The Man, The Myth, The Sun God

By Will Peisch | 9/16/15 7:26am

I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you talk to even the most normal-seeming person for long enough, you’ll discover that they’re a total weirdo. The great thing about Johnathan James Recor, better known to Hanover residents as the Sun God, is that he cuts right to the chase. The car he drives around and the music he plays is an extension of his personality, and as I learned first hand driving around with him at the end of term last spring, he’s weird in a way that makes him more human, not less.

For those new to campus, the Sun God and his car, here are the basics:
In 2009, Recor began his Masters in Arts and Liberal Studies at Dartmouth. From 2009 to 2011, he wore a Venetian mask and a leotard around campus in pursuit of love.

He referred to this performance art as Theater-on-the-Walk, and his masked alter-ego is known as the Sun God.

“The idea behind it was that I wanted to find the love of my life, and the catch to it was how could any woman fall in love with a guy who is completely decked out in costume and basically covering their humanity,” Recor said.

In 2011, the same year he graduated the master’s program, he met and fell in love with his current girlfriend, Amanda Spoto ’14, thereby accomplishing one of the main goals of his becoming the Sun God. Recor told me that after they started officially dating, he honored her by removing his mask for good. At this point he started Theater-on-the-Drive, where he rides around campus in his tricked-out 2001 Toyota Camry, playing audio from movies and songs as well as other assorted sounds.

When I asked Recor over Facebook if I could join him in his rounds around campus, he seemed genuinely flattered that I thought this was a good idea for an article and we met up at the end of 15S. We drove around campus for 30 minutes while I asked him my burning questions. If you’re the visual type, this interview was conducted from the back middle seat as I strained to reach Recor with my recording device. Recor’s skeleton-mannequin already had permanent shotgun seating, representing the fact that Death is his friend and I was not. The left and right rear seats are used as support beams for his flagpoles.

Where does he get his songs?
According to Recor, he’s got 26,000 to 28,000 different song and movie clips loaded onto the iPods that he’ll use to play over his car’s speaker systems. Speaking from experience, the music is playing about as loudly inside the car as it is outside of the car. This means that when he played the audio to the trailer to “Interstellar,” my seat was vibrating as if I was seeing the trailer in IMAX. According to him, the clips he chooses are meant to evoke a sense of nostalgia in the listener to bring them back to the time where they first heard it.

“It was kind of like my way of bringing back a little childhood,” Recor said.

The appeal to me seemed even simpler than that — playing your favorite music loudly in your car, be it Taylor Swift or in Recor’s case Hans Zimmer, makes you feel like a badass, even though it might look silly and even annoying to people on the outside.

He told me he plays songs based on a variety of factors, including his mood, the campus atmosphere and the time of day. I snuck a peek at his iPod and his playlists are literally organized by his mood — among the playlists I saw were Emotions-Sad, Emotions-Happy, Dance and Trailers — but the number of total playlists he had seemed to be in the double digits.

How much does he pay for gas?
Theater-on-the-Drive is solely for Dartmouth, Recor told me. He keeps his car in a local storage facility when he’s not around, so driving around campus only costs him about $20 a weekend — he sees it as a bargain.
“I see people spending hundreds of dollars here on alcohol and stuff and I’m like, for 20 bucks I’m having the time of my life. I don’t need any substances to like lift myself up. Music is my drug,” he said.
Fortunately, he didn’t seem too insulted when I implied many assume more than gasoline fueled Theater-on-the-Drive, and he clarified to me that he completely abstains from all chemical substances.

Is he aware that his performance art has a polarizing effect on campus?
I thought this question was going to be the hardest one to ask, but fortunately the on-campus perception of Theater-on-the-Drive was the first thing he brought up.
“It’s really just me playing, if students get a kick out of it, that’s awesome. I think that’s the goal. If there ever was a goal, it would be nice if this is something students enjoy just to raise a little spirit on campus. Some people hate it, some people get a kick out of it. I see people laughing, I know it’s at my expense and I know it’s silly. I just enjoy doing it because it’s silly,” he said.

How has Dartmouth changed?
Recor has been known as the Sun God for seven years. For reference, the Sun God persona was created a couple months after Michael Jackson died and Silly Bandz were still a thing. Dartmouth has completely changed in those seven years, and Johnathan has had a front seat view of it all. When I asked Recor how the College has evolved, he expressed cautious optimism.

“School is getting there in terms of art and creativity. It’s trying to embrace that, but at the same time I get the feeling that it doesn’t necessarily know how to do that,” he said.

(Sun) God’s Eye View
It was really interesting to see the range of reactions to Recor’s car from a passenger’s perspective as we drove through campus. Some made it a point to ignore the car driving by, while others waved at us or made double fist pumps in the air. My almighty chauffeur seemed to match the level of enthusiasm expressed toward him, ignoring those who seemed nonplussed by the car’s presence and giving a friendly honk to those that gave more positive feedback. Sitting in the car watching people go out of their way to wave at the Sun God, I began to understand why he has been doing Theater-On-The-Drive for so long.

The Big Takeaway
After my ride with the Sun God, I went to the Rauner Special Collections Library and read Johnathan’s Master’s thesis, which doubles as his artistic memoir. I did this because, like Johnathan James Recor, I am weird. For the purposes of this article, nothing earth-shattering came of this, but it helped me realize the nickname Sun God is a misnomer. Recor is a weird sweet guy who has spent his life trying to make a positive impact on his environment in the way he best knows how. The only difference between him and the rest of us is that he wears his weirdness on the outside, and loudly at that. While that loudness has justifiably earned him critics, it also has helped attract fans — most of whom don’t even know his real name — as well as his current girlfriend. Embracing our own weirdness to do good, like Recor has, is what makes us happy. Peoples’ weirdness may not always be compatible, but it’s worth it to try reaching out.

Will Peisch