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Returning to earth

Miramax Films
Johnny Depp's William Blake returns to the earth in "Dead Man."
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- In the 2007 biopic of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, Control, at the end of the film, the doomed English New Wave singer is struggling – with his health (epilepsy), his marriage and increasing apprehension about being in a band on the cusp of breaking big in America – and, before committing suicide by hanging, puts a record on the turntable – Iggy Pop’s 1977 solo LP The Idiot. When his wife found his body, The Idiot was still spinning …

The first track on The Idiot, the Oedipal, dreamy “Sister Midnight,” (co-written by David Bowie and Carlos Alomar), Iggy Pop sings: “Calling sister midnight / You know, I had a dream last night / Mother was in my bed / and I made love to her / Father, he gunned for me / Hunted me with his six gun / Calling sister midnight, what can I do about my dreams?”

Indeed. Interestingly, the title of Iggy Pop’s album was inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Russian novel The Idiot, where a nobleman, Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin, is returning to Russia after four years in a Swiss clinic where he was being treated for epilepsy and alleged “intellectual deficiencies” (idiocy).

One wonders if Ian Curtis understood that Iggy (Jim Osterberg), producer Tony Visconti and Bowie all loved Dostoyevsky’s grim novel, which had a black-and-white cover – as did Iggy Pop’s The Idiot

… as was Anton Corbijn’s film Control – all black-and-white. Adds to the dreamlike qualities ... (note the Bowie-inspired "We live inside a dream ...") you know? And echoes with The Man Who Fell to Earth, a film that also featured Norman, Okla.-born actress Candy Clark. Watch for those names later in this Dust Devil Dream. Note it here with Talking Heads' "Once In a Lifetime" mashup with scenes from that unique film.

Writes Peter Hook (Curtis’s bass-playing bandmate in Joy Division) in the book Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division: After getting into a fight with his wife Debbie, and asking her to leave the house: “(H)e listened to The Idiot by Iggy Pop on repeat, drank more coffee and spirits, then wrote a long letter to Debbie, in which he said that he wished he was dead but made no mention of any intention to kill himself.”

In the film, at the end, the camera focuses on a large, imposing building with smoke coming out of smokestacks. This is where Ian Curtis was cremated. Oh, and the date of his death? May 18, 1980, the same day Mt. St. Helen’s erupted in southwestern Washington state, killing 57 people, including irascible innkeeper Harry R. Truman, the man who inspired Twin Peaks’ David Lynch to name the sheriff of Twin Peaks, Washington – Harry S. Truman, like the 33rd president.

At the inquest following Curtis’s death, Hook writes that Debbie’s father explained that his son-in-law “was on another plane.” And Hook wonders what really led him to commit suicide, suggesting that when Debbie gave away his beloved dog “Candy” (named after the Velvet Underground song “Candy Says” – about Candy Darling, a trans woman who starred in Andy Warhol’s film and was a muse for the Velvet Underground), that that took an emotional toll on him before his death.

Ten years after Curtis’s death, in 1990, Iggy Pop released a single called “Candy,” which featured a co-vocal with The B-52’s singer Kate Pierson. While Pop says it was about his teenage girlfriend Betsy, some say it’s about a prostitute.

Which brings us to another black-and-white film – Jim Jarmusch’s fantastic psychedelic western Dead Man, starring Johnny Depp as – William Blake!

When we find William “Bill” Blake, he is on a train, heading west. He is coming from Cleveland, Ohio, a city that in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is said to be the location of a “Hellmouth” where there is a “lot of demonic activity.”

Regardless, Blake is coming west, to the frontier town of Machine, to work at Dickinson Metal Works, or so he thinks.

While aboard the locomotive, Blake seems nervous. He scans the faces around him, getting rougher with each passing mile into the wilderness.

When the locomotive’s fireman, a soot-covered Crispin Glover (“George McFly” in Back to the Future) is baffled as to why Blake would go to Machine, where he's likely “to find your own grave.”

“That doesn’t explain why you’ve come all the way out here … all the way out here to Hell!” the Fireman (or is that “ferryman”? Charon, perhaps? Carrying a soul across the River Styx?)

Is William Blake (perhaps the reincarnation of the English and poet and mystic?) already dead and this train to hell is taking him on that final journey ..

Writes G. Smalley at about Dead Man: “That journey from corrupting complexity into peaceful simplicity is the basic structure of Blake’s voyage, and it obviously suggests a spiritual journey. The title suggests that the trip is a postmortem one.”

Continuing, the writer says that when Blake leaves Machine - on the run from bounty hunters after he kills the son of the metal works owner in self-defense – “Blake’s entire journey from machin to the ocean could be seen as the voyage of a dead soul from the gates of Hell through Purgatory to Paradise.”

Once in Machine, as we noted, he kills the factory owner’s son (a satanic mill, Mr. Blake?) after he shoots Thel, a former prostitute who now sells paper flowers (cue “Candy”). Later, while on the run from the bounty hunters, including a cannibalistic monster who raped his parents (a bit of Iggy Pop’s “Sister Midnight”?) named “Wilson” (Lance Henriksen), Blake (and his Native American companion “Nobody” (Gary Farmer) comes across three men sitting around a campfire – including a cross-dressing Bible-reading fur trader named Salvatore “Sally” Jenko – played by none other than Iggy Pop!

