Very often, when listening to talented singers with lovely voices, I find myself asking, why is she singing that? Often the song choices are baffling to me. I do understand that it springs from a sincere wish to make a living, all with the goal to singing more often, but one has to wonder about what is truly being expressed in the music. On the other hand, I can also be startled by the lyrics of some of the most commercially successful singers, seemingly random, dazed, personal thoughts of people so rich they don’t give a shit. Well, that’ll teach me to let my sons make me a rap playlist. There is something liberating in their freedom of expression, that’s for sure, at least in the tracks that were thoughtfully selected for me ie. no misogynist crap allowed.
As a young child, lying on the orange shag rug by a big window in the sun, kicking back and gazing at the album art of Stevie Wonder records while it snowed on the lake outside my home in Northern Ontario, I couldn’t help thinking, he’s not singing anyone else’s songs, is he? So why should I? Later on, as I delved into flamenco and fado music, I would be jealous of people with strong cultural identities who could sing traditional music with their hearts full of ancestral power. What is a immigrant Eurasian child living in Canada supposed to sing, exactly?
Moving along a little further, I can be found at a jam session in the basement of our half-renovated house in Chinatown in Toronto, with innovators of the avant-garde telling me to just sing whatever comes into my head. Finally, something that makes sense! Don’t censor and make it up as you go along! What kind of trance-like state do we enter as we listen to the pulsing drums and bass and say anything? Soon I was singing stream of consciousness poetry and outside of the music sessions would also scribble thoughts into a notebook. Often those thoughts were memories of dreams I’d had the previous night. I’d polish them so they’d flow more easily as songs, sing layers of them into a four track Fostex machine and then bend and shape them again when performing with others. Many of these are recorded. Here is a song that I wrote in Lisbon, after dreaming of someone whistling the melody on a train. It is one of my more structured of dream songs.
Another, more impressionist one is here, Provocation, which I performed when provoked (encouraged!) by Paul Bley to play free piano for him. I sang a dream I’d had of him a few years before.
I’ve also been writing dream haiku, struggling to sing short, bright phrases à la Kerouac. Synthesizing the imagery this way is a fun challenge as well. In any case, whether I write a proper song, sing on a groove, or sputter some haiku, this is my creative process, digging deep into several dimensions at once. The songs may be puzzling but hopefully they strike a chord in the listener and inspire others to think about their stories and dreams that they could be singing. It’s an old tradition, nothing new at all really, and the energy generated by bringing dreaming life into a waking life is invigorating for me and also appears to carry its own kind of forward motion. I have lots of stories to tell about where my dream songs have taken me already so I do plan to share those one day as I continue explaining myself.
I could also explain how some cultures would use dream songs to heal their people, how songs have power, how dream songs have extraordinary power, how many artists and writers have used their dreams as the basis of inspiration for centuries. It’s definitely a topic worth researching and studying and I would encourage anyone who is interested to do the reading. But for now I prefer to sing and to encourage others to sing their songs.
With that aim in mind, I am very happy to announce that I’ll be giving a dream song workshop, with musical support from Michel, at the International Association for the Study of Dreams 33rd annual international conference in the Netherlands this summer. I’ll be telling my some of my stories there and leading a dream song jam session. May this be the beginning of a new musical adventures to come!