Dissecting Parquet Courts' Surreal Stress Dreams About Endless Subways
Sean Yeaton is a brilliant bizarro and also the bassist of Parquet Courts. Whenever the band goes on tour, he has this recurring dream about a labyrinthine subway system and a vague destination he never reaches. We had an analyst interpret the...
Sean Yeaton used to work at VICE before he became the bassist for Parquet Courts, a band whose catchy-yet-cryptic songs single-handedly got me interested in guitar rock again and have catapulted them into fame (well, at least Letterman and my dad are big fans). Even after he went on his "rock star sabbatical," Sean's stayed in touch—he served as Music Reviews Editor of VICE Magazine for a stint I remember for the manic, middle-of-the-night emails he sent me while out on tour whenever he forgot to ask other people to write reviews. Regardless of whatever time zone Sean was in, it was clear his sleeping schedule was skewed and he was sorta losing his mind.
It turns out that at least part of his problem is a recurring stress dream he's had for years since he started touring regularly. Or, at least it's his psyche reminding him that there's a larger, existential Goliath he's yet to confront. And Sean's currently on tour with the Courts cause their new album Human Performance (pure heat) is out soon, and there's a strong likelihood this dream might pop up again. The nightmare involves wandering in an immense public transportation labyrinth in hopes of reaching a vague destination, before getting sidetracked by exploring a crappy, equally-serpentine mall. It actually reminds me of a lyric from a Parquet Courts song called "Content Nausea": "Life's lived least when you don't let go/Of a memory, of a dream/Like an hometown better seen/On a screen or at a distance." Heady, right?
In an effort to decipher the dream, I asked Sean to describe it and take a stab at what it could mean. Then, I had my friend Morgan Stebbins, a certified Jungian analyst and Director of Training of the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association, give a professional's take on the recurring "mind maze" that clogs Sean's brain during his REM cycle.
Sean Yeaton's Recurring Dream:
This dream usually pops up when I'm stressed OR during a rare stress-free lull. In the case of the latter, it usually marks the beginning of a healthy stretch of mangled anxiety. It doesn't really wake me up but I remember it first thing when I wake up... So maybe it does wake up me up?
Every time, I find myself on this endless public transportation system, but it's kind of built up out of all these other public transportations systems that I've been on—and they're all blended together. I'm on a mission to get to this place or destination, but this place is never defined because the anxiety of reaching it is more overbearing than the end itself. At the same time, this dream is so familiar that it's not even that stressful. It's more of a mundane, simmering thing.
For example, I'll find myself at a New York subway entrance and I'll go down its steps. I'm always my current age and by myself, plus the locations I end up in are a lot less hectic than what they'd typically be like in reality. When I get to the platform, it will look like, say, the Boston T's platform, but when I get on the subway car, it'll resemble something like the Berlin U-Bahn. There's always this moment where I realize I'm on the wrong train, and as I get off and head towards the vague destination I can't remember, what always stays the same is the blended transportation systems, even if the next location changes.
In these dreams, I often find myself walking through all these corridors and flights of stairs in an increasingly-complex train stop before I end up passing through this weird mini-mall. I'm still underground, and this mall is all underground, so I've come to think the next space is based on some memory I have of this shitty, dirty mall I went to years ago in Mexico. I think it's also based on this area of Penn Station where it transitions from being a normal NYC subway to this weird mall with like an Aunt Anny's before you get to Amtrak. That transition—in both real life and the dream—gives me the same feeling as when you're swimming and right when you think you're about to get up out of the water to get fresh air, there's just a little bit of water left before you break through the surface. It's like you've misjudged when you'll experience relief. I'll always find the Amtrak in reality, but in the dream I'll never find the real destination or even know exactly where I'm going.
In the dream-mall, I always see the Mexican equivalent of like a head shop or a Hot Topic or a bargain electronics store that doesn't exist anymore—like Sam Goody. It's all the same shit you'd see at a normal mall but way crappier. In my mind, malls have always been portals for all this gross crap—free-floating spaceships where you can live off the stuff in them. But they're never really permanent or home. I often lose focus of reaching my original destination as I go into this mall, and I'll get sidetracked and walk into one of the stores.
