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RECURRING DREAMS 

Since childhood I’ve been haunted by three recurring dreams: the clown, the flying dream, and the shadow man.

THE CLOWN

I know, I know.  

Coulrophobia is is such a cliché.  

But this one’s a bonafide nightmare.  

I’m a small child in a white void, lying on my back, pretending to be asleep. With my forearm draped across semi-closed eyes, I sneak a peek at the only other occupant of this ghostly expanse: a faux-jovial, bald circus clown with a floppy ruffled collar and a cone-shaped hat.

The colors of his clothes and make-up are washed out and faded, almost grey. He reminds me a little of Krinkles, the creepy Post Cereal huckster from Saturday morning cartoons. 

Krinkles, the creepy Post Cereal clown

The clown stands nearby but faces away, cradling a bright blue, plush velvet sofa pillow in his arms. He seems oblivious to my presence as he pantomimes what appears to be a fake television commercial. Silently mouthing his sales pitch into an imaginary camera, the clown gesticulates dramatically toward the pillow as if it’s a wonderful new product.

Suddenly the clown stops smiling and becomes very still. His face loses all expression as he slowly turns in my direction. I sense that he now knows I’m here, awake and watching.

We lock eyes. A terrifying chill runs up my spine. At that precise moment, I awaken, my heart racing. 

I can't rationally explain the terror of this nightmare. What's so scary about seeing and being seen? But to this day, nothing frightens me so much as making eye contact with a clown. 

I endured these nightmares nearly every evening until my teen years when, inexplicably, they ceased. Decades later my mother Lela would mention having taken me, as a toddler, to the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, but I have no memory of that experience. I do remember, however, the framed portrait of a grinning clown that she painted in oils and hung on the wall of my bedroom. 

I never much cared for that picture, especially after the nightmares began. 

THE FLYING DREAM

Curiously, my favorite recurring dream -- the flying dream -- centers around the same blue pillow. 

In this one I walk over to the sofa, pick up the pillow and take it outside.

Somehow I understand that this pillow is a talisman, imbued with magical powers.

I clutch the pillow to my chest and begin kicking my legs furiously, like a dog paddling in a pool. Gradually my body begins to levitate a few inches above the ground.

My neighbors watch in amazement. The higher I rise, the easier flying becomes, and the less I need to kick. Eventually I am able to float effortlessly in the sky, still clinging to the precious pillow as I sail above the clouds, over the town and all the tiny buildings and people below.  
 

Why does the same blue pillow appear in both the clown nightmare and the wonderful flying dream?
 

I'm so deliriously happy that I feel my heart will burst from pure joy. I fly for miles, free and fearless, knowing that I’ll remain perfectly safe as long as I don’t let go of the magic pillow. I only awaken when I realize that I'm dreaming.

Although this wondrous nocturnal fantasy began around the same time as the awful clown dream, it returned more frequently and continued far longer, well into my adult years. I’ve flown over the Great Smoky Mountains, the Sonoran Desert and the Golden Gate Bridge. But was I dreaming or astral projecting?  

It’s been a few years since my last night flight, and I miss it.

I swear, if I ever see that pillow again, awake or dreaming, I’m just gonna grab it and give it a go.  

THE SHADOW MAN

I hesitate to call this mysterious figure either dream nor nightmare. He always seem to visit during the hypnagogic twilight state between sleep and wakefulness. 

It’s always the same story: I rouse in the wee hours with the uncanny sense of being watched. I open my eyes and peer around the room into the darkness. 

I'm not alone. There, in the corner, is the Shadow Man, a dark figure in silhouette with no discernible features except for a wide, flat-brimmed hat. He faces me, yet he has no face.  
 

Is the Shadow Man watching me, or watching over me?
 

I’ve seen him many times in my own bedroom, while visiting friends, even in hotels on the road. He follows me in my travels, appearing only at night. He never moves or utters a word. If I speak to him, he doesn’t answer. If I rub my eyes or turn on the light, he vanishes.  

Apparently my experience is not unique. The internet is overflowing with accounts of shadow people sightings all over the world. This is cold comfort for me, however, since it answers none of my questions.

Who is the Shadow Man? Is he real or an hallucination? What does he want? Does he intend harm or protection? Is he watching me, or watching over me? I may never know. 

