Last night I dreamed a song. It was not the first time.
I used to brag in grade school that I could memorize my bible verses by osmosis. I’d just practice them before bed and then sleep with the bible open next to my pillow.
I was joking, of course. It was just the good luck of a procrastinator whose talent for memorization outstripped his clear distaste of repeating maxims from centuries old dead guys.
Well, it turned out that I wasn’t entirely joking. My subconscious studying continued into college, as I would compose French essays in my head while asleep and then jot them down in the morning before class.
Ultimately, the brain – or, at least, my brain – has a lot of extra wiring that our (my) conscious thought can get in the way of. Resting opens those circuits, and when it came to bible verses and French homework it was installing a new stick of RAM into my biological computer.
I don’t recall when I first started dreaming songs. I know the first success was “Standing” which came in so powerfully that it literally woke me up! It also surprised the hell out of me, because the genesis of it occurred entirely while I was asleep. I didn’t have the basic lyrics or a melody worked out, resting next to my head like my erstwhile bible. Like asexual production or spontaneous combustion, “Standing” wrote itself.
If that sounds weird and implausible to you… well, it is, but I’m not the only weird and implausible songwriter out there. Allow me to present exhibit A, Sir. Paul McCartney, describing the genesis of “Yesterday“:
“I woke up with a lovely tune in my head,” Paul McCartney recalled to his biographer, Barry Miles. “I thought, ‘That’s great. I wonder what that is?'” He got up that morning in May 1965, went to the piano, and began playing the melody that would become “Yesterday.” At first, lacking lyrics, he improvised with ” Scrambled eggs, oh my baby, how I love your legs.” While he really liked the tune, he had some reservations: “Because I’d dreamed it, I couldn’t believe I’d written it.” – Betsy Querna, US News
There you go. It’s not totally unprecedented, because a Beatle did it, too.
Dream songs don’t always write themselves. Sometimes a dream person writes them for me. In one instance, Madonna sang me a song while playing it on an acoustic guitar, claiming it was a cover by REM or Wilco. I woke up really wanting to hear the song, but searching it’s lyrics and melody yielded nothing. Or, in the words of Sir Paul:
So first of all I checked this melody out, and people said to me, ‘No, it’s lovely, and I’m sure it’s all yours.’ It took me a little while to allow myself to claim it, but then like a prospector I finally staked my claim; stuck a little sign on it and said, ‘Okay, it’s mine!’ It had no words. I used to call it ‘Scrambled Eggs’. – Paul in Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now
Of course, Paul didn’t have Madonna singing the song to him in his sleep claiming it was a cover! For a precedent on that, I turn to my resident loon muse, Tori Amos, talking about her ballad “Hey Jupiter” from Boys for Pele on VH1 Storytellers:
Let’s see, I was lying in bed. Um, strange things happened to you on tour, Like strange Englishman start sitting at the end of your bed – apparitions of dead guys. And they start singing songs to you. And this guy was definitely dead, and he was definitely singing to me. So I’m confused about the copyright laws. I’m not sure if I need to call his ex-wife and give him part of the song or not. But why should I do that! She’s rich, she’s not nice. So … I kept the copyright, and the song’s mine.
Thus, I didn’t have to credit my imagined Madonna (or anyone else) for the tune, and so the yet-to-be-recorded “Message” became mine.
I’m not sure about last night’s song, yet. It didn’t come with lyrics like “Standing” or “Message,” possibly because in my dream I was distracted by the effort of walking on stilts while I was singing it. However, it did provide a full, two-handed piano arrangement. I literally woke up, walked to the keyboard, and played the song without much pause.
I wonder, what is it I have to put into my brain to have it pop out songs like tiny ping pong balls from a lotto machine? Can it be predicted? Is it something I ingested yesterday? I’m pretty sure I’m not ingesting some of the things Paul and Tori have ingested…
Or, are Paul and Tori and I just wired that way?
Is one of your favorite singer-songwriters also a songdreamer? Please point me towards their story!