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Sirens (the tide is high)

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
"Sirens at Midnight" by Molly O'Connor
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Nineteen seventy-five came up just yesterday, as I watched the Spalding Gray monologue film Swimming to Cambodia, and Gray riffs on his experiences in Thailand in 1983 while filming the Academy Award-winning film The Killing Fields, and talking about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge as they took over the country with their mix of Mao and Rousseau in 1975.

For some reason, I’ve been on a Spalding Gray kick. I had seen Swimming to Cambodia years ago and thoroughly enjoyed his engaging, minimalistic storytelling style.

In Swimming to Cambodia, Spalding Gray seems to experience the Cambodian crisis (and horror - "the horror")  through the art of film, or so suggests director Jonathan Demme in the director's commentary.

A native of “The Ocean State” Rhode Island, Gray had lived in New York for years, although in the 1960’s he spent time at Esalen in Big Sur, California, giving lectures and likely meeting many luminaries of the then-burgeoning New Age and human potential movements. It was at Esalen that Mad Men’s Don Draper ends up in the final scene of the series.

Gray reportedly committed suicide in 2004. It was three years earlier, in 2001, when Gray was involved in a serious car accident in Ireland, and incurring a terrible head injury – profound frontal-lobe damage.

And for a few months Gray did well, according to an April 2015 article in The New Yorker, "The Catastrophe," giving a well-received performance, followed by another, in Seattle, Washington.

Reports Oliver Sacks at The New Yorker: “Over Labor Day weekend of 2001, five weeks after his brain surgery, and still on crutches, Spalding gave two performances to huge audiences in Seattle. He was in excellent form.

Then, a week later, there was a sudden, profound change in his mental state, and Spalding fell into a deep, even psychotic, depression.”

Apparently the self-described neurotic WASP (check out his astrological chart) was obsessed with moving out of a house that was causing him great distress on September 11, 2001. It was on this day that Sacks says Gray fell into an “evil” depression and didn’t “register” the attacks on the World Trade Center that day.

And yet, if you go to SpaldingGray.com, a website dedicated to Gray’s work, the website logo features a silhouette of the Manhattan skyline prominently featuring the Twin Towers just above the “S,” “P” and “A” in the name “Spalding.”

One of my favorite Spalding Gray scenes was the one in the 1994 Ron Howard film The Paper where he plays the managing editor of a New York Times-esque newspaper called The New York Sentinel, trying to lure tabloid editor Henry Hackett (Batman/Birdman Michael Keaton) to his paper. The World Trade Center makes an appearance in this film, incidentally.

Gray confided with Sacks saying that his “suicidal fantasies” involved drowning, as Gray learned his mental health was deteriorating in the wake of his accident.

What is interesting is that in Swimming to Cambodia, he relays an experience he had after filming of The Killing Fields concluded and a bunch of actors and crew went to Phuket to enjoy the beach.

His gripping account of following a “man’s man” from South Africa into the “high surf” and passing him, going further out in the water – despite his obvious fears of water and swimming – is syncy and, well, tragic. He seemed to know his life would end in water.

But as Oliver Sacks writes in his recent piece on Gray in The New Yorker, when he asked Gray why his preferred method of suicide was drowning, Gray responds: “Returning to the sea, our mother.

The water theme – transitioning from the Age of Pisces into the Age of Aquarius – comes up again in Spalding Gray’s life.

Continues Sacks: "On January 10, 2004, Spalding took his children to a movie. It was Tim Burton’s Big Fish, in which a dying father passes his fantastical stories on to his son before returning to the river, where he dies—and perhaps is reincarnated as his true self, a fish, making one of his tall tales come true.

That evening, Spalding left home, saying he was going to meet a friend. He did not leave a suicide note, as he had so often before. When inquiries were made, one man said he had seen him board the Staten Island Ferry.

Two months later, Spalding’s body was washed up by the East River. He had always wanted his suicide to be high drama, but in the end he said nothing to anyone; he simply disappeared from sight and silently returned to the sea, his mother."

THREE

Originally, the following information was not included in this Dust Devil Dreams piece. But synchronicity being what it is, well, I had to include it. 

As some of you may have noticed a few weeks back, Red Dirt Report featured an interview and feature on local artist Molly O'Connor, whose new exhibit at The Project Box is Relics from the Akashic Prairie.

I missed the opening of the exhibit. I was anxious to see it, though, since O'Connor was incorporating sync into her artwork. 

So, over the weekend, I was running errands and happened to be driving past the Paseo District. I thought, 'Maybe The Project Box is open and I can check out O'Connor's Akashic Prairie exhibit.'

