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Brain Cloud 9

Warner Bros. / Amblin Entertainment
Joe Banks is ready for a new chapter in his life in 1990's "Joe Versus the Volcano."
Fertile Ground Compost Service
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OKLAHOMA CITY – In the latest episode of Lodge 49 (“Estrella y Mar”), my favorite show out at the moment, lodge member Connie Wright (Linda Emond) is talking to her husband Scott (Eric Allan Kramer) and her lover Ernie Fontaine (Brent Jennings) about her decision to wear a blindfold as a remedy for her mysterious illness, an ailment that has frustrated all involved. Perhaps being blindfolded will lead Connie to find the "true lodge," which the late lodge leader Larry Loomis (Kenneth Welsh) sought for so long.

What caught my attention was that the episode (written by Alethea Jones and written by Dana Ledoux Miller) was when Scott tells Connie to go see more doctors. Connie responds – perhaps jokingly, perhaps not – that the doctors simply tell her she has a “brain cloud.”

Connie is tired of being told she has a "brain cloud" in Lodge 49. (AMC)

For those of you who read Dust Devil Dreams or are just a big fan of the 1990 cult film Joe Versus the Volcano (directed by curious writer/director and New Yorker John Patrick Shanley, who in 1993, would write the screenplay for Frank Marshall's film Alive, about the Uruguayan soccer team that is driven to cannibalism after their plane crashes high in the Andes Mountains), you may recall that Robert Stack’s character, Dr. Ellison, informs a beleaguered, “ailing” Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) that all of their tests revealed that Joe was suffering from an incurable brain cloud, which Ellison describes as a “black fog of tissue running right down the center of your brain.” We later find out that Ellison makes this story up. And we learn why.

Joe Banks is told he has a "brain cloud" in Joe Versus the Volcano. (Warner Bros.)

Meanwhile, Joe is told he has five good months left and Ellison encourages Joe, a former fireman who was likely “traumatized” by his time putting out fires and saving people there in New York, where he lives, to “take a trip.” This is all told to Joe as he stands in Ellison's elegant, cozy, woodpaneled office, complete with a fire in the fire place. This is not so different from the environs of Lodge 49's Long Beach, California's Lodge 49, which has a full bar and a secret room where alchemical mysteries are soon to be engaged. 

Conveniently, the next day, at 9:11 a.m. (on the 11th of the month, according to a desk calendar on his boss’s desk in the grim rectal probe factory on Long Island, where he works) an eccentric, wild-eyed billionaire, Samuel Graynamore, show up and offers Joe – who believes he is dying – to live it up like a king in these final months and go to a South Pacific island and jump in the island’s volcano. Or, as Graynamore says, “It’s been 99 years, 11 months and 11 days since the fire god got his propers” and the native islanders were scared that if a sacrifice was not offered, the angry fire god would cause the island's active volcano to erupt and sink it into the ocean.

Joe agrees and goes on his odyssey. But what of what Graynamore says ... that's lots of 9's and 11's. 

LONG BEACH

Interestingly, production of Joe Versus the Volcano took place between June 8, 1989 and September 19, 1989, so exactly 30 years ago. It was filmed in New York, in and around Los Angeles and in Hawaii. What caught my attention was that the scene at the marina where Joe first boards the yacht to sail to the South Pacific was filmed in Long Beach, California, home of Lodge 49, an esoteric series where water and symbols play a major role in the storyline. As for Lodge 49, the series is filmed in both Atlanta, Georgia and, of course, in Long Beach, California! So, essentially, Joe Banks' sea odyssey - an odyssey fraught with danger and many challenges - begins in Long Beach.

Perhaps the mention of a "brain cloud" in this most recent episode of Lodge 49 was a tip-o-the-cap to the excellent and misunderstood Joe Versus the Volcano. After all, many of the characters of Lodge 49 are victims of capitalism's soulless side, many stuggling in 2019's "gig economy." In 1989/90, where we find Joe Banks in Joe Versus the Volcano, Joe can feel the flourescent lights sucking the juice out of his eyeballs, jokingly telling his colleague DeeDee (Meg Ryan, who plays multiple characters) that he's losing his sole (of his shoe, which is damaged walking into work). But we all know that working at the rectal probe factory Joe is losing his "soul," surrounded by dead-eyed drones and no escape - at least until the Fates look his way in the form of Mr. Graynamore.

CRAZY EIGHTS

Interestingly, I delved into some interesting, synchromystic qualities of Joe Versus the Volcano in my July 2018 Dust Devil Dreams post “Bridges to Babylon.”

In part, I wrote: “I think this nearly 30-year old film still has a lot to say in 2018, if not more, this in a splintered, atomized, Western culture where we know even less about each other on a human level, it would seem. And yet there is something pulsing under the surface ... something seeking a better way. Even enlightenment amidst of Kafkaesque existence. Or, should we consult Existentialism 101?

That does concern me at the core. We have everything, it would seem, but what do we really have? We have more suicide. More despair.

And one of my favorite scenes in the film is when the eccentric billionaire Samuel Graynamore, played by a wild-eyed Lloyd Bridges, father, of course, of Jeff Bridges, who plays the synctastic character “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski. Graynamore's offer of "living it up" in exchange for Joe to jump into a volcano on an South Pacific island where "Bubaru" (?) a rare mineral is needed to make his "superconductors." (Graynamore needs this substance for his capitalistic ends). Joe figures he is dying of "brain cloud" and figures, "why not?"

But he meets Meg Ryan's character (Ryan is now with rocker John Mellencamp, who was profiled by Jane Pauley on a CBS Sunday Morning show I caught) and he realizes he has something to live for!

