Nov 12, 2017


If dreams came true, oh wouldn’t that be nice

Most of my sleep dreams are mundane if I can even remember them. The other night I dreamt that I missed a flight to Toronto because I didn’t have my passport.

There are other dreams that are more profound. Those are the dreams of one's life - how it turned out, how you wanted it to turn out. We often evaluate our life based on its relation to those earlier dreams we created. Sometimes that hurts.

But maybe instead of being ends, those dreams are means. Guideposts, data points, simple memories.

Bruce Springsteen’s new show Springsteen On Broadway makes this point. It comes on the heels of his 2016 autobiography, Born to Run. That book - as I read it - was not specifically about dreams. Instead, it begins:

“I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud. So am I.”

Here we have the artist messing with our mentals - trying to flip every preconceived notion of who we thought he was. Springsteen, though, is too clever for something as simple as that. His autobiography too is a work of art.

Thus, On Broadway backs off from - indeed, alters - his earlier self-classification as a fraud. Instead, in the show, he calls himself a “magician.” What is that magic? A songwriter whose famous songs are about busting out of your hometown, yet now lives 5 miles from where he grew up. A body of work about the hardships of the working life, yet who has never had a real job. No longer is this person a fraud, for his art is magic. An art form in and of itself. One can still be authentic and be a magician.

This matters because he can now be comfortable with those earlier dreams, those represented in the songs. For he is now free of having to actually live them. They don’t represent the ends of his life, just the means. They are just ideas. We don’t need their literal success to find true meaning in life.

One good minute could last me a whole year

On Broadway reminded me of one of my other favorite works of art, Bob Dylan’s book Chronicles: Volume One. The main feeling I took away from that book was the mundanity of Dylan's life. Chronicles can then be read as his personal confession: at one point in time, I wrote some really, really good songs. I am not sure why. Other times I wrote merely good songs. But I am also a father, and I took my kid to little league games, and those were profound moments for me, maybe as much so as any “protest” songs (but I can’t explain how those happened anyway). It is as if Dylan is saying: my little details matter to me as much as my songs might mean to you. You don’t know me because what you'd find is far less interesting than what you'd expect. But, it's interesting to me.

In a new podcast with Malcolm Gladwell and Rick Rubin, Eminem relates his insecurity as a songwriter. He speaks about being younger when his art was a blank canvas. Everything he did was a new component filling up that canvas. But, as he matured, it became harder and harder to find blank spaces. The canvas is full. Insecurity, even ego death, occurs. What does one do? Springsteen refers to something similar in his Broadway show. He tells a story about how he can remember when he felt the most joy in his life: he was 19 and broke, his family had moved to California, his sister had moved out. His only friends were his bandmates. And yet, he was intensely happy. Everything was fresh and ready to be painted.

The trick was to surrender to the flow

My favorite time in NYC is 5am. That semi-quiet moment, motion is occurring but at three-quarters speed, the streets and cars providing most but not all of the light. Volume is there - it always is - but it is hushed. Stores opening. People just getting home. At 5am, all that exists are the details. There is something about this middle ground.

I backpacked around Asia a long time ago with a friend. Over the years the memories became more specific. We remembered less and less about the temples outside Jakarta or the canals of Bangkok. Instead, it was the guy from Canada who was obsessed with Arthurian legend. The bar in Koh Samui that showed VHS episodes of The Young Ones 24 hours a day. Mamet reminds us in Glengarry Glen Ross that ”a great meal fades in reflection; everything else gains.”

So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way

Maybe then it is important to dream and live our life with those dreams. Perhaps, though, we’ve used them the wrong way. They aren’t supposed to come true but are only meant to guide us to a place, a place of different truths. After all, as Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.

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