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Cosmic Kingfishers

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
A crude, playful rendering of Andrew W. Griffin's comic strip characters "The Kingfishers."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Is there a day that goes by that Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey doesn’t cross my mind? I doubt it. Ever since I saw the film on video in 1984, as a 12-year-old in Little Rock, Arkansas (with someone tied intimately to a likely future American president!)  – and reading the Arthur C. Clarke novel shortly thereafter – it has had an impact on me that surpasses any holy book I have read thus far. 

I have been looking for answers ever since. And yet I feel that the film/book has been a subconscious/conscious guide of sorts. Up until that point (I first saw 2010: The Year We Make Contact earlier that year in a neighborhood theatre, prior to seeking out the prequel) my sci-fi touchstones were largely connected to futuristic/distant/fantasy-styled stories a’la Star Wars and the utopian visions of Star Trek.

But as a curious adolescent who never felt like they quite fit in with the broader popular culture, seeing 2001 and 2010 grabbed ahold of something deep within me, particularly the former. In fact, the 2001 novel - the 1970’s-era paperback issue with the image of astronaut Dave Bowman on the cover, the colored lights in his space pod reflecting on his helmet face plate – had that “yellowy paperback-ery smell.” I think some of you remember that odor. It sticks with me to this day. The paperback novel had a power I can’t quite explain.

In fact, I attribute the novelization of 2001 as being one of the key reasons I took up writing. I have Arthur C. Clarke to thank for that. His story was captivating and yet scientifically accurate, as far as those things go. The air of mystery and awe hung over the story, as it clearly did in the unsurpassed cinematic vision as offered by one of humankind’s great geniuses – Stanley Kubrick.

It was in 1985 – a big year for me creatively speaking – I began using my allowance to buy Academie sketch pads at the drug store so I could start drawing a cartoon series which I called Kimball Parish. I was inspired by the smart, politically-tinged humor of cartoonist Berke Breathed and his inspirational comic strip Bloom County, the one featuring Opus the Penguin, Bill the Cat, Milo Bloom, Steve Dallas and others.

My amateurish knockoff – Kimball Parish – was set in Louisiana, since parishes are in the Pelican State – and I placed the parish approximately where the actual Rapides and Avoyelles parishes exists.

So, Kimball? Why that name? It has a marbles-in-the-mouth kind of ring to me. Also, I just recently recalled that I had taken the name from the astronaut Jack Kimball. Kimball was the geophysicist, who, along with survey team leader Victor Kaminsky and astrophysicist Charles Hunter are in hibernation aboard the Discovery. And yet, in the Clarke novel, Kimball’s name is Peter Whitehead. It is not clear why the change was made. However, an author named Richard White, from Louisiana State University, syncs with the novel's Peter Whitehead, as well as Louisiana politician Huey P. Long ("The Kingfish") and the film/book 2001. A stretch? Perhaps.

And “The Kingfishers.” Why that name? It just seemed appropriate, as I will later explain.

The main characters were:

Buncombe Shurgar. Essentially the leader of the group (which would later form a Monkees-like band called The Kingfishers). He wore oval-shaped sunglasses (not unlike Bloom County’s Steve Dallas) and usually smoked a cigarette and played lead guitar. Cool and collected and smart, like The Monkees’ Mike Nesmith. The name “Buncombe” – bunkum – came from Buncombe County, North Carolina, where the crunchy/cool city of Asheville is located. Shurgar was the surname of a family who were neighbors of a classmate of mine back in Little Rock.

Monty Colgate. More or less mute with a “Bert”-like long head and a long nose, Monty is actually very creative and possessing magical powers. His family owns “Monty Cola” soda-pop and the connected fortune. And when Monty drinks a can of Monty Cola, he turns into a rectangular box with “eyes” and he flies around. I later realized that Monty’s box looks very similar to 2001’s mysterious monolith. In one October 1985 panel for Kimball Parish, Monty agrees to be an astronaut aboard a space shuttle. Curiously, the panel was not completed – until after January 1986 – the month the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded after liftoff. Following that tragedy, I featured Monty’s space shuttle exploding as well. Monty somehow survives to fly another day (and play bass guitar and keyboards, too!)

