“To sleep, perchance to dream…” – Hamlet
I was on the road for work this week. That used to be a weekly experience in my chosen profession as a traveling salesman, but now it just feels weird. Everywhere you go there are different rules and protocols around masks and safety which leaves me feeling out of step with the locals. There are certainly more lax attitudes toward masks the farther below the Mason-Dixon line you travel. With all the work travel I’ve done in my career – and it’s a lot… I feel like I’ve spent half my adult life waiting around in airports trying to catch an earlier flight – you’d think I’d be used to staying in hotels. But as I was painfully reminded this week in Louisville (bourbon capitol of the world), I can’t sleep in hotel rooms. I don’t know if it’s the strange bed and surroundings that throw me off or if maybe flying does something to my inner ear that makes sleeping impossible on the road. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I can’t sleep when I travel, Lord knows I don’t sleep much better when I’m home.
I’ve always had a precarious relationship with sleep. I’ve had trouble turning my mind off and getting to sleep since I was a kid. Any more I can get myself to sleep but if I awake in the night, and I often do, I really struggle to get back to blissful sleep. They say you should get up and go read a book or something if you’re awake more than thirty minutes but in this tiny rental that I call the van down by the river where we live, I can’t make a move without waking the Rock Chick. That only compounds the problem: I’m up which is a drag but if I wake her, now I’m dealing with an angry, awakened spouse. As much as I hated it when she used to wake me up at 5:30am when she’d get up for work – she was raised on a farm… country people just get up early – her anger is doubled when I get out of bed at 3am and “walk the perimeter” as she describes my midnight wanderings. It doesn’t help that the cat sees me get up and thinks it’s time to eat and goes off like a tornado siren. It’s like he’s thinking, “Hey, we’re all up lets eat!” I had to negotiate with her early in our marriage to let me sleep until 9 on Saturdays and Sundays… they were my “sleep catch up days.”
My parents are partially to blame for my idiosyncrasies around sleeping. We moved when I was in fifth grade. I hated the elementary school I was attending but transferring to a new school seemed like an infinitely worse option. Let’s just say I was adverse to change. We changed my stepdaughter’s school a number of times when she was growing up and she adapted wonderfully with nary a complaint. What we didn’t realize was that we were just expanding her “criminal” network. She knew all the party kids in every school in town. It’s amazing what an upstanding citizen she’s become now… but I’m off track. When my parents moved us I reacted with the angry melodrama of a teenage girl… and I was an eleven year old boy. All of my bitching must have gotten to my parents because my bedroom was the last one to get any furniture. I had a bed and all my clothes were in boxes. In a fit of over-the-top complaining, I accidentally tore the rolling blinds off the window. I bent the metal clasp that held the damn thing and we couldn’t fix it. The window faced east. When the sun came up in the morning it felt like it was rising in my bedroom. After two days of being awakened at sunrise, I went to the linen closet and got a spare feather pillow that night and wrappedit tightly around my head. That provided darkness and silence. It was my “head fort.” Sadly, I got used to it and have had to sleep with a pillow on my head ever since. Try to explain that when you’re an adult and… entertaining… a young lady friend. “Yeah, I’m a freak, I sleep with a pillow on my head.” I also folded my hands on my chest Lilly Munster style which only sparked rumors that I might be a vampire.
When I reached college the people I lived with enjoyed messing with the kid with the pillow on his head. I didn’t sleep at night so I’d often sneak off and nap. My roommates would vie with each other on who got to wake me up. If I was in a really deep sleep and you shook me awake or called my name it would typically result in my screaming and throwing the pillow. It’s like I was terrified about waking up. I once famously exclaimed, while being awakened, “Sleep is hell.” With all of these people hazing me when I was asleep, it’s a wonder that I was able to nod off at all. Drinking didn’t even help. It would help you get to sleep but once your body burns off the alcohol the sugar wakes you up and I mean WAKES you up. There’s nothing like being slightly hungover and wired at 3am sitting on the edge of the bed and re-litigating every bad decision you’ve ever made. I guess I would amend my statement from college to “Waking up is hell.”