His most recent visitation was five years ago, when my dog Scout was only a few months old. I awoke to find the puppy shivering at the foot of my bed, staring into the corner, her eyes like saucers. Even before I looked, I knew he was there.

“I’ll be damned,” I thought. “She sees him, too.”

FAME! PART 2 — JAZZ FAMOUS? 

If Interlochen was an artist colony, Berklee was a star factory.  

By the late 1980s, Berklee College of Music had established itself as a global center for music education, attracting talented students from all around the world. From its modest midcentury beginnings as a jazz trade school, Berklee had grown to become a fully accredited conservatory of contemporary music, with a stellar faculty and a roster of chart-topping, Grammy-winning alumni.  

However, it wasn't the school's reputation for launching successful music careers so much as the prospect of living in the city of Boston that made me choose Berklee over the other colleges offering scholarships.  

The many colleges and universities in Boston, Massachusetts have made the city a world leader in higher education

“You gotta look at the big picture,” a visiting clinician at Interlochen had advised. “Those other programs are excellent, but do you really want to spend the next four years of your life in Denton, Texas, or Coral Gables, Florida? Wouldn't you rather start your journey in a cosmopolitan, culturally rich environment? Don't you want to experience everything the city has to offer?” 

The idea made a lot of sense to me. I envisioned myself as an urban denizen, living in a Back Bay apartment, riding the subway, bopping around to jazz clubs, art galleries and whatnot.

Empowered by my experience at Interlochen, I would collect a coterie of cool, bohemian friends from other creative disciplines. We would gather in cafes to challenge and inspire one another with lively debates about art, music and literature. We would navigate the city’s historic neighborhoods and discover its hidden treasures together.

That was the plan, anyway.

And so it came to pass that I arrived in Boston like a quixotic knight errant, carrying my horn like a lance, wearing an invisible suit of armor made of chutzpah, armed with all the grandiose myths I had come to believe about myself and my inevitable place in the world.  

Our hero, poster child for the Dunning-Kruger Effect

My nascent skills were unremarkable, my self-confidence absurdly high. I must have seemed ridiculous.

Professor John LaPorta was the first to burst my bubble. “I dig your ambition, kid, but if you think you’re gonna get rich and famous playing jazz, think again,” he said. “This music is neither popular nor lucrative. It’s a long, hard road. The best you can hope for is to earn the respect of your peers.” 

Prior to teaching at Berklee, clarinetist and composer John LaPorta 
played and recorded with Kenny Clarke, Charlie Parker,
Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis

LaPorta lamented how the names of even our most celebrated artists are virtually unknown outside of jazz circles. Many of the legends are long dead, and to the extent that any ever became a “household name” — Duke Ellington, for example, or Louis Armstrong — that was in another time, back when jazz was more a part of the cultural mainstream.  

“Some of our colleagues have become what we call jazz famous," LaPorta explained. "They put in the work. Now they’re in the big leagues. Civilians may not know their names, but we do. In our world, their names ring out. They've earned our respect.” 

“You could be next,” he concluded, “but only if you get serious and stop fucking around.”

Next:
FAME! PART 3 — MORE FAMOUS THAN YOU

FAME! PART 1 — I FEEL IT COMING TOGETHER 

Remember the song “Fame?” 

Not the groovy David Bowie ear worm. The other one: 

Fame! I’m gonna live forever 
I’m gonna learn how to fly 
High! I feel it coming together 
People will see me and cry 
Fame! I’m gonna make it to heaven 
Light up the sky like a flame 
Fame! I’m gonna live forever 
Baby remember my name 

Remember? 

“Fame” was a major showbiz anthem of the ‘80s, a big hit for Irene Cara, and the titular theme song of a popular movie and television series. 

I watched Fame every Thursday night. I had no idea whether New York’s High School for the Performing Arts was real or fictional, but the premise of a special school for talented teens? Seemed pretty magical to me. To this day, when I hear that song I can’t help but sing along. 

Lori Singer as "Julie" in Fame

My school in Arizona couldn’t have been less like Fame. Nobody at Canyon del Oro was gonna “learn how to fly” or “live forever,” least of all some skinny little pep band trumpeter with delusions of grandeur. 

