Chapter 3 - I Dream Therefore I Am

Lesson: What you hope, dream, and believe has a direct impact on your future, so choose well.

The importance of dreams cannot be underestimated. Even though we often tell others, “Follow your dreams,” and even though we ourselves are told to follow our dreams, we often do so only half-heartedly. We typically mean it when we tell this to a young person, but adults typically respond with “Yeah, whatever.” Perhaps the main reason that we believe in dreams for young kids is that we believe that if they set the right trajectory early in life then their chances of having a good life outcome increase dramatically. Adults seem to become jaded by the fact that they don’t get what they want in a few isolated instances, and they just give up on believing in dreams all together. Why would we believe in the power of dreams in one instance (young people) but not in another (our adult selves)? You either do or you don’t believe in dreams. Pick a side. But if you pick the side of believing in dreams, then by all means, get serious about believing in your own dreams. .

Although the central theme of this chapter is dreams, I kept coming back to the related theme of illusions and the need for us to learn to tell the difference. As we’ve outlined in the previous chapter, rock-n-roll urges us to “pursue our dreams with passion” and “despise all things fake,” so we need to become good at discerning between dreams and illusions. The key, no doubt, is knowing one’s self. One must explore life and be willing to take risks in order to find oneself. Not surprisingly, when we contemplate dreams there appears to be an underlying threat of “danger” as the song list for this chapter suggests.

Dreams of Mine

In the book, The Dream Maker, the author encourages the reader to write out their dreams (big and small) and to check them off when they’ve been realized. The idea is that by writing them down, the dream becomes real and thus possible to achieve. The author encourages the reader to come up with at least 100 dreams.

The types of dreams in my dream book are wide ranging. The following are a few of the more interesting ones:

  • I want to learn: how to juggle, how to ride a unicycle, and how to juggle while riding a unicycle.
  • I want to: run a marathon, play a sub-par round of disc golf, and find a job that allows me to bike to work.
  • I want to: invent something useful.
  • I want to: host a public radio program where all songs are in a 6/8 time signature
  • I want to: construct a scale model of Teotihuacan Avenue of the Dead using the Legos scattered about our house.
  • I want to travel to: every U.S. state, Canada, and every continent.
  • I want to establish:a $5 million endowment for the East Austin Conservancy (a non-profit group that helps to address gentrification), and an off-the-grid net-zero housing cooperative on 50 acres in rural Travis County.
  • I want to meet: His Holiness the Dali Lama, Deepak Chopra, Giorgio Tsoukalos, Michio Kaku, Guy Fieri, Terry Gross, Michelle Obama and Barack Obama, individuals who are interesting and provocative in myriad ways; my favorite athletes of all time, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Roger Federer and Pele; and celebrity Austin residents Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, Andy Roddick, Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, Willie Nelson, Michael Dell, Elon Musk, Joe Rogan, Emma Stone and/or James Marsden (just because they are local celebrities).
  • I want to discuss a comic book idea with band members of: Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Tool & Slayer.
  • I want to meet: Jim Cantore and all the storm trackers on the Weather Channel.
  • I want to meet the following MSNBC news personalities: Morning Joe because they play rock music in the intros/outros, the MSNBC White House Press Corps (because they rock) and Ari Melber (because of the musical elements he incorporates into "The Beat").
  • I would like to get a hug from: Oprah, Beyonce, Ellen, and Lady Gaga (to see if some of their talent can rub off on me).
  • I want to live long enough to visit el Templo de La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona once it has finally been finished.
  • I want Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal to be pardoned in their lifetime.

Finally, the dreams that have been realized (but that are not quite as important as having a great family, gainful employment, a roof over our head, food on the table, etc.) are:

  • Having been elected to public office without having had to sell my soul. CHECK!
  • Being married by an Arch Bishop (Arch Bishop Patrick Flores-RIP). CHECK!
  • Having the band that played at our wedding (Grupo Fantasma) go on to win a Grammy and serve as back-up band for Prince. CHECK!
  • Exceeding level 1000 in Candy Crush (current level 4200). CHECK!
  • Having completed my collection of state quarters. CHECK!
  • Seeing the Red Sox break the curse. CHECK!
  • Seeing the Cubs break the curse. CHECK!
  • Seeing Tiger Woods win his 15th major golf tournament. CHECK!
  • Seeing Lionel Messi finally win a world cup (with a lot of help ... of course). CHECK!
  • Shaking hands with Emmitt Smith, Denzel Washington, John Leguizamo, Charles M. Shulz, Paco de Lucia, Chuck D, Vicente Fox, Ben Crenshaw, Ann Richards, Nancy Pelosi and Double Trouble (Chris Layton & Tommy Shannon). CHECK!
  • Having a disc golf course named after me. CHECK! (Yes, that’s right!)
  • Completing my two Dice Masters collections. That is, help my son complete his two two Dice Masters collections.
  • Having received the following gifts from the heavens: Rush's return to recording after 6 years of an uncertain future, and Tool's return to recording after 13 years of an uncertain future. Rush's subsequent albums helped me to launch this project. Tool's album was a gift of sorts for not abandoning the project.. CHECK!
  • We are born of one breath, one word, one spark. Eyes full of wonder.

