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It's the freakiest show

A screenshot from Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants." The 2013 episode "Seance Shmeance."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Chalk up a success for NASA this week as the InSight lander landed on the surface of Mars, where it will begin its mission of studying the Martian underworld, detecting “marsquakes” and figuring out how the “fourth stone from the sun” formed.

As noted in Monday’s edition of The New York Times by reporter Kenneth Chang: “Cheers erupted Monday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which operates the spacecraft, when InSight sent back acknowledgment of its safe arrival on Mars. That was the end of a journey of more than six months and 300 million miles.”

The NASA/JPL scientists were decidedly excited about the successful landing and the beginning of InSight’s two-year mission, which includes learning how thick the Martian crust is.

The location of InSight’s landing was just north of the Martian equator in a flat area that scientists described as being like a parking lot or “Kansas without the corn.”

Kansas without the corn? Perhaps a subtle reference to The Wizard of Oz? From black-and-white to Technicolor? Or is it just a iron-red Martian dust devil spinning in the distance, as Olympus Mons looms far away?


So, the lander that fell to Mars comes on the heels of the death of English director Nicholas Roeg, who is known for films including Performance (1970), Don’t Look Now (1973) and, of course, The Man Who Fell to Earth, a 1976 film I rewatched approximately five days before Roeg’s death on November 23, 2018.

I had been inspired to rewatch this remarkable film after finally reading Michael C. Luckman’s 2005 book Alien Rock: The Rock n’ Roll Extraterrestrial Connection which address the ET/UFO links to rock stars ranging from Elvis Presley to John Lennon. And, of course, the original “Starman” – David Bowie – gets a healthy chapter in this fascinating book.

Luckman notes that Bowie’s (born David Jones) interest in UFOs began during childhood and grew as he aged.

What is interesting is that when Bowie was making The Man Who Fell To Earth in New Mexico (filming locations including Albuquerque, White Sands, Artesia and Fenton Lake) – a state well-known for its long history of UFO activity – “David, who plays space alien Thomas Jerome Newton, claimed that he had several UFO sightings. ‘You could look up into the sky and see strange things every day,’ recalled Paul Mayersberg, the film’s writer.’”

But what really caught my attention was the next paragraph: “Bowie reportedly spent his spare time between film takes locked in a trailer poring through his library of mystical books and listening to his song ‘Young Americans’ played backward on a special turntable, which made the recording sound like a Tibetan chant.”

I promptly found, on YouTube, a video featuring “Young Americans” played backward. I don’t hear the Tibetan chants, but maybe somewhere in there …

Anyway, for those unfamiliar with the story of The Man Who Fell To Earth, Bowie’s Thomas Jerome Newton is here on Earth trying to find water to take back to his barren planet, where his family is in danger of dying. A strong environmental theme noted. I’m surprised Roeg didn’t find a small part for John Denver in the film.

A famous folk singer and environmentalist of the 1970’s and 80's, John Denver (died in 1997) was born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. in 1943 in Roswell, New Mexico (a little over three years before the 1947 “Roswell Incident,” involving a mysterious flying saucer crash. May I point you to Nick Redfern’s thoughts on that case, here – and his thoughts on John Denver as well).

Newton introduces advanced technology to the world. The money he makes is meant to be used toward building a spaceship to return to his planet with said life-saving water. But this alien is no match for Earthly enticements like sex and booze and drugs. And he fails to reach his goal.

Back to Luckman’s book: “Roeg said that in making The Man Who Fell To Earth, he was trying to establish ‘a link between the alien from another planet and the alien within our own culture. Bowie commented that the film 'works on spiritual and primal levels of an incredibly complex, Howard Hughes-type alien.'" When Newton is asked if he's the only "visitor" to Earth, he replies that "there have always been visitors." Ask Whitley Strieber.

This period, when Bowie was working on Young Americans and Station To Station, was a creative period, but difficult, as he was deep into occult topics and study and on drugs like cocaine. And while it was said Bowie was on coke quite a bit, his co-star, Norman, Oklahoma native Candy Clark, begs to differ, having said of that rumor that he was not on cocaine: "Look at David: his skin is luminescent. He’s gorgeous, angelic, heavenly. He was absolutely perfect as the man from another planet," Clark said.