Today it’s not much easier to sleep. Uncertainties in the political landscape, the pandemic still hanging on, the Chiefs playing like shit and work being more stressful than ever all combine to keep me awake for days. I literally can’t let my mind wander too far in any direction or I’m up pacing the floor until the cat emits his visceral “meow” and then the Rock Chick is yelling, “What the fuck are you doing,” and I’ve got a full scale insomniac disaster on my hands. People, the struggles are real. I can’t help but remember when I was a kid and it was bed time how I’d stall and stall. My parents would have to battle with me to go to bed. I’d beg to watch the news so I could see the sports… then it was Carson’s monologue… Finally my parents just put an old black-and-white portable TV in my room and hoped I’d eventually fall asleep. Anything to get me out of the living room and upstairs. Now, I can’t wait to lay down. From there I just have to hope my mind cooperates and I can drift off. I often do the B&V version of counting sheep – I name my albums, alphabetically by artist… I start with AC/DC’s Back In Black and if I make it all the way to Cream I know I’m probably not gonna go to sleep.
I was laying awake in a Louisville Hilton this week worrying about something or other and so I got up and fished out my iTouch from the computer bag. I was shuffling through some music. I started with some recent stuff, Mellencamp’s new song “Wasted Days,” and Bowie’s covers songs (“Trying To Get To Heaven”) but then started randomly selecting stuff. I heard the Beatles “I’m Only Sleeping,” and then “I’m So Tired.” I realized I might be onto something. If I can’t sleep I might as well rock and roll. I started stringing tracks together on the theme of sleep and waking up and pretty soon I had 50 songs. I realize that sleep can often be a metaphor for death so I ended up excluding the great blues rock track “Sleeping In the Ground” from Blind Faith. If there are any other great tunes on this subject, put them in the “comments” section and I’ll add them to the Spotify playlist. Here are my picks:
- The Beatles, “I’m Only Sleeping” – The track that gave me the idea… I’ve been listening to a lot of Beatles lately…
- Billy Joel, “Sleeping With The Television On” – I personally can’t sleep with any light or noise in the room so no TV for me. It’s hard to watch TV with a pillow on your head. From his great punk-influenced record Glass Houses.
- Audioslave, “Wide Awake” – Great rock song, “I found you guilty of the crime of sleeping when you should have been wide awake.” Rest assured Audioslave… I’m always wide awake.
- Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, “Sleeping Around the Corner” – From their great self-titled LP, there’s also a Lindsey solo version out there.
- Smashing Pumpkins, “In The Arms of Sleep” – Deep cut from their magnum opus Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness.
- R.E.M., “Daysleeper” – Oh how I miss napping. The Rock Chick frowns on the practice… marriage is a compromise. Y’know, Elvis was a “daysleeper.”
- The Beatles, “I’m So Tired” – Indeed I am…
- The Cure, “Lullaby” – A song about a man being eaten by a spider. Don’t even get me started on my dreams…
- The Rolling Stones, “Who’s Been Sleeping Here?” – I don’t think the person this is addressed to is doing much sleeping but I do think they’re having more fun than I am.
- Starcrawler, “Born Asleep” – Great song from a great new-ish band.
- U2, “Sleep Like A Baby Tonight” – People were mad about Songs of Innocence but there’s some good stuff on it.
- Jack White, “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep” – I love Jack White. Check out his new tune “Taking Me Back.”
- Smithereens, “Behind The Wall of Sleep” – I’ve only recently discovered the Smithereens. What a great rock band.
- Graham Nash, “Sleep Song” – From his first solo album.
- The Cult, “Wake Up Time For Freedom” – A very relevant call to arms in today’s troubled, divided times.
- Eddie Money, “We Should Be Sleeping” – A barrel-house rocker. I love the Money Man.