And so, searching for some Joe Versus the Volcano clips on YouTube, I specifically sought out the scene where Bridges’ character comes to Joe’s depressing apartment (complete with lightning strike on his crumbling apartment wall), and while it was poor quality, it is still a delight a watch, especially when Bridges opens a can of peanuts and dumps them out on a table – and then asks Joe for some whiskey. Bridges ate up this scene with his eyes all bugged out like a crazy man. His son, Jeff, inherited that quality, as evidenced in the seemingly LSD-influenced dream sequence in The Big Lebowski.

Additionally, I write: "So, both Bridges – Lloyd the father and Jeff the son – appear in Joe Versus the Volcano and The Big Lebowski, respectively. The first was released on March 9, 1990 and the second on March 6, 1998 – nearly eight years exactly!"

OTHER DELIGHTS

This morning, on one of my social media feeds dealing with rock music, someone posted a fairly-recent story about Dolores Erickson, the model who posed covered in whipped cream and holding a rose on Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass 1965 LP Whipped Cream & Other Delights album cover. She is in her early 80's and is still a draw at record conventions. That was this morning. What is weird is that in my recent Dust Devil Dreams post, "Dig it," I address the Peter, Paul & Mary song "I Dig Rock and Roll Music" and the album Album 1700, released in 1967. It was one of Peter, Paul & Mary's biggest albums, as it also included their 1969 hit "Leaving On a Jet Plane," written by John Denver. 

The alternate cover of Peter, Paul & Mary's Album 1700. Note the prominent "red balloon." (Warner Bros. Records)

I had grown up with that album, but it belonged to my mom and I have no idea where it ended up. So, I found a used copy of Album 1700 and played it over and over. The opening song, interestingly enough, is the Eric Andersen song "Rolling Home," (aka "Rollin' Home") which Andersen himself, a big folkie, had recorded for his 1968 album More Hits from Tin Can Alley. However, on October 16, 1967, Andersen performs on a British TV series, introduced by a dandy Noel Harrison, the son of actor/comedian Rex Harrison (there's that Harrison name again!), the man whose voice Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane modeled Stewie Griffin's after. This West Fargo, ND Pioneer article notes that not only did MacFarlane miss his flight - Flight 11 - on September 11, 2001, Fargo actor (another Coen Bros. film) Steve Buscemi, who had actually been a Manhattan firefighter before his acting career. And after the attacks of 9/11, Buscemi (who appeared in the synchromystic film Ghost World in 2001) would help clear rubble at the World Trade Center site, telling media it was a privilege to do so. Buscemi's character Donnie, in The Big Lebowski, is part of the "purty good story" which begins on September 11, 1991 - exactly 10 years before the horrors of 9/11 befall America and the world.

Anyway, in the third verse of "Rollin' Home," very reflective of the "Turbulent Sixties," Andersen (who is very much alve today at age 76 and still performs today), Andersen wrote:

"Fantasies and prophesies fill me head like fallin leaves
Well underneath I don't believe one
I want to do what's been done
You can try hide he can run
Well, I can see a king and queen, a beggar falling at my feet;
They all must have the same sad dreams at night;
Futility breeds senseless war, pit the rich against the poor
While cause is buried long before the fight
For what went wrong, for what went right"

Anyway, I was thinking about Eric Andersen because in The Big Lebowski, when The Dude (a former Sixties anti-war protester and counterculture activist) visits Maude Lebowski and talks about a German nihilist Uli Kunkel, former singer of the German "technopop" group Autobahn, the album right before The Dude (holding his White Russian, of course) comes across Autobahn's album Nagelbett, Eric Andersen's breakthrough 1972 album Blue River (which I am listening to right now on the office hi-fi), while the iconic Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass LP Whipped Cream & Other Delights is immediately behind the Autobahn LP.

PURSUED

Before I wrap up this DDD post that is, admittedly, all over the place, I wanted to note an actual dream I had the other night. In it, I am an observer in some rural, wooded location. As I look on, a man running as fast as he can is trying to outrun a bear. Just as the man reaches the porch of a cabin, he turns into a woman, who sits on the porch, panting, but having outrun the bear, somehow, the animal having disappeared. 

So, "pursued by bear," eh? Just like the wine created by Twin Peaks actor Kyle MacLachlan, who is a native of Yakima, Washington, where the grapes for ...pursued by bear are grown.

In the meantime, I am playing Eric Andersen's moody Blue River album. It's quite good, actually, and the final song on side 2, "Round the Bend," is very much in that moving, Seventies singer/songwriter vein. But it is a song about a man realizing that he had been lost for so long and that he was beginning to see the light. Sample verse:

"I knew a man with a lonely mind
a prisoner so unfree
that all the beauty locked inside his soul
he never could believe
Through the frightening days he ran
stumbling hopelessly
Yes I knew that man well
for that prisoner he was me
"

Sounds like "Round the Bend" is a song that John Patrick Shanley should have used in Joe Versus the Volcano, much in the way Shanley uses Ray Charles' "Ol Man River" in the film. Joe is a lonely guy. Many of the characters in Lodge 49 are trying to connect and there is a sense of community. Ultimately, it's about the human condition. And right now, at this point in human history, we are all so connected, but so disconnected at the same time.  

I think the friendship of The Dude, Walter and Donnie in The Big Lebowski is a big appeal of the film. Despite their personal differences and personalities, they are friends and have a bowling team together. Robert D. Putnam, in 2000 (two years after the release of The Big Lebowski), noted in his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, that membership in fraternal and civic organizations between 1950 and 2000 essentially collapsed. I think a big part of the appeal of Lodge 49 is that despite the disconnect for many characters, there is a sense of community within Lynx Lodge 49. Perhaps that sense of community will return in coming years. One can only hope.

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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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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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