Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Land of Nod / Circle Dream

The Land of Nod (from the album Leave Your Sleep; words by Robert Louis Stevenson)

From breakfast on all through the day
At home among my friends I stay;
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.

All by myself I have to go,
With none to tell me what to do—
All alone beside the streams
And up the mountain-sides of dreams.

The strangest things are there for me,
Both things to eat and things to see,
And many frightening sights abroad
Till morning in the land of Nod.

Try as I like to find the way,
I never can get back by day,
Nor can remember plain and clear
The curious music that I hear.


Circle Dream (from the 10,000 Maniacs album Our Time In Eden)

I dreamed of a circle
I dreamed of a circle round
and in that circle I had made
were all the worlds unformed and unborn yet
a volume, a sphere
that was the earth
that was the moon
that did revolve around my room

I dreamed of a circle
I dreamed of a circle round
and in that circle was a maze
a terrible spiral to be lost in
blind in my fear
I was escaping just by feel
but at every turn
my way was sealed

I dreamed of a circle
I dreamed of a circle round
and in that circle was a face
her eyes looked upon me with fondness
her warmth coming near
calling me "sweetness"
calling me "dear"
but I whispered, "no, I can't rest here"

I dreamed of a circle
I dreamed of a circle round

When I was a child, I only remember having one recurring dream. It went like this: I am playing by myself in the backyard when a 50 foot high cartoon giant arrives from parts unknown and threatens me in a vague but menacing way. I cower in fear until my older sister charges out from the house, wags a defiant finger at the giant and somehow calls upon an equally giant-sized anvil to drop from the sky and land on his head, putting him permanently out of commission.

I'm not prone to thinking that every single thing in our dreams represents something else. I think a lot of what we dream is entirely random. But the terror and triumph that made up the framework of that childhood dream makes me think that maybe my little brain was trying to work out some big issues. Back then I think I wished that it was one of my parents who saved me in my dream, not a sibling to whom, in truth, I was not particularly close. Now that I'm older, I wish the dream would've had me saving myself. I wish I could've wagged my own finger and dropped my own anvil out of the sky.

As an adult, I have also had only one recurring dream. In this one, my normally mild-mannered and gentle spouse becomes a seething mass of rage who tries to psychologically destroy me. And there are no anvils or big sisters available.

I'd greatly prefer the cartoon giant.

The Land of Nod, in its few verses, expresses so beautifully the horrors and delights to be found in the worlds we conjure up in our sleep. When I saw Natalie perform this song in concert she prefaced it with a tale about Robert Louis Stevenson's life at the time this poem was written. He was apparently extremely ill and convinced that his death was not far off. Natalie surmised that the poem was not just about a longing for sleep and dreams, but also for a return to childhood itself. Here is a brief snippet from Natalie's Leave Your Sleep liner notes:

"Both dreams and childhood are elusive and fleeting; Stevenson understood how impossible it is to return to either once we have awakened or grown up."

Although the orchestrated version of this song that is found on Leave Your Sleep is lovely, I didn't appreciate this song fully until I heard it performed live, in a scaled-down, acoustic setting. It's a testament to Natalie's abilities as a composer (often overshadowed by the praise heaped on her lyricism) that songs like this one and so many others from Leave Your Sleep work equally beautifully in a variety of musical settings.

Including Circle Dream with The Land of Nod in this post may be a bit of a stretch, as the two songs' musical styles are miles apart. But the dream theme is carried through both and I figured you all would let me get away with it. Circle Dream was a very different style of song for the Maniacs, something that would've sounded absurd on their preceding album, Blind Man's Zoo. As much as Natalie's fans in general might associate her songs with very specific messages and ideas, she has at times written lyrics that are a little more enigmatic. Here's an interesting quote from Natalie on this subject:

"Lyrically I've always wanted to write in a more impressionistic style and not be so concerned with the meaning of the songs. Not as literal. Some lyric writing is beautiful for its intrinsic value: The words sound interesting together. I've been keeping track of my dreams since I was a teenager. I have notebooks full of dream imagery, and I feel like I'm so much freer in my unconscious mind."*

Regular readers of this blog might at this point expect me to say something like, "I like when Natalie writes songs that have deeper meaning and value than this song" or some other such form of snobbery that you've come to expect (and love...right?) from me, but actually I quite enjoy Circle Dream. It fits well on Our Time In Eden and its gently buoyant sound and soothing lyrics are something I find quite enjoyable. See? I'm not entirely a stick in the mud after all.

Thanks for reading and make sure to check in next week when we plunge headlong into the world of nasty breakup music, Natalie-style.

Download The Land of Nod from Itunes - The Land of Nod - Leave Your Sleep

Download Circle Dream from Itunes - Circle Dream - Our Time In Eden

*US Magazine, February 1996

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