Through the past, Darko ... (American dream ... or Bono's dream?)
OKLAHOMA CITY – October 1988 was one of those points in time that stood out to me at the time, and it always stayed with me.
It was a relatively normal autumn month, mixed in with excitement over getting to be a “guest deejay” with a cousin of mine at KDHX in St. Louis, while in that city for a wedding, and the release of the new U2 album – Rattle and Hum – which I purchased on the day of its release, mid-way through October (the double vinyl version) and the “Desire” 45 RPM single – at Musicland in Wichita’s Towne East Mall.
The album (recorded, largely, during The Joshua Tree tour and featuring a mix of live songs and studio tracks) opens up, curiously enough, with a cover of The Beatles’ 1968 song “Helter Skelter.”
Singer Bono tells the Denver crowd, “This is a song Charles Manson stole from The Beatles … we’re stealing it back.”
This was 20 years or so after the fact. Time didn’t seem to matter, oddly enough. The Rattle and Hum "rockumentary" was interesting as well - and was released in Ireland at the end of October 1988 and in the US in early November.
But back to October 1988 … I remember at the time that this was also the month and year that Whitley Strieber and Jame Kunetka set their 1984 novel Warday, where a limited nuclear attack between the U.S. and the Soviet Union takes place on October 28, 1988.
Strieber (the noted horror author who would later make a splash with 1987’s alien visitation book Communion – more on that later) and Kunetka play themselves as two Dallas journalists traveling the post-Warday United States, particularly reporting on the sheer obliteration of Strieber’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas.
Meanwhile, efforts to reach unaffected Los Angeles, proves difficult, in that it is now a walled-off police state, where “outsiders” and “illegal immigrants” are dealt with most harshly, as Strieber and Kunetka discover.
Fears of nuclear war at the time helped Warday become a bestseller, and I recently (speed) re-read the paperback edition and was struck by a number of things, from the details the authors include about casualties, damage and so forth and how Americans (and the rest of the world) are trying to rebuild their lives, post-Warday.
My dad had purchased the original hardback edition of Warday and I really absorbed its contents. This was a time when there was a real possibility of global thermonuclear war between the two “superpowers” at the time.
Strieber does make it back to post-attack New York City, five years after Warday – in 1993 – and finds scrap metal collectors taking out miles of copper wire out of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. (Of course, the first attacks in our “primary universe” on the Twin Towers takes place in February 1993).
In Warday, a character named Morgan Moore tells the Texas journalists that “(Y)ou guys gotta put a story about what we’re doing at the World Trade Center in your paper. It’s worth front page.”
Another voice: “We pulled over three miles of wire out of the South Tower just yesterday. You’re talkin’ eighty gold dollars’ worth of copper in one day.”
“We’ll be down to the structural steel in another three months,” Morgan Moore adds.
It’s certainly strange hearing about the “dismantling” of the Twin Towers in post-war Manhattan. The symbolism is undeniably eerie.
Anyway, after the journalists depart Manhattan, and try to get back to Texas, Strieber writes that he feels he has come through a distinctive, traumatic experience that leaves him with a sense of the bittersweet.
“I suppose the world is passing through a thundering moment of history. I do not feel it that way, though. Words like history have lost their weight. They seem as indefinite as memories, and as unimportant. Anything real means more to me than history. My own house, my kitchen, my chair. Sitting here, I feel something, I can only describe as a kind of austere ecstasy, as if I had my way in a black desert.
Continuing, Strieber muses: “The ‘U.S.’ and the ‘USSR’ I grew up with are gone, and that is strange. It is, I suppose, also history. If we could have our old America back, I suspect that most of us would gladly take the old Soviet Union too. We could live so well together, in the calm of present maturity.”
Oddly, while we did not experience a nuclear exchange with the Russians, there is a certain “nostalgia” out there, as I suspect Strieber’s post-war version of himself is feeling, thinking about the way things used to be.
Look at Donald Trump’s manipulation of nostalgia by promising the gullible that if elected, he would “Make America Great Again.” And in Russia, there have been countless reports noting “Soviet nostalgia,” which Vladimir Putin seems to be stoking as well, particularly as we observe the centennial of the Russian Revolution this year.
