By The Landlord
“The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.” – Paul Valéry
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” – Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis
“I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.” – Benjamin Franklin
"I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day." – Frank Sinatra
Do you wake with a wide-eyed, wriggly stretch of spring-like joy, buzzing with excitement and anticipation about the day ahead, or, from disturbing dreams, with a moany ache, and a dehydrated grumble? I know which I do, and it is rarely the former. In fact, for me it generally happens after a series of unsubtle, but brilliantly evolved cat manoeuvres, first from toe-grabbing to face pawing, loud purring in the ear, disturbing nuzzling and licking of lips, and after everything else has failed, a bright shaft of light on the face after His Furriness has now discovered how to grab a curtain in his teeth and pull it back. He’s really more like a dog. But it could be worse. He could be like this dog:
And of course children aren’t exactly without waking up talents. But as much life is a series of awakenings as a habitual, universal experience, occurring thousands of times, often as a chore but occasionally as a joy, and as ordinary, as it were, as the day is long, it is also, when you think about it, a very profound experience, passing from unconsciousness to consciousness, moving between two very different existential worlds.
And so this week, with, we hope, the gradual arrival of spring over this Easter weekend, of shoots and sap and leaves unfurling, we’re looking at songs and other musical forms that touch on this subject, and to awaken some ideas, a few examples in other genres.
So this is less about sleep itself, or dreams, which have been previously looked at, but those moments of transition from sleep to being awake, whether in lyrics, or in some cases where that is evoked in the music itself. So typically lyrics could describe waking up with a sore head, in a particular mood, with a sense of purpose or discombobulation, or a feeling of being alone, or in comfortable bliss with a lover, or even with a surprise, when waking somewhere unfamiliar, or with someone you didn’t expect.
Songwriters, and indeed creative people of all kinds try to use the first moments of being awake as their most creative. Where possible I try to write down a page of ramblings in a bedside notebook, for later use or to simply get the brain focused, but many writers find morning creativity extremely potent. Paul McCartney famously awoke with the tune to Yesterday from a dream, rolled out of bed, and immediately played it on the piano. David Bowie wrote prolifically with lyrics and melodies remembered from his dreams. And Rod Temperton, the man from Cleethorpes who became the keyboard player and songwriter for Heatwave and wrote Boogie Nights, awoke one morning to think up the title of his biggest hit written for Michael Jackson – Thriller.
And ironically and tragically Jackson, and several other artists, including Prince, had such difficulty sleeping they used artificial means to get them there, but overdid it, and ended up not waking up at all.
Nature of course has its own waking patterns. How useful it would be, in winter times, to be able to go into a full hibernation, and scramble out of our cosy nests, stretching with joy in the sunshine, but hopefully not like some grumpy bear.
But our forebears would have had very different waking patterns to those we experience in modern times. We’d more likely go to sleep at dusk and rise at dawn. And there is historical evidence that even as late as Victorian times, it was normal to get up in the middle of the night after about four hours, and spend an hour working, praying, reading, having sex, or a mixture of these, after the first wave sleep has got you half refreshed, before diving back into sleep for more rest. So the modern goal of eight straight hours is often unrealistic. And so waking up to artificial stimuli is not always healthy. But never mind the conventional alarm clock, what about this?
Some advertisers however, particularly in the past, have tried to associate waking up as a positive experience. Anyone remember this 1970s advert for Brutus jeans, which was adapted from the David Dundas song, Jeans On?
In this same decade I recall that my parents had a teasmade. I can’t recall what brand, but it was surely a health and safety nightmare – curdled milk left in the cups all night, a kettle next to my dad’s head, and juddery, swivelling arm spraying boiling water that at times was likely to miss the cups altogether. Ah! Luxury! Anyway here’s the advert from a Goblin model, which also contains no shortage of innuendo.
But from ephemera, tea and trivia, waking up has many other more profound and serious meanings. Oliver Sacks’s book Awakenings (1973), which was also made into a film, is about patients suffering from encephalitis lethargica, known as sleeping sickness,as described in 1917 by the neurologist Constantin von Economo and the pathologist Jean-René Cruchet:
“They would be conscious and aware – yet not fully awake; they would sit motionless and speechless all day in their chairs, totally lacking energy, impetus, initiative, motive, appetite, affect or desire; they registered what went on about them without active attention, and with profound indifference. They neither conveyed nor felt the feeling of life; they were as insubstantial as ghosts, and as passive as zombies.”
So here is a form of being awake and yet not awake, and Sacks describes how he helped some patients regain consciousness, an ‘enduring awakening’, after the introduction of the then-new drug L-DOPA.
Talking of zombies, waking up in many forms, as also been a pivotal moment in many feature films and books of fiction, most notably, 28 Days later, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, in which Cillian Murphy, a bicycle courier, awakens in London after a virus turns London in to zombie apocalypse. How very inconvenient.
This plot device has also been used extensively for at least 200 years. Washington Irving’s short story Rip Van Winkle (1819) follows a Dutch-American man who falls asleep in the Catskill Mountains and wakes up 20 years later, having missed the American Revolution. The Man Who Awoke (1975) by Laurence Manning concerns the story of Norman Winters, puts himself into suspended animation for 5,000 years. Now that must be really confusing.
Other variants on this include George Taylor, the astronaut who goes into hibernation on a long mission and ends up on a future, not past Earth - Planet of the Apes. There are also the characters in the Alien films, Philip J Fry in the animation series Futurama, and an even more comic and surreal work, Woody Allen’s brilliant Sleeper (1973), in which Woody plays the hapless Miles Monroe, a health food store owner who gets forcibly frozen, forcibly revived, and forcibly inducted into a resistance movement in a totalitarian state:
But as touched on by Allen, aside from the fantasy horror and humour of being cryogenically frozen and waking up, there is also the wider topic of whether society is indeed awake politically or otherwise. Perhaps we are all variously asleep in the travails of work and survival.
But to finish, several more Bar visitors have now gathered to have their personal say on this topic. Some find waking up a positive experience. The ever perky Dolly Parton says: “I don't have maids or servants, and my husband and I love waking up early and going to the 24-hour supermarket when there is nobody else there.”
And Nile Rodgers, also forever motivated, likes to wake to challenges: “I'm always swimming forward like a shark. You just keep going and you don't rest. I love waking up knowing that I have a problem to solve.”
But some dread waking hours. “Well,” says the author Ray Bradbury, “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spent the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”
Robert Frost joins in with the same jokey spirit: “The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office."
But let’s finish with Maya Angelou, who sagacious as always, describes the process as something lifelong:
“At 50, I began to know who I was. It was like waking up to myself.”
So then, no doubt, stretching with wide-eyed anticipation for the next few mornings, we look forward to your song nominations on this topic. This week’s keeper and setter of the musical alarm clock is the wonderfully perceptive ParaMhor. Place your songs in comments below, before the bell rings on Monday at 11pm UK time, for full consciousness in playlists published next Wednesday. I hope this is a wake-up call you’ll welcome.
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