When I imagine all what goes into music the relationships between vibrations making up notes, the intervals between notes in the same chord, the progression between chords, the relationship between percussion and melody and layers of accompaniment, etc. I realize that numbers are at work. Although I have an affinity for statistics, mathematics is not my strong point except as I dream music, apparently. Appreciating the mathematical in the form of music that suffuses my dreams (and to a lesser extent in my conscious state) gets me thinking about the cosmos and its tones, and how the universe is resonating around us and inside of us. I believe when I dream I tap into the universe's omnipresent mathematical and tonal reality that is beneath or invisibly coming through in "normal" consciousness.
Through one depaver to and through another
When one of my overly modest fellow musicians, Ayr (who plays mandolin and guitar and sings) says a song he is about to do "came through me" (instead of "was written by me"), I see his statement as confirmation that music does not originate out of a vacuum, in the form of a human body, as much as it comes from his resonating freely and tuning in to the universe. Other forms of art or products of inspiration also come from freely "resonating," whether it is painting a picture or realizing "new" concepts in physics. The young Albert Einstein is said to have gotten his breakthroughs while walking, instead of number-crunching at a blackboard.
Ayr's music and lifestyle have been a model for some of my lyrics for at least two songs we perform, Against the Law and Schoolmaster. He is a traveling gypsy always up for a community project such as protesting war, assisting with Food Not Bombs, and depaving. It helps me in writing a song sometimes to imagine a person, real or not, as to how he or she thinks or lives. In Against the Law, the first line is "We'll walk on your car " When I wrote that (from a dream) in 1996, I was in a defiant mood after being falsely jailed for riding my bicycle in a "critical mass" ride in support of forest-defending protesters abused by sheriff's deputies and judges in redwood country. I recall that the day after I wrote the strange line "We'll walk on your car," by coincidence a news feature from Europe came to my attention at the Alliance for a Paving Moratorium office a German man was on a long journey characterized by his constant practice of walking over cars. Ayr later proved he was a car-walker too, when at a historic demonstration he got onto an armored police vehicle (or perhaps he didn't at all; he ain't guilty!).
A song-dreamer's start
My musical dreams started in 1974 while sleeping on the family ketch in Majorca. The first dream was of Donovan doing some new song (really by me, as I realized when I woke up) coming through on a tape machine. The dream music was electrifyingly intense. The next morning I dreamed that a large computer disk was mounted on the disk drive and played with a needle, producing shocking, riveting music by the Jeff Beck Group.
My musical dreams have kept up until this day, but not as intensely as those first two dreams, although still pleasurable. Being little trained and lacking other musicians present with other instruments, I almost always convert non-vocal parts of musical dreams to a vocal part with words. Eventually I forget the origin of the music and the string section that was there, for example, and instead, there remains just singing and guitar work to encompass all the music I can bring together. Most of my songs have a beat, and can use percussion, I found out to my delight from the late Lee Stevenson, who was my first drummer. He died in the middle of recording our first album; he disappeared into his redwood stump of a home and got accidentally high on carbon monoxide. (His eulogy is in the Auto-Free Times, issue 14, 1998.)
It wasn't until 1991, after 17 years of musical dreams, that I started writing songs daily or weekly. They were triggered by a conscious decision to emulate the eco-rock tunes of Dana Lyons, whom I saw perform at a Preserve Appalachian Wilderness (Earth First!) conference in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. (I was a speaker along with David Brower when I met Dave he said that the leaders of the mainstream environmental groups needed "testicular transplants.") When I saw Dana do his powerful "Turn of the Wrench," about farmers loosening the nuts holding bolts of electrical utility towers, I said to myself "I will use my dream-music fragments to make songs like that." It seemed important to do it because I knew of no anti-car, anti-road songs, and in general there were too few songs in defense of nature still true today. Thinking back to the folk/rock of the peace movement in the 1960s, and the power of protest songs then, I realized that the world needed to get an earful of Dana Lyons and such music as I could add to.