And speaking of “stoking,” the Washington “establishment” seems very interested in making us enemies of the Russians at a level matching that of the Cold War era – an alarming development, indeed.
And we also have The Americans, the incredibly well-done FX show about two Soviet KGB officers who live in suburban Washington in the mid-1980’s, posing as a happily-married American couple with two kids.
Season Five of The Americans began last week, with an episode titled “Amber Waves.” There seems to be an underlying “agricultural” angle being noted, as there are scenes with farm fields being planted and harvested. And with this season taking place in 1984, amidst the Olympics, it would seem that the American “Farm Crisis” is being alluded to. But we shall have to wait and see as the season progresses.
The other plot in this season, is the Soviets efforts to access dangerous biological organisms from Fort Detrick. One agent dies after being caught by the Americans and infects himself – and later dies. This plot is disturbing in its detail and implications.
I note both issues, because in Warday, radioactive “dusting” of the agricultural Midwest leads to a deadly famine. And something called the “Cincinnati Flu” and a new, incurable disease, is spreading through the population. One wonders if the creators of The Americans have kept a copy of Warday within arms’ reach as they create each episode, particularly the recent ones.
BACK TO OCTOBER OF ‘88
In Back to the Future, Doc Brown always warns Marty not to drive the time-traveling DeLorean at or above 88 miles per hour. Because, well, you travel in time. And things can happen and change the course of history … history, like “memories,” are important in Back to the Future. But not in all time-travel stories.
I thought of that as I mulled over various parts of Richard Kelly’s 2001 masterpiece Donnie Darko, which is set over the course of October 1988. There’s just something about that month and year, folks … recall that the initial events in BTTF take place on October 26, 1985 …
While Warday takes place on Friday, October 28, 1988, in Donnie Darko, October 28th is the day before the key “Halloween party” at the Darko family house.
In my “primary reality” of Halloween 1988, I distinctly remember listening to the Rolling Stones’ 1969 compilation album Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2), as I waited for the doorbell to ring and handed out candy to trick-or-treaters.
Or should that be (now) Through the Past, Darko … ?
This collection – my favorite of their compilation albums, which featured my favorite Stones track – “2000 Light Years from Home” - was originally released with an octagonal-shaped album sleeve, and was released shortly after Brian Jones’s (forced) departure from the band and his death, which was likely a homicide.
It is said that the Stones were paying either homage to Ingmar Bergman’s 1961 classic Through a Glass Darkly, or, less-likely, referencing 1 Corinithians 13: “For now see through a glass, darkly …”
Anyway, I note this in light of the recent Academy Awards debacle where
Nationally-syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg used the “La La Land / Moonlight” episode to suggest this “bizarreness” seems to “fit into a more general trend of universal weirdness.”
Writes Goldberg, in his piece titled “Can a scientific law explain Oscar debacle?”: “It’s as if at some point we took the wrong exit into a parallel universe, and the bungled Oscars are just the latest example that we’re strangers in a strange land …”
Strangers in a strange land? A reference to Robert Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land? And recall that the Library of Congress considers Heinlein’s novel, about a Martian human named “Smith” who comes to Earth to learn terrestrial ways. Hmm …
And while Goldberg goes on to say that things we don’t expect to happen often do because of the “The Second Law of Thermodynamics” – “ashes to ashes,” “things fall apart” and “rust never sleeps” … well, screw-ups aren’t to be totally unexpected, as what happened when this mistake happened at the Oscars, or when Trump was elected president …
Since the "Trump phenomenon" has taken hold, I've joked about the world transitioning in some "alternate 1985," where Back to the Future Pt. 2 villain Biff Tannen runs Hill Valley (America) with an iron fist. Marty is stunned to see how badly things have "fallen apart," with a simple screw-up.
And Jonah Goldberg and I are not alone. There are lots of people who suspect we have crossed into a parallel universe. Check out this sampling of weird stories where people have unwittingly crossed into unknown dimensions.
That's one rabbit hole we could go down.
It was in late 1988 and early 1989 that I became friends with a Christian singer/songwriter named Rich Mullins. He had been drawn to Wichita by some folks living there and started going to the church I was attending. We shared an interest in rock n' roll, both classic stuff and contemporary material, including U2.
