Saturday, February 4, 2012

Deconstructing “Just a Dream” and “Teeth”

OK, so this is getting to be a habit... taking my favorite pick from a Spintunes round I'm judging and picking it apart to tell you why I like it so much. Today I've got TWO picks to deconstruct.

Just A Dream – Brian Gray

First up, my top pick, and favorite song of the round: “Just a Dream” by Brian Gray. There were a LOT of good songs at the top of this round, and frankly the top five kept shuffling around for me. But Brian's percolated to the top because it's so, so very deep. Every time I hear it there's something new and frankly profound.

At first casual listen you might think “Hey! This isn't even a nightmare! How'd he avoid a disqualification?” Well, pay attention to the lyrics:

Last night saw the Ghost of Grown-Up Future come to me.
And he said, "Hold tight. Kinda bumpy as we cross the century."
And there I am in my cubicle, typing a report
I hit print, but the printer's out of toner, so I file an IS ticket,

It's Brian's younger self, dreaming about his future as a boring office worker in a boring office doing the boring sort of things that boring people do every day in 2012. So the kid wakes up...

And thank God it's just a dream.
I'm still gonna be an astronaut.
I'm still gonna be a rock star,
A race car driver, candy bar taste tester, and the Batman.
I'm still gonna make a difference.
I'm still gonna be important.
All right, shut up, relax, it's just a dream.

...and we can smile and laugh at the naïve and whimsical career choices and conclude that Brian is writing a fluffy little comedy piece, perhaps flaunting the challenge as he did with the “sad song about birth”.

But wait a minute. What if this isn't just funny? To qualify as a nightmare, Brian's younger self has to regard this future as horrific, and he certainly does. After all, he has such high aspirations...

But wait a minute. These probably were Brian's aspirations. I know they were pretty close to mine. And to have so many of them and to miss them all...

But wait a minute. He did miss them all (at least for the purpose of this narrative). This isn't a dream of the future. It's the future Brian looking back at his younger self and recalling from behind jaded eyes the memory of how the future once looked, and the mark a young man wants to leave on the world... and remembering that the young man was once him. And we half listen and tap our toes and smile at how clever it all is, but how un-nightmarish, while the entire time the message is sailing over our heads. But if we're listening carefully, and hear the words...

I'm still gonna be remembered.
I'm still gonna change the world.
I'm still gonna be the man that everybody says I could be...

...we might get the point, and apply the lesson to ourselves, and maybe our eyes will just tear up a little and realize that not all nightmares are scary monsters and screams. As for me, I really don't care if Brian intended for us to get all of that out of this simple little song. He still put it there, with all its depth, and I wish I thought of it.

This. Is. A . Great. Song.

P.S. I just read the song bio... looks like Brian recognizes how it could be taken. That's good... I like it when I get these things right.

Teeth – Marlon Barnes

Yeah, I know... you've heard the recording and you think I've lost my marbles. I don't think so. I've read the lyrics, and heard the songs a half a gazillion times, and I'm not exactly ready to change my mind. I genuinely like this song.

The performance is pretty bad, but I've said before that I judge the songs. In this case, it's a simple enough nightmare... the guy is dreaming that his teeth are falling out of his gums. Apparently it's a common theme. So common, in fact, that if you type “Dream that" into Google, the auto-complete will finish it off with “ teeth are falling out.” claims that “Dreams of falling teeth are the most common dreams that Dream Moods receives.”

Score one for Marlon for picking something relatable, and on any age level at that... particularly when baby teeth DO actually start to fall out, the fear is that they won't come back, and that fear can become persistent, lasting from childhood to adulthood. And the fear can cause compulsive brushing, as in the song. So the choice of nightmare here is rock solid.

Despite Marlon's limited performance, I detect the core of a catchy, driving, rythmic electric Blues number here, particularly well into the song when he's feeling a little more confidence. The verses here really don't matter much. They introduce the subject and connect the choruses, but this is really a song about the phobia. It's not storytelling. This fantastic hook is where you want to go:

I'm spitting teeth,
my white and pearlies
flow like fountains
I'm spitting teeth
my mouth now has a vacancy
If I'm asleep
I hope I wake up and get out real soon
so I can go brush continuously
Now I hear this bridge...
left and right - up and down
left and right - up and down
left and right - up and down
left and right - up and down
left and right - up and down
circular motion
circular motions
(gargling) (spit!)

...and it completely cracks me up. Every single time. Of course, this is Marlon's method of getting prominent use of rubato into the song, and damn it, it works. Clumsy, compulsive brushing, making sure to do everything the dentist tells you, and then that gargling! Awesome! I have never in my life heard even an attempted gargled musical solo! But there's a place for literally everything under the Sun, and in a Blues number even this can work. By the time it's done I'm laughing my ass off and I'm ready for the pounding chorus to start again, which it does right on time. Personally, I wouldn't mind a repeat of it on the outro.

If you're one of the ones who wrote this song off without much of a listen... I wish you could hear what I hear when I hear this song. Electric guitars, drums, keyboard... and dice. It's a prime example of the fact that you don't need to be a great performer to write a cool song.


Brian Gray said...

Hey Doc. Sorry I didn't write earlier. I've been sick all week, just managing to go to work (where WebSense blocks blogs), and return home to sleep. Thanks for the writeup. I think maybe you're my target audience, as somehow you seem to get all the little things I put in my songs.

I'm glad those three lines near the end resonated for you, as the last of them took me five takes to get through. To some extent the song is about appearances vs reality, and expectations vs, well, again reality. I was always encouraged that I could be anything I wanted if I put my mind to it, but such positive parenting brings with it the unexpected consequence of burdening a child with accountability for what he does or does not accomplish. At this point, I only have voices in my head to serve as proxy for whether or not I lived up to expectations. So the child holding out hope that he'll still be who everyone says he can be contrasts with the storyteller who will never know if he is.

That feeling dovetails with the bridge, where I accept that what I do appears mundane, but as an adult still hold out hope that it means something more than a paycheck, and that it could be just as important as any of the other professions listed.

Thanks again for the deconstruction. Now I need to catch up on the next challenge and write a song in 2 days (been thinking/planning throughout the week though).

Dave Leigh said...

I think we may have had much the same parenting. It doesn't matter what outlandish goal I declared I was chasing to my parents, I was told to do my best and let them know how it turned out.

That's part of why I'm in IT myself... I'm a huge fan of the positive future depicted in the original Star Trek, and this is my way of contributing, in whatever small way, to that future.

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