IN THE BACK OF A DREAM CAR
"Welcome to the world of your dreams, where you can be what you want, commit horrible sins and get away with it. No more false illusion, goodbye to confusion. You step from the shadows, you hear the command. An image to dream. You tremble permission."
"Here's an image I recommend. Here's a nightmare that will never end. You'll step out of time into life's every dream. A life of such powerful meaning. Then you'll fall for reality, bruised and bewildered."
"I want you to use your imagination. You wake up one morning and ask yourself: Why it is so exciting? What makes me dramatic? You are trying to say something about yourself. The dazzling crime of wisdom."
'That's Motivation' - David Bowie (1986).
The following essay is about dreams but more to the point it is about the subject of dreams as it appears throughout David Bowie's songs. The dream represents pure potential, the unbegotten. Reality is often defined as "not a dream." So this essay is not about reality. Dreams frequently vanish from memory upon waking. They melt away in the light of day. This is why the visionary habitually reinvents himself, preferably in the twilight.
Certitude and precision do not thrive in the Dream, only faith and infinite space. Oddities and wonders, miracles and magicians make their home here. Angels and devils are commonplace. The Dragon dwells here too.
The Dreamer subverts order, bringing all of reality into disorder, translating the sights and sounds of other worlds. Occasionally he is successful. When he is successful he outshines the clairvoyant. Like bolts out of the blue, new insights come to him. So hold your breath and prick up your ears!
The Dreamer is first and foremost a traveler, an explorer navigating the realms of reverie. He is often more interested in the world of spirit. Material existence is not malleable enough. He communicates quite effectively with the subconscious and subliminal self, transversing the boundaries of Heaven and Hell. Reflecting on the imponderables, he examines the paradox of life and death with enough impiety and blasphemy for both nihilist and optimist.
In order to transmit his visions the dreamer must become a metaphysician. Goaded by ideas and images, the metaphysician experiments with sacred dimensions but not in search of evidence. He is seeking impossibilities, pursuing his destiny without a ghost of a chance. Wise folly is the dreamer's specialty, a talent he uses to explore the invisible realms. Reasoning power, madness, genius will only take him so far. It is the wise fool who helps him to complete his journey.
Sometimes the dreamer is a harlequin-gamester convulsing with laughter. Mediocrity and monotony are signs that his dreaming has not taken hold. Farce and fancy are the antidotes, the harlequin's anecdotes, the confessions and recollections of his life, remedial medicines for his soul and ours. His confessions and recollections, however, don't always reflect the truth. The dream messenger is not a lover of immutable truth. Besides trite truisms, tired self-evident truths are "old songs." Evasions, and caricature innovations (character mutations) are his fortes. This, after all, is the drama of the harlequinade, the dreamers pantomime!
The harlequin-chameleon varnishes the naked truth (masks, camouflage and embellishments are often essential) to avoid the "same old thing in brand new drag." The dreamer "speaks in extremes to save time." And a little self-deceit never hurts. Like the Wizard of Oz behind "the legendary curtains", the dreamer is quick to cloak his vulnerabilities. Sometimes when clouds gather on the horizon, it is not the dream that beckons but the "road to ruin." The holy fool on the brink of a precipice! The Pretty Things Going To Hell.
But dreaming is in David Bowie's blood. It is an indispensable part of him. Often embodying the paradoxes and forlorn hopes of the holy seer, the pious heathen and the sacred clown in his songs, David Bowie is still an ardent believer in dreams. Are you?
From 1966 to 1967 David Bowie recorded many songs for his first album called David Bowie. The song 'There Is A Happy Land' describes a Heaven on Earth where only children live. Adults are not allowed there. The "Great Utopian Dreams" of the romantic visionary haunt David Bowie. In the song 'When I Live My Dream' Bowie declares earnestly: "It's a broken heart that dreams." He acknowledges the fact that he's a "dreaming kind of guy." The person to whom he pledges his love will "live within his castle." He promises: "Nothing in my dream can hurt you." We all dream of something like that.
In the song 'Did You Ever Have A Dream?' also from the album David Bowie, Bowie sings "I will travel round the world one night on the magic wings of astral flight." "Have you ever woken up one day with the feeling that you'd been away?" This otherworldly dream is airy, rare, and fleeting. "It's a very special knowledge." These dreams are rhythmical and amazing. They are the undead dreamer's dreams (the dreams of sleeping magicians subconsciously projected) wandering as phantom-ghosts from a dreamyard, bedeviling others far away with their serial visits!
