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Rudderless in my so-called dream (all of these things sank)

Artwork by Evan Dando / Photo by Andrew W. Griffin
Was that a ghost or a dream?
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Short-lived but considered a cult classic, at least as far as angst-ridden, well-written 1990’s young adult dramas go, My So-Called Life (1994-1995) may not have been around for very long but it has had a lasting impact on latter-day Gen X’ers who either identified with Angela Chase (Claire Danes) or any of her friends.

Choosing completely at random the episode “Guns and Gossip,” directed by Marshall Herskovitz, it’s not hard to see that the teenaged frustration and uncertainty can lead to great highs and deep lows.

Angela: “You know what I’d really like? To be put out of my misery.”

Rayanne: “Are you kidding? This is fun.”

Angela: “Fun?”

Rayanne: “Everyone runnin’ around all upset, rumors flying. Can’t you feel it in your fingers and in your toes? It’s like being alive. Man it’s such a rush.”

Rumors. A rush. Doom. Paranoia. It could describe what is going on in 2013 America, with our debt ceilings, ineffectual branches of government and a time when people have access to so much and seem to know so little.

Thirty years ago, the creators of My So-Called Life – Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, also of thirtysomething fame and Bedford Falls Productions – created a TV “mockumentary” – Special Bulletin - about terrorists smuggling a 10-kiloton nuclear warhead into Charleston Harbor in South Carolina.

We wrote about this scenario on September 6, 2013 in an RDR post called “Graham’s ‘nuke-in-Charleston-harbor’ scenario echoes ’83 mockumentary,” syncing with fearmongering statements made by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham about the alleged threat Iran poses to the U.S.

 The image we used to accompany this story was one of Peter Sellers as “Dr. Strangelove” in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Syncing with that was a story I saw earlier today that I meant to post, from Dangerous Minds headlined: “Stanley Kubrick wanted Terry Gilliam to direct a sequel to ‘Dr. Strangelove.’”

As Dangerous Minds writer Ron Kretsch (kretch?) notes gleefully: “Just imagine the psycho-in-toyland wonders of an underground bunker for post-apocalypse elites as conceived by the deliriously inventive mind behind The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. It’s sad that we’ll likely never know.

Four days before I posted the piece about the Charleston nuke scenario (which is being discussed in earnest at a number of conspiracy sites to this very day – and we first heard about it a few years back) Director Terry Gilliam talks to The Guardian about the third film in his dystopian satire film series, The Zero Theorem, (the other two being Brazil and Twelve Monkeys).

“The film seems to resonate particularly with young people, who are connected to the Internet … to the extent (that) it can become totally consuming,” Gilliam tells The Guardian.

Nearly 20 years earlier, in the “Guns and Gossip” episode, Angela is sitting in history class (as the opening credits roll) and watching the inauguration speech given by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. In the voiceover, Angela laments that adults like to tell younger people where they were when President Kennedy was shot.

“Which makes me almost jealous. Like I should have something important enough to know where I was when it happened. But I don’t yet …”

Angela then thinks about how people in the early 1960’s knew what they wanted to do and how to make the world better – look at Camelot and the youthful idealism Kennedy brought to America. And now, in early Clinton-era 1990’s, America already seemed rudderless and far removed from those halcyon days.

The song “Rudderless” by The Lemonheads is featured on 1992’s It’s A Shame About Ray. The song has a certain knowing sadness about it. “Tired of getting high / Guess I don’t wanna die / Hope in my past …”

“Now, nobody knows anything,” Angela says glumly, as JFK’s voice echoes in the darkened classroom.

At that moment, the camera focuses on the TV, where Kennedy says famously and for all time … “Ask what you can do for your country.”

After offering his first-hand, eyewitness 9/11 conspiracy theory to New York magazine in 2010, Dando concludes the interview, saying: “I’m worried about our country. But then again I’ve been worried about America my entire life.”

When Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto) is approached by Rayanne, asking about whether he had sex with Angela, Jordan asks “What is truth?”

Leto would play the role of John Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman in the 2007 film Chapter 27. Chapman, who thought he was Holden Caulfield in the flesh, exposing “phonies,” had asserted that he was fulfilling the unwritten 27th chapter of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. In Dear Angela: Remembering My So-Called Life, it is noted that reviewers of MSCL “alluded to (the show’s) Salingeresque nature,” how through Angela, “the spirit of Holden Caulfield lives on” and that Angela was “a kind of Holden Caulfield in Doc Martens.”

And like Holden, Angela Chase has a “noble yet naïve desire to protect the innocents of the world.”  Holden wanted to be the “catcher in the rye,” catching children who may accidentally go over a cliff. Says Holden in the novel: “I mean, if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”

Angela is the angel. As noted in the “So-Called Angels” episode, featuring the angelic, homeless, guitar-playing waif, as performed by Juliana Hatfield,  Angela wants to help her gay friend Rickie, agonizing over how to help (catch) him. Angela’s friend Rayanne says: “You can’t, like, be responsible for the whole world.”

The book’s contributor, Barbara Bell, notes that Angela “is much of Holden Caulfield reincarnated.”

Back in the “Guns and Gossip” episode, Angela sees two girls whispering in the hall and police are checking out the locker where the shot from the gun entered. The paranoia is growing in the episode.

