Posts Tagged ‘May Pang’
John Lennon & May Pang
“# 9 DREAM”
I once had a dream where I was sweeping the cloistered walk of a temple courtyard. It strangely resembled one I had seen in Turkey: ostensibly a school of traditional music, I had suspected that this Turkish school was in fact connected with Sufism. In my dream, as in life, a strong sense of peace of security possessed the scene. Across one of the cloisters there were hung brightly woven curtains. I was quite light-hearted, and was almost finished sweeping, when someone asked me if I would like to have my fortune told. Across the courtyard garden, others were having their palms read by women who were barely more than teenagers. It all seemed a bit of a hoot, so, in a spirit of fun, I said yes, I would have my fortune told. Directly, someone said that the fortune-teller had arrived, and I felt a slight tremor. When I saw her, something inside me drew back. She was a tall and noble African, with high cheek-bones, a multi-coloured turban, and something of that impersonal, hierarchical presence which Nina Simone commanded. She seemed to displace the air rather than to walk, and she was accompanied by two men, one a bearded man in middle age, and the other an unshaven and demented youth. Somehow, I knew that they meant business. This was the real thing. I was in two minds about going ahead with the consultation, but I found my courage. I sat cross-legged, opposite her, while the two men looked on. She took my left hand with her right, and drew my arm forward. Then she laid the fingers of her left hand on the flesh of my left forearm, placing a slight pressure on the veins. Immediately, sensation filled my body and flowed over into an electric sensation, which took me into another state.
I know how far short these words fall of communicating the experience, and its present significance for me. Yet, the dream is a source of confidence. Perhaps the most I can do is suggest something which you can then relate to a similar dream you may have had. However, some poets and musicians have had more success in communicating these sendings. Samuel Taylor Coleridge managed to evoke an eerie power in “Kubla Khan”, his account of an opium dream. Interestingly, he was moved by the music he heard played and sang by “an Abyssinian maid” with a dulcimer. However, the music had passed from him, as it were, causing him to say that “If I could revive within me her symphony and song”, it would make him a man of altogether different capacities and powers.
I feel that in “#9 Dream”, John Lennon fulfilled something of Coleridge’s yen, and has fashioned a fantasy-ruby, an auditory vision of roughly four and a half minutes’ duration. The first time I heard this song, even though it was on a battered old radio with knobs and switches falling off it, I was entranced and physically affected, I could hardly stand. As is the way of things, no subsequent listening has ever had the same effect, but maybe now the experience goes deeper, to a place which is not so easily overcome by shock. Certainly, the song has benignly haunted me for 35 years. Frequently I sing to myself the opening words: “So long ago: was it in a dream? Was it just a dream?” Even now, it conjures in me a different focus, as it were. It reverberates with echoes of a far-away time, a far-away place, of people and spirits separated only by a veil dancing just beyond my finger tips. The tempo of the song is neither slow nor “dreamy”, and is all the truer to dreams for taking a pleasant walking pace. The nice tread of the music contributes to the sense of visionary reality – there is nothing hallucinatory about this song, unlike “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. Yet, the melody line takes its time; the words are not hurried. Some of the key words are subtly sustained, or given a light stress. It sounds as if Lennon is singing the following:
So-oh long ago: was it in a dream? Was it just a dream?
I-hi know-oh, yes, I know, seemed so very real
Seemed so (un)real to me –
Took a walk down the street,
Through the heat whispered trees.
I thought I could hear, hear, hear, hear
Somebody called my name – “John, John”,
As it started to rain – “John”,
Two spirits dancing so strange,
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say.
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say.
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say.
Dream, dream away – magic in the air, was magic in the air?
I believe, yes I believe,
More I cannot say, what more can I say?
On a river of sound,
Through the mirror go round (round),
I thought I could feel, feel, feel, feel
Music touching my soul, (whispering)
Something warm sudden cold,
The spirit dance was un-fold-ing,
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say.
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say.
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say.
Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say (continued)
May Pang, Lennon’s then girlfriend, whispers his name and some other words I cannot quite make out after the words “music touching my soul”. There is nothing dramatic about Lennon’s delivery or the music, they are almost understated, and yet they leave an impression. “So long ago: was it in a dream? Was it just a dream?” I cannot imagine these words being sung to any other tune, or the tune having more appropriate words. In fact, all the words come out as naturally as if he were speaking them with the unpractised emphasis of everyday conversation.