    Pneuma (Tool)

Creating this list of dreams is one of the greatest exercises I’ve done, partly because these were ideas that had been floating around in my head for years. It felt as if by writing them down I not only made my dreams more possible, I made room for more dreams. This can only be a good thing.

The first set of musical entries in my dream book are instrument-specific. I love certain songs so much I wish I could be a drummer, bass player, guitar player or singer specifically so that I could play these songs.

  • Learn to play the following songs on bass: “The Analog Kid” (Rush) or “Phantom of the Opera” (Iron Maiden).
  • Learn to play the following songs on drums: “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (The Who) or “The Wanton Song” (Led Zeppelin).
  • Learn to play the following songs on any instrument:: “La Villa Strangiato” (Rush) or YYZ (Rush).
  • Learn to sing/rap at least one of the following songs by Rage Against the Machine (in a way that doesn’t scare my kids…too much): “Calm Like a Bomb,” "Bulls on Parade" or “Wake Up.”

Bulls on Parade – Rage Against the Machine

I have a type of “dream” to which I still aspire that dates back to my days of trying to learn to play bass guitar during college. This type of dream involves singing while performing solo on bass guitar, thus I refer to it as my “Concert for Bass” song list (find it on Spotify). The idea is that I’d be playing the bass riff (or a variation on the bass riff or main guitar riff) of the following songs and singing the chorus and select verses, accompanied by drums: “Welcome to this World” (Primus), “My Lovely Man” (Red Hot Chili Peppers), “Heart of the Sunrise” (Yes), “Running Free” (Iron Maiden), and “Funny Vibe” (Living Colour). The last one by Living Colour is a sucker punch in this fictitious music set of mine. I’d be trying to win over the rock fans with the first four rockin’ songs and then hit them in the gut with a song written/recorded by an all-Black rock band expressing a non-mainstream view. Songs that I save for the encore are The Analog Kid (Rush), Fascination Street (The Cure), Aerials (System of a Down) and The Pot (Tool). I reserve the right to add others to the encore list as the rhythm of the bass moves me to do so!

These dreams bring a great deal of joy to me even though only a few have been realized. Maybe one of the benefits of having dreams is that they bring joy into our lives, and we all know that being happy is a great thing to have when trying to achieve good health and life outcomes.

No, I'm not gonna rob you
No, Im not gonna beat you
No, I'm not gonna rape you
So why you want to give me that
Funny Vibe!

No, I'm not gonna hurt you
No, I'm not gonna harm you
And I try not to hate you
So why you want to give me that
Funny Vibe!

Funny Vibe - Living Color

Rock-n-Roll Dreams

Another fun exercise for this chapter has been to see what rock songs themselves tell us about dreams. At the opening of this chapter you saw my “Dare to Dream” song list,” which turned out to be a great one. Only the first song was a shoo-in, all the others had to earn their place. I hated to exclude some bands/songs, but once the list seemed complete then I just didn’t want to mess with it. By “complete” I mean that the group of songs seemed to be collectively conveying something of importance about the nature of life. The title of this chapter is “I Dream Therefore I Am,” which is an extension of Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” Dreaming is a very specific type of thinking that I feel is essential to our individual and collective advancement. Thus, it is my assertion, that “if you ain’t dreamin’ then you ain’t living.”

