Monday, August 13, 2007


[Blog update: A number of newer oeuvreblogs have sprouted up, devoted to T-Pain and Pavement, Marillion and Wilco (and how could I forget Elton John?). They are all linked at the side, and I wish their authors every success, these things are a bit of a commitment. Several of them are already favourites of mine.]

All Alan ever said about "Anon" (pardon the alliteration) is this: "from a dream i had one night." I don't remember most of my dreams - as far as my conscious self is concerned I might not even have them the vast majority of nights - but when I do there's a nightmarishly surreal cast to even the most pleasant of them that made me doubt Nietzsche's assertion in The Birth of Tragedy (one of my favourite books of all time, at least for the first 14 sections before it goes off the rails) that dreams belong to the Apollonian rather than Dionysian realm. In my dreams knowledge pops unbidden into your head; you know a is connected to or caused or will prevent b, know that person x loves/hates/is afraid of you, blithely know the identities of people and places you've never seen, and often in a moment of Dickian terror realise that these certainties are backwards; not because you were wrong to believe them but because they've been replaced by different certainties now (that man is an alien, she doesn't love you after all, you actually did win the lottery, and etc). Knowledge is no longer contained in your head, or even out there in the world, but lingers like a fog over everything; you might suddenly know for sure (and be right, inexorably, which is a real part of the terror) what the person next to you intends, or "what these cryptic signals mean" (cf.). There is no escaping this knowledge, no way to ignore or forestall or avoid it. It is as everpresent as vision to the waking man, only you cannot close your eyes or even go blind.

That the events themselves are happy or sad, wish fulfillment or worst fear, often seems secondary to the horrifying malleability of dream reality, which says more about my psyche than the nature of dreams I'm sure. The dreams I remember are the ones where I find myself caught in situations my dream self accepts implicitly even as I, inside, am screaming that it's not so, or at least that I have no way of knowing. It's the ontological equivalent of my repulsion from Cronenbergian 'body horror,' of the shifting flesh of the shapechanger. I love the films of David Lynch precisely for the cathartic effect of seeing that dreamlike certainty, and seeing it upset terribly; but watching it on the screen is wholly different from living through it. In the dreams I remember I know too much, with too much certainty, to have free will even as reality remakes itself freely; my knowledge always keeps pace with the dream world, and I remain trapped. Nothing is certain and everything is certain. Everything is true and nothing is permitted.

I have no idea what Alan's dreams are like. Aside from this:

Clean bill of health
Five years at the bell
No one will admit
The time or the places they've been


Three scales of men
Trace back to begin
No one will admit
Ignoring the age of my skin


I will admit, that second verse gives me chills. "Trace back to begin" by itself seems terribly suggestive of Low's method for this time (and "Anon"'s slow chime, the sound of what for any other power trio would be a brief, halting intro played out again and again with a hypnotic, not quite right certainty, is pretty emblematic of their sound then), but the gulfs of possible, hidden knowledge beneath "No one will admit / Ignoring the age of my skin" points towards so much of the Weird and Fantastic that I love because of a deep connection with terrors and fascinations that have lurked since childhood. It's the kind of statement you could find in The Prisoner, The Invisibles, Lovecraft, Sapphire & Steel, Illuminatus!, Dick, Quatermass or old (good) Doctor Who, Joy Division even, or if we expand stylistically a bit also in Borges, Calvino, Pynchon, those vast barely glimpsed secret networks that we fear have more agency, more reality than we do, the great central insight/terror posited most succinctly by Pynchon in the form of "nothing was coming. Nothing was already here." The horror that our most paranoid selves might be naively in the dark, which leaves our day-to-day selves where exactly? Outside of reality as it truly exists.

When I first heard this song I assumed that 'anon' referred to some sort of shorthand for 'anonymous,' that it was pointing to some sort of disavowal of authorship or some sort of lurking facelessness in the dream. Then I remembered that 'anon' is an archaic way to say three things:

1. At another time; later.
2. In a short time; soon.
3. At once; forthwith.

Later, soon, now. Nothing is coming. Nothing is already here. Clean bill of health notwithstanding.

...and that's why I'm fine with forgetting most of my dreams.


Inverarity said...

Can't add much to that (great post). Though is this ("clean bill of health") the first appearance of the preoccupation with doctors?

Ian said...

That is an excellent question. I think it may be, or at least I don't recall anything from the two earlier records. Interestingly enough in the song backgrounds page Alan never mentions doctors or medicine at all.

Brendan said...

Just stumbled on your blog and love it.

I had a realization literally a few days ago that perhaps the "Anon" referred to here is rehab, as in Alcoholics Anonymous.

It gave an interesting new slant to the lyrics.

Ian said...

Holy shit, that works perfectly. Thanks for the idea, Brendan; glad you like the blog. (it's currently dormant, but back to life in the near future, fingers crossed)