All the dirt, news, culture and commentary for Oklahoma's second century.

Astral plane crash

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
This takes "concentration" ...
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Back in the fall of 1993, approximately five years before the vibrant alt-rock scene imploded, paving the King-Midas-in-reverse schlock road that we are all enduring now, the local “underground” radio station could offer one some really good music.

That fall, while living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I got to hear new music from bands like Best Kissers in the World (“Miss Teen USA”), Matthew Sweet (“Time Capsule”), Blur, (“Chemical World”), Possum Dixon (“Watch That Girl Destroy Me”), Buffalo Tom (“Soda Jerk”), Teenage Fanclub (“Hang On”), The Juliana Hatfield Three (“My Sister”) and many, many more. It was a pretty exciting time for tuneful, edgy pop-rock.

And in the mix was a band that was getting some attention – Tucson, Arizona-based Machines of Loving Grace.

Taking their name from a poem by beat poet Richard Brautigan (“All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace”), the band would have a hit with “Butterfly Wings” in the fall of ’93, while the follow-up single, “Perfect Tan (Bikini Atoll)” was actually a bit more direct and urgent.

I bring all this up because I had not thought about this band for a while. But, while perusing the racks of used CDs at Vintage Stock earlier this week, I stumbled on a battered copy of Concentration, that Machines of Loving Grace disc from 22 years ago. I had not recalled the song “Perfect Tan (Bikini Atoll),” but there it was listed on the back.

Of course the March 1, 1954 hydrogen bomb tested on Bikini Atoll – Castle Bravo – was the largest nuclear weapons test in American history. The radioactive fallout and contamination was devastating to the Marshall Islanders and the surrounding marine environment. The Marshall Islands have never really recovered from this horrific experiment on human beings. MOLG, it would seem, were making a statement about the blast and the “alchemical” effect it likely had in this dimension.

Candy cane sunrise, refracted in your eyes / Through the valley of death with sea air.

Later, a Kundalini reference: “Feel the serpent twisting up the spine.”

There is another early Machines of Loving Grace song called “Rite of Shiva,” a reference to Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus trilogy, about a “sex act that was performed at a black mass.” This is the song that got the attention of NIN’s Trent Reznor.

The band said they wanted to get “this obscene sex act on the radio without them knowing what they were playing,” and that effort “worked out pretty well.”

Back then, MOLG were touring with the likes of Swans and Peter Murphy, among others. They were minorly successful.

Machines of Loving Grace had another album or so and by the late 1990’s had broken up. Singer Scott Benzel, a visual artist now living in L.A., features videos on one portion of his personal website ScottBenzel.net. Among them are videos ranging from Heaven’s Gate cult leader Marshall Applewhite to one of a close-up of Neil Young’s coke-flaked nostril.

But there’s also a video of The Beach Boys in about 1968 on a variety show, performing a reworked version of a Charles Manson original called “Never Learn Not to Love” and a studio version of another Manson song – “Cease to Exist.” When asked in an earlier interview about whether Machines of Loving Grace cover anyone elses songs, Benzel said “Never Learn Not to Love.” It’s one that has a dark history.

All this syncs and brings me to a couple of recently-posted articles at Dangerous Minds. The first is about Manson Family murder victim Sharon Tate. The piece notes that Tate allegedly had “a prophetic dream about her brutal murder by members of the Manson Family at least two years before the tragic incident took place.”

The information came to the Dangerous Minds writer via a May 1970 issue of Fate magazine. Reporter Dick Kleiner said he interviewed Tate in 1968 on a movie set and he asked her if she had ever had a psychic experience. Apparently she had. This is what Tate told Kleiner:

“Yes, I have had a psychic experience – at least I guess that’s what it was – and it was a terribly frightening and disturbing thing for me,” she said. “It happened a year or so ago (1967). Maybe you can explain it.”

