David Bowie and Dreams

Hotels @ KEXP 2017 – Photo by David Rzegocki

David Bowie visited me in a dream once. I say ‘visited’ specifically–not ‘I had this weird dream about David Bowie’–because I know that dreams are for the most part just firing synapses and memories and thoughts from the day slamming into each other while you sleep. They don’t always mean much, or anything at all, but this dream seemed to have intent: clear, simple, straightforward and meaningful. I have to call it a ‘visitation’.

It was the night before we were about to begin recording our second album “Where Hearts Go Broke”. We were going into a nicer studio to record–nicer than any we’d been to before anyway–and I was hopeful, yet nervous. So David Bowie visited me in my dream. We were just standing around talking, shooting the shit, as it were. I really can’t remember most of it, except for one exchange.

At some point, he looked at me seriously and said (in a very English way, lots of hard “t” sounds missing):

“Your stuff’s great. You’ve got to get it out there.”

To which I replied:

“Wow. Thanks, David Bowie.”

And that’s about it. I woke up right after. But I told all my bandmates about it, and who knows–maybe it gave us that little extra juice for recording.

I had forgotten about this dream for many years, until the recording of “Night Showers”, the newest Hotels album. David Bowie died during the recording sessions. I listened to “Blackstar” and thought: ‘either this is a man who knows he is going to die and is handling it with an incredible amount of grace and strength, or the album contains a lot of hauntingly coincidental references to life, death, and rebirth.’ It could have been either, because Bowie liked to keep us guessing.

He was a magician in my mind, and that needs to be clarified, because magicians get a bad rap sometimes. We know that magic isn’t ‘real’; there are only well-executed illusions. And Bowie certainly had a lot of well-executed illusions. But like a good magician–the best magicians–his commitment to the illusion, to the act, the stagecraft, the PERFORMANCE was so real and complete, that the magic became real. The best magicians inspire faith; we gladly suspend disbelief for them.

My father shared almost nothing with David Bowie except that he was a similar sort of magician–a showman who could hold you in the palm of his hand and make you believe anything when he was rolling right. He lost his battle in November of 2015, just before we began recording “Night Showers”. I started writing this album before any of this stuff happened, but as the music took shape it fit into a story about loss and gain, joy and sorrow, light and dark, about how we move back and forth between places of extreme cold and loneliness, and places of overwhelming warmth and love.

John Madden aka "Pops"

John Madden aka “Pops”

My darkest and loneliest times with this album were actually at the beginning, when it was just an idea–no band, no songs, no notion of when it might see the light of day–just me in isolation finally learning to properly read and write music and feeling like a dumb child rather than a grown adult.

Then shit started to go down… I thought my father’s death would send me spiraling in to the abyss, and for sure there are dark ways I wish I could forget. But I ultimately gained more hope and focus than I ever thought possible. I went the other way: I threw myself completely into the album–lived in it–and found solace there. A group of excellent musicians and friends–a community–came together to support me and the brainchild of my isolation. I fell in love with making music again, now seeing it as a place of safety and meditation. When I play music, I am free and cannot be hurt.

All this is to say that I don’t really believe in a god, but I do believe in a world of mirrors. Rather than believe that ‘good’ or ‘bad’ things happen because God does or doesn’t want them to, I believe that the things that happen in life retain the meanings we project on to them. Everything is a mirror, and how we respond, what we project, will show us ourselves.

I don’t know if I actually ever met David Bowie in a dream. But as a mirror, that dream made me believe that I had something to offer the world. It gave me the confidence to create what is still probably one of my proudest achievements and one of my favorite albums I’ve worked on.

The Earth lost a lot of light in 2016. We are losing hope and gaining fear.

But that’s one way of looking at things, and it’s not what my mirror shows me.

My mirror shows me that I, and so many others, are still here. It shows me that we always have a choice: to join the light that has already left the planet, or to stay here, and live and grow in our lives, and create more light. We have a choice to turn away from the world or to turn toward it.

“Night Showers” is about these choices. We don’t always get them right because we’re human. But when we do, the joy, the kindness, the love we feel makes it all worth it. It’s an antidote for grief, our only real one. We can’t run from darkness, because darkness is a teacher; without it, we would not know light, or how to fight for it, or why it is worth fighting for. So I nod to darkness and choose light.

After everything, I’m still here. Dreaming and seeing light in the mirror. If you want to hear what I’ve been working on, click here to listen to the new Hotels album, “Night Showers”.