A noted drug user and the writer of “My Drug Buddy, “ Evan Dando, whose song with The Lemonheads, called “Dawn Can’t Decide,” is featured on the My So-Called Life soundtrack, would release the vaguely disturbing-yet melodic album in 1996 called Car Button Cloth, with songs like “Losing Your Mind,” “Hospital,” “Break Me” and “Something’s Missing.” Beneath the alt-rock dude outer shell is someone who seems older and more beaten down by life than you would think And it comes through in the lyrics, while many songs have a sunshine-y exterior. It is as if a great weight was on Dando's shoulders. One senses that from The Beatles, when they were all alive, particularly John Lennon and Paul McCartney. 

Other  alt-rock, Gen X tunes on this '94 soundtrack, like “Genetic” by Sonic Youth, “Soda Jerk” by Buffalo Tom, and “Fountain & Fairfax” by The Afghan Whigs are also there, cementing it in a particular time and place.

But for me, two songs, however, stand out: “Drop a Bomb” by Madder Rose and “South Carolina” by Archers of Loaf.  Those MSCL soundtrack song titles sync with Herskovitz and Zwick’s Special Bulletin and Lindsey Graham’s bizarre utterances about a nuke possibly going off in the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina, near Fort Sumter, where the American Civil War began.

Not featured on the soundtrack but in this “Guns and Gossip” episode is the late ’93 hit by The Cranberries called “Dreams,” which syncs with a discussion I was just having about the independent film Sound of My Voice about a woman from the future, who comes back to early 21st century Los Angeles and leads a cult. When asked by a cult member to sing a song from her time, in 2054, she begins singing the lyrics to “Dreams.” This is a turning point in the film because when the time traveler starts singing a song that was popular decades before she was born, they start to lose faith. A song about “dreams,” no less …

Interestingly, in my research on the “Guns and Gossip” episode, there is a scene where Angela is cranking up “Dreams” in her bedroom and a writer who analyzed the episode wrote back in 2008: “Incidentally, if sometime in the future your grandchildren ever ask you what 1994 was like, you can just show them that scene. It’s so 1994, that if it wasn’t actually made in the mid-90’s, I would think it was trying too hard to be mid-90’s.”

During the scene where “Dreams” plays in Angela’s room, her mother awkwardly comes in to have a “sex talk.” She flips through a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Which takes us to present day and Angela – Claire Danes – is now on the Showtime show Homeland as troubled CIA analyst Carrie Mathison, an angel, sent by the government, to save innocents.

After all, Mathison (Danes) is racked with guilt that she “missed something” on 9/11 that could have prevented the tragedies. Perhaps an earlier incarnation of a government official felt the same way, knowing they could have prevented President Kennedy’s death in Dallas.

Again, in the “Guns and Gossip” episode, as Angela’s high school class wraps up watching JFK, a gunshot startles the school … as Angela is learning that a note is being passed around rumoring that Angela had sex with dreamy rebel Jordan Catalano.

Syncing back to President Kennedy and Dr. Strangelove, of course Kennedy was president when Kubrick made that film and the first test screening of Dr. Strangelove was November 22, 1963, the day Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

As Wikipedia notes: “The film was just weeks from its scheduled premiere, but because of the assassination the release was delayed until late January 1964, as it was felt that the public was in no mood for such a film any sooner.” That same month, Meet the Beatles was released.

That syncs with the Niagara Falls-set Route 66  episode “I’m Here To Kill A King” episode that Twilight Language’s Loren Coleman noted last year and one that syncs with your humble reporter’s godmother. In that episode of Route 66, it was scheduled to be aired the week of JFK’s assassination and, because of what happened wouldn’t air until much later.

Back to Dr. Strangelove and the Kennedy assassination: “One line by Slim Pickens – ‘a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that stuff – was dubbed to change ‘Dallas’ to ‘Vegas,’ since Dallas was the city where Kennedy was killed.”

Interestingly, Las Vegas is a city that Matthew Broderick’s character chooses as a target city for thermonuclear annihilation in 1983’s War Games, the same year Herskovitz and Zwick released Special Bulletin, where Charleston was a target. Las Vegas is at 36 degree north, 115 degrees west. Charleston, S.C. is at 32 degrees north and 79 degrees west. And Dallas?  It is located at 32 degrees north, 96 degrees west.

When Mark David Chapman shot the former Beatle in front of New York’s infamous Dakota building, doorman Jose Pedermo asked him, “Do you know what you just did?

The Catcher in the Rye-obsessed man looks bewildered and replies "I just shot John Lennon."

In The Lennon Prophecy, where the author Joseph Niezgoda posits that Lennon sold his soul to the devil for fame and fortune, goes into great detail about Chapman's life as well and how the Georgia man first learned of The Beatles via Meet the Beatles album, a gift from his father. Around this time was when Chapman was visited by "little people" in his room ...

And back to Dr. Strangelove, it should be noted that a pie fight in the “war room” the president takes a pie to the face and General Turgidson (George C. Scott) exclaims: “Gentleman Our gallant young president has been struck down in his prime!”

Kubrick ultimately cut the pie fight scene, saying it was “not consistent with the rest of the film.”

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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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