In 1969's 'Occasional Dream' from the album Space Oddity, Bowie writes about recurring flights of fancy, images that trouble his mind: "And we'd sleep, oh so close but not really close our eyes." "In my madness I see your face in mine. I keep a photograph. It burns my wall with time. Time. An occasional dream of mine." Time passes away like a dream and inevitably leaves you dreamless.
In the song 'Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed' David confesses that "he's the cream of the great Utopian Dream." He also admits: "I keep having this brainstorm about twelve times a day." Perhaps it's a merging of delusion and enlightenment, a trick of the mind. The bewildered dreamer in this song has a lot in common with the deranged lunatic of 'All The Madmen." He's got "eyes in his backside" and his head is "full of murders."
In 'Cygnet Committee', Bowie again introduces us to the thinker sitting alone, growing older and bitter. He wearily sings: "My friends talk of glory, the untold dream, where all is God and God is just a word." This dream is not so much unimaginable or unthinkable as it is contrary to a mere mortal's hope or expectation. "A whale of a lie", an improbable and shadowy vision eluding most humans.
In 1971's 'Saviour Machine' from the album The Man Who Sold The World, the character of "President Joe," an aspiring Superman tells the world about his ghostly dream to merge God and Machine. This dream is born from a strange new logic, a mind beyond reason. In the song 'The Supermen' Bowie unveils "nightmare dreams no mortal mind could hold." He recounts the strange, mad celebration of the supergod. Here all minds were in "uni-thought" yet the Gods are ransacking their brains for inspiration.
In 1971's 'Quicksand' from Hunky Dory, David is "immersed in Crowley's uniform of imagery." Are these "images" the dark preoccupations of the sorcerer's apprentice or are they awakening his burning desire for knowledge and enlightenment? The song's main character divulges that he's "living in a silent film portraying Himmler's sacred realm of Dream-Reality." Is this transient creature with the potential of an immortal being, a divine seer, an archetypal ideal or merely an obsolete man? It's highly unlikely that this "mortal with the potential of a superman" is a brainless dunce and much more likely that he is the doppelganger of dreams. The same stand in or perfectly matched "double" we found in 'Did You Ever Have A Dream?' Astral surrogates and other super-natural visitants dabbling in the occult have been utilizing dream-worlds for centuries.
The blue and broken hearted protagonist of 'Life On Mars?' walks through her "sunken dream." Her hollow and humdrum life is about to begin again "on the silver screen." In this song life is a slow motion picture, the best selling freakiest show.
In the 'Bewlay Brothers' Bowie exposes his fond hopes, his castles in the air. He's shooting up pie-in-the-sky like a true "King of Oblivion." A brain-stormer conjuring up visions in the "mind warp pavilion," he stalks the secret hideaways and sanctuaries on the edge of a dream.
In the song 'Moonage Daydream', from 1972's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, David is freaking out and busting up his brains again. He wants the real thing, not a fan club of double-dealing fakers with their idle conceits. In 'Hang On To Yourself', he's layin' on electric dreams. In 'Rock N' Roll Suicide', Bowie counsels the entangled and tormented martyr-fool: "Don't let the sun blast your shadow." "Don't let the milk floats ride your mind." Perhaps Bowie is again alluding to the twilight vision every moonage dreamer needs to fulfill his fantasy. And sometimes even the half light of dawn is preferred to the "flame filled sunset."
In the song 'Time', from 1973's Aladdin Sane he croons: "Love has left you dreamless." The door to dreams was closed." Is this the same closed door we find in the song "There Is A Happy Land?" In 'Time' all the protagonist has to offer is "guilt for dreaming." Ill-fated but imaginative new insights arise from his drug habits. His dreaming is a relapse, a backslide into the "brain sniper's" violent delusions and self-deceptions. The song traces the central character's broken faith and tragic fall from grace. The "sacred dimension of time" betrayed and dishonored.
In 'Cracked Actor' the antagonist sells the star "illusions for a sack full of cheques." Physical abuse is all that he feels. Depravation is all that is real. The treacherous trick fills him full of holes, capitalizes on his fear of growing old.
