The Thing About Dreams

Posted: February 23, 2016 in A Little Less Profound
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Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event performs in Boston in the fall of 2014. Photo by Ayaz Asif Photography:

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event performs in Boston in the fall of 2014. Photo by Ayaz Asif Photography:

By Glen

I am a dreamer. 

Not so much in the daytime, where infinite possibility is so often drowned out by cold, hard reality, and fantastical notions of what-could-be are subsumed by the mundanities of what-actually-is.

However, in the dead of night, as my natural pessimism drifts away and the synapses of my brain are finally free to fire unencumbered by the constraints of responsibility, wild things happen.

My dreams are vivid. On any given night I’ll be cast as the lead in a multi-act film, with cameos from any number of unlikely characters from across my lifespan. Though some themes replay themselves repeatedly (at least once a week I find myself back in school, having completely forgotten about a critical assignment), from one sleep to the next there is no telling what twist the plot will take.

Sometimes the next morning I’ll try to describe it to my wife. Unfortunately, what seemed so clear and profound when my eyes were closed is now just barely, frustratingly out of reach. In that netherworld, the pieces – disparate as they may be – somehow fit together. But with the rising of the sun, they become a senseless jumble. As a non-dreamer, she has little patience for my confused attempts at retelling.


“The Thing About Dreams” is a unique entry in The Airborne Toxic Event canon, in more ways than one. It experiments with sounds that were previously foreign to the band, creating an evocative aural landscape that sounds very, well, dreamlike. Mikel Jollett, a natural baritone if there ever was one, pushes well past the presumed upper limits of his register to deliver a falsetto chorus that transports the listener beyond the atmosphere of TATE World, into another dimension entirely.

Perhaps most strikingly, the consummate storyteller abandons his usual straightforward narrative approach to songwriting in favor of dropping a series of disconnected thoughts; snatches of visions that lack a connecting thread, just as dreams are prone to jumping from one scene to the next with neither warning nor apparent purpose. The result is not just a song about dreams – it is a dream.

It leaves even the writer himself scratching his head wondering, “What is this thing I’ve created?”

I have no idea what the deal is with this song. I wrote it a year ago and never planned to put it on a record. I liked the Wurlitzer and the beat and that moment when the beat stopped and the piano came in.

Dreams don’t follow any sort of logical pattern (it’s more of an attempt by your brain to create something logical out of your spinning stream of unconscious emotions and images, short and long term memories — or so I’m told by the New York Times).

I had a recurring dream when I was kid about flying. I would be standing on the sidewalk with huge ears, like an elephant— and simply flap them and I’d be airborne. I remember thinking “Why do I keep forgetting that I can fly? This is so easy. I have to remember this when I wake up.” As if the only thing stopping me from flying in reality was a mental block I’d acquired from living too long on a planet that told me I couldn’t.

So many dreams are like that: memories of a time when you didn’t so thoroughly know the limitations that life imposes on you. That’s probably why they’re important. Because unlike flying, many of those limitations don’t actually exist.

This song was just a way to wave across the abyss to a memory of something that once made me feel limitless.

Jollett has said that the most important meaning to be found in any song is the one that is produced between the ears of any given listener. If that’s true of his more typical songs, which are thoroughly grounded in specific times and spaces and deal with real events that happened to real people, how much more so for this piece that by design defies definitive interpretation?

“The Thing About Dreams” entices the listener to swim about in their own consciousness, to grab bits and pieces of Jollett’s stream of thought and connect the invisible dots to their own lives.

With Jollett positing that many of life’s limitations may in fact be a mirage, it’s ironic that, for me, the points of strongest connection are those lines that jolt me back to reality.

The thing about love: it’s never enough. Circumstance changes and life’s always calling your bluff. Enough is enough.

And now I’ve said too much and I’m not giving up. I can’t carry the weight of this over-filled cup. I just close my eyes like you’re close to the touch and I dream: You’re not what you seem.

I have clung to these words like a lifeline this past year: a year of changing circumstances and over-filled cups, in which life has gotten scarier than any nightmare and I might well have gotten “Enough is enough” tattooed on my forehead.

When it all gets to be too much and that heavy cup seems on the verge of slipping from my hands, sometimes the only way out is to close my eyes and slide back into that world where things are not what they seem: where the present and the future can be rewritten however I see fit, and it all seems close enough to touch.

It’s a happy place.

Video by Monica Lara

GlenGlen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.


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