It seemed so very real, Lennon sings, and then he seems to say that it “seemed so unreal to me”. Perhaps he was only taking an audible breath before saying “real”. But it has always sounded to me as if he were saying “real” and then “unreal”. He both said and unsaid himself in an unreleased version of the Beatles’ song “Revolution”. which was faithfully shown in the movie Imagine, so it is not impossible. The song seems to imply that reality and unreality are two sides of one coin in this dream existence. Indeed, the difference between them is only a question of realisation. Once it has been dreamed, once it has been imagined, the concept or feeling can be realised, even if the realisation is itself an act of imaginative recreation.
I recall that Lennon was interviewed by a Sydney radio station when the album Walls and Bridges was released in 1974. He said that in the song he had described the dream exactly as it happened: so he will have seen himself walking down a familiar street, in hot weather, as trees whispered to him, and someone called his name. The DJ asked him about the spirit mantra “Ah! bawawaka, po-say, po-say”. Lennon answered with disarming simplicity that this was what it sounded to him the spirits were saying.
Was magic in the air? he asks. And he replies, yes, he believes it was. As I have indicated, dreams can comfort, they can console, teach and inspire belief. Thus it was for Lennon: as Lennon fans scholars well know, “nine” was for Lennon the number of destiny, it was his number. For many years he had taken drugs to break free from “the straitjacket of the self”, as he said. Now, through a dream, he was able to go through a mirror and around: through the image, coming back to reality having seen the other side of his perception.
Finally he asks, what more could he say? And what can he say about this mystery? What can be said by anyone about any mystery? Yet, he has described something almost beyond description. Could you imagine a song with the lyrics “I went through the image and came back to reality having seen the other side of my perception”? This is what he has done with the simple words “through the mirror go round”.
It seems to me that Lennon did receive an intimation of something high, I might say “sacred”, in this dream. First, however, we must say a few words about dreaming.
Dreams are the work, in Gurdjieff’s terms, of the “moving centre” (“moving brain”). This centre, which is in charge of our learned movements such as walking, talking, playing guitar, cleaning dishes and so on, continues with a certain consciousness while we are asleep. Generally, and especially during deep sleep, it is not connected with the intellectual or emotional brains, and so the next morning we do not recall the dreams. But if we are not fully asleep, then a faint connection between the centres may subsist, and the intellect can recall something of a dream the next morning. The moving centre, unlike the intellectual centre, is not logical, it does not have a sense of non-contradiction. Therefore, Gurdjieff said, it allows illogicalities and impossibilities, the dreamer can speak with people who are dead. To the extent that the moving and intellectual brains are disconnected during dreams, dreams can be illogical. Gurdjieff told this to Mme Lannes, and she passed the information on to Mr Adie, which is why I can confidently attribute it to Gurdjieff.
I extrapolate from this that to the extent that the moving and the feeling brains are unconnected, our dreams can have emotional aspects – even fearsomely emotional aspects – but the moving centre does not know this, so it blithely goes on creating dungeons and other tortures for us. Meanwhile, the emotional centre is being racked by torments, but is unable to convey this to the moving centre. It may, however, succeed in getting its message to the instinctive centre (which controls the work of the organism one does not have to consciously learn, such as breathing, the circulation of the blood, digestion and so on). And when the message gets through, we awaken. What Gurdjieff does not tell us is why the moving brain dreams, and whether all dreams necessarily come from moving brain.
George Adie’s view, with which I agree, is that the moving centre dreams as a form of digestion. Impressions are received during the waking day, and these impressions are not necessarily fully understood or grasped by the other centres (see the diary note of 4 February 1987 in George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, 283). Some impressions are fairly unimportant, and leave little trace. So little trace do they leave that they appear in dreams only as background. But the concerns of our moving centre, and hence our dreams, tend to be things which are of substantial importance to us. Generally, I find, they relate to two fields: (a) matters where our ideas and feelings are as yet unresolved, and (b) the transfer of patterns from intellectual centre to moving centre. First, unresolved matters. If I have a bad conscience about something (using that phrase in its ordinary sense), if something has disturbed me, or, on the other hand, if something caused me pleasure or an intense hope, it may reappear in dreams. It is as though the moving centre has to file everything away into the tidiest possible place. We are made for order. Significant matters need extra filing, as it were. They demand extra attention, and if they are not given satisfactory attention during the day from the intellectual centre, then they demand it, so to speak, in sleep. So the connection between the moving and intellectual centres is re-established, albeit weakly, the prominent event is gone over with the help of the intellect, and it is given new associations in the psyche – it is acclimatized, as it were.
