encounter in Kathmandu. It sounds wild to us, but Morrison assures that if we want to meet aliens ourselves, we just have to believe.
“I never wanted to be a part of planet Earth,” said Herman Poole Blount, better known by us earthbound folk as Sun Ra, the complex and ever-changing jazz legend. The revelation came to him as a struggling student at the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, where he studied Music Education in 1936. During a moment of intense concentration, Sun Ra asserts that a bright light appeared to him. In an interview with his biographer John F. Szwed, he recalls that he “landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn.” He was next teleported onto a stage by a group of beings who advised him to drop out of school.
After legally changing his name in 1952, Sun Ra gathered musicians to form his flagship group, the Arkestra. They adopted a new look featuring a mix of Egyptian-style clothing and space-age visuals, an aesthetic that was later recognized as a precursor to Afrofuturism. Sun Ra introduced modern synthesizers and free improvisation into a jazz routine that also included dancers, fire-eaters, and elaborate set designs.
In the early ’70s, he took his study of cosmic themes to a new medium, writing and starring in the feature-length film Space Is The Place. In his portrayal of a time-traveling pied piper, he wins the fate of humanity in a dramatic card game, aided of course, by the power of music. In the end, Sun Ra blasts off in his spaceship, shepherding his people toward a new life in a distant world.
In the late ’90s, the band Blink-182 received massive airplay and heavy rotation for their videos during MTV’s “Return of the Rock” era. For guitarist and vocalist Tom Delonge, signing a record deal was his chance to finally buy a computer, “specifically to go on the Internet and research UFOs.” He wrote the group’s first ode to abduction, “Aliens Exist,” on Enema of the State. Soon after, he became more outspoken with his belief in extraterrestrials.
In 2011, Delonge created the now-defunct Strange Times, a website dedicated to conspiracy theories and paranormal news. His search brought him to disclosure advocate Steven Greer, who lent him a reported 36 hours of testimonial footage from government employees regarding the UFO phenomenon. In an interview with Larry King, Delonge spoke of secret societies and their involvement in hiding evidence of alien life.
Delonge went on to form the side project Angel & Airwaves, whose logo contains visual similarities to the symbol of the Freemasons. This prompted speculation from fans that he might be a member himself, a claim that at least one Grand Lodge has denied.
In 1959, William Burroughs’s landmark novel Naked Lunch made its debut in Paris, but US obscenity laws prevented it from reaching American soil until many years later. Beyond the bizarre drug use, political scrutiny, and insect sex-machines, the book was also protested in part for its candid representation of alien life-forms. Protagonist William Lee is less concerned with visitors from above than those already living among us, some of them even employed by our own government.
For Burroughs, abduction was a life-long fascination. He often made the trip to Bray’s Point, Oregon, a popular location for UFO sightings that have attracted other notable authors like Ken Kesey. In the ’80s, he wrote a letter to Whitley Strieber, a writer who achieved notoriety for his best-selling book Communion, which documents his alleged alien abduction while at a cabin in upstate New York. Burroughs requested to spend a weekend in the famed cabin to attempt to make contact himself. To the author’s dismay, the aliens did not come, which led him to conclude that it “may mean that they look upon me as an enemy.”
You could charge a fortune for just about anything from the Beatles estate, but for some fans, John Lennon’s golden egg might be the most valuable.
In the early ’70s, Lennon was living with Yoko Ono in the Dakota Building in New York City. According to fraud illusionist Uri Gellar, Lennon awoke one night to a blazing light shining through the keyhole of his front door. Upon exiting the apartment, he was confronted by four creatures with “big bug eyes and little bug mouths.” A quick scuffle ensued, and the next thing he recalled was being back in bed with Ono.
When she asked him what had happened, Lennon noticed he was holding a small golden egg. He told very few people about the encounter but supposedly gave the item to Gellar, telling him, “It’s too weird for me. If it’s my ticket to another planet, I don’t want to go there.”
Lennon’s assistant May Pang says he reported a similar sighting at his previous apartment, when a mysterious craft appeared outside his balcony while they were nude sunbathing. He drew a sketch of the spaceship and incorporated it into the artwork for his album Walls and Bridges.
Lennon often revisited his experiences in future songs, notably “Out of the Blue,” in which he sings, “Like a UFO you came to me/and blew away life’s misery.” “Nobody Told Me” features the lyrics: “There’s UFOs over New York, and I ain’t too surprised.”
During the 1950s, New York saw an art boom that made stars out of abstract expressionists like Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, and Jackson Pollack. Among the many who flocked to the city was Budd Hopkins, a young artist from Wheeling, West Virginia. Hopkins’s work combined stark geometric shapes into sleek, futuristic designs that wouldn’t look out of place in a modern science-fiction franchise.
When Orson Welles aired his famous radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, a seven-year-old Hopkins was listening intently. Recognizing that it was a hoax, he gained a healthy skepticism for alien visitors, but events later in life turned him into a believer. For Hopkins, first contact came in 1964, off the coast of Cape Cod. He observed a flying object in daylight that resembled a “flat balloon” and promptly alerted the National Guard. This brief encounter inspired Hopkins to devote the rest of his life to investigating the presence of alien life.