Industrial music has ascended
Partly because music became increasingly commercialized and more artificial-sounding (through transistor technology) after the 1960s, despite the end of psychedelic music, I began to need better musical stimulus, so I invented in dreams what I really liked out of my subconscious. Coming up with my own favorite music has become more important to me as the digital sound of compact discs has left me cold. And because good music is so suppressed by the corporatized music industry, I feel the need all the more to come up with songs I can enjoy. Back in the late 1960s when great new artists came along fast and numerous (still worshipped today by people not born until years later), I felt little need to write music, and I was overawed anyway by fine musicians doing their best early work for an appreciative, active audience.
One reason the music business and radio programming got so corporatized after 1970 is that the anti-war/hippie movement petered out. Without the former urgency of vital, new music being offered up, fusing for the first time the genres of folk and rock, acoustic and electric styles, new great songs and fine music by younger artists were permanently suppressed. With stagnation imposed from the top, perhaps it's no wonder that disco and punk exploded as pent-up styles, each providing an identity for a new batch of young people who weren't culturally involved several years before, when, for example, the Who matured into an impressive group with their rock opera Tommy.
You're not going to hear on Clear Channel's stations the anti-war songs we heard over three decades ago even former FM radio hits by John Lennon, Steve Miller, Graham Nash and Joan Baez, although they are accomplished recording artists and performers. After all, some sappy love songs might do nicely to keep the populace from thinking about controversial matters such as peace and justice. I recently discovered Roy Orbison's There Won't Be Many Coming Home. It sounds like it was recorded in the late 1960s, and it took me three and a half decades to learn of this powerful, moving song's existence. It is never on the air for good reason it would change hearts and minds when the government and dominant industries are trying to do their dirty work on Iraq, for example.
I believe music and other forms of art, along with books, are more important than organizational and institutional approaches to solving the environmental crisis and transforming society to nonviolence. Even better is action in the street, or in the woods anywhere. Intellectualizing and politicizing issues that are really about the simple right to live (people and all species) have a place, but action and feeling are much more important. Denying and suppressing our feelings and true needs lead us to being further oppressed and even killed by the war machine and the toxic industrial commercial culture. My dreaming music, whether it lends itself to a protest song or obscure sentiment between two human beings, may have resulted from my fomerly repressing my own feelings in the first three or four decades of my life.
More secrets of a Depaver's songs
My musical dreams for decades, until the past few months, have always featured some other artists, known or unknown. For example, a few guys singing on a balcony were supposedly Pink Floyd when I awoke and I finalized that music, words and singing style, I found that the song sounded reminiscent of the old Pink Floyd. (When I do the song I imitate their vocal styles, but Ayr's mandolin makes our recording sound little like Pink Floyd.) I began to notice after years of composing music in my sleep that it was never me in the dream doing my own music. However, in the past few months, I've noticed that my dreams have more frequently featured me playing guitar or singing. Perhaps that could only happen after enough years of performing.
When I was in my twenties and thirties, my head was usually filled with a song (someone else's) that I couldn't get rid of. That doesn't happen much anymore; when I'm absent-mindedly humming a tune in my head, it's one of my own songs. In so doing a variation very occasionally comes to me that's useful and can be incorporated into a song.
I no longer write many protest songs, and when I do they have more humor than they used to. People don't always want to be hit over the head with lyrics that have a blunt message. Despite my evolution beyond lyrics in the service of environmentalism, the song is a limiting form and I have failed to achieve my dream of a decade ago when I thought I could graduate to learning to write opera and quartets, for example. In those refined genres, as with concerti, repetition is generally anathema. This may be one reason all my songs are relatively short. However, when writing I can't resist repeating a melody line so that I can cram in another verse. My songs often have musical variety which makes them harder for a new person to play, compared to many popular songs that use only a few chords.