Nesbitt Grahame. Curly-haired, uptight perfectionist Nesbitt (named after the obscure soda brand – and Grahame being the last name of mid-20th century actress Gloria Grahame) plays multiple instruments, including rhythm guitar (later for The Kingfishers) and is usually battling Buncombe over group decisions.

Sidney Swenson. A mix of Byrds drummer Michael Clarke (in appearance) and Who drummer Keith Moon (in style and wild personality), Sidney is the fun heart of the group and sings a lot for the group. In that case he is like singing Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz.

Poole Morton. Obviously the name “Poole” came from Frank Poole, second in command aboard the Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Poole is the Reuben Kincaid of The Kingfishers, a harried band manager who is trying to keep the guys in line and getting them gigs.

Wyndham Brisbane. Modeled after Bloom County’s Opus the Penguin, Wyndham is an talented, Australian kangaroo who loves to bash a tambourine on stage with the guys. The name was inspired by the hotel chain (not the evil agent Windom Earle on Twin Peaks) and Brisbane, of course, is the capital city of the state of Queensland in eastern Australia.

As I noted, Kimball Parish morphed into The Kingfishers. Since the band was in Louisiana and powerful Louisiana politician Huey P. Long was known as “The Kingfish,” calling the band “The Kingfishers,” after the bird, seemed appropriate. Synchronistically, Long’s nickname was inspired by a rascally, African-American character on the minstrel-minded, comedic radio show from the 1920’s and 30’s, Amos n’ Andy. As Long said, after becoming a senator from Louisiana: “I’m a small fish here in Washington, but I’m the ‘Kingfish’ to the folks down in Louisiana.”

The Amos n’ Andy character George Stevens was known as 'The Kingfish', “a man whose entire life revolved around his (Masonic) lodge the Mystic Knights of the Sea,” as the website phoenixmasonry.org notes. They add that the Mystic Knights of the Sea was “clearly intended as a Masonic parody.” Amos n’ Andy creators, the white actors Charles J. Correll and Freeman F. Gosden, were both Freemasons and Shriners, and “consciously patterned the administrative structure of the Mystic Knights of the Sea after that of Freemasonry: Great Supreme Kingfish = Grand Master; Kingfish = Worshipful Master, etc."

The various medium-sized, brightly-colored kingfisher birds live in many parts of the world, particularly in more tropical areas, including Louisiana.

In Greek mythology, as noted in Ovid’s The Metamorphoses, Alcyone, the daughter of Aeolus, and Ceyx, son of Eosphorus (aka “The Morning Star” aka “Lucifer” – Lucifer – “The Light Bringer” -  is the name of the second sun that is formed after the destruction of Jupiter in 2010: The Year We Make Contact) were a happy couple and would sacrilegiously refer themselves as “Zeus” and “Hera.” This angered Zeus, who was determined to destroy Ceyx by throwing a thunderbolt at Ceyx’s ship as he traveled to consult an oracle.

Wanting to inform Alcyone of Ceyx’s fate, Morpheus (the god of dreams) appears to Alcyone and informs of her of what Zeus did to Ceyx. Overcome with grief, Alcyone throws herself in the sea. The gods, seeing the perished couple decides to impart their compassion by changing the two into “Halcyon birds.” Halcyon birds are kingfishers!

As Ovid noted: “(A)t last through the gods’ pity, both were changed to birds, the halcyons (kingfishers). Though they suffered the same fate, their love remained as well: and their bonds were not weakened, by their feathered form. They mate and rear their young, and Alcyone broods on her nest, for seven calm days in the wintertime, floating on the water’s surface. Then the waves are stilled: Aeolus imprisons the winds and forbids their roaming, and controls his grandsons’ waves.

Essentially, the term “halcyon days” refers to the seven days on either side of the winter solstice when storms are not supposed to occur – a total of 14 days. And here we are in 2014.

