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The last waltz

Warner Bros.
Jack Torrance waltzing with no one in particular in "The Shining."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – My dust devil dreams of late have been kicking up a virtual sync storm of memories, thoughts, visions and more as I wake up each morning and send emails to myself trying to detail what I can recall from that Jungian twilight zone leading to the off ramp of the collective unconscious.

In the past few weeks my dreams have taken me to the surface of the Moon. I am aboard a space shuttle, which is on the deck of an aircraft carrier, plying the chalky-gray waves of a lunar sea.

A subsequent dream (dated Nov. 4th) details a dream involving R.E.M. bassist/singer Mike Mills, (“And I know what's happening”), who is hovering in a helicopter above me, and shoots an arrow at me – with a dead rabbit attached to the arrow – and the arrow narrowly misses me.

Not surprisingly, I am prone to dreams involving UFOs. For instance, an email report on my dream of July 19, 2019, I witness a “classic saucer” UFO while “I am outside with two cats belonging to a woman in an unfamiliar neighborhood.”

I add: “The cats come to a tree and get in it. As I am under this leafless tree, a classic saucer, slightly elongated, glides past me, directly overhead. It was so real. And I was so excited … it felt special.”

The dream continues to where I find myself – with others – on a “moonlit night” and we see a “an object with a superstructure appear overhead and then climb into the sky at incredible speed.”

The “saucer woe” portion is when I write: “This (UFO) is seen by others. Meanwhile, on the ground a semi with a suspicious load drives by and I conclude something big is going on.” Shades of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, methinks.

But back to my more recent UFO-related dream …

On Nov. 5th, my dream involved a “junky”-looking, conventional “spaceship.”

Something George Lucas might have dreamed up. But the ship is shown to be disguising its true appearance. The “junky” appearance is a cloak of deception, and the ship’s true appearance is soon revealed. As I note at the end of my initial email report on this dream, “Another wild dream.”

And while my dream recollections may be pretty standard, I suppose, for me the dreamscapes have been far more intricate and detailed of late. This began in earnest in September and has continued over the course of this autumn, to this very day. 

That said, things are getting a bit ... sharper in my dreamscape. Some themes are coming together. Let me share one I have already begun exploring.

WORKIN’ ON A MYSTERY … AND MORE

As I noted in my October 31, 2019 Dust Devil Dreams post titled “Workin’ on a mystery,” singer/songwriter/composer Robbie Robertson, of the classic roots-rock group The Band, has been coming up quite a bit over the past week or so. And new synchronicities related to Robertson and The Band have revealed themselves to me as a result of my paying attention and connecting the proverbial dots.

Significantly, these dreams have something to do with both the film The Shining and Martin Scorsese’s rockumentary The Last Waltz. In addition, we should note the themes explored by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson – and many other American writers – about the death of the American dream and the dark side of American history and the American mind.

As Stanley Kubrick once said, “There's something inherently wrong with the human personality. There's an evil side to it. One of the things that horror stories can do is to show us the archetypes of the unconscious; we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly.”

Confronting virulent racism and the genocide of the Native Americans on this continent can no longer be ignored. I think the collective unconscious – through dreams, as I have – have been reminding me and many others of the duty we have to bring these issues to the forefront, as difficult as they are to address.

So, we have Martin Scorsese, who directed The Last Waltz, about The Band’s final concert, which also featured luminaries such as Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison and Neil Young, among many others, singing their hearts out at a concert on Thanksgiving 1976. Think about that. Thanksgiving!!! The national holiday here in the U.S. is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. It is also about the Pilgrims joining with local Indians and feasting together. I see a lot of symbolism in The Band’s choice of Thanksgiving for filming The Last Waltz with Scorsese. And also, 1976 was our Bicentennial year.

This year it will be on November 28th. Back in 1969, when The Band released their eponymous second album, The Band, the single “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” was the  B-side with “Up on Cripple Creek,” as the A-side, which was released on Saturday, November 29th, 1969.  It got into the Top 40.

The film would not be released until spring 1978, when production on The Shining was already underway.

As I previously noted in “Workin’ on a mystery,” Robbie Robertson is both Jewish and Native Canadian, being of Cayuga and Mohawk ancestry. He takes his background very seriously (Note his 1994 album Music for the Native Americans, which was music made for the documentary The Native Americans on TBS).

