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Clues and instructions

The "instructions" to the special suit given to Ralph Hinkley are lost early in the debut episode
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Pop cultural references to the comedy-drama The Greatest American Hero are often used for laughs, a punchline. And while it is fair, I think the emphasis on the silliness of the shortlived series (1981-83) overlooks some of the more serious themes at play.

Being obsessed with the subject of UFOs, I eagerly watched that first episode way back in March 1981, shortly before the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan at the end of that month. In fact, the main character, Ralph Hinkley (played wonderfully by William Katt), has a name that is close to that of Reagan assassin John Hinckley Jr., so close that the name “Hinkley” was overdubbed to “Hanley” for a while, but returned to “Hinkley” in season 2.

So, Hinkley, a high school teacher at Whitney High School in Los Angeles, is assigned to watch a “special ed class” of juvenile delinquents with hearts of gold. I should mention that the series was created by the late Stephen J. Cannell, an American TV producer and native of Pasadena, California who also created The Rockford Files, The A-Team and 21 Jump Street, among many others.

So, to get the kids out of the high school environment, Hinkley takes the kids “to the desert” for some vague “geological” adventure. On the way there, they stop at a roadside diner and encounter FBI Agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp). A “tough” in Hinkley’s class tries to mess with Maxwell, only for the world-weary agent to pull a gun on him.

Now … before I continue, I want to mention that this particular scene in the debut episode reminds me, a bit, of the final episode of Twin Peaks: The Return, where Special Agent Dale Cooper, who seems a bit more stern – like the “cowboy” Maxwell, actually – pulls a gun on some “toughs” at a diner in the desert-edge burg of Odessa, Texas.

In fact, earlier, when Cooper (Richard) and Diane (Linda) travel from Twin Peaks, Washington to a location in the American Southwest and electrical power lines seem to open a portal. Katt’s Ralph Hinkley, traveling in his Whitney High school bus to the desert, is filmed near railroad tracks and electrical lines in a desert locale – all before electrical problems strike their bus before a UFO appears in the desert and Hinkley is presented with his red superhero suit/cape – presented to him by a dead FBI agent and partner of Maxwell named John.

John is killed by members of a right-wing religious cult living out in the desert and trying to take over the government (complete with Manson Family-styled dune buggies!). There is a plot to assassinate the president and the veep, Adam Taft (Karl Malden-lookalike Richard Herd), coming across like ACTUAL Vice-president George H.W. Bush, who had been in office with Reagan for only a matter of weeks by the time this show premiered, proved to be too spooky for words.

What we see in that first episode of The Greatest American Hero is reminscent of the synchromystic TV shows, like Route 66 (which my late godmother, Glenda Jennings, appeared in in early 1963), where it was pretty clear that President John F. Kennedy's assassination was almost certain, as noted by Loren Coleman in this 2012 post at Twilight Language. It is noted that synchromystic actress Tuesday Weld, who appeared in a very odd episode of Route 66, as Coleman notes, was a distant relative of Charles Guiteau, who assassinated President James Garfield in 1881, a political tragedy I wrote about in my October 2013 Dust Devil Dreams post, "A ticket to Hatfield": 

"President James A. Garfield, of course was our 20th president. Become What You Arecame out 20 years ago. An important number for Red Dirt Report is 1881. It happens to be our Post Office Box number at the post office downtown. It is the year President Garfield entered the White House as president and do you want a postal sync? Here’s one for you: During Garfield’s limited time in office, Garfield managed to initiate reform of the Post Office Department's notorious “star route” rings and conspiracies. Post Office corruption was rife and Garfield, before his assassination on July 2, 1881, did a lot to clean up the Post Office.

Of course it was the crazed Charles Guiteau who tried to murder President Garfield with his British-made .44 caliber Webley Bulldog revolver. Of course there is an undeniable John Lennon sync here. Lennon’s 1968 song “Hey Bulldog” and the 1966 album Revolver are said to be clues to Lennon’s assassination just under 100 years after Garfield’s assassination. Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman, used a .38-caliber revolver.

