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You're the man

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Back in October  2015, I wrote a review of a film about controversial aspects of the April 5, 1994 death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. The film was Soaked In Bleach.

In my opening paragraph, I noted that when I heard the news of Cobain’s death, on April 8, 1994 (25 years ago today) reported as a “suicide-by-gun,” I was “sitting in the drive-thru lane of a Checkers Drive-In burger joint in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the hometown of both President Gerald Ford (who ascended to the presidency when President Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974) and The X-Files actor Gillian Anderson, who was noted as somewhat of a punk rocker and juvenile delinquent.  Just seven months earlier, I began watching The X-Files as it premiered. I was hooked on Mulder and Scully from there on out. (Ford was in the news this past week, after some "skateboarders" vandalized Gerald and Betty Ford's gravesite in Grand Rapids). 

So, as the news was shared on local alternative “Underground Radio,” my friend Erik, who was driving a little Honda at the time, was equally stunned by the news. We sat in our seats, letting the news of Cobain’s death at 27 wash over us before ordering our fast food and then eating in silence on that mild spring day.

In fact, it was a weird spring all around. About a month earlier, UFOs were flying all over western Michigan and being seen by many folks. My friend Erik and I also saw a UFO while driving between Holland and Grand Rapids, late at night. A young woman with us, “Becky,” was notably wearing a Nirvana T-shirt when we saw the strange, aerial craft that looked like a pink-colored egg. Kurt Cobain would die on April 5, 1994, just two days after Easter that year.

That name “Becky” has been coming up a lot. Two years before Cobain’s death, in 1992, I was briefly in a college band called “The Beckies.” And now, that name has come up again in connection with Lori Loughlin, “Aunt Becky” on Full House and Fuller House (and now without a job and facing jail time) is making headlines in connection with the college admissions bribery scandal.

But recall that as the news of Cobain’s death was still sinking in, hitting GenX-ers the hardest, the former president who nearly tore the country apart while many GenX-ers were little kids (Mom would watch the Watergate hearings on a little black-and-white TV while I was in a baby carrier nearby), Richard Milhous Nixon, would die on April 22, 1994, some 17 days after Cobain’s passing.

Nixon, eh? The “monstrous Mr. Hyde” (to quote the late Hunter S. Thompson, who also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2005, we are told) never seems to go away. And yet he, too, has been dead for a quarter-century.

But Tricky Dick is too ingrained with late 20th century popular culture, just as current “president” Donald Trump is. When I think about where I was when I heard about Cobain’s death – a “Checker’s” drive-in restaurant, it has a more synchromystical quality in retrospect. Why? Because Nixon made his first media splash with his 1952 "Checkers" speech. Nixon was said to be emotionally manipulative in the speech, defending his use of campaign funds and his acceptance of a dog named Checkers, given to the Nixon children. Checkers would lead to chess and many seen as "pawns" in his game. But that was still years in the future. 

NEVERMIND?

Back in November 2017, ex-Marilyn Manson keyboardist Madonna Wayne Gacy shocked the social media world when he said Cobain should “burn in Hell” for allegedly ripping off both Blue Öyster Cult’s “Godzilla” (for “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) and, more obviously, Killing Joke’s song “Eighties” (for “Come As You Are,” that latter song featuring the line “soaked in bleach”). What is weird is that Gacy also criticized Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and Linkin Park's Chester Bennington for death by suicide. 

Well, everything comes with a  fucking price, NME reported Gacy allegedly saying. “And if you can’t handle the rock world, and the depression or drugs or whatever, don’t get into it to start.”

I thought of that fact the other day when I came upon a used vinyl copy of Killing Joke’s 1986 album Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, an underrated album that features two standout songs – “Adorations” and “Chessboards,” the latter song appearing in the surfer film North Shore, the following year. Curiously, in 2010, Linkin Park released an album titled A Thousand Suns, a reference (like Killing Joke) to Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoting the Bhagavad-Gita, after witnessing the successful atomic bomb test at the Trinity Site in New Mexico on July 16, 1945. (I note that Linkin Park album and more in my Aug. 9, 2017 post "Cornfed rubes." Bennington had died a few weeks earlier).

"If the radiance of a thousand sun, were to burst at once into the sky, That would be like the splendor of the Mighty One ... I am become Death, destroyer of worlds." 