In several of these songs, it seems like there’s something daring or dangerous about dreaming (e.g., “The Dream Police,” “Dreamer,” “American Dream,” “Sweet Dreams are Made of This”). In the Cheap Trick and Tom Petty songs included in the list, you actually have a police force of some kind and the devil himself chasing after the main character because of his/her propensity to dream. Besides such threats, we also fear that our dreams can be crushed and/or they may not be achievable. This is where the ‘dare to dream’ part comes in. We can’t let this fear of failure paralyze us because then we will never really know if it actually was an impossible dream. Supertramp counsels ‘the dreamer’ who has failed or who questions the need to keep dreaming when the singer proclaims “…If I could do something….can you do something out of this world?” They urge us to “dream on” or “carry on,” as the case may be, as does Green Day in “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” When our dreams don’t work out and we feel all alone, we can always hope that “someone out there will find us” and thus finally exit from the boulevard of broken dreams to an avenue that is more promising.

Another fear that makes dreaming a risky proposition is the fear of being different, or being treated differently because you are different. As Van Halen’s “Little Dreamer” discovered, a dreamer is often characterized as someone who has original or unusual ideas or interests. They may be mocked and labeled weird or strange because they think and act differently. Throughout history, it has been people who view or perceive things differently who have paved the way for human understanding and advancement. It makes no sense for this kind of creativity and originality to be discouraged or stigmatized. To deny our creative self is to deny something that is so central to our being.

If you truly and honestly pursue your dreams, then your life comes alive, and there is an eerie, surreal aspect of reality that takes hold. It makes you question which one is real, the dream world you’ve brought into being or the reality that you are forced to shun in pursuit of the dream. The thing about it is that when you achieve a dream, the two worlds become one. The dream is reality. And reality is a dream. The Talking Heads say in “City of Dreams,” that the dreams were only buried. They were there all along. We just had to dig for them. When John Lennon is walking in Central Park experiencing his “#9 Dream,” he thinks that he is hearing and feeling things whose “real-ness” might be in question. Since the song has a celebratory tone to it, it appears that what he would suggest to us is that we embrace such experiences and celebrate the fact that they are no less real.

When you are “lost in a sweet dream,” as in the song, “Emerald City,” then the worries no longer matter and you feel as if anything is possible. You feel like you can fly if you put your mind to it. The euphoria expressed in this song is the reason we should strive for our dreams. Achieving this feeling for oneself is why it is worth it to “run down a dream.” The fact that such a feeling could be elicited in such a short song is a testament to the power of the message. As painful of a process as it has been for me to write this book, so many sections of this book produced this feeling of euphoria in me that I can only stand in awe of the processes that have been put in place by the Creator to reward the search for truths such as this. Since Blondie reminds us that “dreaming is free,” then there’s nothing stopping any of us from experiencing this feeling for ourselves. Go out and find it!

Cool Collaborations

I had forgotten about “Emerald City” by Dramarama, until I went to a house concert featuring Blue October. It was an acoustic set in the home of friend of ours who at the time was serving as Mayor of San Marcos, Texas. The group did not play the song but they triggered the memory of the song. I thought to myself, “Such a great song and I can’t believe that I could have actually forgotten about it for 20 plus years up.”

I've finally found it
I'm feeling my way all around it
I'm gonna surround it
Soon everything's going to be fine
Hey hey
I can do what I say

I'm lost in a sweet dream
I'm living on chocolate ice cream
I'm letting off my steam
Now everything's going to be fine
High high
I think I'll learn how to fly

Emerald City (Dramarama)

Emerald City - Dramarama

I bring this up because I have a tendency to see connections or parallels between things, typically unrelated things. I’m not always sure that the connections exist in reality because sometimes when I verbalize the connection, no one else can see them. That’s when people start giving you funny looks. It makes me feel like the Russell Crowe character in the movie, A Beautiful Mind, where he maps out on the wall connections that he perceives in words and numbers from completely unrelated news stories, journals, and other publications. The connections stem from the character's schizophrenia and not from reality.

In my political career, this type of vision helped identify solutions or unintended consequences of policy measures being considered, and thus helped me to make somewhat coherent arguments for and against specific proposals. But this could be frustrating when a real solution was attainable (like for the issue of gentrification) but then the personal, neighborhood and institutional politics got in the way of actions that are necessary. It makes you wonder if people really want to find a solution to the problem. It sure seems like people enjoy finger-pointing more than solution-finding.

One arena where I could see (or more so “hear”) unusual connections was in music. My brain is quick to categorize songs based on certain sounds or themes. For instance, the very first time I heard Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me,” I thought to myself: “Hey, that song is a rip-off of Tom Petty’s “No I Won’t Back Down.” It was not until a few weeks later that the comparisons of the two songs came out on social media. When things like this happen, it makes me think to myself that the connections I see/hear/feel might just be real. I was a bit scared to write this book. What would my kids think if no one could relate to what I was saying? In the end, this is about them knowing their old man. Mission accomplished!

