In Dreams

Elliott Murphy - In Dreams

A little over 20 years ago my ears started ringing and they haven’t stopped making that damn sound since. It’s a noise only I can hear and ear doctors (of whom I’ve seen my share) call this incurable condition Tinnitus. It can be caused by a lot of things I suppose but in my case the culprit was definitely many, many wonderful years of playing loud rock ‘n roll and the perpetuator was caught red-handed holding my Fender Stratocaster Guitar plugged into a Twin-Reverb Amp and everything turned up to 10. The fact that I always stood too close to my old drummer Tony Machine as he massacred his snare drum probably didn’t help either but God the whole building shook when he hit the downbeat! And then there was the time I went skeet shooting Gatsby-like over the Long Island sound without ear protection but I did that only once so it doesn’t count. I know I surely did some serious ear damage all those smoky nights playing at Max’s Kansas City or Tramps or any of the other low-ceilinged New York joints I habituated in the 80’s where we liked to play loud and fast and now I’m paying for it. But I don’t complain because almost every other 50+ rock musician I know has the same damn thing buzzing along in his head as me and we all seem to wear it like a badge of courage, a purple haze heart medal of rigorous rock combat duty. And to be honest I must say that for the most part I’ve gotten use to it even if it is the last sound I hear before I go to sleep. But the funny thing is that my ears never ring in my dreams …

And I am a big dreamer in more ways then one as anyone who knows me will attest to. During my conscious hours I may dream of universal fame, eternal glory, extravagant riches and, in my unselfish moments, world peace and prosperity but my nightly dream adventures are more modest affairs even if I do often dream about rock stars. Why I’ve dreamed about Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Lou Reed and even the French star Johnny Holliday is something a shrink could have alot of fun trying to figure out! In my dreams there have been guest appearances by the Beatles, Kinks and Aerosmith and cameo drop-ins by Tina Turner, Debbie Harry and Maryann Faithful as well as Patti Smith. And, of course, I’ve dreamed of Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix. Once I dreamed Elvis was black and was driving my car and we were all in Heaven just driving around and Jimi Hendrix was in the back seat with me and then Elvis got tired and took a nap – in my dream! Last night I dreamed again about Bob Dylan and he was very nice to me and we were talking about Paul Nelson, the rock-critic who discovered me and passed away a few years ago. In my dream Bob was very quiet when I mentioned Paul’s name and asked me what I wanted to know about Paul. Don’t know what that means. And recently I dreamed I was on stage with the Rolling Stones and couldn’t remember the chords to the songs or even worse couldn’t find my guitar. There’s a lot of that in my dreams – searching for the things I need albeit guitars or clothes or solid ground to stand on. When my son Gaspard was born in September 1990 I went on a two-week tour of Japan a month later and I dreamed about him every night and in my dreams I was always looking for him in a series of colorful low houses by the sea. I don’t know if he was dreaming of me because he was only a month old. Do babies have dreams or is everything just a dream to them anyway? I often dream of my father who passed away over 40 years and for a long time in my dreams he was quiet and strange and when I asked him where he went and disappeared to for all these years he would tell me he had to go away somewhere for some sad reason. I cried in my dreams and felt lost in the morning. Am I haunted by my dreams or do I haunt them myself? Like a ghost still living?

And now I am living my dreams so to speak. And that’s the problem: my dreams have become my reality and thus take on all the problems that comes with the territory: boredom, fear, exhilaration and exhaustion. To live in Paris was always a dream and to be a singer was something I only dreamed to do for a long, long time. There was a time I thought I might stand in the back of the stage and play rhythm guitar and it was only when I found my own words did I find the courage to want to shout them out as loud as I could. “You know you make me want to shout!” said the Isley Brothers when me and my friend Russel Fager would listen to that 45 rpm record over and over when I was 10 years old in Garden City. There was something so illicit about “Shout”, because we could hardly understand the words they were singing. In fact, that was the case with most rock ‘n roll of my youth – it was so hard to understand the words. And now, with perhaps the exception of “Louie Louie” we all can almost universally understand the language of rock ‘n roll so much better. In fact it’s become its own language and our ears seem to have evolved because of the music and its intrinsic power of growth and redemption. Maybe that’s why my ears are ringing because they’re in a constant state of evolution and this is a prime side effect. I believe this with all my heart and I will testify that this post-nuclear music and culture and fashion and addiction of rock ‘n roll has changed us in profound and mysterious ways we can’t even begin to imagine and that the impact of rock ‘n roll on western culture and beyond has yet to be appreciated. Amen.

Now, on the other hand, my guitarist Olivier Durand can sleep sitting up in his airplane seat or in a car or almost anyplace. I’ve seen him do it! And I don’t know if he dreams at all because he’s never mentioned it to me. But we’ve played together for over 12 years and we do dream together all the time of other things: We dream of playing bigger concert halls and traveling with a full-time crew in a splendid tour bus outfitted with proper beds and huge TV screens and gourmet foods with pretty young hostesses serving us. We dream of these things because we think we could do so much more on stage if we had all those comforts, all that support but maybe the truth is that it’s the very lack of such extravagances that is the secret to our long-running success (if you can call it that!) because many nights our job and our greatest challenge is to succeed and persevere in spite of all the difficulties we face on the road, in spite of the hours of mind-numbing travel and the problematic sound-checks and the drunk in the front row who keeps yelling things to us in a language we can never understand. And still we always go to the front of the stage because we are drawn there, to the source of all power and wisdom – the public consciousness, that living breathing miracle that stands facing us as we stand a few feet above them. We’re totally outnumbered and armed with only our fragile guitars to defend us against their love. You see, we are drawn to our public as a divining rod is to water, as a compass is to true north because they are our nightly fountain of youth and our source of spiritual strength and sometimes nearly endless endurance. When we are on stage we love them as one loves a huge family, they are our past, present and future ancestors. The attachment is so visceral and real because of the way they react and hold on to our thoughts, our emotions, our melodies and our aspirations in a collective grip that no individual ever could no master no matter how well-intentioned. And they heighten our reality in a way drugs never could. We don’t need to dream when we are on stage because that’s what it is – a dream of our own dreams. And it seems like it will never end … until the moment you step off that stage and the dream ends when it’s really all over, the lights come up, and the last guitar chord has vanished like smoke into the cosmos and yet still you need them, that beautiful public. You need them so badly that you hurry back to the edge of the stage where that once ocean of emotion has receded to a pool of a mere handful or so of the most faithful fans and you sign CDs as fast as you can and try to make a lasting connection with each and every one and remember their names and their children’s names and their wives and husband’s names and then thank, thank, thank them with all the sincerity in your aching vocal chords. I have probably said “Thank you” more then any other two words in the English language. 

Thank you.

Elliott Murphy
May 2008

Photo: Willy Dumalin