KIRWAN: Been There 'Dune' That

Have you gone to see the movie, "Dune – Part 2" yet?

I’ve seen both, though I regret to say I remember nothing about Part 1.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy either movie, but Frank Herbert’s novel is not easily transposed to the big, or little, screen. The book is a riveting mélange of adventure and mysticism, hard edged environmentalism, and down and dirty politics. It features Paul Atreides, a reluctant hero for the ages.

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Then again, Frank Herbert was a mighty man, original and driven, and an amazing storyteller. I met him once, we had a slight argument, and I fell under his considerable spell.

This happened in 1979, at a Science Fiction Convention held in The Sheraton Hotel, Boston.

I was a member of Turner & Kirwan of Wexford in those days. We’d had some success with our album "Absolutely and Completely" and were shopping around Adoramus, a “science friction” follow-up.

David Bowie had come to see us perform Adoramus in NYC and given it a thumbs up. On the strength of this, and some adroit canvassing by our fans, we were invited to play the Boston convention.

As befitted our newly exalted status, we were given a suite of rooms that our rowdy following immediately occupied, with sleeping bags and bodies strewn everywhere. Ah well, it was the 70s!

I remember little about the gig itself except that Isaac Asimov (I, Robot) loved the band, while the esteemed fantasy writer Anne McCaffrey (Dragonrider)  did not. Talk about Donald Trump being a great polarizer, there was no middle ground for Turner & Kirwan of Wexford.

Frank Herbert in the mid 1980s.

Frank Herbert in the mid 1980s.

That being said, I was gravely disappointed that Frank Herbert, the convention guest of honor, hadn’t bothered to check us out.

However, I heard through the grapevine that his publishing company was throwing a reception for the great man.

Security was tight, but I had learned from knocking around New York that judicious name-dropping allied with muchos cojones could get you in almost anywhere.

The reception was a tame affair, considering that the convention itself was fueled by amphetamines, psychedelics, and God knows what else. Mr. Herbert was holding forth to a small circle of publishing people.

The bar, though well stocked, was deserted, so I poured myself a stiff one and joined the admirers.

The talk was about Dune and the novel’s deep moral and psychological underpinnings. Within minutes I was ready to chuck the music game and follow this prophet wherever he might lead. Then someone inquired what current politician came closest to Paul Atreides, the savior of Dune.

Without missing a beat, Herbert stated, “Ronald Reagan” – then Governor of California.

In deep shock, I chimed in, “You gotta be kiddin’ me!” and all eyes turned my way.

After a brief semi-heated exchange, Mr. Herbert then enunciated in great detail how Ronnie shared Paul’s libertarian leanings. It was a tour-de-force, particularly since I’d never been introduced to the concept of libertarianism.

There was no anger in the great man’s expansive explanation, everything sounded perfectly logical, even poetical, to this James Connolly radical. And when he had exhausted the topic he excused himself.

I returned, somewhat depressed, to our suite where a very real environmental disaster had occurred. Booze had run out and the Sheraton was sticking by the draconian Boston 1 a.m. closing time.

There was only one thing for it. Inspired by my new-found libertarianism, I hastened back to the Herbert reception and slipped in unnoticed. Like Paul Atreides, I was a man on a mission. I went straight to the bar, lifted a very large bottle of Glenfiddich and returned again to our suite – a redeeming hero unto our Turner & Kirwan following.

We partied ‘til dawn, then decided “to hell with Boston and its early closing” and drove back to New York. All the way down Route 95 I could hear Mr. Herbert’s insistent voice describing the new America that Ronald Reagan would soon usher in.

Turner & Kirwan never released Adoramus. Reagan’s 1980s were soon upon us, everyone wanted to dance away this new reality, and as one record company executive enigmatically pronounced while dismissing our science friction opus, “Did you ever try dancing to Pink Floyd?”

I don’t believe so. But I did get a lesson in libertarianism from Frank Herbert - and Dune continues to inspire.