(NOTE: This “short story” was inspired by a dream I recently had. I usually stick with nonfiction, but the dream was so vivid that I had a crazy urge to be creative. Constructive criticism is welcomed!)
The orange glow on the table next to me shows 4:21 a.m. Another night of twisting and turning.
What a weird dream. What was it all about? Thick, liquid, yellow gobs of paint on a shifting canvas.
Can I reconstruct my dream painting?
I’m standing on the side of a country road, out in the middle of what looks like a field of golden yarrow. A vehicle slowly pulls up alongside me. Not so much a car, though. It’s more like an old wooden stagecoach contraption. Maybe I’m in the Old West.
The door swings open. The events play out like a scene from “The Twilight Zone.” I expect to hear “Come inside, Mr. Kurtz, we have something for you.” I push aside a creaky wooden door and step inside.
Smells like cedar. Who’s the guy sitting there with the beat-up guitar? A wizened little gnome, he looks a bit like Willie Nelson. There’s a pretty song humming in my head. It’s a song that I’ve always liked, but I don’t know the title.
“That’s always been one of my favorite songs of yours,” I blurt out.
I recall the subject matter: a torrid love affair, like something from an old, tangled, Scottish folk ballad. It concerns an intense relationship between a man and a woman. The end of the affair really messes up the man, and nearly kills him… or maybe does kill him, I can’t remember.
My impression – in the dream – was that the song was also a metaphor about living a full life. A life that has lots of experiences.
“Yeah,” the Willie Nelson-type guy responds with a crooked grin. “If that song doesn’t strike a chord, then you got a lifetime of empty floor plank under you.”
Empty floor plank.
He talks as if he hadn’t written the song, but that the song had only channeled through him. That he was just the song’s messenger.
Then I wake up. What startles me awake is his comment about the empty plank. I have a hollow feeling, like a vacuum has sucked out my guts. A feeling that, maybe, my own life so far has been nothing but an empty floor plank. I rub my eyes, then tell myself I have a full life, and a family that loves me. But the hollow feeling lingers.
Then I remember the melody of the song. It’s a tune called “The Old Laughing Lady” by singer-songwriter Neil Young. It’s a sleeper song off Young’s first sleeper solo album from way back in 1968.
The song melody starts with the sound of low, rolling thunder, then segues into a slow, jerky arrangement, a jingling keyboard, and a minor string accompaniment. There’s some acoustic guitar, but the guitar is more of an afterthought, as if Young is just toying with the strings. One middle section has a chorus of female moans that rise to a small crescendo, relax a little, then rise to a second crescendo, then abruptly halt.
It’s a strange musical arrangement. Perfect accompaniment to an equally strange dream.
The words of the song are intangible. As far as I know Young’s never elaborated on the song’s meaning, so maybe even he doesn’t know. I’ve always interpreted the song as being about obsession, or self-destruction, or even the grim reaper himself.
One of the verses goes like this:
Don’t call pretty Peggy, she can’t hear you no more
Don’t leave no message ’round her back door
They say the old laughing lady been here before
She don’t keep time, she don’t count score
Yellow lyrics for a yellow song.
At the end of the song, Young sings of “a rumbling in the bedroom and a flashing of light… There’s the old laughing lady, everything is alright.”
One last time, I sweep the bed sheets aside. Then I sit upright with my head dangling, and rub my eyes.
I start my daily routine. But the “old laughing lady” and the old stagecoach stay with me all day.
What else can I do but write it down?
(Painting at top “Wheat Field Under Clouded Sky” by Vincent Van Gogh, located in Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Image in Public Domain)
(Cover painting of album “Neil Young” by Roland Diehl)
9 thoughts on “A Yellow Dream”
Peter, this is a great piece. Not sure what it means, but a great vignette. As our 3-year-old grandson told us, “A dream is a wish that hasn’t come true yet.”
Thank you, Phil. Dreams are abstract reflections of our lives: beautiful, terrible, poignant, frustrating. This one I recalled vividly since it occurred just before waking. And sounds like you have a pretty neat grandson!
Enjoyed this. Maybe I need to revisit Neil Young’s debut, I was never really a fan of it besides The Loner and a couple of others.
“The Loner” is definitely the notable song off that record. One of my favorites by Young. The others have a rustic appeal, and they’re all good, other than “Last Trip to Tulsa” where he adopts sort of a Dylan persona (and fails). The great Jack Nietszche produced the album. But I think he may have hurt more than helped Neil’s material, although “Old Laughing Lady” is…well…very dreamlike!
Pete, you’ve done a terrific job of blending together the dream state and the waking state. If you keep having colorful dreams, you’ll have more story ideas than you can keep up with!
Hey, thanks for the nice words Neil. Your own great blog is an inspiration. More colorful dreams? Maybe I should do a “blue” dream. Well, then again, maybe not!
Hi, I’m writing about every song that ever became a #1 hit, backwards chronologically, in the journey that is the Every Number One blog. I would really appreciate if you took a look around.
I will. Let me know when you get to “Light My Fire.” Thanks for visiting.
I have similar dreams when I eat a large pizza before I go to bed. Seriously good piece with some vivid images. Can relate to the open spaces and country. Something you might want to expand on with your writing. On the Neil thing. He’s from similar country. I like it when artists like him don’t always elaborate on “the meaning” and you have your own interpretation. Good stuff Pete. Willie Nelson guy? Maybe you had a big Gulp with the pizza.