When Guiteau shot Garfield, the wounded president exclaimed: “My God! What is this?” It would be two months before the stricken commander-in-chief would succumb to his injuries, having said before his death: “Oh! Why am I made to suffer this cruel wrong."


this past week, while looking for some used Lou Reed CD’s in the “R” category at Guestroom Records in Norman, I spied a Lee Ranaldo CD I had never heard of – an experimental recording by the guitarist during the period of 1988-89, when Sonic Youth was recording both Daydream Nation and Goo. It was titled Scriptures Of The Golden Eternity and eventually released in 1993 on the Father Yod label and also released on compact disc by the Drunken Fish label.  

Now, that title alone grabbed my attention. As it turns out, it is based on beat poet and intellectual Jack Kerouac’s “manual” on his “spiritual vision” and Zen Buddhism and titled The Scripture of the Golden Eternity. It was written in 1960 and contains short writings of “66 numbered paragraphs which straddle the line between poetry and prose,” as noted by a reviewer on Amazon.

Before listening to it, I researched this obscure recording and found that it is an album that “consists of three untitled tracks featuring a solo Ranaldo performing guitar, tape loops, and occasional vocal.” It's avant-garde stuff and led me to pick up the Kerouac book, which I hope to have more on later.

Additionally, it noted that the first track features Ranaldo telling a live audience that he was inspired as a child back in 1966 by a April 30, 1955 episode of The Adventures of Superman (starring George Reeves as Superman) titled “The Talking Clue” where a boy captures sounds using a tape recorder and unwittingly gets caught up in criminal activity. Superman, naturally, comes to the rescue.

Of course the old Superman TV series starred George Reeves as Superman. A search for an album by Lou Reed, leads to a previously-unknown Lee Ranaldo album that then points me to a 1955 Superman episode, starring George Reeves. And shortly thereafter, I am drawn to The Greatest American Hero, where the star's son is watching the old Superfriends animated series and Superman-related jokes are made referring to changing clothes in telephone booths to Hinkley having a Lois Lane-like girlfriend, Pam Davidson, as played by Connie Sellecca.

The comedy-drama includes a dead FBI agent presenting Hinkley with a supersuit that allows him to  have superhuman abilities which include: super strength, invulnerability, invisibility, precognition, ESP, telekinesis, X-ray vision, super speed, pyrokinesis holographic vision, psychometry and even the ability to "detect the supernatural." Detecting the supernatural? Did Superman have such an ability? While Hinkley's character can fly, it does not fly well, having lost the instructions. Superman, landing on Earth after being ejected from Krypton by his parents knowing their fate, already knows all he needs to know. Or does he?

Again, a dead man coming out of a UFO gives Hinkley the suit. A dead man. 


That “dead” theme, syncing with UFOs and the paranormal reminded me of something I watched the same year The Greatest American Hero premiered: Monty Python & The Holy Grail.

Specifically, I refer to the portion addressing the bubonic plague and “Black Death” where Eric Idle’s Middle Ages “town crier”-esque character yells “Bring out your dead,” awaiting dead bodies to cart away, victims of the plague.

Like The Greatest American Hero, the Holy Grail bit is played up as comedy, but something darker is actually taking place.

The “bring out your dead” bit synced for me, rewatching this debut episode of The Greatest American Hero because during a deep meditation a few weeks ago the face of Python actor Eric Idle appeared, which was quite unexpected.

I was never a big fan of Eric Idle, although I’m not sure why. But maybe there’s a reason for it.

But back to The Greatest American Hero. I was stunned when I saw the numerals on Hinkley's house when he meets with his students and friends ... 1109. Yikes!

Now that's opening a whole can of worms, particularly when you consider the political overtones of the first episode, prior to Reagan's assassination and the Bush-esque VP in the episode.


As for Communion author Whitley Strieber, well, what can I say? His work has followed me for a big chunk of my life. It will come to me in waves, beginning with the tsunami that was Warday (noted here), published in 1984, and through Nature's End, the whole Communion saga and The Coming Global Superstorm with Art Bell (which I chose as a book to read for my book club back in Louisiana, many years ago) and his latest books like Super Natural and The Afterlife Revolution, written with assistance from his late wife Anne Strieber, communicating from beyond the grave. The UFO/alien phenomenon crossing paths with that of the dead. A theme I am noticing with increasing frequency.