In 1974's 'We Are The Dead' from the album Diamond Dogs "Baby Bankrupt sucks you while you are sleeping." The protagonist is "living on the breath of a hope to be shared and fighting with the eyes of the blind." This kind of blind faith (struggling with the visionless and the dreamless) is a disorder of the quixotic mind (the foolish and stubbornly romantic idealist). A "defecating ecstasy" is what he solicits. And Time is still the e-victor. The principal character's infectious determination inevitably decays: "Heaven is on the pillow but it's silence competes with hell." In 'We Are The Dead' seeing and knowing too much can get you killed. In a land of illusion and deceit, not passive resistance but absolute self-abnegation is Big Brother's primary requirement.
In the song 'Fascination' from the 1975 album Young Americans, rapture, reverie, and rhapsody live in a fever raging inside a crazed sex maniac. This time the hypnotic ecstasy and mystic rabidity reaches the heights. Kingdom come or bliss? This is certainly not the nightmare dream of 'The Supermen' but it is a bit demanding to say the least.
In the song 'Station To Station' from the 1976 album of the same name, Bowie explains: "Here are we, one magical moment, such is the stuff from where dreams are woven." In this song the protagonist reaches the spiritual heights and depths simultaneously. From "crown to kingdom" the mystic-dreamer drives like a demon. A lover of folly is befooled by love not the side effects of some drug, jolting awake his faith and his sleepy heart.
And instead of rediscovering moondust in the eyes of the resurrected "Space Boy", we unearth (in the guise of the occultist, of course) an insane lad/a silly boy blinded by darts. Has this magician-dreamer been cursed by hopeless dreams? Whatever the answer, it's still "too late to be hateful or grateful, too late to be late again." The prophet says goodbye to dreams deferred, to his unpaid and overdue debts, his dormant hopes and dead desires and he says hello to "wishful new beginnings - built to last!"
In 'Golden Years' Bowie implores: "In the back of a dream car twenty foot long, don't cry my sweet, don't break my heart." "Wish upon, wish upon, day upon day, I believe oh Lord. I believe all the way." Belief, hope, and even "bullshit faith" are essential in order to manifest this dream. Bowie claims again that such dreams can be found in the twilight. He advocates that his lover "run for the shadows." Despite the wish being father to the thought, the golden dream only offers a glimmer of hope.
In 'Word On A Wing' David asserts: "In this age of grand illusion you walked into my life out of my dreams." "Just because I believe don't mean I don't think as well." "I'll never stop this vision flowing. I look twice and you're still glowing." Bowie has not renounced reason and intellect for faith. He is still very much a thinker as well as a dreamer. A true sage, a wise philosopher combines both. David always walked a thin line between sanity and madness but in 'Word On A Wing' he decides to shape the "scheme of things," like a God giving form to his own fate and fortune, with an illuminated intuition and a brain-stormy imagination.
In 'TVC 15' David pleads: "Send back my dream test baby, she's my main feature." "Love's rating in the sky." This may not be the double feature of 'We Are The Dead' but simply a trial run to determine who is the suitable suitor. Or is this "dream test" merely the magician's hocus pocus, the astral navigator's dark celestial experiment? Dream analysis for the forlorn dreamless? Enter the Depth Psychologist. Maybe he can decode this one.
In 'Sons Of The Silent Age' from the 1978 album "Heroes", the main actors "pick up in bars and cry only once. They make love only once but dream and dream. They glide in and out of life. They never die, they just go to sleep one day. Dead to the world, benumbed, in a coma, the sons are an altered version of "The Oblivion Kings" from 'The Bewlay Brothers.' This kind of sleep seems less like a visionary, introspective trance meditation and more like a trip into emptiness and amnesia.
In 'Joe The Lion' Bowie claims: "No one saw you hobble over any freeway. You will be like your dreams tonight." "Joe the lion went to the bar. A couple of dreams and he was a fortune teller." "You get up and sleep, just a couple of dreams." Is this the return of the prophet-magician from 'Quicksand' or a reenactment of the occult initiate seeking divine inspiration in the song 'Station To Station'?
The Conscious Mind meets the Subliminal Self in 'Joe The Lion.' Perhaps Joe The Lion, another theatrical metaphysician, not unlike the "President Joe" of 'Saviour Machine' was seeking "powers weird by mystics taught." If so, Joe remains the oddest spiritualist this side of the lunatic asylum. Bowie's leading man snidely swears: "Nail me to your car and I'll tell you who you are."
Dreams like drinks or drugs have become addictive. Being awake bores Joe. He craves the sweet oblivion of sleep, the dream-escape. But inevitably he must get up again. So finally, one day, he buys a gun to end it all.