Talking to Goldmine magazine in 1998, Robertson said this about writing “Up On Cripple Creek” - "You sit down and write the song, and usually when something happens, you just don't even know where it came from, or why it came, or anything like that. That's the best. You know, when something comes out of you that surprises you. And it was one of those. You know, I was just sitting down to see if I could think of anything, and that's what came out. But it was a fun song to write”

And this quote is particularly interesting because so many artists, be they musicians or writers or poets or painters, so many of them have reported feeling as though an outside force is working through them or channeling through them. Canadian writer and UFO enthusiast Grant Cameron recently wrote Tuned In: The Paranormal World of Music, which highlights the many musicians, particularly in recent decades, who have reported “musical downloads” after tapping into a “non-local consciousness.”

In fact, while reading Malcolm C. Searles’ new book Cherish: The Story of America’s First Folk-Rock Band, about the group The Association, singer Terry Kirkman notes how he felt compelled to write their 1966 smash hit “Cherish” at 11 pm one night. The words and music flowed through him in 37 minutes. Why 37 minutes? As he said in the book, when he was done, The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson was just finishing up his opening monologue and he noted the time. Kirkman seemed to imply he wasn’t sure where the words and music came from, only that he acted as a sort of conduit for the creation of the song, which is one of their most loved tunes.

So, was Robbie Robertson plugged into a similar “source” when he wrote “Up On Cripple Creek,” released 50 years ago this month? It’s hard to say. Only Robertson would know, and it’s not clear if he really knows himself.

A DRUNKARD’S DREAM

I should note that “Up On Cripple Creek” is one of my favorite songs by The Band. While written by Robertson, it is sung by native Arkansan Levon Helm, the amazing drummer of a group Beatle George Harrison called the “best band in the universe.” (The song is featured in The Last Waltz, here).

The timing of the release of “Up On Cripple Creek,” which was late autumn of ’69, was going into the winter and the new year of 1970, when The Band’s song was doing well on the charts. In The Shining, the caretaker Delbert Grady, who would murder his family “in the winter of 1970,” was doing so when “Up On Cripple Creek” was a hit. Also, it is 1970 when Jack and Wendy meet in college and get married, with Wendy giving birth to Danny not long afterward. Meanwhile, Jack, a teacher at a private college in Vermont, is also a writer and playwright and a burgeoning alcoholic.

Now, what of the Robertson/Band link to The Shining (both Kubrick’s film and Stephen King’s novel)?

Wendy, in the novel, is excited when Jack has some “good luck” when some short stories are picked up by Esquire magazine (Esquire, coincidentally, is one of those men's magazines that is on its way out in 2019, as this article recently noted. Out with the old, in with the new seems to be a growing theme these days). Things are looking up early in their marriage. Like Bessie in “Cripple Creek,” Jack loves Wendy and Wendy loves Jack. Like Robertson’s protagonist in “Cripple Creek,” Wendy sends him, mends him, defends him.

That is until his “drunkard’s dream” spins out of control and becomes a nightmare and Danny begins being the target of Jack’s abusive nature. That’s when things get deadly serious in the Torrance household after Jack is fired from his teaching position and he then takes the job at the Overlook Hotel in Colorado (which King based on the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park).

Also in the novel, Jack Torrance makes a reference to Spike Jones, the American musician, bandleader and lyrical satirist. Jones, born in Long Beach, California (where the series Lodge 49 is based - a name based on Thomas Pynchon's novel The Crying of Lot 49. Pynchon is tied into this Shining/LastWaltz mystery, I am convinced). 

And in the fourth verse of “Up On Cripple Creek,” Helm sings the line: “Now me and my mate were back at the shack, we had Spike Jones on the box / She said, ‘I can’t take the way he sings, but I love to hear him talk.

The Colorado setting is of note, as Cripple Creek is a small town – established because of mining there – outside of Colorado Springs, south of Denver and the setting of The Shining, which is a fictionalized area around Estes Park, high in the Rocky Mountains.  (I should note that I felt compelled to listen to John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High album last night, and I wasn’t sure why). There is also a Cripple Creek in Robbie Robertson’s native province of Ontario in Canada, although the actual location of Cripple Creek in the song is not identified. Although a reference to a “mountain” in the first verse points toward Colorado in my book.

Interestingly, November 2019 – where we find ourselves today – is when the events of the 1982 film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, take place. The film is based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? What is synchromystically noteworthy is that the cinematic (sinematic?) version of King’s sequel to The ShiningDoctor Sleep – is coming out this weekend in November 2019!

