I Don’t Sleep, I Dream

December 12, 2007

“I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” is a fine example of Michael Stipe’s talent for exploiting images and concepts suggested by the music in his lyrics. Even without his words, the dull thudding and shrill treble notes that dominate the track would evoke the sensation of a splitting headache. His lyrics make it explicit — the character is hungover and depressed, and his matter-of-fact tone implies that he find himself in this state fairly often. The character is some sort of star — the magnitude of his celebrity isn’t nearly as important as the fact that he wields some form of social influence. He seems slightly bitter and confused, as though the initial fun of the social dynamic has mostly worn off, but he’s unwilling to back away from his position even though there’s plenty in the song to suggest that he’s deeply suspicious of anyone he lets into his world. He’s addressing someone that he is presumably providing access to his inner circle, but even when he allows for a split second of intimacy, he’s chilly and aloof. He realizes that he needs the human connection, but he can’t shake the awareness that this person is attracted to some distorted abstraction of himself, and the feeling that his loneliness is an inevitable by-product of his social privilege.

20 Responses to “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream”

  1. 2d Says:

    i always thought this song was about someone wanting to get laid really bad. a sort of sexually explicit flirting.

    “some medicine for my headache
    don’t tell me my dreams are fake
    you come, deliver my demons
    i’ll settle for a cup of coffee, but you know what i really need”

    sex sex sex!

  2. maclure Says:

    That’s a very nuanced reading of the song from Matthew. I haven’t really thought about it from the position of somekind of “star” letting someone into his inner circle. Whatever, it’s a great song, which came with added edge when played live – witness the excellent version on Saturday Night Live in 1994 (a b-side to Tongue).

  3. protimoi Says:

    I agree with 2d, but I like your interpretation too, Matt, because it’s pretty similar to my situation (as someone who woke up hungover today after a particularly good night).

    If anyone has the 2005 DVD-A reissue of Monster, put on the short documentary and listen to the soundcheck version of this song…the outro seems extended and benefits from the added twin muscle of Scott McCaughey and Nathan December. The performance ends sounding even more swirling and psychedelic than the album version.

  4. protimoi Says:

    and I haven’t even splurged on the 5.1 surround sound system yet….oh boy, that’s going to be a good day.

  5. Paul Alferink Says:

    The think that makes this song is Bill Berry and those drums. They drive this piece and probably make it my favorite song from Monster. That and Stipes falsetto.

    Best Lyrics: Do you give good head?
    Am I good in bed?
    I don’t know. I guess so.

    (esp. The indifference of the I don’t know, I guess so line.”

  6. Paul Alferink Says:

    To reinterate. REM played three song on SNL when the album came out. (Remember that the band usually does just two) This was one, and when I heard those drum start up to kick off the song, I got chills up and down my spine.

  7. Paul Alferink Says:

    Because this song gets me excited:

    This album introduced us to Stipes falesetto. It’s pretty good. I mean, not James good or anything, but very nice. Between this song and Tongue, and Let Me In, we get a good amount of it. It really wasn’t there before Monster, and really hasn’t shown up since, but I liked it. It fits Monster’s undertone themes of sexual identity and confusion. (Confusion, not necessarily of the individual looking in, but largely of the individual as percieved by others).

  8. Mr Cup Says:

    While there is a washed up rock star haze to the main character, I often wondered if the falsetto lines were actually from a groupie. The beat up protagonist being uninterested in discovering the needs of others, offers coffee, to which the reply is…

    Lovely primitive pounding from Bill. Nice touch at the end where the music halts abruptly as if jolted form slumber.

  9. ScottMalobisky Says:

    drums remind me of Eddie Money –She Was Shakin’

    I don’t sleep or dream
    I just lay there listening to myself churn

  10. Mr Cup Says:

    I love the pathalogical drollness of ‘Hooray hooray hip hip hooray’.

  11. Kirsten Says:

    So many good points to this song to mention. Like everyone mentioned above, there’s the drumming, the sudden ending and the hip hip hooray. But my favourite stand-out? The ‘huh’.
    I don’t sleep I dream huh
    I’d settle for a cup of coffee…
    Pure Perfection.

    Another brilliant song from Monster.

  12. Ignis Sol Says:

    Great assessment, Matthew. Your unique perspective seems to add some missing pieces to the song that have been lingering in my head.

    “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” is sung from the state of a hangover. It is actually a sex hangover that only leaves you hungry for more. The coffee is just a stabilizer to maintain the sexual desire. For some it is a drag of a cigarette. It is that post-orgasmic feeling flowing throughout your body. The character is surely in charge of his/her sexuality and his/her perceived or actual celebrity.

    This one has always been one of my favorites and I do remember their SNL performance with Michael playing out on the guitar. It reminds me of the time I was riding in a car, I turned to my favorite friend and said


  13. I really think sex is besides the point of this song — it’s there, but it’s fairly joyless and mechanical, no real connection. When he says “you know what I really need,” it’s the connection he needs, not the sex.

  14. adam Says:

    there was some good falsetto on fables before this, no doubt- kahoutek, for example. and yeah, this is a sexy slow burn rocker about sex – fits in great on the record… I used to see stipe around LA a lot around time of monster release.. a very LA / hollywood album in many respects.. which isnt talked about a lot.. and that fits in with the celeb type descriptions…

  15. clare Says:

    Love this one, one of the ones off Monster that I liked the quickest. In fact don’t know why but when I had the cassette (blimey, remember them?) I always played side one more than two. I like the music & Michael’s voice on this. Although on 1st listen there is a sense of seediness to the lyrics, I think the protagonist is, if anything, disinterested, disconnected to sex, as if the act has become a complete bore to him & has risen aboe the need for it. It has a cynical tone to it which appeals & I agree the drum beat is paramount to the instrumentation.

  16. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I don’t miss cassettes, but I do like that a cassette makes you listen to an album in its intended order, no shuffling (at least a half at a time). In the CD and digital age of music we are losing the concept of the album.

    As for this song, I really liked it upon initial hearing because it stood out a little from the murkiness of much of the rest of the CD. I kept waiting for it to be a single and was surprised when it was not, although in hindsight it wouldn’t have been a great single really.

  17. narcizo Says:

    Unfair!
    I waited for so long; 2 days off the ‘net and now it’s surpassed…
    Anyhoo, maybe this song encapsulates the whole concept of the lp. It’s weird on terms of composition; one straight line, no particular changes in the melody, but the tribal feeling and the vocals are the key.
    It sounds like a bad dream, like an invocation to our darker side, a darker side that someone woke up and now he or she has to face it.
    When I think of it, it’s like when you meet someone, there is mutual interest and then the other thinks that you are the “good guy” and nothing in this world can prove the opposite.
    Don’t know about you people, but in such cases I act like: “You want to see the real me, OK then, here’s the whole thing”.
    And it’s not very good actually.

  18. ScottMalobisky Says:

    once lost a very special girlfriend cuz’ I showed her the whole thing and it was a damn shame, now I know better , she wasn’t “prepared for anything”…


  19. […] end up spending the rest of his adult life writing a body of work overflowing with references to sleeping and dreams.  The topic comes up in a huge number of the band’s songs, and though there’s no clear […]


  20. […] the song is a cosmic haze carried by a lead guitar hook that somewhat resembles the piano part from “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream.” Lyrically and musically, it’s the closest the band have come to straight-up sci-fi — […]


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