In 1979's 'African Night Flight' from Lodger, David speedily narrates in the cacophony and pandemonium: "I struggle with a child whose screaming, dreaming." "I could fly into the eye of God on high." In this song an enthralled, enchanted, divinely motivated child casts a dream spell. David Bowie's feverish pitch casts it's own whimsical spell: "African nightmare, one-time Mormon, more men fall in Hullabaloo men." "Getting in the mood for a Mombassa night flight, pushing my luck, gonna fly like a mad thing, bare strip takeoff skimming over Rhino, born in slumber less than peace."
The sense of dispatch and the hurriedness in 'African Night Flight' reminds me of the lines in 'The Supermen' when Bowie dispatches: "No pain, no joy, no power too great, colossal strength to grasp a fate, where sad-eyed mermen tossed in slumbers." In both songs Bowie depicts a frightful flight of fancy and a troubled sleep for sleepless dreamers!
In the 1980 song 'Because You're Young' Bowie bemoans: "A million dreams, a million scars." Nightmares. Bad Dreams. Psychodelicate Girls. Are they all synonymous? In 'Up The Hill Backwards' he admits "There are more idols than realities." "While we sleep they go to work." This is not Nirvana or an idyllic happy land. This is limbo. The Abyss of Slumber. A land of idol worship, false Gods and fan fetishes.
In the song 'Scary Monsters' Bowie forewarns: "She opened strange doors that we'll never close again." Here the unlocked "doors of perception" point the way through the corridors of a "dangerous mind." Still "nobody's home." Unlike the philosopher of 'Cygnet Committee' who "opened doors that would have blocked the way," the little killer-girl of 'Monsters' turns out to be our worst nightmare, a room mate from Hell.
In the song 'Ricochet' from the 1983 album Let's Dance, thousands are still asleep dreaming of tramlines, factories, pieces of machinery, mine shafts, things like that. In this song the world of mechanical contrivances invades even our day dreams. Vanishing ambition, the unfulfilled promise, the broken pledge determine the boundaries of our dreaming, the limits of our memory. The holy pictures are turned, facing the wall. The Devil is breaking parole. Lapsed from consciousness, beyond recollection, overlooked and unremembered, the protagonists of 'Ricochet' watch "their lives unravel before them." For the super fearful and their progeny the treasured dream is over! No more promises stretched in hope and grace.
In 'Zeroes', a song from 1987's Never Let Me Down album, Bowie damns with faint praise: "I say the dream was all for you. You're nobody else." This dreamer is a phantom shadow, a mere zero. The Hollow Man. Leon Blank Again. One of the Nobody People. Again the shallow man remains forgotten, nameless. The Fabulous Sons have crashed!
In 'Too Dizzy' the zeroic villain warns: "You can go on dreaming every night but I am not letting you out of my sight." But can his victim live such a life of unreality, where her physical existence is circumscribed by surveillance and control? Enter the mind unstable, the cracked actor, crazed and unhappily deranged. Unwashed and somewhat slightly dizzy.
In the song 'Amazing' from 1989's Tin Machine I album, David Bowie sings: "Life is still a dream." "My nightmare rooted here watching you go." David conceives the crossroad intersection of heavenly hankering and hellish heartache. Bowie's protagonist makes a pledge (a remembered promise) that his lover will never be blue because there is too much at stake to be down. And in the song 'Heaven's In Here,' he concedes: "Baby I dream between the blade and the tongue of the rose on your cheek, the wounded and dumb." Blown away and bleeding, the dreamer takes a swing at his own shadow in his pursuit of hot heavenly flesh.
In the song, 'Bus Stop' a vision of Jesus could have been the result of eating blue cheese. Was it trust, prayer, hope or just a food-induced dream? A young man at odds with the Bible, the main character in this song however, doesn't pretend that faith never works.
In the song, 'Amlapura' from the 1991 album Tin Machine II, Bowie proclaims: "I dream of an ocean, I dream of a Princess in stone." "A flying Dutchman. Hey hey it's a dreaming." Trance states again and the utter amazement that follows. The dazed dreamer takes flight. Classical images of dreamland from the fertile imagination of the moondusted/stardusted visionary with "screwed up eyes." It is Bowie's double sight, his "obliquity of vision" that makes it possible for us to share in his reverie!
