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“For those who look for meaning, in form as they do facts, we might tell you one thing, but we’d only take it back.” (“Ditty Diego- War Chant” from The Monkees’ film HEAD).

Arguably, the best song ever written by the crack, 60's-era songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King is “Porpoise Song (Theme from ‘Head’), as featured in The Monkees’ psychedelic cult masterpiece Head from 1968, a film written and created by The Monkees, Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson.

This beautiful, haunting song, produced by Jack Nitzsche, kicks in after TV’s “Micky” runs down a new bridge (“a magnificent marvel of modern architecture”) that is being dedicated. He is being chased by his “manufactured” pals “Mike,” “Davy” and “Peter” who comprise TV-band The Monkees.

Micky reaches the side of the bridge, looks down, and jumps off, into the water, as the ethereal and bittersweet epic “Porpoise Song” washes over the audience. The other Monkees follow suit, plummeting into the dark water. But is the water a harbor or a swimming pool? Would they cool it or pool it? The year it came out was in 1968, the same year Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was released. Events in that Kubrick film sync with events taking place in 2001, as noted in 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Dec. 9, 2001 is the year Dr. Heywood Floyd files his report on The Discovery Mission to Jupiter. And this week we learn of something on a sea of the Saturnian moon of Titan? "All these worlds are yours ..."

Twenty-three years to the month after Head was released, the Seattle punk-pop band Nirvana had a photo shoot in a North Hollywood swimming pool, shortly after the release of their game-changing album Nevermind.  The album cover, of course, features a naked baby in a pool reaching for a dollar bill on the end of a fish hook. Curiously, at the beginning of Vanilla Sky, when Tom Cruise's character runs through the empty streets of Manhattan and he reaches Times Square, a jumbotron with babies swimming in a pool can be seen behind him,

At the sync blog called The Blog of Caverns, the author featured a post in April called “Vanilla Skies Wide Shut,” analyzing both Vanilla Sky, directed by Cameron Crowe and Eyes Wide Shut, directed by the late Stanley Kubrick. Both films star Tom Cruise.

We will focus on Vanilla Sky, because it features “Porpoise Song” fairly prominently (I recall it being used in the trailer), 10 years after the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind, a breakthrough album with themes of alienation, relationships and drug use, among other topics.

Crowe, of course, was instrumental in popularizing Seattle’s grunge scene in the early 1990’s with his film Singles. In fact, there is a shocking car-crash scene (and another near crash) that resonates with the car crash in Singles where Kyra Sedgwick’s character loses her unborn baby.

And so it comes as no surprise to hear a reference to Kurt Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, in the early part of the film (see Courtney Love at the premiere of Vanilla Sky here) and to see a poster on the wall of Courtney Love.

Released in the months after the 9/11 terror attacks and less than two months after Donnie Darko, Vanilla Sky is, a multi-layered puzzle project, as noted by director Crowe.

“We constructed the movie, visually and story-wise, to reveal more and more the closer you look at it. As deep as you want to go with it, my desire was for the movie to meet you there.”

As noted by The Blog of Caverns, Crowe also embraced a “Paul is Dead” like “parlor game” where people can search for clues in Vanilla Sky, noting, “(T)he excitement of different layers, some of them chilling, some of them really funny.”

Interesting that in the opening sequence of Vanilla Sky, Crowe focuses on The Dakota building, where Cruise’s character David Aames lives. This was where John Lennon lived (and where he was assassinated on Dec. 8, 1980 – significant things happen to David Aames on Dec. 8, 2001). As for Paul McCartney, he wrote the theme song to Vanilla Sky

In both Head and Vanilla Sky, we are not sure what is real and what is a dream. How we are being manipulated. What is the value – if any – of fame and fortune. Just as Tom Cruise was the face of Hollywood – the face of America, that face was disfigured in the autumn of 2001 in Vanilla Sky. Hideous. The face of America became a contorted, twisted nightmare. Dwell upon that as one watches David rise to the top of a tower – expecting to fly, perhaps? – only to jump off and ultimately wake up. Did America ultimately wake up from its dream state in 2001? And there are the Twin Towers in the distance ... 

Back in 1968, as Vietnam worsened and the insanity of arguably being the biggest music stars in the world for a 24-month stretch – took its toll – the Monkees and others decided to create the brilliant Head. Particularly with “Porpoise Song” tying the two films together – 33 years apart (in Vanilla Sky, David Aames is born in Sept. 1968  - construction of the North Tower of the World Trade Center began in August 1968) – with death scenes (the Monkees jumping off a bridge and David murdering (?) Julie (Cameron Diaz) while having sex).

As we recently noted, Cameron Diaz starred in Richard Kelly’s The Box. In Head, Mike, Micky, Davy and Peter find themselves literally in a box. David Aames, in Vanilla Sky, appears trapped in a dreamworld that is rapidly turning into a nightmare …

In the six years since I reviewed Head (on the 40th anniversary of its original release), I’ve come to peel away even more layers from this cinematic onion. Some of them chilling, some of them really funny …

Davy Jones (who died in 2012) was a friend of actor Kurt Russell. Russell appears in Vanilla Sky as Dr. McCabe interviews a masked David Aames, while a copy of Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections sits on the table between them. In 1980, as Blog of Caverns appropriately notes (and we have noted previously), a copy of the then-unreleased Jung magnum opus The Red Book appears on Stuart Ullman’s desk as Jack Nicholson’s character Jack Torrance is being interviewed at the haunted Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

The haunted Rave/Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was one of the last places Buddy Holly performed before his death in February 1959 – the day the music died. As notes, a “reported ghost” haunts the empty swimming pool in the ballrooms basement. Swimming pool aficionados Nirvana were known to play at this haunted establishment.

Changing channels on Head, we find ourselves … watching The Black Cat?

Sounds like a lot of supernatural baloney to me,” says Peter (David Manners).

Supernatural, perhaps – baloney, perhaps not!” replies Dr. Werdegast (Bela Lugosi).

Jung, some have said, would have analyzed Kurt Cobain and said he was “ahead of his time” and in touch with a source of superior wisdom, the collective unconscious. He loved the Beatles and the Monkees. He inscribed the Monkees famous guitar logo on the back of his guitar, alongside a picture of the actors from The Mod Squad. He loved Buddy Holly. Note the “In Bloom” video. You sense he knows his time is short.

And he also loved Neil Young. As we now know, Cobain closed out his suicide note to Courtney and daughter France Bean by quoting Young “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” That same year, Young and Crazy Horse would release a song called “Sleeps With Angels.”

And the best song Young ever recorded (in my opinion) was the song he recorded for Buffalo Springfield in 1967 (the year of Kurt Cobain’s birth) called “Expecting to Fly.” And just as that surreal, ethereal Jack Nitzsche-produced song was used during a love scene between Jon Voight and Jane Fonda in 1978’s Coming Home. Love and death. Themes that seem to intertwine in "Expecting to Fly," "Porpoise Song" and the themes of these films and celebrities.

Did The Monkees try to commit suicide in Head? What about David Aames in Vanilla Sky? We know Kurt Cobain sadly embraced the suicide solution. And now a new pop star, Lana Del Rey, is saying she wishes she were dead, according to The Guardian. Ironically, it took Kurt Cobain's daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, to take to Twitter and talk Lana off that dangerous ledge ... 

“Porpoise Song” co-writer Gerry Goffin died this past week and much attention has been placed on him and his songwriting partner, Carole King, who is still with us.  

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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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