Hopkins became one of the first people to conduct psychological tests on abductees, often using hypnosis. His studies popularized many of the common symptoms of abduction, such as missing time and unexplained scars on the body. Like Whitley Strieber, Hopkins turned his research into a best-selling book, releasing Intruders: The Incredible Visitations at Copley Woods in 1987.
Some people are like magnets for the strange. As a self-proclaimed “garbage man,” Lux Interior was a collector of all things deemed unfit for popular culture. He formed the Cramps in the late 1970s with his wife Poison Ivy, mixing blues-rock and B movie kitsch into a new genre they called “Psychobilly.” On their debut album Songs the Lord Taught Us, Interior began creating his far-out backstory, shouting lines like “My Daddy drives a UFO” and laying out plans to rock on the Moon. Given his taste for shock value, we might dismiss these things as mere showmanship, but former bandmate James Sclavunos swears we’d be wrong.
Sclavunos says, “Lux was convinced not only of the existence of alien races but also of their . . . intermingling with humankind.” He idolized Elvis Presley, another artist with claims of UFO contact, and kept a pile of tabloid clippings with any mention of life of Mars.
After his death in 2009, others have shared memories of Lux Interior’s bizarre behavior. Guitarist Mike Metoff recalls that Interior did not allow band members to be seen in public during daylight. And who could forget the time they played a private concert for a mental asylum?
In You’re Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erickson, we see a framed document, notarized in Travis County, Texas in 1975. It contains a casual warning from Erickson, explaining that he is, “in fact, an alien.” He had typed up the confession to make sure that he was not “in violation of any world or international laws of Earth.” According to Erickson, he might have entered this world as a human, but along the way, his body had become inhabited by a Martian of unknown origin.
A decade earlier, he was lead singer and guitarist for the 13th Floor Elevators, a band who introduced America to psychedelic rock with a live performance on The Dick Clark Show in 1966. When the group split up, Erickson struggled with drug abuse, legal problems, and concerns about his mental health. After two years in the state hospital, he began a prolific solo career, occasionally billing himself as Bleib Alien.
Erickson has remained fairly quiet in recent years, and it seems like he’s settled into being simply human again, but songs like “Bermuda Triangle” will always remind us of his Martian years.
Lupe Fiasco entered the hip-hop world in 2006 with Food & Liquor, netting him three Grammy nominations and a spot on GQ’s annual “Men of the Year list.” To the surprise of many, the Chicago native used his fame to express increasingly controversial opinions. In a series of public appearances, Fiasco questioned the events of 9/11 and detailed his suspicion of the US government. In late 2012, he made headlines again but not for his take on political conspiracies. On California’s Power 106, he declared that, early in life, he had an extraterrestrial experience.
When he was 11 years old, Fiasco claims he woke from sleep with the sensation of “being shocked like I was surrounded by all this electricity.” He found his body in a form of paralysis and was unable leave his bed. Looking out the window, he observed a black disk approach from the sky, hovering for a moment before returning to space.
Fiasco believes he might have gotten a souvenir from the encounter, a mysterious scar on his lower ankle. “I never had surgery there,” he explains, “I don’t know where it came from.” Could this delusion be responsible for Fiasco’s obsession with government cover-ups and the Illuminati? With songs like “Lamborghini Angels,” full of references to MKUltra and occult rituals, it sure seems possible.
1Philip K. Dick
It’s probably a given that one of science fiction’s biggest contributors would eventually be called upon himself, and Philip K. Dick’s encounter is fittingly tough to unravel. He’d recently married his fifth wife, Tessa, and the two of them had an infant son together. The child was struggling with an illness, and their family doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
One day, a delivery woman came to their home wearing a necklace with the Christian ichthys symbol. Sparked by a glint of sun off her gold pendant, Dick became mesmerized by a “pink beam” of light. In the following weeks, the pink beam would return frequently, and in February 1974, it came with a revelation. Dick was suddenly struck with the knowledge that his son was suffering from an undiagnosed hernia. When they brought the child to the hospital, doctors confirmed his findings to be true, allowing the boy to be properly treated.
Inspired by his contact with the unknown, Dick began work on his Exegesis, an 8,000-page nonfiction book exploring his visions. He believed that his pink beam came from a type of satellite network, originating from the star Sirius, which allowed communication between extraterrestrials and ourselves. He dubbed the orbiting craft VALIS, shorthand for “Vast Active Living Intelligence System.” In 1981, he released a novel of the same name, which closely mirrored the events of his life.
Dick often wrestled with his own reality and never claimed to be completely sure of what was happening to him. He considered his discovery both a blessing and a curse.
In 1982, Dick discussed the plot of his upcoming project, The Owl in Daylight. The story follows a B movie composer of modest success who has a bio-chip implanted in his brain by an alien race. He soon becomes capable of making wild, experimental music but at the expense of his own health. Unwilling to return to a life without his newfound abilities, he decides to keep the bio-chip in place. Dick died before he could complete the novel, which might have given fans a final peek into the author’s strange and fascinating world.
Michael Hansen is a web designer and copywriter from the Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts.