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"And I know what's happening ..."

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
The 45 RPM record of "Superman" by R.E.M. in the RDR music library.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – After catching lunch with a  friend at Pizza 23, I grabbed some yogurt at the Orange Leaf shop next door. The Howard Johnson-orange interior and Sixties Space Age chairs are a novelty and a bit fun.

While in there I couldn’t help but notice a song playing – “Superman” by R.E.M., the now-defunct Athens, Ga.-based alt-rock quartet.

I’ve always dug this 1986 recording as featured on their terrific album Life’s Rich Pageant. It’s actually a cover song, originally recorded and released in late 1969 by the sunshine-pop group The Clique, hailing out of Houston.

The story about “Superman” is that while the three other band members in R.E.M. were digging the song, lead singer Michael Stipe was not. As a result, bassist and backing vocalist Mike Mills took the lead on the irresistible fan favorite. Stipe provides background vocals – and in this case it’s just as well. And as a sidenote, one of my only interview subjects today was named Mike Mills.

I am, I am , I am Superman / And I know what’s happening …”

But do I really know what’s happening? There is a lot in the world going on right now that I can’t explain and/or definitely don’t know about.

And yet the whole Superman and “superhero” theme has been syncing with me as well. Just this morning while playing those R.E.M. songs I was noting the “Superman” 45 on my shelf. The flipside? The surf-rockin’ instrumental “White Tornado.” Not bad for a “Dust Devil Dream” piece, eh?

And I guess it’s not a surprise to learn that I had been listening to a ton of R.E.M. this morning in the office and was particularly digging the jangly, thoughtful Life’s Rich Pageant material, so it was a bit of a sync to hear “Superman.” In fact, I asked the clerk about it and he said he was playing all of Life’s Rich Pageant.

Following this R.E.M. sync, I noted that I had been on a weird 1986 kick lately and noted that Life’s Rich Pageant came out in ’86, of course.

Being a musically-minded synchromystic, I was reminded that yesterday I was thinking about Life’s Rich Pageant just yesterday because the one-time Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ guitarist Buren Fowler had passed away this past Friday at the age of 54. Fowler had played with DnC, a Georgia band, from 1988 to ’93 or so and had appeared on excellent albums like Mystery Road and Fly Me Courageous.

Fowler had also been a guitar tech for Peter Buck and also played guitar with R.E.M. during their Pageantry tour in 1986 and Work tour in 1987.

I first learned of Fowler’s death via the music website SlicingUpEyeballs.com. It is there that they featured a live recording of R.E.M. -with Fowler on guitar - performing a real gem on Life’s Rich Pageant – “I Believe.”

This brings me to a number – 138. It was 138 days ago – on October 23, 2013 – that I wrote a Dust Devil Dreams piece titled “Saucer-eyed movement.” This sync article linked the Oklahoma Gazette Halloween parade, a UFO dream, The X-Files and the R.E.M. song “I Believe.”

As I wrote then: “Yes. ‘I Believe.’ And listening to those lyrics (a song introduced to me by a beloved friend no longer with us) I was struck by the power of the lyrics offered to us by Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe (names I was staring out earlier today, curiously enough).

Michael Stipe sings of rattlesnakes and fevers and honor and poles shifting, all amidst a song that is positive and uplifting, while noting ‘times as an abstract’ and the kicker – ‘Explain the change, the difference between what and what you need, there’s the key

The key. As I sat there in the Orange Leaf with my friend, I looked up at the wall and there was an image of an Orange Leaf “spoon,” A little angular and not rounded so much. Somewhat “key-like.” Above it were the words: “The key to happiness.”

The key to happiness? Why did that sound familiar? Ah! It was something Brad Pitt’s character Jeffrey Goines says in 12 Monkeys in a scene I referenced here at DDD just one month ago. And yet I only referenced part of the scene in my “A bear in the woods” article. A little later, while going crazy in the room, Goines yells: “MasterCard. Visa. The key to happiness!”

Back to “Superman,” though. Here I was, sitting with a guy who has a band called “Otisburg” (named after the “town” Lex Luthor henchman “Otis” – played by Ned Beatty – had hoped to have once the nuclear missile struck the San Andreas Fault) and I’m suddenly reminded of my 3/11 dream. The 9/11-Superman dream (nightmare) I had early in the morning of March 11, 2011 when the tsunami struck Japan and destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The dream I came out of at the exact same time it was all happening in local Japan time.

If you know the R.E.M. version of “Superman,” the intro features dialogue from a Japanese pull-string Godzilla doll, if you can believe it. Translated, the voice says: “This is a special news report. Godzilla has been sighted in Tokyo Bay. The attack on it by the Self-Defense Force has been useless. He is heading towards the city. Aaaaaaaaagh....

Godzilla? Are you kidding? Nope. Most know that Godzilla is essentially Japanese sci-fi commentary on the effects of nuclear radiation, as was experienced by the Japanese victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and for the unlucky Japanese fisherman aboard the Lucky Dragon 5 fishing boat not far from the Marshall Islands’ Bikini Atoll. They were contaminated with atomic fallout when the U.S. detonated the diabolically-powerful Castle Bravo H-bomb 60 years ago on March 1, 1954 not far from where they were fishing.

Godzilla, of course, was the metaphoric “monster” created by atomic radiation as the Cold War years heated up. And now, with things heating up between the U.S. and Russia, "Feelin' '86" doesn't seem so strange, at least for me.

And here we are on the eve of the third anniversary of the 3/11 catastrophe that is still affecting our planet. I can see those nightmarish, “Superman” images in my head, the ones where the red sun of Krypton destroys the planet as baby Superman flees in his crystalline ship. And this as Fukushima still leaks radiation three years later, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico leaks radiation, the Ukraine seems ready to explode and the world wonders just what the hell happened to a Malaysian jetliner and all of its passengers. On Saturday, when the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing, I woke up knowing something major had happened while I was sleeping.

That number. 370. March 1970? A big month and year. From the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty going into effect on 3/5/70, to the hijacking on 3/31/70 of Japan Airlines Flight 351 by members of the Japanese Red Army.

I feel that more will happen, but we as human beings must rely on one another to get through the days ahead.

In the meantime, as I did exactly three years ago, I'm going to sit outside, have a fire and enjoy a Scotch - all while looking for the Moon.

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About the Author

Andrew W. Griffin

Editor & Owner.

Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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