In 'Miracle Goodnight' from the 1993 album Black Tie White Noise Bowie sings: "I love you in my dreams." "I never want to say goodnight." "It was only make believe." Figments of a wild imagination ultimately fade. Passion burns up in the misty air. Still the hopeless romantic of 'Miracle' murmurs quietly and furtively under his breath: "I wish I was a sailor a thousand miles from here. I wished I had a future (some kind of future) anywhere." The protagonist of this song must already know the filthy lessons of the heart. He probably also knows that only a hundred miles into this "fantastic voyage", even on a sailboat with foreboding "red sails" will take him straight to Hell.
In the 'Wedding Song' David intones: "Heaven is smiling down." "I believe in magic." "These are floating clouds." "Dreaming alone and I feel that someone listens to me." "An Angel for Life."
In 'Dead Against It' from the 1993 album Buddha of Suburbia, David's protagonist confesses: "When she is dreaming, I believe." Belief and faith are the major ingredients of this dream.
In "Through These Architects Eyes" from the 1995 album Outside David Bowie's master mind builder urges us to remember "all the concrete dreams in his mind's eye." And that he's "scheming dreams to blow minds." He also reminds us of the majesty of the city landscape: the girders of Babel, the towers of iron, the crawling land with it's steaming caves, rocks, and sand.
Babel invokes a dream, the fantastic death abyss, the mad chaos of Hell's underworld. The sovereign power and grandeur of Babel reminds me of the mayhem and madness of 'Hunger City' that Bowie conjured up in the fantastical Diamond Dogs.
In 'I Am With Name' Ramona drones: "I have been dreaming of sleep and ape men with metal parts." Is she having another millennium nightmare? Or perhaps a yearning for sweet forgetfulness?
In 'We Prick You' the broken-hearted villain maintains: "Wanna be screwing when the nightmare comes." Something is going to be horrid. Disturbing and dreadful nightmares inspire horror but not horror's lessening. Fornication, penetration, ejaculation can offer some relief from the affliction of nightmare dreams but it's the flagellation and mortification of innocent flesh that really does the trick. That's the heart's vile and defiled lessening, the shriveling of mercy in the perusal of violent pornography.
The Death of Grace Blue becomes the consummation of an unfulfilled promise, the "final touch" for a broken heart raised on grime, slime, smut, and depravity. The song 'We Prick You' hints at the same degeneracy Bowie's gala gals and guys gazed at in 'Watch That Man'. The bleeding bodies on the screen. Then, of course, there are the video films in 'Drive In Saturday'. The question beckons. Is life but a dream in a dirty movie?
In 'Dead Man Walking' from 1997's Earthling, Bowie states: "Now I am wiser than dreams." Here Bowie intimates that some dreamers have a kind of second sight and are prone to extrasensory experiences. They can spin slack through reality. Bowie's protagonist in 'Dead Man Walking' attempts to conquer his inertia and habitual idleness. The unmindful and unfeeling who sleepwalk through existence can still learn to fly and even an old dreamer can dance up a storm!
In 'The Letter' he discloses: "And illusion I will be." The sinner and the beggarman are overcome by self pity, hopelessness, and apathy. The loser feels forlorn and awaits a better day, the payoff. But decadence and degeneration prevail again. The deadened dreamer holds sway and may never realize his just deserts.
In 'New Angels Of Promise' from 1999's 'hours...' Bowie deems: "We are the dead dreams, we take the blame." The blinded man deteriorates in his loneliness and seeks an elusive brain-storm. Silent and hateful, his aspiring angels fall apart. His prospects of a great salvation or even brief bliss remain with the unsuitable "new angels of promise."
In 'If I'm Dreaming My Life' David sings: "All the lights are fading now." "Was it air she breathed?" "Was she ever here?" In 'The Dreamers' he sings: "Lonely soul, the last of the dreamers." The cloud-built dream re-veils itself.
The forlorn and hopeless "Utopian" (perhaps a former seedy young knight caught in a snowstorm freezing his brain) "moves his trembling hands," and "he's always in decline." Once again, new angels of promise descend into his "sunken dream". The searcher "speaks to the shadows" but he is "always a little late for the dawning of the day." Did the shallow man have one too many brain-storms? Bereft of reason, the poor soul still searches for "form and land."
And in the daylight "hours," there is yet another opportunity for a brain-stormy awakening! If the unreasonably difficult idealist of 'There Is A Happy Land' and 'When I Live My Dream' ultimately holds sway, the moonage romantic can then dance on angels through a crack in the past or simply sit down and take a ride in the back of a dream car!
By Nevada Kerr
27th November 2001.
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