Ever since I first heard ‘If I Needed Someone’, George’s song on Rubber Soul, I’ve always been a sucker for songs that feature jangling guitars. ‘Recurring Dream’, an early Crowded House song, fits the bill nicely; built around lovely ringing arpeggiated lines played in double time that undulate throughout the track like an updated Byrds riff, reminiscent of, say, ‘Bells Of Rhymney’, on which George is reputed to have based ‘If I Needed Someone’, or any number of early R.E.M. tracks. Apart from a lull before the instrumental break, it resonates throughout ‘Recurring Dream’, rising and falling in reverberated ripples, tricky to play but very easy on the ear. Initially released only as a B-side, it is also the title of CH’s 1996 Best Of compilation, and the more I think about the more I realise how apt the title is.
In the last two decades I have had a regular recurring dream about being sent back to America to become Melody Maker’s US editor again but being unable to do the job. In the dream I have been in New York for maybe two or three weeks but haven’t written a single word or been able to contact anyone in the music industry to request review tickets or interviews. I’m usually wandering round the streets. I don’t seem to know anyone there anymore and I’m dreading the call from London – ‘What’s going on? Why haven’t you done any work?’ – but I’m somehow impotent, incapable of doing the job I’m supposed to be doing through a combination of incompetence and laziness. So I feel incredibly guilty at my uselessness – and then wake up.
So why the anxiety-filled recurring dream? It wasn’t often that I began my working week during that period by wondering who or what I was going to write about. Most often it was decided for me, either through a request from London or my own instinct telling me that an act, not necessarily one that was well known in the UK, was worth writing about. My deadline was every Thursday afternoon by which time I would have all the interviews and show reviews written and packaged up in a fat envelope that was collected by a courier anytime between two and three in the afternoon. It was delivered to MM’s London office the following morning.
Nevertheless, my time was my own and it was up to me how I used it. I worked unsupervised from home insofar as my apartment doubled as my office. There was certainly the opportunity to be lazy, to put writing off until tomorrow, to lie in bed, to wander out into Central Park with a good book, find a shady spot and read for a few hours. No one checked up on me or knew what I was doing at any hour of the day or night. In the late summer of 1975 I was back in London for three months while another MM man, who shall remain nameless, took my place and succumbed to that temptation, so much so that he was soon recalled and given his marching orders. I was sent out again to repair the damage.
So if I wanted to do sod all on a Monday I could do so and no one would know about it but me. I did feel guilty sometimes if I squandered a morning doing the crossword puzzle in the New York Times instead of writing my review of a show I saw the previous night. I sometimes found myself having to cram a lot of writing into Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The last thing I wrote was always the New York news column which I cobbled together from press handouts, snippets lifted from Rolling Stone or the Village Voice, and any gossip I’d picked up in my wanderings downtown or at record company press receptions. It was sometimes a struggle to finish it.
One Thursday lunchtime in May, 1975, MCA Records threw a party in a recording studio to launch Captain Fantastic And The Dirt Brown Cowboy, Elton’s album of semi-autobiographical songs. The timing was bad for me as I had to wait for the courier and at around two pm I got a call from Elton’s publicist. ‘Why aren’t you here?’ she asked. ‘Elton’s asking for you.’ So I called the courier, asked him to get to my apartment pdq, which he did, and arrived at Elton’s party a bit on the late side. He seemed relieved that I’d made it at all, greeting me like a long lost relative, which is a bit odd considering his status at the time, and the following day I did an interview with him at his New York hotel.
But I digress. How to explain my recurring dream? Perhaps the constant grind of always writing up a couple of interviews, two or three shows reviews and that blasted news column every week did wear me down more than I realised. Perhaps I missed being supervised. Perhaps in my subconscious I long to be back in New York doing that job again but of course it’ll never happen. Perhaps in hindsight I’ve realised how incredibly lucky I was to have that job, and that at the time I wasn’t fully mindful of this, something I nowadays sheepishly regret. I don’t dream about any other aspect of my years on Melody Maker, only a sort of updated New York situation that is full of endless frustration.
‘Within myself, a secret world returns’, sings Neil Finn in his song. I know precisely what he means.