Mad World: Two Versions

blue sea under blue sky

The book or the movie version, the original or the remake. Questions I ask myself, as I wonder which side of those coins I sit on. Am I the book or the movie version? Am I an original or a remake of something?

Orzabal Roland, through some strange compulsion, wrote a bouncy, upbeat song in 1982 called ‘Mad World’. It was a single on an album called ‘The Hurting’, and you’d more popularly recognize the band as Tears for Fears. Bouncy though the song may be, the lyrics are strange and dark. Almost apocalyptic. You probably know the chorus: 

And I find it kind of funny

I find it kind of sad

The dreams in which I’m dying

Are the best I’ve ever had

I remember the 80’s. I was very very young that decade, but it’s sometimes the decade I remember the clearest. Don’t know why. I remember hearing ‘Mad World’, but not paying attention to the lyrics. There was something discordant about the tone, like it was trying to slip one past me, to prematurely terminate the 80’s – and my youth. Look ahead, the song suggested to me, to when you’re older and your dreams are withering. Look to that person you’re going to become. But I never did much looking ahead. I was always strong in the moment. Still am.

Flash forward to 2001, January, and a peculiar movie called ‘Donnie Darko’ was released. I didn’t watch it, even though it was advertised fairly heavily. The director, Richard Kelly, is famous for this movie, and not much else – possibly, he is a one-hit wonder. I didn’t watch the movie because it had a creepy bunny rabbit on the cover, and much as I loved horror movies, it was the type of creepy that suggested some other motive, an apparition in a white sheet that was anything but a ghost. I was sure it was a trick, so I held off watching it.

We all know what happened in September 2001. The world changed. You can argue that it changed in an apocalyptic way. There is no point in trying to document that shift. In winter of 2002, I finally got around to watching Donnie Darko. It caught my attention immediately because of its soundtrack, and the fact that it was clearly not a horror movie. I had been right. It was a ruse, after all. This movie was a deceit, packaged poorly around a genre tale that didn’t fit onto any shelf at Blockbuster (remember those?) that I could think of. The movie was confused. Orphaned. Some might say ambitious. 

It captivated me as I watched it, but it’s the ending that stays with me. In a penultimate scene that traces through the impacts and consequences of the strange events on a string of characters, not a word is spoken. We simply hear music, as we discover what’s become of the characters that we followed through this genre-snapping little ditty. It’s one of the most fitting endings I’ve ever seen. The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.

The song over that final narrative is a cover of Tears of Fears’ ‘Mad World’, as presented by Gary Jules. It’s the same song, but it’s not bouncy at all. A sparse piano plays behind a solitary voice, the same lyrics that that I had ignored in the 80’s, but showcased poignantly now. Indeed:

Went to school and I was very nervous

No one knew me, no one knew me

Hello, teacher! Tell me, what’s my lesson?

Look right through me, look right through me

How many times have people looked right through you, and what you have to say? Ask yourself that question honestly.

So, the original or the remake? Both have their merit, now that I think about them and listen to them one after the other. One is deceptive and creeps up on you; the other is quieter, but much more overt. And which one am I? The original or the remake? Neither? Both? Am I an artist that bounces along, hiding the meaning until someone wants to find it? Or am I quiet and clear, sparse with my words because they are so precious?

It’s hard to tell. The dreams in which I’m dying…

I remember the 80’s very well. The 90’s? They were a blur of alcohol and madness. The 00’s? The world got mad, and it still hasn’t recovered. We’re living in that existence, desperate for a portal – a temporal hole in space that takes us somewhere everyone was safe. A place where we could go home and tell our parents that everything was going to be all right. 

I’ll take both versions, to be honest. In the end, they’re alive with feeling, and make me remember that I do matter, too. And so do all of you. We take our dreams everywhere we go. They’re wonderful, even if they’re killing us. Without them, we’d be small. The world would be diminished, and madder still than it is now. Dreams, they are cruel and perfect. The original and the remake. We live with them, and we’ll die with them. That’s what it is to be alive.

Thank goodness for music, and art. For people who break the rules and swim across the lanes. Those are dreams worth dying for, each and every one.


Thanks to everyone for the well wishes and support for the CBC Short Story Prize competition. I have promised myself to remain level if I don’t advance to the next round, where the story can be read by many people – the thing I care about the most. I am sending my well wishes to all the other authors who were longlisted, too. They are following their dreams, as am I.

blue sea under blue sky
Photo by Riccardo Bertolo on
Dream hard, rage hard.

18 thoughts on “Mad World: Two Versions

  1. I think every age or era has its own brand of bizarro. But for those who live through each age’s bizarro, it feels like nothing could be worse, more horrible, more irrepairable. So … I try to avoid getting too wrapped up in today’s bizarro. But it’s difficult some time. It certainly feels like there are some things that have gone completely off kilter over the last 20-40 years, and it’s difficult to see how we get back on course as a people.

    1. It’s all fine, I think This is more a reflection on music and nostalgia, and how life relates to dreams. As discussed on twitter, we will take on the challenges that present themselves to the world. There have always been challenges. As long as we’re decent to each other, we’ll be okay.

  2. It’s a fine question to ask. One would like to think they are original, but hasn’t all been done before in some way? That song, those lyrics, are haunting. I remember when you posted the video.

    Hope you are well, Trent.

  3. I think everyone is original and a remake. We absorb from those around us, we absorb from culture — and each of us packages those in a specific way. I recently read “Embrace Your Weird” that describes how we have experiences and actions that no one else has. Each of us is “uniquely weird.” I love that term. And I love your line “For people who break the rules and swim across the lanes.” To me, those are the ones who embrace their weird and make art according to their vision/taste, not to fit neatly into a category.

    1. I totally agree, Dave. I love the uniqueness of vision. And I think your line on embrace your weird, is totally bang on. I call it embracing your own inner madness. I think it’s okay to do that. Should be encouraged, even.

  4. What a fascinating post, Trent.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and how you put it all together. I like to think we are all a bit of two or more versions. There are benefits to the movie as well as to the book versions. And, while I am usually a stickler for the original of a song, there have been more than a few that have given their own special spin to an original. And that then, makes it original. So you keep doing what you do because your brand of original is fabulous.

  5. After the read I went to listen to both versions of the song. Which of course led to one of my rabbit holes and I just realized I didn’t come back here. This was a really thought provoking read for me. I have lost track of the times I have re-made myself. I would kind of like to meet the girl I might have been if I could have stuck with the original. Just for a chat.

  6. Thank you for the follow Trent. It means a lot. I am a big fan and a well-wisher. Your blog was the first that I ever read and liked a lot after opening a site here.

      1. Wow. And you even commented back. You don’t know what this means to me. I’m a pretty shitty writer. But reading your stories inspire me and somehow encourages me to put words together as well!

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