The Further Somniloquies of Dion McGregor is...
FASCINATING & BIZARRE The Wire • INCREDIBLE Exclaim! • AMAZINGLY ENTERTAINING Brainwashed • MIRACULOUS? DEFINITELY The Analog Playground • AN ASTOUNDING CURIOSITY Hybrid
Those familiar with the recorded dreams of Dion McGregor often refer to them as the most astonishing, surprising, peculiar and hilarious material ever captured on tape.
In the early 1960s, a New York composer named Michael Barr began collaborating with a lyricist named Dion McGregor. The two soon became roommates and Barr was intrigued to discover that McGregor not only talked in his sleep but actually narrated elaborate scenarios from his unconscious mind. Barr, an amateur sound recordist, began to tape these strange nocturnal transmissions, a ritual that ended up being repeated several times a week for years. As a songwriting duo, Barr and McGregor’s moment of musical fame would come in 1965 when Barbra Streisand recorded their song “Where Is the Wonder”. But what would make them a legend in recording history, improbable as it sounds, would be the succession of spoken dreams recorded between 1961 and 1967. The first collection of Dion’s somniloquies was released by Decca in 1964 as a vinyl lp called The Dream World of Dion McGregor (He Talks In His Sleep). That same year, a book of dream transcriptions—illustrated by Edward Gorey— was published under the same title by Bernard Geis Associates. Interest in Dion’s dreams was revived in 1999 by Phil Milstein who compiled a popular sequel album called Dion McGregor Dreams Again (Tzadik Records). The Further Somniloquies is the first Dion McGregor compilation from Torpor Vigil Records. It draws on material from the entire archive of recordings, including some long-lost gems.
A balloon trip to the moon, during which the tourists eat liver pills for supper before being overcome by a "fleet of storks". A menagerie of mythical creatures overseen by an obsessive collector who plans to mate a mermaid wih a centaur. An elegant dinner pary where, after introductions are made and pleasantries exchanged, the guess are lined up and shot. An invasion of multiply-hatted Uranians living under the houses of unsuspecing suburbanites. A zoo where animals ogle caged humans. Welcome to the dream world of Dion McGregor.
From an early age, Dion McGregor was known to talk in his sleep, but i wasn’t until 1961, when he was nearly forty,
that his unconscious utterances found their way onto tape. Michael Barr—McGregor’s songwriting partner and roommate—sat a microphone at the head of the sleeptalker’s bed, and thus began seven years of early morning recordings that would lead to three audio compilations and a book of dream transcriptions. An elaborate Barr/McGregor musical based on these somniloquies has also been created and is awaiting is first complete production. At the time of this writing, plans are underway for a film version of the musical, which not only incorporates many of the sleeptalks but also features certain songs whose lyrics were suggested to McGregor by dreams (including Where Is the Wonder, recorded by Barbra Streisand and featured on her first television special). The present volume has benefited greatly from Michael Barr’s recent excavation of an incredible stash of tapes which hadn’t been heard in years. There are enough terriffic somniloquies to fuel at leas a couple splendid albums beyond the volume you’re about to hear.
The question often arises, and reasonably so, was McGregor really asleep? I have no doubt about that myself—particularly after speaking at length on several occasions with Michael Barr, the original recordist. Mr. Barr is a true gentleman whose voice is so rich wih sincerity it’s hard to imagine him telling a successful fib, let alone maintaining a hoax of such magnitude for so many years. There were also several witnesses to McGregor’s nocturnal transmissions—among them, Dr. Valentin Wolf Zetlin, psychiatrist, and Milt Gabler, A&R man for Decca Records, which released The Dream World of Dion McGregor in 1964. In the extensive biographical liner notes to Dion McGregor Dreams Again (Tzadik, 1999), Phil Milstein—the man largely responsible for rescuing McGregor’s somnolent output from obscurity—
had this to say: "If McGregor is acting, it’s an uncanny deception—he’s doing as good a job of it as Spencer Tracy or Jimmy Stewart ever could, combined with the writing skills necessary to devise such impossibly imaginative scripts."
It’s striking to contrast McGregor’s sleeptalking voice, even at its least frantic, with his endearing, hypnotically mellifluous waking voice, as heard on tapes of two live radio programs from 1964: Contact Winds and the
Long John Nebel Show.
Three recently uncovered artifacts which seem to attest to the authenticity of the recordings came my way fortuitously during the making of this album.
The first is the tape of a dream called Pioneer, probably not heard in is entirety since its transcription for the Dream World book (Bernard Geis Associates, 1964). This dream, like so many others, ends with the narrator suffering a violent death. At this point there’s a sudden shift in the vocal characteristics. A distraught McGregor, now evidently awake, calls out in a strained and anxious voice to his recordist friend: “Mike! Mike!” Barr is heard to reply at some distance from the microphone, and that’s where the tape ends.
An even more extreme vocal shift is heard at the end of another unreleased dream recording called The Envelopes. Ater a trademark finale of accelerating hysterics, a sleepy-sounding McGregor tranquilly surmises, "It must be early".
The other revelation comes in the form of a letter—postmarked Dallas 1964—from a travelling McGregor to Michal Barr in New York Ciy (incidentally, those noises in the background of the somniloquies are NY street sounds drifting through McGregor’s open second-storey window). In the letter, which I discovered hidden beneath one of the archaic pools of reel-to-reel tape, McGregor complains of the "beastly coach trip" and says that he "didn’t even nap long enough to have a dream and startle all the okies on the train". Excavating this curiously poignant document nearly four decades after it was written (and some years ater its author’s death in 1996) I felt privileged to glimpse the unspoken conscious thoughts of a man whose legacy—far more so than the vibrant and clever song lyrics for which he’d rather have been recognized—would be a delirious yet lucid verbal oeuvre recorded when he was flat-out unconscious.
A word remains to be said regarding the cerebral state most conducive to sleeptalking. Given the pictorially evocative quality of McGregor’s somniloquies, the obvious assumption is that he’s speaking from within a vividly cinematic dreamscape. According to the prevailing theory of sleep researchers, that’s probably not the case. In fact, sleeptalking rarely occurs during REM sleep, so only infrequently would it be accompanied by visual content: hard to believe when McGregor’s somnolent monologues conjure such lively imagery.
So where does this material come from? McGregor thought that all his "dreams" were confabulations made up of circumstances and observations from his waking life—a view currently in favour among many sleep specialists.
And what do these nocturnal utterances say about the person who speaks them? According to a 19thC researcher named Andriani, "Sleep-speech is always the expression of our innermost feelings—the mind, freed of restraints stemming from reality, conscience, education and consciousness, reveals itself in the nude."
Here then is the naked mind of Dion McGregor, sleeptalker extraordinaire.
Listen and marvel.