Indeed. She goes on to say when she was staying at her lover Jay Sebring’s house (who would also be murdered, along with Tate in 1969), she had a “premonition” of a murderous event taking place, shortly after seeing a “small man” scurrying around the otherwise empty house in L.A.’s Benedict Canyon.

Did Sharon Tate sense that time was short? She would break up with Sebring soon after and later marry Roman Polanski, who was working on Rosemary’s Baby around that time. Very strange and eerie things were going on in Hollywood/Laurel Canyon in those days.

Was this “dream” a premonition?

Truly bizarre. And yet two nights ago, I had a very vivid dream. I’m in a place that seems familiar, yet not quite “real.” I have one of my “plane crash” dreams, except this time no one seems to be paying attention to the fact this 747 is crashing in flames. I later sensed that this is a part of the frustration I feel in regards to some people not paying attention to the truly important issues we highlight here at Red Dirt Report. A plane crash is obviously news. But in 2015, large planes seemingly routinely disappear without a trace – a lot like the truth. And like The Onion joked in a headline several years ago: "357 Maharishis Missing, feared dead in astral plane crash." One has to keep a sense of humor about things. 

Again, this dream was a day before I found myself at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. The site of John F. Kennedy's ritual killing - the "King/Kill 33" of James Shelby Downard. And interestingly enough, the edgy shock rock of Marilyn Manson is hip to that notion. Standing there on the 33rd degree latitude, as this website notes: "The concept dealt with within 'King Kill 33' is reference to the esoteric rite of The Killing of the King (an ancient, radical version of the Masonic initiation ritual of the Death of Hiram), often associated with alchemy, and particularly how the enactment of this rite was the motive behind John F. Kennedy's assassination. The number 33 is the highest degree of the Scottish rite of Masonry, it is also the degree of latitude at which JFK was assassinated at the Dealey Plaza, the degree of latitude which the detonation of the first atomic bomb at Trinity (site in New Mexico) and the degree of latitude which the Temple of Solomon in Israel is to be rebuilt, as foretold in the Book of Revelation as one of the signs heralding the Apocalypse, the Second Coming of Christ."

This syncs back to the Machines of Loving Grace song "Perfect Tan (Bikini Atoll)." with the references to alchemy and atomic-bomb tests. And this morning, I had my coffee in my new "Kennedy for President" coffee mug. 

The second Dangerous Minds story that got my attention was a post headlined “The occult book that inspired the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat.”

While DM writer Oliver Hall notes a 1986 article about Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, he notes comments that Lou Reed makes about Richman and the 1934 book by Theosophist Alice Bailey – A Treatise on White Magic. Said Reed: “One of my big mistakes was turning (Richman) on to Alice Bailey. That’s where the insect song comes from. I said, ‘Do you know, Jonathan, that insects are a manifestation of negative ego thoughts? That’s on page 114.’ So he got that. That’s a dangerous set of books. That’s why Billy Name locked himself in his darkroom at Andy Warhol’s Factory for five months.”

Hall, meanwhile, expresses surprise at both Reed and Richman’s fascination with the occult. Now, The Modern Lovers’ 1972 debut album features the song “Astral Plane,” of course, and White Light/White Heat, the Velvets 1969 studio album, features that line “white light goin’ messin’ up my mind.” As Hall notes: “(That) wasn’t just the rush of speed; Lou was singing about some heavy astral shit!”

Back then, Reed was somewhat open about his beliefs, telling a disc jockey during an interview that he had had 1,143 past lives. 

Back to Jonathan Richman. It was last year that I went to Norman and saw Jonathan Richman play at the Opolis. It was an interesting performance. I now understand why everyone says he's a bit weird. Enjoyable though. It was after that gig that I ran across the street and stumbled across Wings' album, the 42-minute long Back to the Egg. This was significant in that the night before I had dreamed about singing a song called "Back to the Egg," although Paul McCartney had not written a song with that title. I knew this song, somehow, that did not exist

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Andrew W. Griffin

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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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