I could really see myself thriving, however, in a place like that Fame school. It wasn’t the bright lights of New York City that attracted me so much as the notion of being among my own kind. 

How glorious it would be to collaborate every day with other young creatives! Learning from experts, making music together, attending plays and exhibits, talking about art! I just knew I could find friends in a place like that, and maybe even meet a girl like Julie, the gorgeous but shy cellist/dancer on Fame (huge crush). 

So when the opportunity came along for me to transfer to a private, arts-centered boarding school, I didn’t hesitate. 

Interlochen Center for the Arts (Interlochen MI), home of Interlochen Arts Academy and National Music Camp;  Inset: pep band trumpeter with delusions of grandeur

Interlochen Arts Academy was everything I’d dreamed of, a community of misfits and eccentrics, just like me. For the first time, I was living among kindred spirits my own age: painters, sculptors, actors, dancers, writers, musicians. I was home. 

Like LaGuardia High School, on which the Fame school was based, Interlochen emphasizes both arts and academics, attracting students from all over the world to prepare for higher education while training for careers in the arts. But unlike LaGuardia, which is situated in the heart of Manhattan’s upper west side near Juilliard and Lincoln Center, the Interlochen campus in located in a rural Michigan pine forest between two lakes. 

The secluded setting made my experience at Interlochen feel more like living in an artist colony than a boarding school. The year-round Interlochen Arts Academy had grown out of the prestigious summer National Music Camp, utilizing many of the same rustic cabins, classrooms and dormitories. 

I staked out my practice spot early on: the boiler room in the basement of our residence hall. Each morning I would take my horn down there to warm up with long tones and scales before the school day began.

I loved that cozy little bunker more than all the grand stages and recital halls on campus. It was my sanctuary. When I returned to IAA many years later as a visiting artist and clinician, that room was the first place I asked to see. Although the building had been renamed, I was gratified to find that my little boiler room had not changed a bit.

Interlochen is where it all began for me, no joke. It’s where I learned the discipline required to build a life in the arts, and how rewarding the artist’s life can be.

Top: IAA Jazz Combos, DM front, second from left; Middle: performing with IAA Studio Orchestra, Corson Auditorium; Bottom: Stud Orch rehearsal, DM rear left

“You've got big dreams.
You want fame?
Well, fame costs.
And right here is where
you start paying: in sweat.”
—Lydia Grant, 
Fame

Interlochen taught me to work hard and stay humble, an ethos that would inform nearly all my future life choices.

It’s where I came to understand the artist's vaunted, leadership role in society, the public expectation to fulfill one's calling, and the private responsibility to develop one's capabilities -- not necessarily in the pursuit of fame -- but toward the creation of something meaningful and lasting. 

The pressure to succeed in our lives and careers was explicit. Students who published a poem or won a concerto competition were celebrated by the entire student body. Those elite few who were named Presidential Scholars In The Arts were treated as mini-celebrities, with a pomp normally reserved for football team captains and homecoming royalty back home in the Lonesome Desert. A day did not pass without someone “sounding the call,” enjoining the Gifted Youth to get it together, buckle down, and level up.

I recall walking to class through the Concourse, a long hall of glass display cases, where the photos and accomplishments of notable Academy graduates were displayed. Seeing all their awards and accolades, knowing that these extraordinary young women and men -- now making waves in Hollywood, Chicago, the capitals of Europe -- had started their journeys in this very place? Inspiring! Intimidating, too.

If there is an Interlochen Doctrine, it is the notion of artistic talent as both a precious gift and a sacred responsibility.

“What will you contribute?” asked one of our teachers from the stage of Kresge Auditorium, the pledge Dedicated To The Promotion Of World Friendship Through The Universal Language Of The Arts adorning the wall behind her.

“What will you create for posterity?” she challenged us. “History remembers the artists and the conquerors, creators and destroyers. You are creators! Tomorrow’s leaders. So make your lives count! We’re counting on you.” 

That kind of ideological rhetoric, grandiose as it was, really resonated with me.

I've never worked harder or had more fun than I did at Interlochen. I'm grateful to have made several lifelong friends there, too, including my mentor and jazz professor, bassist Tom Knific, now a dear colleague and frequent collaborator. 

