October 25th, 2014 | Published in Reviews
Review by Pete Coward
Several years ago I eulogised the work of Dion McGregor in these very digital pages. That piece included the fervent hope that “there is more to come from the hours of tape that must exist.” It is fitting that this album realises that hope, for making dreams into reality was Dion’s stock-in-trade. His alchemy is undiminished in this latest collection of recorded dream somniloquies from the master sleep talker of our age.
Like the previous three releases by Dion, “Dreaming Like Mad” is a collection of nocturnal narratives, as recorded by his room-mate Michael Barr between 1960 and 1967. For further historical context, readers are referred to that earlier article. Each release provides a mainline hit of jouissance, combining the fascination of hearing a poet who is master of his craft with the excitement of a tightrope walking improv session, and the belly laughs of the most jaded of raconteurs in full flow.
The recordings collected here are among the finest heard to date and one wonders whether Dion ever had an “off” night, a night dreaming of being naked in a crowd or something as banal. He seems to have elected out of Jung’s collective unconscious to forge his own psychic territory, one equally worthy of study and taxonomy. Dion is never anything other than the axis and lead character of his own dream world, his own anima, animus and trickster all in one, and the listener would not wish it any other way. His personality shapes and inhabits each character in turn, such as the maniacal barn dance caller of “Strenching” (“Form a circle around a square…”), the murderous party host of “The Gauntlet”, and the apotheosis of Dion as puppet-master sounding bored with his own power in “The Pioneer”.
All is delivered in that now familiar languidly lilting tone in which one can practically hear the archly raised eyebrow (probably literally so, as Dion was very physical in his recitations, as can be heard in the hefty pillow thumps of “The Pioneer”) and set against the murmur and rumble of the New York night soundscape, interrupted with the not infrequent intrusion of a siren, car horn or barking dog. Much like Dion’s own monologues are punctuated by peaks of hysteria accompanied by raised volume, shrieks, hollers and onomatopoeic sound effects. The trademark Dion McGregor scream may be represented here mostly by grunts rather than howls, but those hoping for Dion at his most primal will be compensated for by the two briefest pieces, “Chocolate Tapioca” and “Air Raid”, the latter being 16 seconds of urgent exhortations and joyous whoops in anticipation of the coming airborne destruction.
Catastrophe of some kind is never far away, often willed, if not actively precipitated, and always exulted in, most lucratively in “The Diner” (“We’re the only restaurant near the cave-in”). The protagonist of “Packed Up” is bored of waiting for the ecological catastrophe promised by melting glaciers and occupies himself with concerns of “where will all the eskimos go?”, in a conversation rushed to a premature conclusion on hearing “the first drip”. Everything everywhere is all “terribly dreadful”, and leavened by that disjunction between melodrama and understatement that is a definition of camp. The unfortunates of “New York Times” trapped perpetually in a copy of the eponymous newspaper can take solace that they would “rather be swallowed up by The Times than The Tribune any day”. In “The Face Down There” a man whose face and genital organs are transposed has “an adroit tailor” who manages to keep the latter covered and the former accessible to talk to at crotch level. Whatever happens, “don’t be sensitive about it” is Dion’s admonition.
An approach to life and words to live by. Dion cuts through that annoying interfering superego to deliver the essentials. In the ideal world, in which we can dwell with Dion as a medium for 60 minutes, we would all be members of the “TYN” (Thumb Your Nose) society and the only vital questions to ask would be, “are you good on your feet? And do you not back down when people look balefully at you?”
Much credit is due to Steve Venright at Torpor Vigil for sifting through the archive to produce this selection. His son, Kerry Ventner, provided the impressive cover art, an illustration that draws inspiration from Edward Gorey’s original ‘60s work on “Dion McGregor Dreams Again” (the book and album), further psychedelicising it to make something fascinating and somewhat disturbing. Much like the somniloquies this disc contains. I am grateful for this opportunity to hear Dion McGregor utter the words “Like man-size, and then bigger.”