M. Q. Stewart

On Music, Dreams, and the Writing of a
New Novel

Tossing, Turning, Postulating

I’ve never been a lucid dreamer.

Dreams, I figure, are to be forgotten. Mine especially, because they are real tedious, and comprised of anxiety-ridden conversations with people that I know, or want to know. Otherwise, it’s something to do with my teeth, either falling out, becoming painful and dagger-like, or cracking and splintering like a wooden pier that’s been hit with an especially lofty sea-vessel. Growing up, I wanted to be the type of person who dreamt of really exciting things, like flying, or falling in love. Those are the most cliché kind of dreams, but I think that it would be nice to do something fun for a change. Perhaps that’s why the clichés exist in the first place, who are these people who fly around and meet the loves of their lives every single night?

Behind the Veil of Sleep

No, I didn’t pay much mind to my dreams, and that’s a fact—one which was true, up until recently—three weeks ago from today, to be exact.

I remembered almost everything. I hadn’t lost a single tooth. I witnessed powerful things, evil things, hidden at the core of our civil world, behind the big red curtain as they say. It was all tied up in an instrument with tentacles instead of strings, a lucky Spanish coin with a whole world of backstory, and a congregation of evil hippie-cultists. I didn’t waste a single moment when writing it down, as I awoke in my bed at six-in-the-morning. And with these elements in place, I decided on naming it, Deathcult Forever: a Novel in Two Parts [now, Sweet Grass and Noxious Poppies].

The Id’s Terrible Jukebox

After I endeavored to jot down every important event that took place in the dream, entering, again, our very real reality (the world of the living), I began to remember other specific qualities. These were non-visual, non-conceptual, non-esoteric, but totally musical. The dream had a definite soundtrack, one which I, the dreamer, could hear, but I, the guy therein, could not. It was as if I were watching a movie in first person, with a score of licensed music, and the main character was myself, but I was just watching, not in control. At any rate, since I was trying to be thorough, I had to analyze this aspect as well. It was my job, then, to pinpoint, listen to, and list all of these songs and add them to my notes.

The first one that I heard, as if it were still playing in my brain, was something... something that went, oh woah woah woah. This was hard, it could’ve been anything. How many times had Dio, or Celine Dion, or anyone uttered an oh, or a woah, during an emotional and awe-inspiring sort-of song? Luckily for me, I had the advantage, rather, the human limitation of only being able to have dreamt of something I’d heard before. It could have very well been a combination of two songs—and that it was. It was a combination of two songs, one of which was “A Combination of the Two” by Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the other a Jefferson Starship track called “Skateboard”.

The Tracklist

Putting together that Janis Joplin/J. Starship hybrid had somehow made it easier for me to figure out the rest. There was an indefinable amount of songs left, but I would go on until I’d exhausted all of my resources.

There was a scene (in my dream) which took place in a modified bowling alley. This fictitious place had been renovated into a bar, with odd, tall tables, which dotted the room, each with a ★ like the last David Bowie album ever recorded. The people didn’t sit, but stood with such uniformity as to seem off-putting. During this scene, a more popular Jefferson Starship tune was playing, “Somebody to Love”.

There was a scene that took place in a record store. I saw a lucky Spanish coin in a dusty corner. It was sitting right on top of my wallet. How my wallet managed to end up in a dusty corner of a random record store is beyond me. I suppose that in Dreamland one’s possessions don’t actually belong to them. At any rate, after reaching down to pick it up, I could distinctly hear The Rolling Stone’s, “She Smiled Sweetly”.

Towards the end of the dream, in the bar with the black-star tables again, I could hear what sounded like a Moog synthesizer playing foreboding keys. This turned out to be the main theme from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. A disturbing addition to the psychedelic soundtrack.

Hole In The Mind

I had an impressive tracklist, only something was off. There was still one song that I couldn’t quite figure out. It had a poppy, saccharine sound, like sugary, syrupy, sweet-nothings. What was this cherries jubilee melody that infested my subconscious mind? I could only hum the twinkly tune: huh-da-duhn-da-da-duhn-I-wanna-take-you-there. Ah! In fact, I could only hum a portion of it, all the way until I wanna take you there. Was that the name of the song? “I Wanna Take You There”? No dice.

At this point, I had very many songs that fit a 60s-70s theme, which made sense, considering that the villains of the story happened to be hippies. Whatever this unknowable track was, it sounded more like an 80s-90s pop hit anyway, so I didn’t think that it would really fit the vibe. It bothered me, but I let it go.

Over the Mountain

So for the next week, after Spring Break, from Sunday to Sunday, I worked on the outline for my novel in true, fixated, syphilitic fashion. I did as much as I could to maintain the dreamlike, liminal space. I was barely thinking of anything else, not playing video games, or listening to anything that didn’t fit the theme of my story—basically, no distractions. I stayed up late, drinking copious amounts of tea, and eating cheap noodles for a quick, non-substantial boost. I did this until I had a description of every chapter, from one to twenty-one. When I went out with my friends one night, I had the worst headache imaginable, definitely from all of the late hours, and the noodles. Instead of calling it right-then-and-there, I took some Advil—for some reason, I thought that it would be a good idea to take four. Three beers later, I was feeling fine. I only dropped one glass. I was happy, singing along with Ozzy Osbourne, “Oh-ver theh mawntain!! Tay’k meh akros theh sky-ee-ee!!” It’s much more fun to slur those lyrics anyhow.