In fact, Mullins (who wrote the praise-and-worship classic "Awesome God" that year) was the person instrumental in making sure I became part of a traveling team of high-school teens who sang songs and performed skits, all in hopes of inspiring Christian youth to embrace a "black and white world." In retrospect it all seems so silly, but with a down-to-earth guy like Rich Mullins on board, and him coming to my house and bringing me a melodic, percussive wooden box known as a "tongue drum" to play while on tour - well, I was a pretty excited 17-year old.
While on tour that summer of '89, with Mullins at the wheel and me in the passenger seat, we were listening to Rattle and Hum on the tapedeck while the rest of the group was in the back of the van asleep. We were lost, on some Adirondacks back road in upstate New York. I think we were trying to make our way to Lake Champlain.
Anyway, Mullins and I were commenting on various songs on the album, like their cover of the Bob Dylan song "All Along the Watchtower" and the interesting "Hawkmoon 269." And when we listened to "Love Rescue Me," Mullins turned up his nose and called it "maudlin."
It wasn't my favorite song, but it has an interesting history.
According to Songfacts.com, Bono was in Los Angeles, where The Joshua Tree tour had made a stop (it will stop again, this year, believe it or not - it's like a circle ...). During the night, in a dream state, Bono said the lyrics to “Love Rescue Me” came to him in a dream, but it seemed like a dream – and lyrics – belonging to Bob Dylan. ("I'll let you be in my dreams, if I can be in yours.")
Dylan can "handle" it.
Bono drives out to Malibu and asks Dylan if this “dream song” belongs to him. Dylan says it is not his song, or his dream, but he helps finish writing it with Bono.
Some writing for the song are made at The Edge’s place in LA (Elton John and Prince also stayed in the same house), the same house, where Lyle and Erik Menendez would kill their parents in August of 1989, in a sensatonal murder that would only be surpassed by the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson nearly five years later.
“And I wondered, Do bricks and mortar retain memories of crimes committed in airless rooms? Can violence sear a pattern into walls that no layers of paint can cover? Is this small patch of earth forever cursed?” (IAmNotAStalker.com)
And then there was the recording of "Love Rescue Me." It was done at Sun Studio in Memphis, where I had a particularly interesting encounter with a ghost, possibly that of Johnny Cash.
But then again ...
I did take a picture of a framed image on the Sun Studio wall of U2 during their time in the studio said to be the "birthplace of rock n' roll."
So, Rich Mullins played a part in my life, even though I left the Christian music scene behind, Mullins did in his own way, ditching the slick glossiness that Nashville expected. He was one who was "against the grain."
So, it was much later, while watching Donnie Darko, that I see the uptight, Christian "Sparkle Motion" mom Mrs. Farmer arriving at the front door of the Darko house wearing a period-appropriate "God is awesome!" T-shirt, a take on Mullins's hit, "Awesome God."
Mullins may have been Christian, but while Mrs. Farmer would be on the "fear" end of the spectrum, Mullins was on the "love" end. Here's the Donnie Darko timeline, for those who are interested.
The fall of 1989 brought the film version of Whitley Strieber's Communion (noted at the beginning of this essay. Strieber's novel came out in 1987, and was based on events in the year after he published Warday.
While not a great film, it does have some terrifying moments. And actor Christopher Walken does play Whitley Strieber pretty well, even if Strieber himself didn't care all that much for the film.
But the novel is something else. I read it in the late 1980's (along with every other UFO-and-aliens title I could get my hands on) and found it chilling and fascinating all at the same time. And that cover art of the "Visitor." Wow!
So ... a few weeks ago I was looking for my original paperback of Communion. But I couldn't find it. So, I ordered a used copy of the hardback edition on Amazon, and it arrived in a couple of days.
I bet both Jimi Hendrix and Brian Jones would have enjoyed Communion. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)
Incredibly, right after getting my copy of Communion, writer Nick Redfern writes an article titled “Whitley Strieber’s Communion at 30.”
I was stunned. It was as though this three-decade touchstone was making itself aware for me.
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