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Bad luck on a South Dakota farm ... (Shamrock)

Suzanne Tenner / Showtime
"Bad Coop" is boodied and seemingly unstoppable in "Twin Peaks: The Return."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – There’s seven people dead on a South Dakota farm / Somewhere in the distance, seven new people are born.”

So ends Bob Dylan’s spooky, 1963 folk song “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” which first appeared on his 1964 album The Times They Are A-Changin’. Birth and rebirth. Pain and sadness. But joy sprouts elsewhere.

Dylan, getting his start on the coffeehouse folk scene of the early 1960’s was clearly familiar with a then-two hundred-year old murder ballad called “Pretty Polly,” about a young woman being lured into a forest where she is killed and buried in a shallow grave. Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty” also is a version of the old English folk ballad – “We come with the dust and we go with the wind,” Woody sang all those years ago, as the Great Depression ground down a generation.

Dylan, meanwhile, changed the setting and nature of the tragedy by writing about a desperate and impoverished South Dakota farmer who murders his family when his crops refuse to grow and the world comes crashing in around him.

In 2013, artist/director/singer/auteur David Lynch covered “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” for his sublime album The Big Dream, which we reviewed here. The song is a standout on that album, not because it’s an early Dylan original, but because of Lynch’s forlorn delivery, yet almost hopeful vocal ascent at the end. (And that marching beat, a beat to the grave is quite reminiscent of “The Pink Room,” the only Lynch-penned original –instrumental- on the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me soundtrack from 1992).

Listening to it, here in my office, when Lynch, over a  gets to the fifth verse, he sings in that nasally, Midwestern way of his: “You prayed to the Lord above / Oh, please send you a friend / You prayed to the Lord … Loooorrrrrdddd duh-duh-duh-duh…. and the song just skips and repeats “Lord” maniacally. It gave me chills, because while it is likely just some dirt or whatever on the disc, skipping on the word “Lord” got my attention, brother!

Anyway, with the events in “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” taking place in South Dakota, and episode 9 of Twin Peaks: the Return featuring Bad Cooper (blood-smeared Kyle MacLachlan) at a “farm” in South Dakota somewhere (along with “Chantal,” played by Jennifer Jason Leigh and “Hutch,” played by Tim Roth), you briefly notice what looks like two “farmers” lying dead in the background and no one even says anything.

Rough, Dust Bowl-type characters (think of Carnivale, and the traveling carnies in that amazing, occult HBO show from the mid-2000's) seem to be of interest to both Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost, although Lynch in particular highlights these ash-covered hoboes or "woodsmen" as they are called. In fact, Carnivale's final showdown: As I wrote in my piece "Maize/Maze" in November 2014: "Evil faces good in that eternal struggle - amidst the stalks of corn. Brother Justin, a bringer of darkness and evil - planning to bring hell on earth - is slain by the good-yet-apprehensive Ben. Or is he?"

And there you have the corn. The stalks. Or, as my dream noted, on my 42nd birthday: "Dopey little tykes, the stalks ...

The stalks of corn next to the Sonic Drive-In near Goldsby, Oklahoma. Note the McDonald's in the distance. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

I think Lynch is trying to interject his thoughts on the state of society - and the world - and how bad things have been getting since the July 16, 1945 Trinity atomic bomb test in New Mexico. That event kicked-off the "Atomic Age" and the age of nuclear weaponry, processed foods (later injected with high-fructose corn syrup - which I noted in 2009 with my review of King Corn) and our reliance on fossil fuels.

Back in '14, I already had an eye on Indiana Gov. Mike Pence - who became vice-president, of course - writing: "For months I have been thinking about corn. Fascinated with it. Put off by it. Perplexed. Just yesterday, a possible GOP presidential candidate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, noted on a radio show, in an “aw-shucks” manner, that he is just a guy who “grew up in a cornfield.” Will this cornfed hoosier become the Republican presidential nominee in 2016?" My sync blogger pal Loren Coleman has noticed this "corn" trend as well. Lots of corn grown not only in Oklahoma, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota, but in eastern South Dakota as well. One wonders what the tragic farmer Hollis Brown tried to grow on his dead farm? 

So, while driving north on Interstate 35, between Pauls Valley and Norman, I feel compelled to take a picture of this gas pump at a Shamrock gas station. The pumps aren't working and the people inside the convenience store eyed me suspiciously as I snapped a picture. It would be as I was posting this picture and dwelling on the word "shamrock" and its significance (luck, perhaps?) that I glance at page 174 of the 1991 Twin Peaks fan book, The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes. It was a letter young Agent Cooper mailed to his Dad in 1983. The first word I saw was "shamrock." It was in the first line of the letter: "Dear Dad, Sorry to hear about Shamrock's accident." 

Very weird ...

The non-working pump at a Shamrock gas station south of Norman, Oklahoma. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

Recall that in the verse before the final verse, Dylan wrote: “There’s seven breezes a-blowin’ / All around the cabin door / There’s seven breezes a-blowin’ All around the cabin door / Seven shots ring out / Like the ocean’s pounding roar.”

The purple ocean in "the zone" in Twin Peaks: The Return. (Showtime)

Ah! The ocean's pounding roar. We really see it in Part VII where The Fireman (The Giant) and Senorita Dido witness humanity's insanity with the detonation of the atomic bomb and the Black Lodge crossing into our existence. That purple ocean seems endless, otherworldly. Is it where the White Lodge is located?

I start noticing imagery from this rebooted Twin Peaks, which, is now unarguably better than the original series ever was. I now look at the orignal Twin Peaks with fondness and nostalgia, but this new one is more important, particularly for the ideas it brings up in relation to our own world, a world where spectacle is taking over and honesty, integrity and forthrightness seem to be losing out in this increasingly surreal environment.

And we come back to South Dakota. A state known for its high population of Native Americans - many of them treated poorly by the government and thoroughly desperate and impoverished. A place where Mount Rushmore ("Faces of stone," Deputy Director Gordon Cole, played by Lynch, tells Agent Albert Rosenfield, played by (the late) Miguel Ferrer, as Rosenfield shows Cole a picture of Mount Rushmore) was carved out of a sacred mountain.

There seems to be increasing focus on South Dakota, with the Yankton prison noted (where Bad Coop ends up, briefly) and the mysterious events and murder in Buckhorn, which seems to be in western South Dakota, not far from Rapid City and Deadwood, according to coordinates provided hapless paranormal dabbler Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard), who runs a 20-year old blog called The Search for the Zone, (and talks of a "unified field," much like adherents of Transcendental Meditation, like Lynch, embrace) and shares with Agent Tamara Preston (Chrysta Bell) that he and (now-dead) Ruth Davenport entered "the Zone" and encountered Maj. Garland Briggs, played by the late Don S. Davis, a character who gets a lot of attention in this latest episode.

Anyway, I have more to digest and think about moving forward. It's simply incredible how many ideas Twin Peaks: The Return has touched upon in these past nine episodes, many which reflect my own way of thinking about the state of the world, duality and so forth. 

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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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