And yes, I even got to know a “Julie” or two ... but that’s a story for another time.

Next: 
FAME! PART 2 — JAZZ FAMOUS?

THE STUFF THAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF 


In the spirit of today’s THANKSGIVING holiday, I want to express my gratitude to all our supporters, friends and fans for helping to make JAZZ NOIR a reality.

Here’s an update:

We’ve finished all four recording sessions (twelve selections in all), and are now mixing the album!

Last night’s downtown photo shoot — under neon lights, in the shadowy streets — was a cinema-worthy thrill.

Soon we’ll ship the music and images to our art director, annotator and mastering engineer so they may begin their creative work.

We’re on track for a February 20 release and can’t wait to share it with you.

Watch our teaser trailer and pre-order yours HERE.

JAZZ NOIR, in the words of Sam Spade, is “the stuff that dreams are made of.”

Thanks for making our dreams come true!

~Dmitri

OZYMANDIAN DREAM 

Part One

 

I'm a young man, proud to be a member of the prestigious Philosopher's Forum. 

 

Our meeting place is a stately hall with white columns, not unlike a Roman temple, perched atop a steep hill.  

 

The names of the great philosophers, our wise elders, are chiseled on the marble wall.  

 

There's a grand salon where the elders speak and an archive where their lectures are recorded for posterity.

 

Our favorite days are when the elders visit to share their life experiences and ideas.  

 

My friends and I gather in the grand salon, listen attentively and ask many questions.  

 

Afterward we meet in the archive to read the great lectures of the past. 

 

We passionately debate the nuances and meaning of every phrase.

 

Part Two

 

It's now decades later. 

 

I'm honored to have been invited to speak at the Forum, but when I arrive, it is not as I remember.  

 

The columns are crumbling and the marble wall is covered in graffiti.  

 

The names of the elders, long dead, are barely legible beneath the chaotic scrawl.

 

The grand salon has been carved up into dozens of tiny rooms. 

 

There are too many speakers and everyone is shouting.

 

I struggle to communicate with a restless young audience. 

 

They seem distracted and have no questions.

 

Afterward, I ask if I may visit the archive. 

 

“Yeah, we don't really have that anymore,” I'm told. 

 

“It's a Chipotle now.”

Michigan Tour Diary — Day 11 

Dmitri Matheny Group JAZZ NOIR
Michigan Tour Diary — Day 11
April 19-21 Kalamazoo, Potterville, Traverse City, Hillsdale

On Saturday Sassy and I checked into the 'Billy Hart Suite' at the home of Tom and Renata Knific in Kalamazoo,
a distinctly modern two-story house with soaring cathedral ceilings,
clerestory windows and musical instruments in every room.

We had a wonderful time visiting with the Knifics, two very well-traveled and respected musicians
who also happen to be warm, soulful people, sharing stories around their table
and playing with their beautiful Weimaraner Lara.

Tom, a world class bassist and educator who chairs the jazz department at Western Michigan University,
is a very important person to me. 30 years ago he was my teacher at Interlochen Arts Academy
and one of the first people to take my jazz aspirations seriously.
When I say that Interlochen changed my life,
I'm talking about Tom Knific.

We've stayed in touch over the years and have run into one another from time to time at industry events,
but this week was our first opportunity to work together. For me it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

The Union Cabaret & Grille is a beautiful venue, a joint venture between
a visionary group of investors and the WMU music department.
We had a magical night. The band (featuring Corey Kendrick, Marcus Elliot and Sean Dobbins)
was in fine form, playing with heart and finesse. WMU jazz bought us all dinner,
and Tom presided over everything --- the Jazz Mayor of Kalamazoo!

On Easter Sunday we visited Lela Horton and her husband Bill in Potterville.
Lela made us a late breakfast of biscuits and gravy. It was interesting to meet Bill,
to see where they live, and find out what it's like to enjoy a home cooked meal
prepared by my own mother (not bad).

Monday was another big driving day for Sassy.
At 7 AM (zero hour) I gave a master class at Traverse City West High School.
At 7 PM I did the same at Hillsdale College, 250 miles south.

Just another day at the office.

IMPRESSIONABLE 



When I was young and asking the big questions, I learned most of what I still believe about loyalty, bravery and morality from the Silver Age superheroes in my comic book collection.