As Billy Bob Thornton’s character “Big George” says: “Well Sally, I don’t give a pig’s ass what anybody says, I still say you make a helluva pot of beans.” I sense this is a wink to Mel Brooks and the “farting scene” in Blazing Saddles.

The trio will meet their fate, as will the three bounty hunters tracking Blake through the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, likely not far from the timber country around Twin Peaks and Mt. St. Helen’s. Interestingly, the summit of Mt. St. Helen’s – before the bowels of Hell blew through the opening – was owned by the Burlington Northern Railroad, curiously enough. Again, with the train/Hell metaphor.

Which takes us to Back to the Future. A few days ago, on the Kitchen Sink Facebook group, I posted my Dust Devil Dreams piece “Lattice of Coincidence.” It got me to talk about a theory regarding the idea that a second Marty McFly can be scene behind Doc Brown in the Twin Pines Mall (sync “Twin”) as he is shot by Libyan terrorists.

Jeremy Knight, meanwhile, writes that as Marty drives the DeLorean time machine to 88 mph, and goes through time to 1955 and crashes into a barn, the son of the “farmer” Otis Peabody is reading a book about “Space Zombies from Pluto.” Knight writes: “Pluto is the god of the underworld (sync Crispin Glover’s “Charon”-esque fireman in Dead Man), and that would make Marty a zombie, or the living-dead, walking around in Hell, oops, I mean Hill Valley.”

This got me to thinking about the photograph Marty shows Doc in 1955, that of he and his brother and sister. He brother is being erased, slowly, disappearing from existence, due to Marty’s engagement in time travel, and altering the space-time continuum. But did you notice what they are posing next to? A well! Or, perhaps an entrance to the underworld?

Last July, I posted a piece titled “From the bottom of the well.” In it, I note the portion of Terry Gilliam’s film 12 Monkeys where a boy named “Ricky Newman” has the country captivated because he fell into a well –only “Cole” tells the female doctor in 1996 that Ricky Newman is actually “hiding in a barn” and that it’s all a hoax.

Where did Marty McFly crash the DeLorean in the first Back to the Future? Into a barn – syncing with the farmer’s son (named "Sherman Peabody" - a wink to Mr. Peabody and Sherman and their travels through time) and that book about spacemen from the underworld – errr … Pluto.

Marty’s father, George McFly (Crispin Glover), is, in 1955, a burgeoning sci-fi writer (George's novel A Match Made in Space would become a hit - later), obsessed with flying saucers and extraterrestrials. He’s misunderstood and bullied. And when Marty comes up with the idea of playing a tape of an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo over his Walkman, while wearing a spaceman-esque radiation suit, things start coming together.

I’ll finish with this. Recall that I noted the Hellmouth in Cleveland? Well, Crispin Glover appears in an offbeat 1989 comedy called Twister (no, not that Twister), about an eccentric family called Cleveland, led by patriarch Eugene (Harry Dean Stanton, who appears in Repo Man - recall "Lattice of Coincidence" - and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me) Tim Robbins (who was in the Camus-tinged, surreal horror film Jacob’s Ladder in ’90) and … William S. Burroughs!

In a Guardian article from 2008 about Ian Curtis and his literary influences, a friend notes that when they got together, Curtis talked “Burroughs, Burroughs, Burroughs.”

Coincidentally, in the aforementioned "Lattice of Coincidence" post, I note actor Tracey Walter's philosopher mechanic character Miller, who talks to Emilio Estevez's "Otto" about the popularity of books touching upon subjects like Bermuda Triangles, UFOs, and "how the Mayans invented television ..." Miller also says he thinks flying saucers and time machines are the same thing.

Well, in Burroughs' controversial 1961 novel The Soft Machine (the Turks hated it), there is a sense of utter, disjointed insanity taking place amongst maize and Mayans and mind control and time travel

And it was Burroughs who triggered the idea of the "23 enigma," something I addressed in "23 skidoo." It was when Burroughs was in Tangier and met a ship captain named "Clark" - a "ferryman" - who bragged about avoiding accidents for 23 years, but that day Burroughs heard him say this, Clark had an accident and all were lost, including the boastful captain. The same day, the radio reported that a Flight 23 had crashed - piloted by a man named Clark. The 23 enigma was born and Robert Anton Wilson and the Principia Discordia and others took note. As did the industrial band Throbbing Gristle, interestingly enough, who wrote a song called "The Old Man Smiled," all about Captain Clark and the 23-related disaster recalled by Burroughs. Ironically enough, it was Genesis P-Orridge, of Throbbing Gristle, who insisted the Ian Curtis told her that he would "rather die" than go on tour in America, something Peter Hook and the other Joy Division bandmates dismissed. No, they said, he was excited about the upcoming tour.

Oh, and the age of Ian Curtis when he died as Mt. St. Helen's exploded half-a-world-away? 23

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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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