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.