- The Pretenders, “I Go To Sleep” – From their great 2nd LP.
- Cream, “Sleepy, Sleepy Time” – So many rock bands have explored this topic.
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “I’m Tired Joey Boy” – A live cover of a Van Morrison song. I just like this version better.
- Pearl Jam, “Sleeping By Myself” – Also done solo by Vedder on a ukulele.
- Metallica, “Until It Sleeps” – My all time favorite Metallica song. I can’t explain it… this track gets me pumped up which perhaps means I shouldn’t be listening to it while trying to sleep.
- Norah Jones, “Wake Me Up” – That voice… I’d pay to have her come sit by my bed and sing me to sleep. Only B&V would put Norah Jones and Metallica on the same playlist. Open your minds, folks.
- Robert Plant, “Your Ma Said You Cried In Your Sleep Last Night” – I love this bizarre deep track.
- Beastie Boys, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” – Iconic rap rock.
- John Mellencamp, “Warmer Place To Sleep” – I’ve always loved this funky rocker.
- The Modern Lovers, “I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms” – I love these weird bastards.
- Fiona Apple, “Sleep To Dream” – I’ve been a fan of hers since the beginning. This track is from her debut.
- Jack White, “Weep Themselves To Sleep” – I can’t wait for his next solo album.
- Warren Zevon, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” – There’s so much essential Zevon out there.
- The Kinks, “Sleepwalker” – I feel like the Kinks don’t get enough attention on B&V. I need to work on that.
- Jimmy Page & the Black Crowes, “Woke Up This Morning” – Page & the Crowes doing a live cover of an old blues track.
- Nirvana, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” – I think Cobain was secretly a blues fan.
- Bob Marley & The Wailers, “Wake Up and Live” – Wise advice from Bob.
- Leonard Cohen, “Lullaby” – I love late period Cohen. The voice is gravelly but his last few records are the type that B&V was founded to extol.
- Peter Wolf, “Sleepless” – Title track from his best solo LP.
- John Lennon, “How Do You Sleep?” – His angry song aimed at McCartney. This is just such a hateful track. But if I were to answer John, it’d be, “not very well.”
- Paul Simon, “Insomniac’s Lullaby” – This could have been the title of this playlist.
- Jackson Browne, “Sleeps Dark And Silent Gate” – This one is clearly a metaphor for death… in this case I believe written for his late wife after she committed suicide. It’s too pretty a song to exclude.
- Tom Petty, “Wake Up Time” – From his masterpiece Wildflowers.
- Billy Idol, “Endless Sleep” – Another great deep track.
- R.E.M., “I Don’t Sleep I Dream” – I don’t do either, really.
- The Romantics, “Talking In Your Sleep” – I sometimes wake up screaming… No talking, literally screaming. Sleep is hell.
- Billy Joel, “Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)” – A lovely track written for his daughter.
- The Wallflowers, “Sleepwalker” – I always thought Jakob Dylan’s group was a solid rock band.
- David Bowie, “Let Me Sleep Beside You” – From the aborted Toy album which will finally see release this year.
- Ozzy Osbourne, “So Tired” – Produced by Jeff Lynne of ELO fame. Truly strange bedfellows.
- Eddie Vedder, “Sleepless Nights” – From the aforementioned ukulele based solo album.
- Tom Waits, “Midnight Lullaby” – From his brilliant debut album.
- Queen, “Sleeping On The Sidewalk” – This reminds me of a funny story about my brother in college, but those records are sealed.
- The Rolling Stones, “Sleep Tonight” – A perfect place to end this list… A Keith song and a ballad no less.
There ya go folks! Again, if I missed any, put them in the comments section and I’ll add them to the Spotify playlist. I like to think of these playlists as “ours” vs “mine.” If you’re an insomniac like me, here’s hoping that you’ll fall asleep soon. If not, hopefully these tracks will entertain you while the rest of the world is sleeping.