The filing carried out by the moving brain is not at all conducted in the way the intellectual or the emotional centre would carry it out. It seems to be performed according to a method of random associations or, if not entirely random, of associations possessing a similar intensity, and not necessarily of similar concepts. The result of this is that strong impressions often produce strong dreams where one cannot say what the dream message is, except that the impression was considered important.
The second major function of the moving centre in sleep seems to me to be to allow it to acquire skills learned by the intellectual centre during the day. As Gurdjieff correctly pointed out, I learn typing with the intellect, I have to. But eventually the moving brain takes it over, and does a better job: it does not have to think about every little thing. Well, I suspect that sleep is when the moving centre has a clear field, in which it can learn these things without being crowded out by the head. This would explain why the better we sleep the better we learn.
All this suggests two things to me: one is that we are made to understand. I can hardly insist on this enough, because at the moment there is, in some circles, a sort of exaggerated enthusiasm for non-understanding. It is true that some things cannot be understood, but that hardly means that we should not try to understand them. The very attempt may bring more understanding, or a grasp of other matters. Indeed, I suspect that the allure of the mysterious is a providential arrangement to arouse our curiosity, to evoke a pure love of knowledge and discovery. To anaesthetize that impulse, so readily observed in children is, it seems to me, criminal. I repeat, the fact that our organism knocks out our intellect in order to use dreaming to arrange and organize the day’s events seems to me to be evidence that we are designed to seek understanding and the harmonisation of our various impressions.
Also, and I add this to the blog because the idea may prove useful for some people, I have found that by carrying out the exercise of reviewing the day, I have fewer dreams, and those I do have tend to be less intense. I refer here to the Gurdjieff exercise whereby one casts one’s mind eye over the events of the day, and pauses when one comes to anything important or worrying. It is not necessary to think about these things, let alone to conduct an amateur psycho-analysis. In fact, that may cause new problems. All that is necessary is to put oneself before the memories, and then, I often find, a clearer understanding starts to appear.
To understand “#9 Dream”, and something of the process of art (higher art), I also think that some dreams come from other centres than the moving brain: they can be the products of higher emotional centre, and therefore speak in a natural symbolism – and this is emphatically not the symbolism of dream dictionaries. The higher emotional and higher intellectual centres are the two faculties, existing in every person, which are the means of receiving and transmitting influences from beyond this sensory world. When contact is made between the intellect, and the higher emotional centre, said Gurdjieff: “man experiences new emotions, new impressions hitherto entirely unknown to him, for the description of which he has neither words nor expressions.” However, because we are so rarely in such a state of connection, ” we fail to hear within us the voices which are speaking and calling to us from the higher emotional centre.” (P.D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, 194-195).
My view is that Lennon heard these voices of the higher emotional centre calling him in a dream, and hence we have this marvellous song. As May Pang said, when Lennon woke up the morning after the dream, he had the words and the music together. If there has been a gift from the gods in modern music, this, I would say, is it. So the mystery of dreams is, or at least can be, related to the mystery of the life of the soul, the spiritual life. And Lennon made the connection.
As I said in the last blog, Lennon invites us into mystery. He does not make the mistake of trying to strip away the wonder by saying too much. He displays the magic, as it were, by presenting it, highlighted, in his own river of sound (and it should be added that Phil Spector was probably the perfect producer to work with Lennon on this piece). “#9 Dream” marks the high water mark of a tide which had begun with “There’s A Place”, on the Please Please Me album. Between these two points, there is a reasonably substantial body of work which forms a connecting trail. I cannot cover all of it, but in the next Lennon blog, I shall deal with one central concept: the use of creative imagination. I am referring, obviously, to what is Lennon’s signature tune, the classic “Imagine”.
Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.
The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.