No one has to travel to a distant planet to encounter alien beings. One lives here in Phoenix.
Donald Roth, locally known as Space-Alien Donald or “The World’s Oldest Gay Canadian Rapper,” isn’t your average interstellar traveler. He also creates rap music and owns his own music venue.
“My entire career has been working with electronics, but I’ve always loved the arts,” Donald said.
His music, filled with lyrics of cosmic dreams and scientific fascinations and glitchy, minimal beats, could be one of the strangest performances found in the Valley. He was awarded “Best Urban Oddity” in 2012 by the Phoenix New Times.
“His work is phenomenal,” local sculpture artist Jason Alan Davis said. “There are very few people who do what Donald does in modern society.”
Born in 1935, Donald has had a long voyage from Canada to Arizona.
He was raised in Hamilton, Ontario, where “other than the school teachers, I never met anybody with a university or college degree,” he said.
At 2 1/2 years old, Donald said he hitchhiked 70 miles away from home, earning a story in the local newspaper when he returned. Ever since then he has been a traveler.
His house in Phoenix stands out from others along his street due to the cartoonish mural of his face painted on the front. Inside is a bizarre collection of objects, including globes of Earth and Mars, electronic equipment, miniatures of zombies and spaceships and a foam bust of Albert Einstein painted green.
“I’ve read science fiction since I was a little tyke,” Donald said.
He said his fascination with science and space travel is supported by his in-home experimentation into the mysteries of gravity and the elusive faster-than-light tachyonic particle.
Most of his knowledge was self-taught through reading and hands-on work in the United States.
“When I came here, it was the only country that really had electronics,” he said.
Donald eventually made his way to Silicon Valley in the 1960s to pursue jobs in the technology field, skipping most of high school and college.
He said he faked school records and learned how to do his jobs on the fly.
“Nobody ever checked,” Donald said.
He learned more about science and technology as he got older, conducting some of his own experiments along the way.
He eventually found his way to Prescott, Ariz., in the early 2000s, where his musical career began to develop. He used his self-proclaimed pseudonym Space-Alien Donald as his stage name and began to lay down some unique raps inspired by poets including Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert W. Service and countless science-fiction authors.
“People started sending me things for my costume,” he said. “I started to develop a following.”
To Donald’s surprise, his music and T-shirts have been distributed across the U.S. and Canada and he is known in cities as far away as Milwaukee. He attributed this to the weirdness and originality of his performances.
At his friends’ recommendation, he moved to Phoenix during the real-estate slump and bought a second lot to start Funny World, his music venue.
“He gives people a space to be themselves,” said Davis, who was giving Donald new papier-mache cold-fusion reactor models.
Funny World is located in a house on Madison Street, directly beneath a flight path for planes taking off and landing at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
“That’s probably why we got it so cheap,” Donald said.
Donald said he has pensions from Canada, California and the U.S., which allows him to run the venue with relative financial ease.
Several artists and musicians have lived in Funny World. Today, three people use the space, including Jason Kron and his 6-year-old daughter.
“I help coordinate shows and musical events here,” Kron said. “It’s amazing to be able to creatively express yourself in this space.”
The venue features events at least twice a month, including talent shows, art exhibitions and musical performances.
Donald’s latest project is a music video titled “Trapped on Planet Earth.” The video is about the limitations and obstructions that prevent us from traveling through space.
“We need more people like Donald, we need a thousand more people like him,” Davis said.
Space-Alien Donald’s strange performances are about the alienation that each of us can feel throughout life. And Donald believes it’s OK to laugh at that feeling.
In the words of Service, one of Donald’s favorite poets, “Then let us mock with ancient mirth this comic, cosmic plan; The stars are laughing at the earth; God’s greatest joke is man.”
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