For me, the halcyon days I often think back to were pre-9/11. It was in Mansura, Louisiana (Avoyelles Parish! Synchronistically in the general area where I had set Kimball Parish some 16 years earlier) where, as a newspaper reporter covering a contentious town hall, on the evening of Sept. 10, 2001, I pulled my broken-down Volvo into the parking lot of the town hall and saw the American flag on the flagpole flying upside-down! It was an omen. Just as a number of kingfishers are considered omens – some bad – by some groups of humans around the world.

Halcyon days, of course, means a peaceful time and for kingfishers, the calm time to lay their eggs. Soon after that Mansura Town Hall meeting – America’s halcyon days had largely ended.

Interestingly, a big battle at that 9/10/01 meeting there was a fight over the use of a cell phone by the town police chief who went by the name “P-Nut.” The cell phone – now looking like a black monolith, as short-lived MSNBC talk-show host Alec Baldwin reminded us, during an interview with 2001 actors Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood – connected to a man named “P-Nut.” It could be argued that the Discovery spaceship, heading to Jupiter in 2001 looks a little like an elongated, thin peanut in space. Discovery, with HAL 9000, would later be destroyed – and merged with the cosmos – following the destruction of the gas giant and its metamorphosis into a sun – Lucifer!

And with 9/11/01 being a false-flag “odyssey,” I urge Dust Devil Dream readers to hop on over to Joe Bisdin’s “2001: A False Flag Odyssey.” With the name “Heywood” coming up a lot these days, it is interesting to note the link to 2001’s Heywood Floyd, that name an anagram for DEFY HOLY WOOD. Thanks Sync Book pals!

Anyway, as we have noted before, Swiss psychotherapist and psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (he of “synchronicity”), was having some heavy personal experiences at this time 100 years ago. It was in September 1913 that Jung last met with colleague Sigmund Freud at a conference in Munich. At the conference, Jung was hitting his stride talking about different psychological types. At the same time – as noted in David Cronenberg’s excellent film A Dangerous Method – Jung and Freud were going in different directions, Jung in a more inner, esoteric direction, Freud in a more rational, grounded and acceptable direction.

It was in September 2013, for health reasons, that I drank my last beer – a Kingfisher beer at the Taj Indian restaurant. Back in the late 80’s I moved The Kingfishers characters out of Louisiana and to more urbane San Jose, California (?!?!). There are a number of Kingfisher streets in San Jose, I recently learned, and a beverage distributor that offers Indian Kingfisher beer to clients in northern California.

Within a month, Jung was having very intense dreams and visions, his “confrontation with the unconscious.” This is when Jung experienced a dream involving a an “old man with kingfisher wings and the horns of a bull flying across the sky, carrying a bunch of keys.” Jung would go on to paint the image – a “guru” he called “Philemon” - and would soon after be struck by the synchronicity of finding a dead kingfisher by the lakeshore near his garden at his home in Zurich. The kingfisher, it is noted, was a rare sight in that area of Switzerland. Reminscent of Napoleon Bonaparte and the visits he experienced by the "Little Red Man of Destiny."

As Jung would later say: “(Philemon) was simply a superior knowledge, and he taught me psychological objectivity and the actuality of the soul. He formulated and expressed everything which I had never thought.”

Back to The Kingfishers  … I drew the comic strip – for my own pleasure, really – well into the 1990’s. I drew one panel for my college newspaper. And last month, at an art session at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, I was inspired to paint a Kingfishers-inspired piece called “Cosmic Christmas with The Kingfishers.” I took the “Cosmic Christmas” part from the fact that the working title for the Rolling Stones’ psychedelic, late 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request. The lettering was swiped from the whimsical font featured on The B-52’s 1989 album Cosmic Thing.

It is my intention to bring The Kingfishers back, and placed here on Red Dirt Report, a website that was inspired by two Louisiana political websites – The Deduct Box, founded by the late John Copes (“the deduct box” was a tool Huey Long used to force Louisiana state employees to donate their money to their favorite canadidate: Long himself) and the Drudge Report-styled site The Dead Pelican, operated to this very day by Baton Rouge-area based political junkie Chad Rogers. I tip my hat to both men.

And as we merge into 2014, it seems eerily appropriate as we observe the centennial of Jung’s visions (he anticipated the coming bloodshed in Europe following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the hell of World War I, which began 100 years ago this summer).

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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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