At the end of Blade Runner, as the credits roll, helicopter shots of the Going-To-The-Sun Road in Montana are shown (Check out my 2013 sync piece "Following the (sun) bear.") This footage was the same helicopter footage – hours and hours worth – that Kubrick had filmed – but not used – for the opening scenes of The Shining. As Ridley Scott said: “I had talked to Stanley a few times. I called him up and said, ‘I know you shot the hell out of wherever it was in The Shining, and I know you’ve got four-and-a-half months of helicopter stuff … Can I have some of it? The next day I had 17 hours of helicopter footage, it was stunning. So the end of the film in Blade Runner, that’s Stanley Kubrick’s footage.”

I am sensing a circle completing somehow. A new phase – on the cusp of a new year and a new decade – is taking place. Recall that the first Thanksgiving (sync The Last Waltz – an era was ending in that film. Everyone knew it) was in 1621. The July 4th Ball at the Overlook Hotel noted in the final scene of The Shining was in 1921 – 300 years! And just two years from now it will be 2021. Something tells me a lot of wild stuff will be happening in our country - and around the world between now and then. Mark my words, dear reader. Changes are coming - fast!

ORDERS FROM THE HOUSE

In any event, in 2015, Kubrick’s production assistant, Jan Harlan, talking about producing The Shining and when asked about Kubrick’s interest in horror films (they did not much interest him), Harlan said, “(Kubrick) though Martin Scorsese was such a daring fellow, to really gon on the edge. He admired people who tried something new and took the risk of falling flat on their face.”

That said, one of the most-discussed opinion pieces to appear in The New York Times in recent weeks was one penned by Scorsese himself, talking about the “art form” of cinema and how the popular-but-weak Marvel films are not cinema. He caught a lot of flack for it, but he nailed it, particularly as he lays out the decisions he had to make regarding his just-released Netflix film The Irishman, for which Robbie Robertson provides the soundtrack.

Recall that Kubrick screened David Lynch's Eraserhead for the cast of The Shining in order to help set the mood he was seeking for the film. What director today is doing that with his cast? The Shining is fucking art. The Last Waltz is fucking art. No getting around it. The plight of the poor and those crushed under the wheels of late capitalism in America are what the great artists of our time are highlighting. Robertson would also say of "Up On Cripple Creek" that it is from the perspective of the guy living in that small farmhouse out in some field. His story being shared with a wider audience. It was that sort of approach that endeared The Band to so many people.

For me, in The Last Waltz, when Richard Manuel is talking about the early incarnation of The Band - when they were called The Hawks, the psychedelic sound was big and silly-named bands like "Chocolate Subway and Marshmallow Overcoat" were of that time in the mid-60's For me, the mention of Marshmallow Overcoat was significant because in 1990 on MTV's 120 Minutes, they had played a video of the Tucson, Arizona band's mid-60's-esque psych-rocker "13 Ghosts" and I was transfixed! I talked about that moment for years afterward (Here's the clip I saw, where host Dave Kendall has no idea why they called themselves "Marshmallow Overcoat"). How many ghosts haunted the Overlook Hotel? Far more than 13, I think. How many in Room 237 alone?

The influence of The Last Waltz, and Scorsese's art is wide. Which brings us to today.

Scorsese's The Irishman is coming out. And his cinematic version of David Grann's book about Osage murders in the 1920's - Killing of The Flower Moon - is also about to begin production in a matter of months here in Oklahoma. Robbie Robertson, once again, will be taking the helm of the musical duties for that film as well. 

I will end my noting that David Grann, who stumbled upon the sad tale of the Osage tribal members who were murdered on Osage land here in Oklahoma primarily between 1921 and 1925, resulting in Killers of the Flower Moon, wrote a previous book about British explorer Col. P.H. Fawcett, who went into the Brazilian rainforest seeking the lost city of "Z." Grann's fascinating book, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, was one I reviewed in January 2017. The above chapter image is from Z, I just happened to open the book to that page and it seemed apropos to use here.

Grann is a cipher ... or something (read Heide Brandes' coverage of Grann's Oklahoma City book signing in May 2017 here). I think Grann's focus on events in the 1920's is noteworthy and important. The year Fawcett disappeared in the jungle - 1925 - was the same year the fledgling FBI got involved in investigating the murders, which would spread into the following decade. 

The cases were never fully solved. I think it ties back to The Shining and the white settlers who forcibly took Native land, even if the indigenous people were murdered to get their land and treasure, all something the U.S. has not fully addressed in all of these years. 

I will have more on this theme in upcoming Dust Devil Dreams. 

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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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