“What Do You Dream Of?” / Marshall Crenshaw
By the time of 1996’s Miracle of Science, Marshall Crenshaw was no longer a major-label kind of artist. In the post-Nirvana musical landscape, “power pop” was a shopworn concept, and anyway, a guy in his 40s couldn’t sell it like a bunch of kids in skinny jeans (think Fountains of Wayne) could. But that just set Marshall Crenshaw free to relax into his own gifts -- like he does in "What Do You Dream Of?"
When you’re first in love with someone, you fixate on all the ways you’re alike -- two hearts beat as one, and all that. But years down the road, you run up against the inexorable truth: your two hearts are still beating separately. In fact, there’re things about this other person you will never understand. In a similar song, Ben Folds’ “Trusted,” the singer’s outraged that the lover he thought could read his mind was really just snooping through his diary. In Lyle Lovett’s “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind,” the singer anxiously wonders what his elusive girlfriend is planning next. These are painful songs, worn and wise and experienced.
“What Do You Dream Of?”, though, gives us the flip side of such experience. This lilting backbeat number kicks off with light, folky fingerpicking – low-key and intimate, just like two lovers who’ve been together a while. “Just last night when we were in bed,” he muses, “This thought came into my head / I would give anything, girl – “ and he hangs there for a moment, with a few extra discordant strums – “If I could steal a look into your secret world / What do you dream of?” Not that there’s anything in particular he wants to know – he just wants to understand her better.
“I’ll never know what really lies / Behind your sleeping eyes,” he admits, in stairstep modulations like little tugs of frustration, wavering from the major key of the verse. But where another writer might act jealous or possessive, MC is solicitous: “Can you leave your worldly cares behind / Or do they rule your mind?” He senses she’s struggling with life, and he’d like to help – “Close your eyes, you know it feels fine / To let yourself finally unwind / From fighting hard to stay in the game / For all your trouble and time, you're getting more of the same.” And if she needs some shelter from the storm, he's right there. Jeez, we all could use some of that.
Clearly, he’s crazy about her – that shimmers through the shifting, unresolved chords in the self-rhyming line “When I see you smile, / I've got a reason to smile.” For that fleeting moment, they do seem connected as one. But the next time around, that same modulation conveys nagging uncertainty, as he admits, “I'll never solve / All of your mysteries.” Sorry, honey.
Happy? Basically, yeah – it’s only once in awhile, he says, that this stuff puzzles him. With its gently rocking syncopation, its blithe melody, this song just radiates domestic contentment. On the surface, this may be a realistic song about the distance between two lovers – but what really hits me is how close they are. And how his heart soars, watching his wife sleep quietly beside him. She’s one lucky woman, that’s all I can say.
What Do You Dream Of? sample