Of Dreams and Nightmares

First off I should reiterate how much of a mega nerd I am. I enjoy analysing things that I read or watch, or in this case hear. This song is about bad dreams the song writer (Tony Kakko) had and me going on for 1000+ words is probably over analysing, but then again everything is subjective and I can read into it what I like!

My Dream’s But a Drop of Fuel for A Nightmare – Sonata Arctica

 This song has an interesting composition, putting it at a significant contrast with other Sonata songs that I am familiar with. The music has a less uniform style paralleling the construct of dreams and nightmares; their uncertainty, unpredictability, their ebbs and flows.

The lyrics are a complex mix of imagery and metaphors again alluding to the state of dreams and nightmares. The images conjured up don’t flow; they are jolting and juxtaposed in a way that is fast paced and misaligned. Before you can dwell long enough on one picture the next line of the song presents a completely different one, causing them to flow somewhat chaotically into one another like what happens in dreams and nightmares.

Looking at the lyrics to me the song is on the surface about dreams and their journey into nightmares. The song starts as a good dream, falling asleep almost content and happy.

My painted face, I’m a clown,
and I’m laughing while my dream turns into a nightmare,

As he (assuming it’s a he) starts to fall asleep his reaches that level of brain activity and deepness of sleep where dreams as most prevalent and vivid. The music accompanying the start of the song seems sleepy as well, almost like a lullaby.

Fade away, I’m asleep
Not too deep…

The next verse to me covers the first phase of the nightmare, more physically painful than mental at this stage, talking about being left scarred, stepping on broken glass, being decapitated. They almost seem preliminary, preparing him for the deeper psychological pain that comes with the rest of the dream.  The drums and guitar that come into the song at this stage reflect the descent into something more intense.

The walls of night have left me scarred
The broken glass I stepped on, twice,
The ardent spirits’ rusty edge, decapitate me…

After experiencing the more obvious pain in the dream he then starts to wonder if he was having a nightmare, if he was awake or not. Which is something that I at least have experienced myself while having bad dreams. He seems to be looking for a sign so that he knows for sure.

I can’t sleep, fear darkness
Go through the motions, did I fall asleep?
I’m bowling, the old nine pins, a sign unwanted…

The next verse I think deals with one of the hallmarks of a nightmare, feeling trapped or constrained in especially uncomfortable circumstances.

Now I’m a target, I’m hot and frozen,
Stormy rain I’m stuck in an elevator
[wet from the muddy water]
Breathing hot air, winds convey me…

There’s one line in the next verse that when I heard it my mind immediately went to the movie “The Number 23.” In it the main character Walter Sparrow (played by Jim Carrey) becomes obsessed with a novel that he believes was written about him that postulates everything has a correlation with the number 23. As his obsession increases, more and more similarities seem to arise until it crescendos into a physical and mental bloodbath. I found this movie a little bit terrifying; perhaps partly because I’m a giant wuss, or because my birthday’s on the 23rd and I worship a basketball player whose jersey number 23 is legendary and utilised by people in almost every other sport as a testament to his greatness. The line in the song brought to mind the image of Sparrow being brought down by the number 23, it talking to him and condemning him to a state of mental hell. Him being wide awake and asleep I think refers to the vividness of bad dreams, seeing so real that it’s like you’re awake.

The number talks and I cry in my own Hell….
Wide awake, I’m asleep, see a friend as a ghost

After the verse with predominantly animalistic images. The music at this point is slightly jaunty without being too cheerful, sort of reflecting the madness of the dream. The next verse I think is one first psychologically traumatic aspects of his dream. The three or four images of the violin, ballet, Shakespeare and the kitten at things that you would ordinarily associate more with good dreams, things that you love, than nightmares. In the song however, these seemingly safe things become painful, bad memories. He seems to expect them to comfort him but instead they aren’t what they appear to be; they hurt him, betray him, watch him get hurt without doing anything to stop it. This part of the song I think is his breaking point, the climax of his nightmare almost. After this he becomes more reflective, almost as if he’s emerging from the dream regaining a sense of consciousness about his circumstances and mental state.

I’m skating with a seal,
The tarantula, the fly, the broken ring
The dusty little flea,
An ugly giant, a disappointed child

Here comes a rabid snake
The broken violin, a wild ballet
Shakespeare and company
refuse to kill the kitten scratching me…

This is represented in the almost stereotypical nightmare experience – falling down off something into a giant abyss and willing himself to wake up.

[I’m falling, I’m falling]
I’m falling, I’m falling, I’m falling, I’m falling… – awake

The music shifts sort of at this point, becoming less nonsensical and the vocals becoming clearer alluding to him becoming more present in his dream. He next reminds himself not to put too much stock into analysing his dreams and what he thinks they are trying to tell him. He says (or perhaps it’s a being in his dream telling him) that if you dwell too much in trying to figure out the dreams and their parallels to your real life you will end up getting bogged down in your own insecurities. The “part two” I think refers to the next part of the dream, alluding to the worst part being over perhaps. Also to when you wake up in the middle of the night after a dream and as you go back to sleep you revisit it.

You know, if you believe the dreams,
the nightly visions, worlds entwined,
Then you also fear your shadow, paranoia, part two…

The next verse is the one that resonates the most with me. Somewhat transparently maybe, but I think it continues his self-reflection while still in his dream. It says in trying to have a good dream by thinking of the good things in your life the dream instead turns to the things you wish you had or have missed out on or regret that come to mind in as that natural progression in your everyday train of thought. The next line, the song’s title, says that hopes and dreams provide the impetus for nightmares, turning them into worst case scenarios.

All the good things in my life dwell in my mind
Took a wrong lane, every day, I hear myself say
Sickening’s this feeling, my life, my hopes,
My dream’s but a drop of fuel for a nightmare

He (or the being in his dream) continues his declamation about the nature of dreams. Going on from the previous verse, he says dreams are ultimately rooted in the same hopes, fears, wants and regrets, and while the dreams themselves may differ on the surface they all have the same origin.

They all turn out the same,
My destiny, my flame

In rhetorically asking if believing is control, he’s saying that just because you think you understand your dreams (or anything for that matter) doesn’t mean you have control over the situation.

Believing is control?

He seems to get a respite in the next part of his dream, it allowing him to escape the torment and self-reflection. It becomes a pocket of a good dream within a bad one, taking him away from the nightmare momentarily.

The painting comes alive,
Takes me inside a world without a name,
A place beyond compare

the instrumental walks the line between the lighter tinkling sounds of a good dream and the heavier nightmare sounds reflecting perhaps the conflict he is having trying to withdraw himself from the dream.  He again reminds himself not to place too much value on his dreams. He states that trying to define things lets your mind automatically put them in certain categories, giving you preconceived notions and not allowing you to explore and consider them in other contexts.

Believe the dreams that let you sleep
The broken glass you need to sweep
The book you read, if you found an explanation
To help you in any way,
You are your own prison.

He finally wakes up, shakes off the memories of his dreams by “jumping off the carousel.” I think this speaks to the idea that dreams go around and around, ultimately coming back to the same insecurities or things that triggered them. By jumping off as he wakes up he gets to a moment where he’s free of being tormented by his anxieties and where nothing seems wrong.

Woke up today,
The good and the bad and the ugly dreams are gone
…jumped off the carousel


One thought on “Of Dreams and Nightmares”

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