When my song writing is done on a given morning, I feel good and look forward to enjoying my own new music again at the end of the day when my office work is done. Sometimes I feel guilty in terms of what others might think, when I think of my music-making and the time I've devoted. Some of my colleagues and friends no doubt wish all my waking energies (and maybe my dreams, too?) would be about fighting road construction and putting out magazines, giving speeches, etc. More than one member of my family wishes I would get a job selling gasoline, for example, to humble me and stabilize my income.
My music is a waste of time only according to others' expectations. I am no longer oriented toward making a lot of money in business. Such work can take up almost all someone's waking hours. Nevertheless, if I felt I were really "getting somewhere" with my music I could alter my lifestyle. I can sometimes work over 30 hours straight without lying down, but so far I've not had the opportunity to do that for my music as a career. I've been lucky and mindful not to do stultifying work for others' narrow aims. Many of my songs are about liberating oneself and transcending materialism. It is the mental slavery that wastes not just our lives but the planet's biosphere.
My musical rewards have been great, although it may be narcissistic. I would be hard pressed to trade one of my favorite little works for a huge amount of money. Selling some songs would be all right, but the idea of losing one of my favorite songs (as if it didn't exist) is unacceptable. Similarly, losing a new tune from memory after waking from a dream is a sad and frustrating experience, because, with maybe 99.99% probability, the same music will never come back. It's interesting that the permutations of notes, beats, tempos and harmonies seem to offer infinite original music, the way no two person's fingerprints are alike no matter how many billions of us are born.
Too many songs have accumulated for them to all be in my repertoire, assuming they were all easy enough to play and pleasing enough. So my repertoire now is kept to about two dozen from memory, which is about as many as I did last year when I played at the London Action Resource Centre. I was amazed to hear an older member of the audience say my sound was meditative. The interpretation of a song is perhaps limitless, but the main thing is to perform with feeling. When I'm about to play and sing, I feel like advising the audience first with "Here's a song idea, and try not to be distracted by the performance." I'm usually so fixed on accuracy that I forget to add feeling and just have a good time, but such performances sometimes get that soul groove anyway.
Sleeping through the night is preferable to waking up and noting some notes. But I accept missing some sleep partly because I become more frustrated later if I let slide a nice bit of original music and/or poetry that visited a dream. This morning I dreamed of a business deal going awry, and voices at the end sang "Nay nay nay nay nay, squirrel away." Suitably amused, I made myself go to the piano and write out the music. As it was rather early, I went back to sleep and awoke to dream-music of Jim Croce (actually mine). The music of the latter dream fit with the former when I changed the latter's key. Yesterday morning I woke up five times, more than usual, mostly in the key of D. Two of those five dreamlets were with lyrics of one line each.
I used to use a tape recorder, which quickly lets you get back to sleep. But now I almost always use the guitar with pen and paper which is where my music ends up anyway. However, if I don't act quickly upon awakening, the music and lyrics of the dream evaporate. During one otherwise musical marriage, my musical dream-harvesting habit went into complete abeyance because she didn't "care if (I were) Mozart, I want to sleep." The dreams stopped featuring music for that marriage. Usually when musical dreams visit me, they are remembered when I happen to be waking up for the morning, which disturbs no one including myself, and it does get me going for the day in such a way to keep me from sleeping too late. An alarm clock is a great way to lose the thread of a musical dream.
As I live a creative life I seem to be "learning my song" in a general, figurative sense. Maybe we are all here on Earth to learn our own "song" and sing it. This metaphor occurred to me as I sometimes tediously have to teach myself one of my more difficult new songs, to be able to play it all the way through.
I would encourage anyone to pursue their dreams, now, not tomorrow or some day. Tuning into the Earth and the basic goodwill people have toward one another (except when a greedy bad apple is running amok) will bring about more love, peace and happiness. Songs and all forms of art give us strength and inspiration to carry on and go to greater heights. Our individual talents are within for all of us, and I've found it's unusual for a person not to have musical talent, for example. The problem is in our not trying. As Janis Joplin sang, "Try tryyyy just a little bit harder".
To hear music online by Depaver Jan and The Depavers, see:
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