 

For real.

 

In later years I would travel internationally, study world religions, read classic works of philosophy and ethics, and even pay attention to my father's many lectures. I went to private school, public school, boarding school and the school of hard knocks. I'm an educated cat.

 

But to this day, when the world tests my mettle or challenges my sense of right and wrong, it's not Spinoza but my inner Green Lantern who shows up for the fight.

 

I've always been impressionable in this way. 

 

For example, I'm pretty sure I have a goatee because of the way Spock looked in "Mirror, Mirror." I know I started wearing dashikis in high school because of a picture I saw of Elvin Jones in Downbeat. I sport a beret on stage because Dizzy did.

 

Today, while watching Highlander for the godzillionth time, I noticed something about Christopher Lambert's home. Like so many characters in films of the 1980s and '90s, The Highlander lived in a loft.

 

It now occurs to me that my interior design preferences and bone-deep love of warehouse loft spaces and mid-century modern furniture are not based on anywhere I've lived or anything I've seen or studied. They don't reflect some sophisticated notion about the aesthetic requirements of an artist's life. They aren't because I need space to rehearse and create.

 

Nope. I learned about loft living from the movies. Dig: 

 

William Sanderson in Blade Runner (1982). Jennifer Beals in Flashdance (83). Lambert in Highlander (86). Barbara Hershey in Hannah and Her Sisters (86). Mickey Rourke in 9-1/2 Weeks (86). Tom Hanks in Big (88). Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally (89). Rosanna Arquette in New York Stories (89). Nancy Travis in So I Married An Axe Murderer (93). James Caan in Bottle Rocket (96). Ethan Hawke in Great Expectations (98). Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski (98). Adam Sandler in Big Daddy (99). Christian Bale in American Psycho (00). Owen Wilson in Zoolander (01). Olivier Martinez in Unfaithful (02).

 

I want their cribs!

 

Thanks, Hollywood.

 

(Sure hope this flugelhorn thing works out.)

I WANT TO BELIEVE 



I've been following the story of Dutch engineer Jarmo Smeets, who claims to have cracked the code on how to fly like a bird.

Inventors since Leonardo have been trying to do this. We've been able to create wings for gliding at high altitude, but the engineering challenge has been that if you make the wings large enough to support the weight of a person, no human being is strong enough—or can flap his arms fast enough—to achieve lift-off.

Smeets says that his breakthrough is using the motion detector from a Nintendo Wii to power small rotors, so that only short, brisk movements of his arms are necessary to power the flapping of the wings. With a running start, he says, he and his wings can take flight.

His YouTube videos are impressive.

The science community, however, is skeptical about the videos. Apparently Smeets' alleged credentials don't check out, either.

Too bad.

As someone who has dreamed of flying nearly every night since childhood, I want so badly to believe that this is possible!


~DM

FINAL SOLILOQUY OF THE INTERIOR PARAMOUR by Wallace Stevens 



Light the first light of evening
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one…
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

CHILDHOOD by Rainer Maria Rilke 



It would be good to give much thought, before
you try to find words for something so lost,
for those long childhood afternoons you knew
that vanished so completely -and why?

We're still reminded-: sometimes by a rain,
but we can no longer say what it means;
life was never again so filled with meeting,
with reunion and with passing on

as back then, when nothing happened to us
except what happens to things and creatures:
we lived their world as something human,
and became filled to the brim with figures.

And became as lonely as a sheperd
and as overburdened by vast distances,
and summoned and stirred as from far away,
and slowly, like a long new thread,
introduced into that picture-sequence
where now having to go on bewilders us.

AS ONCE THE WINGED ENERGY OF DELIGHT by Rainer Maria Rilke 



As once the winged energy of delight
carried you over childhood's dark abysses,
now beyond your own life build the great
arch of unimagined bridges.
 
Wonders happen if we can succeed
in passing through the harshest danger;
but only in a bright and purely granted
achievement can we realize the wonder.
 
To work with Things in the indescribable
relationship is not too hard for us;
the pattern grows more intricate and subtle,
and being swept along is not enough.
 
Take your practiced powers and stretch them out
until they span the chasm between two
contradictions ... For the god
wants to know himself in you.