Back Home in Montenegro

So, I managed to keep myself dazed enough—out of it enough to analyze the dream-logic. There came a point, when I had finished, where I realized that I had become slightly ill. Something will happen sometimes, when there is much to do, where one’s own body won’t let itself be sick until they have finished whatever tasks lay ahead of them. In my case, it was a Latin exam. It was a challenge to finish, and in hindsight, I had done quite well, despite my mental and physical condition. I didn’t know this at the time, and was sure that Lucan was frowning at me from somewhere.

Afterward, I was hanging out with a classmate who called himself Tuzcovek. I was eating a sandwich from the deli, and we were loitering around one of the empty indoor gymnasiums.

“I’ve been all over Europe, you know. It’s very easy to do it.”

“Oh yeah,” said I, in reply to Tuzcovek.

“In Montenegro, it’s so beautiful there. The water is the exact right temperature, and the men are manly. The women are fertile.”

“That sounds lovely,” I didn’t know, because I’d never been to Montenegro.

He told me more about his homeland, and eventually broke down crying. “I just miss it so much. I really hate it here, you know?”

At this point, I felt the weakness take hold. My mind grew distant, and my limbs became heavy with fatigue. What was I to do in this situation?

“Hey man, it’s alright. This is America, and no one really belongs here anyway. In a few years time, your kids won’t even miss home.” I’m not so sure that helped. “Let me get you a tea. I need one, and if I don’t get it, I won’t make it to earth science class.”

Fossils and Rocks and Stuff

During earth science, I found myself weak, bleary-eyed, and unable to focus. The teacher said something about the next three labs not having any mineral samples to look at, something about being able to take the lab sheets and do them at home if one needed to, and boy, I really needed to.

“Fatima, I don’t think that I can stay here. I don’t want to abandon you with the minerals.”

“The minerals will be here when you get back,” said Fatima, my lab partner. “I don’t mind if you need to go home.”

“Fatima, I have this friend from Montenegro, and he really misses his country. Do you ever miss it?”

“Do I miss Egypt?” she said. “Sometimes, yes.”

I placed a palm on my forehead to check my temperature. “I think that I did a bad job today.”

“It’s okay,” Fatima, said to me. “I used to cry over every chemistry exam that I ever took.”

I wasn’t going to cry, but my eyes were hot.

I waved the fossils, and minerals, and people, farewell.

Earth Mama, The Vegetable-Giver

I came home, collapsed.

I awoke the very next day with a fever. Despite feeling wretched, I decided that it would be in my best interest to make some kind of life-giving stew.

Later, I was at the supermarket, with a shopping basket in my right hand, and my grocery list in the other. I snatched the most delectable-looking vegetables: three wonderful potatoes, carrots, celery—Gaia’s creations. As I browsed the produce, I was going over the playlist in my mind, making little adjustments. By this time, several songs had dropped in and out, because they had to, the novel was an evolving beast. I decided on “Skateboard” instead of “A Combination of the Two”, I had to pick one, and not the other. I dropped “She Smiled Sweetly, and added “All Nite Long”, from the same album as “Skateboard”. I chose “Alright, Alright, Alright” for when one of the main characters finds an extensive collection of Mungo Jerry LPs. In honor of David Bowie: “Crystal Japan” and “The Bewlay Brothers”. Added, then dropped, then added again was Bongzilla’s “Gateway”, for those harsh-toke vocals. [Note: even now, as I am in the process of writing, this playlist is metamorphosing, and is nothing like this anymore.]

Now that it was finished, the playlist and outline could evolve as much as they needed to, until the summertime, when I would set out to actually, fully and truly, write this terrible jukebox-beast into existence [I wound up spending most of that summer enjoying the weather and finishing Apollodorus Lost His Bright-Eyed Canary instead. So it was still a valuable use of time]. What mattered then was my own health, and the vegetables, and the meat...

I Wanna Take You There

That’s when it happened. It was in the meat aisle—when you call my name, it’s like a little prayer—I needed some all-natural chicken legs for the stock, maybe some beef—I’m down on my knees—Beef chuck, not chunks, because that’s too expens—I wanna take you there!

Yes, that’s what it was. Madonna’s 1989 hit, “Like a Prayer”. And this was where I must’ve heard it: at the supermarket. How did a jingly pop-song like this end up in a creepy dream about cults? I don’t know, but I was supremely happy. It wasn’t my favorite song by any means, but it was special. It symbolized the end of a lot of angst and nihilism for me, of dreams coming into focus, and the beginning of new adventures. Still, there was no way that it would ever fit into my playlist. I close my eyes. The future is uncertain, and there is still so much left to achieve. Oh God, I think I’m falling. And all of these exams and all of this work, where will it all end up? Out of the sky, I close my eyes. But I am filled with an immense sense of purpose, one that I have not always had, HEAVEN HELP ME!