Rare Birds

Sweet dreams are made of this: The lengths we go to — and things we avoid — for a good night's sleep

Sweet dreams are made of this: The lengths we go to — and things we avoid — for a good night's sleep

Chris Becker, Rare Birds, June 2012, Little Ego, Vittorio Giardino
Little Ego from the comic by Vittorio Giardino Cartoon by Vittorio Giardino
Chris Becker, Rare Birds, June 2012, Little Nemo, wakes up
Little Nemo from the comic by Winsor McCay Cartoon by Winsor McCay
Chris Becker, Harvey Pekar.jpg
Comic writer Harvey Pekar Courtesy Photo
Little Nemo, waking up
Little Nemo from the comic by Winsor McCay   Cartoon by Winsor McCay
Chris Becker, Rare Birds, June 2012, Little Ego, Vittorio Giardino
Chris Becker, Rare Birds, June 2012, Little Nemo, wakes up
Chris Becker, Harvey Pekar.jpg
Little Nemo, waking up

One of my favorite comic book writers, Cleveland-born Harvey Pekar, who passed away in July 2010, lifts a direct quote from author George Orwell's autobiographical novel Down and Out In Paris and London for his own autobiographical story "Sleep."

The Orwell quote reads: "Work had taught me the true value of sleep, just as being hungry had taught me the true value of food. Sleep had ceased to be a physical necessity. It was something voluptuous, a debauch more than a relief."

Like most of you, I don't get enough sleep. And I work a lot, probably more than I should.

 And sleep? Pfft! Pshaw! You'll sleep when you're dead pal!

 While doing research for an article about men's health issues, I discovered that men at middle age are prone to become workaholics, usually because either consciously or unconsciously, the reality of, well, dying is hitting them.

Around the age of 40, the male logical brain decides that if your time on the planet is short and steadily getting shorter, the productive and useful thing to do is not to enjoy life or, you know, have FUN. No, the proper, alpha-male response to the reality of mortality is to work, work, work your ass off.

And sleep? Pfft! Pshaw! You'll sleep when you're dead pal!

"Ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause."

Night light reading

If I find I can't get to sleep at night, the only thing that seems to get me back to Theta sleep is reading, including crime novels, Stephen King, Marketing in the Age of Google (just kidding), and, of course, comics.

There's nothing alpha male about Winsor McCay's visually stunning vintage comic strip Little Nemo In Slumberland. Man, you think comics are weird now? Well back in 1905, way before Sandman, or Heavy Metal, you had McCay's very young zonked out protagonist navigating one bizarre dream scenario after another before thankfully waking up safe in his own bed to address the reader, or more often his mother (of course).

 My own dreams these days are pretty mundane, and usually work-oriented, although if I'm lucky, they occasionally provide a fantastic solution to a practical problem.

 So do you have dreams that are even half as fantastic as our man Little Nemo? If yes, please share one in the comments below.

And then there's Little Ego, Italian artist Vittorio Giardino's lovely, and very adult erotic parody of McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland. Little Ego is deep in Theta sleep at the start of each story, and over the course of a handful of panels…well, whatever gender you are, if you're dreams are half as hot as Little Ego's, you probably can't wait to go to sleep each night. In contrast to Nemo however, the last panel of Giardino's strips is usually a wide-awake Little Ego wondering if she needs to schedule an appointment with her psychoanalyst.

My own dreams these days are pretty mundane, and usually work-oriented, although if I'm lucky, they occasionally provide a fantastic solution to a practical problem (for instance, if I flap my arms, I can fly to work instead of taking the bus, saving myself money and time).

Drugs

Which reminds me, why is it all sleep aid drugs seems to be named after musical terms? Ambien! Say it in a low, gentle, female voice: Ambien.The only sleep aid created by ambient musician Brian Eno. Take it, and while sleeping, you will attempt to eat your own hair, sleepwalk to the Taqueria, and log on to amazon.com and buy several copies of Little Ego. Do not operate heavy machinery, drive, or plan on having a waking life that doesn't involve being committed to an insane asylum while taking ambien.

So if, like me, you don't get enough sleep, and when you are blessed with some extra time to sleep, you find you can't GET to sleep but for the chatter in your brain, can music help you ease into a deep REM sleep? Forget about popping Ambien or whatever other drugs the pharmaceutical companies want to you get addicted to. What about music?

 Which reminds me, why is it all sleep aid drugs seems to be named after musical terms? 

 Composer Chuck Wild reates music specifically designed to address insomnia. Wild served in the trenches of what is television composing, a physically and mentally exhausting career-choice that actually killed the great composer Oliver Nelson. Wild writes on his Liquid Mind website, "My life was completely out of perspective while I was scoring the ABC network television show Max Headroom. The seven day a week, 18-20 hour days without a break for three months led me to a nasty case of sleep deprivation, anxiety, and panic attacks."

Wild's music is kind of what you'd expect it to be, and that's not necessarily a criticism. It consists of lots of sustained, pastel-colored tones, gently ascending and then descending chords, and very little dissonance.  There's something almost primal about the work, as it is designed to tap into your brain and lull you into a state of dreaming. But what I really appreciate the fact that his current career is born out of real world trauma. 

There are times when I could fall asleep listening to Black Metal. But there is no denying that music can have a profound effect on the brain.

While writing this particular column, I created my own playlist on Spotify, "Music for Counting Sheep," that, if you are a Spotify user, are able to access and utilize to battle insomnia and nerves. My two other public playlists, "Strange and Beautiful" and "Black Metal," are exactly what they sound like. So if the Art of Noise's "Moment of Love" doesn't do ya', try Deathspell Omega's "Chaining the Katechon" instead.

Waking up to the terror of a brand new day

Hamlet, I mean Harvey, who I mentioned at the start of this dream, may have been a pessimist at heart, but I don't think he ever lost his sense of humor. He certainly appreciated the most ordinary, even banal moments of day-to-day living, and even revealed a level of profundity in so-called ordinary life that very few, if any writers, can manage. The last two panels of one of Pekar's most well-known stories, "Alice Quinn," which describes his chance meeting with a college crush, only to return home to his books and relatively isolated existence, reads as follows: 

"…decades of faces ran through my mind. I felt like cryin'; life seemed so sweet an' so sad an' so hard t'let go of in the end. But this is Monday. I went t'work, hustled some records, came home an' wrote this…Life goes on. Every day is a new deal. Keep workin' an' maybe sump'n'll turn up."

Sweet dreams.