So, back on February 21, 2019, I wrote a post titled "On approach," which was triggered mainly by an experience I had at a store here in Oklahoma City around midday on Monday, February 18, 2019. It involved a DVD version of Communion, the 1989 film based on Strieber's '87 book, and starring Christopher Walken as Strieber coming to terms with his diquieting alien encounters in upstate New York.

Like someone compelled, inexplicably, to purchase multiple copies of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (like Mel Gibson's character in Conspiracy Theory), I felt compelled to purchase Communion, even though I knew I already had a copy somewhere in my office. And not only did I buy it, I returned home immediately and watched it - taking notes, all the while ... 

So, five days after I posted "On approach," I stumbled across a "Whitley's Journal" blog post by Strieber from his Unknown Country website. The post was rather breathtaking and regarded a "close encounter" Strieber had on the evening/early morning of February 17th-18th (Sunday night into Monday morning) and then on the night of the 18th, where beings confronted Strieber at a house he was at in rural Texas. The message, essentially, was that Strieber 'was left with a more urgent feeling than ever about this book. I have recently been threatened very seriously about what will happen to me if I don’t write it. But now there was a deadline, and a fast one. The manuscript to be finished, which is March 31 of this year. "

My first thought was that Strieber was having these experiences primarily on Monday, Feb. 18th - the very same day the feeling came over me to purchase and rewatch the 30-year old Communion film. What the hell? And the date of March 31st is interesting. I met a young couple, which included a very pregnant woman, and when asked when her baby was due she said, "March 31st." I smiled and said that was the same day my younger sister was born - in 1975, when I had my first close encounter in suburban Washington, D.C. (And it was in 1989 that William S. Burroughs was so taken with Strieber's tales that he arranged to meet the writer that year, saying, "I am convinced that he's telling the truth. No doubt about it.")

That idea of "birth," brings me to Strieber's writings in The Afterlife Revolution, where he references his 1986 story "Pain," where a man experiences pain so he can be freed from his past and see "life anew."

In the story, which Strieber recounts in The Afterlife Revolution, the angel tells the man: "Earth's surface is a womb. In this womb, a baby, life, has been growing for eons. This baby has matured to the point that it has intellect and therefore the capacity to enter higher consciousness - that is, to be born. So the waters of Earth's womb are breaking." 

Later, in the same chapter, Strieber recounts his communications with his dead wife Anne and she emphasizes the importance of "love," a theme that is widely known but not always put into practice. "Love again," Strieber writes. "It always comes back to this missing element, the unseen strength that will see us through even the most difficult of times."

Rewatching the 1968 Beatles animated film Yellow Submarine last night and noting the emphasis on love. No denying it, gang. All you need is love.

EDITOR'S NOTE: (2:28 p.m. March 11, 2019) With Superman syncing heavily this month, I was reminded that it was on this date - March 11, 2011, the date of the earthquake/tsunami off Japan that led to the Fukushima catastrophe - that I had a dream about the disaster as played through the lens of Superman: The Movie. I wrote about it in my March 16, 2011 Dust Devil Dreams post "The Cheshire moon," where I wrote:

And yes, the dream I woke from – a nightmare, in fact –
involved horrific scenes of terror and destruction that I have been describing
to friends as a cross between the collapsing towers and horror of 9/11 and that
disturbing scene in the 1978 Superman
film where the red sun is destroying Krypton and people are falling into the
abyss. Rarely is it that I have such vivid nightmares where wake up, heart
racing, and I don’t want to go back to sleep. And yes, I woke up out of this
nightmare at 4:45 a.m. – the earthquake struck Japan a minute later – at 2:46
p.m. Japan time.

A “red sun.” A “supermoon.” Yes, we have a “supermoon” this
week. Eerie, isn’t it? People are saying the “supermoon” we are about to
encounter is going to wreak further havoc on our planet. Was this “supermoon”
grinning at us the night prior to the devastating earthquake? Will the mischievous
cat strike again?"

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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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