Sure enough, the Box was open and the door was literally open and a parking space was directly in front of the gallery. It's as if the universe was my valet at that moment. And chatting for a few moments with curator and owner Lisa Allswede, the first piece I look at is titled "Sirens at Midnight." 

This, of course, was syncing with the "Sirens" piece I was already working on here at Dust Devil Dreams. The "siren," of course, were dangerous yet beautiful creatures, who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island, as noted both in Greek and Roman mythology and noted in Homer's Odyssey. There were normally "three" sirens, although sometimes two and sometimes as many as five. We'll stick with three. After all, O'Connor features three mouths in her Sirens at Midnight and Carl Jung, father of synchronicity, outlined three types of synchronicity:

  1. The coinciding of a thought or feeling with an outside event
  2. A dream, a vision, or a premonition of something that happens in the future
  3. A dream or vision that coincides with an event occurring at a distance

WATERS

Some of my most intense dreams involve water. They have for years. Some of my earliest memories are of being a child growing up near Rock Creek in suburban Washington, D.C. I have long had mixed feelings about water and the ocean. Drawn to it and repelled. I love the desert environment and arid climates, increasingly so as I age. I am drawn to the desert and wide-open spaces, as artist Molly O'Connor notes in her interview with me, in her case talking about the prairies of Oklahoma and Kansas. 

And while we're remembering 1975, I want to say that was the year, as a three-year old, I had my first UFO experience. 

It was also the year that singer-songwriter Tim Buckley died. By far his best song (and likely best-known song) is "Song to the Siren," which was featured on the March 25, 1968 episode - the final episode - of The Monkees called "Mijacogeo ("The Frodis Caper"). The episode is about Mike, Micky and Davy trying to find Peter, who has been put under a spell by the evil Wizard Glick and is using mind control methods via television to control the masses. The episode opens up with the sun rising and The Beatles' "Good Morning, Good Morning," from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band playing on a turntable and waking up the group - only to find Peter missing.

On that same day, the 37th nuclear weapons test, as part of Operation Crosstie (the test on 3/25/68 was called "Milk Shake") was conducted at the Nevada Test Site. Peter Tork of The Monkees would later record a song called "Milkshake." A weird song, for sure.

Anyway, at the end of the utterly psychedelic episode, the band gets the alien "Frodis" to spray its ever-loving goodness and doobie smoke on Wizard Glick and his henchmen. Says Glick in a drug-induced haze: "I don't want to fight anymore. I just want to lay down on the grass and be cool.

And then Micky Dolenz introduces Tim Buckley, who comes on with the stunning and utterly beautiful and haunting "Song to the Siren." A song I investigated in a December 2013 DDD post "I think we lost Buckley." And was linked in a remarkable sync piecce at The Nightshirt titled "Trauma displaced in time: Premonition, synchronicity and enjoyment." It's lengthy and notes how Tim's son, rising singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, involved with Elizabeth Fraser of dream-pop band Cocteau Twins who had covered "Song to the Siren" - a song that led Buckley to seek out Fraser and begin their relationship. The siren's call. Luring sailors and scuppering ships.

As father Tim Buckley sang: "I am puzzled as the newborn child / I am riddled as the tide / Should I stand amid the breakers? / Should I lie with Death my bride? / Hear me sing, "Swim to me, Swim to me, Let me enfold you: / Here I am, Here I am, Waiting to hold you"

And what became of Jeff Buckley? In 1997, having left New York, arrived in Memphis, Tennessee to record a new album. When it came time for the band to arrive and begin recording with Jeff, Tim's son decided to take a dip in the Wolf River Harbor (in view of the Pyramid) and drowned in that slack water channel of the Mississippi River. A passing tugboat created a wake and, with Jeff wearing boots and clothes in the water, he slipped beneath the murky water. Perhaps he sensed the end would be like. Relax. Float downstream.

As Wargo at The Nightshirt writes: "A skeptic willing to minimally accept that Buckley’s drowning was more than coincidence but that there was nothing paranormal occurring could go the halfway-house psychoanalytic route, offering that Fraser’s siren obsession infected Buckley’s unconscious mind and gave specific form (drowning) to an unconscious death wish, perhaps somehow to follow his father to an early grave. Less boldly, you could also suggest her obsession with water spilled over (so to speak) onto Buckley and simply increased his statistical likelihood (a) of taking spontaneous swims and (b) of perishing in the water."

It seems as though both Spalding Gray and Jeff Buckley knew, perhaps subconciously, that water would loom large in their lives. It seems to be the case, in retrospect. Returning to the sea, their mother.

But beware the warning signs, traveler. Beware of sirens.

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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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