Killing Joke - led by vocalist Jaz Coleman - was concerned with nuclear armageddon, just as they were on the aforementioned "Eighties," a pile-driving, Dark Wave number of anti-war/anti-empire sentiment that was clearly copied by Cobain and company for "Come As You Are." Cobain would later admit as much. But even that was not enough to cool the bile of Mr. Madonna Wayne Gacy, who reportedly also called the dead grunge-rocker a "fucking thief." 

That "checkers" and "chess" theme begins to become more obvious. Note "Chessboards," here, where Jaz Coleman sings about the fragility of humanity, even though we act as though we are invincible as a species. Thirty-three years later, "Chessboards" still resonates strongly, as the following verse makes quite clear:

Look at our condition, stand on concrete dias
Lovers frail and naked move like pawns on chessboards
I had no idea, I had no conception
Where have we all come from? Where are we all going?

And on "Adorations," Coleman sings: "Deserts are paradise, awake to genocides. Delight and suffering, these roles that we have found Nourished by food we eat, hungered by waste excrete From apes or sons of god, let every act be sacred."

MANSON-NIXON-COBAIN

My sync pal Diagonal22 retweeted a sync post from the ButterflyLanguage blog titled “Tripping the Manson-Nixon Line.” It was originally posted last September and what is interesting is that it made more sense now, at least to me – than it probably would have seven months ago, when it was thrown up on the web.

The blogger begins, by writing: “I’ve been reading a lot about Richard Nixon lately, and the period of time from 1968-1974.  Those years had some really weird, dark energy; dark energy that the late Robin Williams summed up as “The Manson-Nixon Line.”

Then, referencing Peter Levenda’s fantastic Sinister Forces trilogy of books, the blogger says that Levenda viewed Nixon and Charles Manson “as essentially being opposite sides of the same coin," while giving the impression of being “two seemingly diametrically-opposed public figures.”

In Ed Sanders' classic on Manson and "The Manson Murders," The Family, Sanders writes, "One of Manson's Summer 1969 raps was about how groovy fear was - is. "Getting the fear," as he called it, was an exquistie physical experience." Manson fed on fear. He would walk into rich homes in Malibu and "waves of fear" would overwhelm him, but seemingly strengthened him at the same time.

And it was mere weeks before the murders in August 1969 that my newly-married father (married July 4, 1969, hours after 27 Club member Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones took a deadly dip in his bucolic Winnie-The-Pooh farm pool) went off to see Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, much to my newly-married mother's chagrin. A newlywed couple should be saving money for food, rent, etc. Not going to the movies, particularly a nortorious film like The Wild Bunch. And yes,  it's a violent film set in 1913 along the US/Mexico border, with aging outlaws trying to come to terms with a changing culture and world. This was the same year writer/intellectual Ambrose Bierce disappeared in the same region, south of the US/Mexico border, his fate as yet unknown to this day. Bierce comes up in my Stilwell Enigma investigation, just as the area around Miami, Oklahoma does.

Miami, in "zinc" and "Spook Light" country (on the 94th meridian, naturally) was the hometown of Lucien Ballard, was much-heralded cinematographer for The Wild Bunch, as W.K. Stratton notes in his fantastic new book The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film.

Ballard, being a tough-as-nails Okie, was "a tough character, no one to be trifled with." Stratton adds, noting Ballard also had a "swagger stick" under his arm, carrying himself like a Confederate general, and using it "to goose unsuspecting men or lift the skirts of of women who'd let their guard down." 

One can't help but wonder what Quentin Tarantino's Summer of '69-set Once Upon a Time in Hollywood film (originally set to be released August 9th, on the 50th anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca Murders) will do to stay true to the high-standards of violence Peckinpah (and Manson and Nixon) set half-a-century earlier.

I mention The Wild Bunch because, like Nixon entering the White House, Manson orchestrating the violent butchery in L.A. and the Stones playing Hyde Park shortly after Jones's death (and later in the year playing at Altamont, which signaled the end of the "Sixties"), because just as I argue about the importance of the music of 1966 setting the stage for the sounds of the Summer of Love of 1967, the violence, war, assassinations, etc. of 1968 set up the situations to follow in 1969. A man to the Moon? An insatiable war machine chewing up humanity in Southeast Asia. Is it a surprise that a film like The Wild Bunch would feed off that orgy of violence spreading in the culture?

Noting Philip K. Dick’s loathing of Nixon, sensing that he “was the incarnation of the Emperor of Rome,” his 1974 VALIS experiences led Dick to “write a series of letters to various officials and media during the last days of the Watergate scandal regarding Nixon” in hopes that it would help influence U.S. Rep. Charles Wiggins, a California Republican on the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate, go from pro-Nixon to anti-Nixon.