Speaking of Candy, I was talking to my son about the drum intro to the Bow Wow Wow song "I Want Candy," and I turned on the radio and that very song came on. It was a stunning bit of musical synchronicity, something I've actually come to expect, in a way.

This morning, when I woke up, the first song running through my brain was Bowie's "Oh! You Pretty Things" from 1971's Hunky Dory. How appropriate, since the song begins: "Wake up you sleepy head / Put on some clothes, shake up your bed ... look out my window and what do I see / A crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me / All the nightmares came today / And it looks as though they're here to stay ..."

And "Life On Mars?" Of course. Perhaps the InSight lander that landed today on the red planet will offer more ... umm ... insight into that question. All I can say is that America 2018 is "the freakiest show." Bowie would understand. So would Hunter S. Thompson. He would loathe Donald Trump. Just the worst.

With First Lady Melania Trump decorating the White House with blood-red Christmas trees that invoke thoughts of both The Shining and The Handmaid's Tale, one begins to think America is turning into a big, creepy, haunted Overlook Hotel. Grim reapers and whirlwinds. Karmic reckonings. And crazed, neo-Nazi madmen are chasing us with axes and tiki torches as they are prodded onward by demonic entities of the underworld. But is it our underworld or the Martian underworld? What the Hades?!?! I can't help but think of my Jungian sync post "Flood of blood" from four years ago. Like Carl Jung's dreams of blood covering Europe, as he noted in dreams prior to the outbreak of World War I, the color "red" is reaching alarming levels. Red and orange, to be more specific. But red, like blood, is getting all the attention.


Shifting a bit, I was saddened to learn today of the ALS-linked death of SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg (born at Fort Sill, near Lawton, Oklahoma in 1961), which is odd in that I was talking to a family member about that show and how the off-putting part of the children's show on Nickelodeon was about quirky, radiation-mutated sea creatures living at Bikini Bottom - essentially the cratered lagoon of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, cratered due to the devastating 1954 Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb test, amongst many others on the otherwise idyllic island in the far Pacific. 

Specifically, at the Spongepedia website about Bikini Bottom/Bikini Atoll: "(T)he show is rumored to be based off of the idea that the radiation caused by the detonation of the bombs resulted in giving the sea creatures the ability to talk."

Oddly, nearly two weeks before Nicholas Roeg's death, famed comic books writer, editor and publisher Stan Lee died. Amongst his many Marvel Comics creations was the 1964 introduction of Daredevil. Essentially, the back story is about a young man named Matt Murdock who bravely pushes a blind man out of the way of an oncoming truck. In the chaos of this nearly-deadly accident, a radioactive isotope spills out of the truck and blinds Matt. But despite his loss of sight, his other senses are super-heightened, giving him superpowers as Daredevil, as radiation seems to do in the comics book world (recall The Incredible Hulk's Dr. Banner being exposed to gamma radiation). Fears of nuclear war and radiation exposure was very real in the last half of the 20th century. That concern remains, although muted in the face of other perils facing humanity. 

But something I only learned about today was that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were said to have been exposed to that same radiation that blinded Matt Murdock in 1964. The Week offers this origin story on the "half-shell" heroes. That same isotope gave these baby turtles extra powers, and under the tutelage of Master Splinter (a rat), the four turtle ninjas fought crime. 

Oh, speaking of SpongeBob SquarePants, I tuned in Nickelodeon on a whim and the show was on. It was the October 2013 episode "Seance Shmeance." Essentially, the characters are watching a show where a woman holds a seance and a ghoulish creature appears. Later, SpongeBob has his own seance - and all hell breaks loose as a result of his interference with the spirit world. Very eerie, in light of the death of the show's creator. Lots of creative people are passing away this dark autumn.

So, what does this all mean? If I clear the cobwebs and try to nail it down, well, it's not all that clear. Not yet, anyway. I do sense 2019 will be a year unlike any we have experienced in decades. Much will come to light. Wars may begin. Violence and bloodshed will, unfortunately, be in the headlines even more than usual. These are just impressions, from my knowledge of history, current events and divining dreams. But who am I? What the hell do I know?

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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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