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The greatest gift you can ever receive as a musician/songwriter is to hear a song of your own creation in a dream and then remember it after you wake up. It's like a winning lottery ticket that, having circled forever on an endless breeze, suddenly flutters down and sticks directly to your face. The phenomenon is, for lack of a better word, miraculous.
There have been many well-documented cases of major paradigm-shifting discoveries coming from dreams, from fields as far reaching as mechanical engineering and chemistry to theoretical physics. Two of them resulted in Nobel Prizes. Niels Bohr figured out the structure of the atom mid-snore, Elias Howe hatched the sewing machine under the covers, and Dmitri Mendeleev awoke to the periodic table (and perhaps a nocturnal tumescence); Albert Einstein, as the story goes, received the first nudge towards his theory of relativity via a sledding dream he had as a teenager.
The same goes for the arts.
Robert Louis Stevenson gave birth to both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in his bed. Handel was given the last movement of his monumental "Messiah" while drooling on his pillow, and the Italian baroque composer Guiseppe Tartini reportedly arrived at his Devil's Trill Sonata after a dream in which he tried enlisting the devil’s help in finishing a long labored-over piece. He handed his dream violin over to the Prince of Darkness and the rest, as they say, is history.
Charlie Daniels may have had a similar experience, though this remains wholly unsubstantiated.
Perhaps the most well known modern-day example of a musician receiving a tune whilst sawing lumber is Paul McCartney waking up in 1964 with the chord progression and melody to "Yesterday" stuck in his head. For a long time he thought it was someone else's song, and that he would inevitably turn on the radio one day and hear them singing it. He called it "Scrambled Eggs" while he waited to find evidence of his crime of unconsciousness forgery, all the while assembling some lyrics that fit. Eventually he decided that it was his creation, and the song went on to make history as the most covered of all time.
Back in the realm of the mere mortals, I, and many of my musically inclined friends, have had similar experiences. I once dreamt a fully realized song, minus lyrics, that sounded quite a bit like it could be a Village Green-era Kinks number. Every morning I still half-expect to hear it recorded however many years ago by God-knows-who on my clock radio as I'm waking up.
So far as I know, it's still mine.
The most intriguing example of dream music however, in my opinion, is the experience of hearing a favorite or popular musician or band either performing live or playing on a stereo.
Evidence seems to indicate that when a band plays in your sleeping brain, it's practically NEVER actually one of their songs. It's what your mind wants that Kinks song to be, what it wants Al Green to be playing at the beach party where you're hanging out with Dr. Dre. It's the song you wish Guided By Voices was playing through the boombox on the wooden skateboard roller coaster above the clouds (long story).
Such is the way of the dream radio station, and therein lies the true miraculous gift the phenomenon has to offer. As Paul would discover with much delight, it's actually all YOURS!
The key, however, to successfully cashing in your free lottery ticket sticking to your face is the act of snaring it for posterity. The period of waking is a tricky and potentially confusing time, and one must act fast! As we all know, the first instinct is to remain in the dream, but you have to make some attempt at writing or recording some reminder of the tune you dreamt immediately or it will quickly fade to nothing in a matter of seconds.
I can still clearly see the view from the stage that time I played guitar with Living Colour at the mysterious public park field house, but I cannot for the life of me remember what the song we played sounded like; nor will I ever, unfortunately.
Dreams are like vacations that you can only remember if you take pictures, and one must be extremely diligent to remember to bring a camera! I have owned several recording devices that I have placed on my nightstand throughout my life, and have filled countless cassette tapes and memory chips with various mumbled accounts of dream narratives and, on very special occasions, hummed melodies from songs I heard. You'll be surprised how little detail it will take you to remember them later.
Maybe this is something you are already in the practice of doing, but if not, open yourself up to a whole new world. They say that by the time we die we will have, on average, spent around six years of our lives dreaming. There are bound to be plenty of concerts in there for you to bootleg.
Andrea Bauer writes about band life on Saturday.