Night Writers

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Famous authors and songwriters who had creations spring from a dream

Night Writers

 

Famous authors and songwriters who had a creation spring from a dream

 

"I couldn't have written it," a bewildered Paul McCartney said, "because I dreamt it."  He was referring to what he recalled as a "lovely tune" that had invaded his waking consciousness back in 1965.  Paul was staying with his then girlfriend Jane Asher and her parents at their home on London's Wimpole Street.  As his dream faded, it left behind a beautiful musical strain that could easily have dissolved into oblivion.  To prevent this, the twenty-two-year-old McCartney hopped out of bed and ran to a nearby piano to find chords to fit the mysterious tune.  In order to further embed the piece in his consciousness, he added a silly set of lyrics as a placeholder until he could come up with something better.  "Scrambled eggs," he excitedly jotted down, "Oh my baby, how I love your legs."  Those nonsense lines would soon morph into the haunting song opening: "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away."

He was sure he must have heard the tune before, but couldn't remember who had recorded it.  For the next month, he played his piano version of the melody for fellow musicians, asking if anyone recognized it.  "Eventually, it became like handing something to the police," Paul said. "I thought, if no one claimed it after a few weeks then I could have it."  Fortunately for music history, no one did.  Since then, the melancholy tune, enhanced by John Lennon's co-writing and Paul's stirring vocal, has entrenched itself into the chronicles of popular music.  Ultimately the dream song would spawn over 2,000 covers by everyone from Elvis Presley, to Aretha Franklin, to Ray Charles. 

That iconic tune is not alone in springing from a dream.That same year, 1965, Rolling Stone's Keith Richards awoke from an equally creative sleep, at a Clearwater, Florida hotel.  He had begun keeping his guitar and a tape recorder close at hand while he slept, to capture potential spurts of pre-sleep creativity.  That night, however, the inspiration didn't come before he drifted off to sleep, but when he awoke following a dream.  He had been struggling to come up with a riff for a song he was writing, called "Satisfaction."

The next morning, May 7th, he noticed that his little Philips cassette tape recorder had run to the end of the tape.  Replaying it, Richards was shocked to find that he had apparently risen from a dream about the song and turned on the machine.  Following a mumbled, "I can't get no satisfaction," he had laid down a musical opening that fit the song perfectly.  "There in some sort of ghostly version," he later related, "is the whole opening verse to 'Satisfaction' ."  This was followed by 40 minutes of snoring.  Once he polished the rough tune and band mate Mick Jagger wrote lyrics to it, the song soared up the music charts, claiming the Rolling Stones' first number-one hit.  "I actually dreamed the damned thing," Richards determined. 

Not only have song lyrics emerged from a creator's dream, but characters in stories, especially the scary ones, have often crawled out of the murky depths of a nightmare.  Back in 1816 for instance, a teenage Mary Shelly transformed a horrifying dream into one of our favorite science fiction tales.  During a writing retreat at poet Lord Byron's Switzerland estate, he initiated a ghost-story writing contest among his visitors.  His guests were stuck inside due to unusually cold and dismal weather spawned by the sun-blocking dust of an East Indies volcanic eruption.  He felt the contest might help lift their spirits.  Mary had not yet come up with her storyline when one evening, during a lively discussion with her friends, she proposed the concept of a corpse being re-animated. 

That night a vivid dream image provided her with the foundation for her ghost story.  "I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts," she later related, "kneeling beside the thing he had put together."  This creation, she explained, was a "hideous phantasm of a man."  Suddenly, sparked to life by a powerful machine, the creature exhibited jerky human-like movements.  Upon waking, Mary realized the scene involved a mad scientist trying to play God by inventing a new race of man.  She shuddered as the horrific image remained in her consciousness.  "What terrified me will terrify others," she resolved, "and I need only describe the specter which had haunted my midnight pillow."  In addition to providing her with a winning entry for Lord Byron's contest, her tale Frankenstein would develop into a frightening but beloved book that many consider to be the world's first science fiction novel.

Seventy years later, another fearful dream character stepped out of the early morning mist and onto the sheets of a manuscript.  Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson's vivid nightmare was so troubling, he screamed in his sleep and woke his wife, Fanny.  She knew he had been anxious over their recent financial troubles and the pressure from his editor to come up with a successful adventure story.  In addition, Robert had been taking medicinal cocaine to help him sleep following a tubercular lung hemorrhage.  Likely, he was in the midst of a distressing nightmare, she determined, so she shook him awake.  When she did, Fanny received a surprising scolding.  "Why did you wake me?" Robert snipped.  Then using the then popular slang for a horror story, he explained, "I was dreaming a fine bogey tale." 

In that dream vision, an escaping criminal stopped in front of his pursuers to consume a mysterious substance.  Immediately, he transformed into a terrifying fiend.  Stevenson quickly realized that his dream scenario might provide the answer to his financial problems.  Casting off the haze of sleep, Robert feverishly began writing.  Within three days, he had completed a 30,000-page draft. To flesh out the character of a seemingly normal man who transformed into a fearful monster, he turned to the contemporary newspaper and magazine accounts of a man named Louis Vivet.  The Frenchman had been diagnosed the previous year, 1885, with the newly coined diagnosis of a "multiple personality disorder."  The public's fascination with his varied personas kept the description of his condition in the headlines and on Stevenson's mind.

Once Stevenson completed the draft, he proudly showed "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,"  to his best editor – his wife.  Although Fanny liked the concept, she told him he had written it more as a fable or parable than a science fiction piece.  He agreed with her, threw the manuscript in the fire, and started over.  For the next three days, his family tip-toed around him as he sat in bed, fervently writing a new version.  Finally, surrounded by discarded sheets, he stack together the pages of his handwritten creation.

"I don't believe that there was ever such a literary feat before," his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, reflected, "as the writing of Dr. Jekyll."  "Louis came downstairs," he continued, "in a fever; read nearly half the book aloud, and then while we were still gasping, he was away again and busy writing."  Ten weeks later, the finished novella began its journey through the chronicles of literature.  It originally sold in the United Kingdom for one shilling and in the United States for one penny.  The popular little booklets of sensationalized short fiction were known as "shilling shockers" in England and "penny dreadfuls" in the United States.  Not only did "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" solve Robert Louis Stevenson's money troubles, but joined his previously published "Treasure Island"  to stir the souls of millions of future readers.

That soul stirring from dream-evoked tales has continued through the decades.  Steven King's novel, "Misery" for instance, also came to him in a dream.  He was returning to the U. S. from England in 1987 when he fell asleep on the plane and dreamed about a woman who held a writer prisoner.  In the actual nightmare, the captor skinned the poor author, fed his remains to a pig, and then bound his novel with his own skin.  With his slightly less gory version, King inscribed another title on his growing list of successful spinetinglers.  In the summer of 2003, author Stephenie Meyer added Twilight to the roster of dream-induced literary successes.  In her night vision, she said she saw a "beautiful sparkly boy" who was talking to a normal looking girl in a little circular meadow.  The boy, she reflected, was obviously a vampire and "was trying to explain to her how much he cared about her and yet at the same time, how much he wanted to kill her."  As she escorted the pair out of her dream, they became members of a growing club of characters who climbed out of the creative juices of the subconscious to walk across the pages of literary history.

 


Submitted: April 13, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Dennis L. Goodwin. All rights reserved.

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