U.F.O.

Album: U.F.O. (1969)
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Songfacts®:

  • A song titled "Rosey" was the lone single released off of U.F.O., the only Jim Sullivan album made in his lifetime. However, the song "U.F.O." is the one that has become most emblematic of the posthumous fame Sullivan's work experienced decades after the man's strange disappearance.

    "Rosey" didn't chart. Not even close. Like all of U.F.O., it came and it went as if it had never been. At the time of the album's release in 1969, Sullivan seemed to have a lot going for him - he was a well-known club player in and around the Los Angeles area. He'd become something of a house musician at a popular place called the Raft, and was friends with movie stars Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man), Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen), and Harry Dean Stanton (Repo Man). He also appeared in one of that year's most popular underground arthouse film Easy Rider, and his wife worked at Columbia Records.

    Sullivan was good, too. Maybe not the sort of guy to pin millions down in front of their radios, but he was a talented and skilled musician with a voice that exuded the kind of earthy outsider wisdom that was all the rage in 1969.

    Sullivan even had the famed Wrecking Crew with him in the studio for U.F.O.. They were made up of the best session musicians in Los Angeles and recorded with the likes of Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, and Sonny & Cher. It was no small thing to have them on the album.

    Still, U.F.O. went nowhere. It would have been forgotten completely if not for the mystery of Sullivan's life years after the album was released.

    Sullivan didn't give up after U.F.O.. He kept on hustling for a couple years. It wasn't easy, though, and he had bouts of depression along with a growing alcohol habit.

    On March 4, 1975, he struck out from Los Angeles on a final desperate bid to salvage his music career. His plan was to go to Nashville, Tennessee, and get a gig writing country music. He left his wife and young son behind with plans to send for them once he got established. He drove through the night until being stopped by a highway patrolman the next day and warned for reckless driving. He stopped off in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, and got a hotel room, then went to the local store and bought a bottle of vodka. Evidence suggests he never slept in the room at all, but no one is sure where he went or what he did.

    Sullivan was next seen the following day about 26 miles outside of town, walking from his car into the desert. That was the last anyone ever saw of him.

    Search crews were brought in. They found he'd left his guitar, money, and other personal effects in his car. They lost his trail shortly into the desert.

    It was a strange story but not one that got a great deal of attention at the time. It got much more popular many years later, in 2010, when Matt Sullivan (not related to Jim), owner of the Light in the Attic record company, stumbled upon Sullivan's rare album on a collector's site named Waxidermy.

    Matt Sullivan released the album again. With it, the story of Jim Sullivan's disappearance took on new life. It has since become an internet mystery that haunts and fascinates millions.
  • There are many theories as to where Sullivan went (it gets more complex the deeper that you look into it), but the most entertaining (with all respect to Sullivan) is that he was abducted by a UFO. This was inevitable when you combined a mysterious disappearance with a song titled "U.F.O." that had mystical, strange lyrics.

    The song has an eerie sort of sound to it, as well. It's haunting.

    One of its lines goes:

    Only man I know that got up from the dead

    This has caused some people to say that Sullivan foresaw his own death out there in the desert or that he'd predicted his own abduction. Other whacky versions of the theory arise as well. Maybe he'd been abducted in that area in the past and had gone back there to be picked up again.

    The thing is, when you subtract Sullivan's disappearance from the story, the meaning of "U.F.O." is actually pretty clear, though no less weird than the notion of preordained alien abduction.

    Lotta chicks will pull in the book I read
    Only man I know that got up from the dead
    Lot of people living by the words that he said


    Sullivan was most likely talking about Jesus, the man "who got up from the dead," as an extraterrestrial. In 1969, young people were coming out traditional Christian backgrounds for the most part and often wrestled with the spiritual mythology of the era.

    Jesus-as-alien isn't as unlikely an idea as it sounds. For decades the concept has been passed around. Every now and then the notion will take on new life and become a fad again for a few years before fading away in favor of the next weirdness. 1969 was a year ripe for such far-out ideas, and Sullivan was a far-out guy. He was a mystic and a psychonaught.

    The "book I read" was likely the Bible, though perhaps it was a book about Jesus being an extraterrestrial.
  • In another verse, Sullivan explores the common Christian idea that Jesus will return to our world.

    Think he'll ever come again a different way
    Maybe he is coming though while I was away
    Too much goodness is a sin today


    Sin is a distinctly important Christian concept. It's also become a generalized slang for "bad deed," but in 1969 its religious connotation wasn't as muted as it's become today.

    "U.F.O." is a song about Jesus being an extraterrestrial spaceman and sometime coming back to Earth in a spaceship, bizarre as that sounds, but what about Sullivan's story isn't bizarre? It fits perfectly into the legend, really.

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