I highly doubt that film director Richard Donner could have guessed that one opening scene would affect the life of an anonymous kid thousands of kilometers away from him. The time: 1991. The place: Ramat-Gan (a small town near Tel Aviv, Israel). The situation: A war zone. It was the Gulf War, and missiles from Iraq were tearing the air above my house apart. In one of the war’s more action-packed nights, someone brought a VHS cassette of the first Lethal Weapon movie to my house. I was ten years old.
The film starts with a joyful Christmas song that soon melts into a dark scene, where a hooker is lying half-naked on her bed. Her flat is on a very high floor. A strong wind is playing with the curtains, and the woman is wearing a sort-of cynical, sort-of sweet smile… the smile of someone who has understood something. She blows some coke, climbs on the balcony’s ledge—which is all decorated with Christmas lights—and jumps.
That cinematic moment changed something within me. It was a moment that demonstrated the concept of contradiction in its most extreme and heartbreaking way: The festive, plastic Christmas happiness conveyed by the opening song, and the dark, horrible reality of suicide. This contradiction planted a seed in my personality, and brought me to the deeper understanding (which I admit I sometimes forget), that everything is contained within everything. Yin and yang. I grew up to become a classic Pisces: A bag of contradictions, a mountain of dualities.
I discovered Psychic TV’s Dreams Less Sweet through Califone, with their stunning version of Psychic TV’s “The Orchids.” A few months ago, I purchased the new limited-edition reissue on red LP, and have been playing it non-stop since. I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about it, as it turned out to be such a significant album in my life, but I couldn’t quite manage to make a proper statement to myself. What is it about this album that makes me feel alive and inspired every time I listen to it? How can one explain such a thing, anyway?
My default is trying to understand the soft and hard edges of things, the dream and the practical, the thin line that separates this from that. As a musician, those contradictions are realized with through my desire to ruin beautiful melodies with noisy guitars, or add soft and gentle piano notes over edgy and distorted sounds. You’ve got to have some ugliness in the symmetrical; you’ve got to bend the perfect circle just a bit, because everything contains everything. Don’t give me supermodels; give me real-life women. I can go on forever about how the gentle notes of John Fahey work perfectly well with the distorted and oblique sounds of Steven R. Smith.
And then I thought about Dreams Less Sweet, and how it’s one big canvas. There are a lot of albums that are a canvas, but this one is different. It’s a canvas with much more tolerance, more patience. PTV is made up of eccentric people, ranging from cute and nice, to frightening and dark. On Dreams, all of their feelings are gathered together and thrown—like a million different colors—onto one big canvas.
The album contains songs like “The Orchids” or “White Night,” which bring an essence of love and good energy, compassion and patience—but on the other hand, you can also hear machine guns, angry dogs, a karate class teacher creating rhythm, and more. Sound and smell, a mixture of feelings, the interplay of sounds and surround panning… it’s all contrast. And that front cover. It’s an orchid with a Prince Albert. That gentle, passionate flower gets a new meaning with that earring.
In “White Nights,” a piece that sounds vaguely inspired by the Beach Boys, we hear lyrics that were written by Jim Jones from Jonestown. Nice words about love and caring by a dark loony. Towards the end of the song, the machine gun starts and love ends. If you were to take a magnifying glass to this album, you’d only reveal more layers: the mixture of songs, the mixture of feelings, the mixture of sounds.
I like listening to movie soundtracks and imagining the visuals that go with the music in my head. Sometimes, I prefer not to watch the movie at all. Dreams, though not a soundtrack, is my favorite to picture. PTV are excellent foley artists, and know how to seamlessly blend field recordings in their music. They bring an amazing originality, passion, lust, and courage to their craft. More than anything, though, Dreams Less Sweet is the sound of complete freedom. It’s the kind of freedom you can only feel when you accept that you’re full of contradictions—that you’ve got some of this and some of that—and all these elements combine to form the big “You.” Once you realize that, you can achieve true happiness. It’s called acceptance, and Dreams Less Sweet is my acceptance soundtrack. It’s a long journey, but it is definitely hot as hell… just like an orchid with a genital earring.
[Published initially in the great new blog The Repeater]