Also, I often dream of duets between the actual recording artist and the rock legends noted:

  • Modest Mouse featuring Mick Jagger on vocals on “Lampshades on Fire.”
  • Hozier singing a duet with Elton John on “Take Me to Church.”
  • Cage the Elephant featuring Perry Farrell on vocals on “Shake Me Down.”
  • The Black Keys featuring Keith Richards on guitar on “Gold on the Ceiling.”
  • AWOL Nation with guest vocalist Sammy Hagar on “Sail” and guest vocalist Roger Waters on “I AM.”
  • Bono as guest vocalist on Muse’s “Mercy.”
  • Queens of the Stone Age with Dave Grohl on vocals and guitar on “I Sat by the Ocean”
  • King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard with Stevie Wonder on vocals and keyboards on “If Not Now, Then When”
  • Weezer performing their own song, “El Scorcho,” then morphing it into Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and then morphing that into Green Day’s “Brain Stew” then ending with the return back to "El Scorcho"

Dreams vs Illusion

Another favorite topic of mine in rock music is songs about how screwed up things are, how strange things are, and how life just don’t make any sense. I was going to create a song list for this chapter on the subject of illusion. It was going to include the song “The Grand Illusion” by Styx along with an interesting collection of songs, but then I noticed that the name of the song by Styx was also the name of the album. It includes three songs that receive airplay on classic rock stations (i.e., “Fooling Yourself-Angry Young Man,” “Come Sail Away,” and “Miss America”). So, I examined the album in its entirety and thought to myself, we need go no further than “The Grand Illusion” to address the sentiment felt by many a rockers (and people in general) that all is not what it seems in this world.

We return to the themes shared in several songs in the AC/DC song list from Chapter 2 and even in our “Dare to Dream” song list from earlier in this chapter that it’s harder than you think to be a rock star. There are very real risks involved to your body, psyche, and future. The album by no means discourages maneuvering towards rock stardom, but they ask that you go into it with eyes wide open. The “Man in the Wilderness” feels like a “lonely soldier lost at sea.” “Miss America” and those who become “Superstars” can expect to receive a kind of adoration that is fleeting. They might love you today, but next year or next month they might love the next person with the crown or the band with the next hit single. That’s messed up. The "code of rock-n-roll" requires the rock aficionado to be loyal, because “rock-n-roll never forgets.” I wrote this book because as I have only begun to explain, these bands and songs helped form who I am. For that, I am forever indebted to any artist or group that is referenced.

The album starts with the song “Grand Illusion” that outlines a reality in which most of us feel dissatisfied with what we have most of the time. Satisfaction is a subject to which I will return in Chapter 10, but Styx has made an early introduction of the topic. Even when we’ve made it or achieved our goal, we are left wanting more, even though more is not what we sought. The song counsels us to ignore what media and society consider to be success. This image of success is widely shared by many individuals who wish they could achieve fame and fortune, too. But as an artist, don’t chase after that definition/image/illusion, grow to know how you define success and what you hope to achieve. Grab hold of that and don’t let go. The “Angry Young Man” is “fooling himself.” And if one’s self is the cause for our unhappiness, then we already hold the key that can set free our happiness. All we must do is turn the key. The song, “Angry Young Man,” ends not with condemnation but with a challenge: “Come on, let’s see what you’ve got, just take your best shot and don’t blow it.”

Pursuing a career in rock-n-roll, is a risky proposition. You often must give up (invest) all that you have, abandon all that you know, and, often, leave behind or alienate the very people that you love. But it is this reliance on one’s self that requires that you identify what is most important to you. And when that happens, the illusion begins to shatter and you see things for what they truly are. You don’t have to be a rock star for this approach to work. When I left the small border town that I called home for my undergraduate studies on the West Coast, I had to rely on myself. The illusion began to shatter for me as I found who I was and began to define what success meant for me. In two songs on the album, Grand Illusion, Styx tells us that we must be willing to leave everything behind and set out to leave our mark on this world. We must venture beyond these “Castle Walls” to explore unknown lands or accept the invitation to “Come Sail Away” to explore distant seas and meet our destiny head-on.

So, why does this illusion of reality exist. Why must we risk it all to get a true picture of what’s real? Artists of all disciplines very often allude to this illusion to which most subscribe and, de facto, embrace. In the next section, I will try to do address this topic using not a rock-n-roll song but the plot line of one of my favorite movies.

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