As it turned out, VALIS’s dictated letters to Wiggins – via Dick – that revealed information that would change Wiggins’ mind. As it turned out, Wiggins would finally reveal that he no longer had loyalty to Nixon “because the president had violated his oath of office that he would uphold the Constitution.”

Were the VALIS letters, via Dick, key in changing Congressman Wiggins' mind? Or, as ButterflyLanguage asks: "Did a letter dictated to a science-fiction writer from a supposed interdimensional entity have any influence?"

The August 5, 1974 edition of The New York Times - "Wiggins for Impeachment; Others in G.O.P. Join Him" -  notes, as written by reporter David E. Rosenbaum: "Mr. Wiggins, members of the House Republican leadership and one of the leaders of the Souther-conservative bloc int eh House expressed a deep sense of disillusionment after the President conceded this afternoon that he had been an early particpant in efforts to conceal the facts of the Watergate burglary."

And with the recent passing of Peter Tork of The Monkees (and the 50th anniversary of the Monkees cult film Head taking place back in November), it is interesting that this ButterflyLanguage post concludes with a few paragraphs noting the Pre-Fab Four’s 1968 “Sixties epitaph” film Head, co-written by synchromystic figure Jack Nicholson. We have referenced Head many times here at Dust Devil Dreams, and for good reason. It is a virtual synchromystic goldmine, even after all of these years.

"The whole movie was essentially a funeral, and the Monkees fans didn’t understand and were not pleased … (and) … if you are trying to understand the exact energy I’m talking about in this post, at that time, (then) Head is a great place to start."

So true. And recall Head premiered the same month - November 1968 - when Richard Nixon was elected president, in the midst of an absolutely insane year of war, riots, violence and high weirdness. In fact, Head premiered the day after the 1968 presidential election. It actually made sense. It was the beginning of the end.

And a young Kurt Cobain, in Aberdeen, Washington, was singing the theme song to The Monkees, a show and group that would be a big influence in his life. I learned this in the middle of the night last night, when I couldn't sleep, and chose to read Heavier Than Heaven, Charles Cross's 2001 biography of Cobain that was just republished this month. A quick cash-in on Cobain's memory? Or will we learn some truly unsettling new information, particularly in light of Soaked in Bleach?

Note the Monkees and Mod Squad Peggy Lipton sync on Cobain's guitar ... Lipton (who would later star in Twin Peaks) was married to Quincy Jones, who produced Michael Jackson's Thriller album. In 1992, Nirvana's Nevermind would knock Jackson's Dangerous out of the number one spot. 

Cross's book quotes a friend of Cobain's, who said the future Nirvana frontman had a death wish of sorts. "I want to be rich and famous and kill myself like Jimi Hendrix," Cobain is said to have stated. Of course Jimi Hendrix's death was not suicide. Another suicide in Cobain's family, an uncle, also occured during his adolesence, Cross writes. Cobain allegedly said it was because Jim Morrison of The Doors had died some years earlier. It was as if Kurt Cobain was determined to belong to the notorious "27 Club."

TIME-LOOPED POLITICAL MUSIC

A few weeks ago, Marvin Gaye's long, lost album You're The Man, was released, 47 years after it was recorded - but ultimately shelved for monetary and political reasons, it would appear.

Gaye's 1972 album was ntended to be a follow-up to 1971’s remarkable What’s Going On, was not released because Motown’s Berry Gordy did not share Gaye’s political and socially-conscious views, which were expressed on You’re The Man.

So, when the title track was released as a single – a song that did not do as well as Gaye had hoped. At Slate, when the full album was released, 47 years after it was recorded, it was suggested that “it’s … possible that the American public was simply numb to anti-Nixon screeds by this point, if not burnt out on politics more broadly, a theory that the 1972 election results would seem to support.

The album is a powerful political statement. Just check out this verse from "You're the Man": 

"People marching on Washington / Why not hear what they have to say / Because the tables might turn against you, brother / Set around Election Day / Politics and hypocrites / Is turning us all into lunatics / Can you take the guns from our sons? Right all the wrong this administration's done?"

And now, the album seems to be released at another time when the lyrics would be embraced, particularly in the toxic environment TrumpWorld has created in America. 

POSTSCRIPT ... 

Before I wrap it up, I should note that Christopher Knowles, at The Secret Sun, posted “Life in the Lion’s Den (and New Novel Excerpts)" ... and "The Mysterious End of Kurt Cobain: 25 Years On." Both posts are required reading. 

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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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