One time, I remember going into a costume superstore—like those ones that pop up before Halloween, though it wasn't close to October when I dreamt this. In this instance, I found myself wanting to get a grim reaper cloak, or one of those Scream masks. Whether I'm in this store or another, I never end up really buying anything, though this time I left with this weird staff or a walking stick. Another time, I remember going to a movie theater and it had a red carpet in it as if a premiere was happening—but there were no concessions, and the dingy theater (which had no stadium seating) was empty and the lights were turned up really bright during the screening.
The feeling of being in this labyrinthine dream-mall is like being in a video game glitch—like when your avatar gets stuck in the side of a building. You can turn off the system, pull out the game console, blow on it, and the glitch gets fixed when you turn it back on. For me, it's like a psychedelic or psychological error in a digital realm, but the realm is my brain where the dream's going on. It's like a glitch-y mind maze.
What Sean Thinks His Dream Means:
The more I discuss the dream, the more I realize the themes of misdirection and impermanence are pretty much a straight-up allegory with regards to my current life. A goddamn one-to-one relationship.
I don't really feel like I have a home because I'm on tour a good chunk of time—at least a week or two per month. I moved to Philly not so long ago, and I haven't really had an opportunity to make a life for myself there. I think part of me is convinced I'll get back to NYC at some point, but who knows. If I had to guess what this fucking dream means it's probably just that I am in dire need of light at the end of the tunnel!
What a Jungian Analyst Thinks the Dream Means:
A repeating dream wants to be taken seriously. Its apparent beginning is also important—though most likely something like "the beginning" has happened even before then. We repeat and repeat until we get it right! Although he identified the start of the dreams with the beginning of touring, I would bet that in past times of stress he would have faced similar dreams, and made similar life choices. And, when we are stressed or very relaxed the psyche can ease its way through our conscious control and show up—that is, the veil between worlds is thinner at those times!
What's a subway? We must always ask ourselves the same three questions with dream images: 1. What is the image in its functional sense, 2. What does this represent psychologically, and 3. Where is that true for me?
A public transit system is a way of getting from here to there, so it's like a conscious plan or a habit—it's our way of doing things, and it's collective, meaning everyone does it the same way. So, the subway in the dream could translate to "I do what I've always done the way everyone else does it," (which also means, "I do what some bit of the collective value system expects")... and it turns out it doesn't get him anywhere! Round and round he goes, and he can't get off. This is like the cycle of illusion that, in most Dharma traditions, imprisons us on the mundane plane. It's important to remember that sometimes the common way is fine. After all, usually the subway gets you to work. In this case, the psyche is saying something else...
The blended aspect of the transport systems is partly what clues us in to this being a psychological dream. What I mean by that is sometimes if you dream of a place, you might need to go there, but other times you are being called to look at what it represents. If an image is abstract or blended, the psyche is emphasizing the non-personal and symbolic aspects of it.
The part where he talks about losing focus of his original destination and entering a store in the strange mall is pretty direct. It's asking the dreamer: How do I get sidetracked by crap? Instead: Where is my home—both in a literal sense, but also in terms of knowing myself, of coming back to myself. As T.S. Eliot says, the end of all of our travels is to return home and know it for the first time.
In other words, the sidetracking is two things. One, it's trying to undermine the conscious desire (reaching a destination) in order to leave room for a new way of being and deciding. We almost always overvalue our conscious desires and tend to think we can control how we're built... but it's like controlling how tall you are—nope!
Two, he's going to have to get sidetracked from his current behavior to find both his literal, outer home (more important for some than others—some people are totally 'at home' when they are 'on the road') and, critically, the feeling of at-home-ness.
He wants to try on a Halloween mask, and masks are what Jung calls the persona. We wear a version of ourselves in all sorts of different places. There's no problem there, but there are two pitfalls: One is when the mask is so far from ourselves that it causes psychic pain from its fraudulence, and the other is when we believe that the mask is actually who we are. This is a common problem among public figures of any kind.
When he describes his dream as psychological glitch, it sounds like The Matrix—the brilliance of which was to point out the virtual nature of human perception and communication. If we can understand that reality has many aspects, we can begin to take responsibility for our role in our own lives. There's a fine line between using technology as a tool that enhances our humanity and having it become the driver of our needs and wants. The latter way leads, of course, to suffering.
He gets his dream pretty well, though maybe not in all details or in terms of the importance of it (both to be expected). That means the dreamer has the capacity to both gain more insight into the situation and to do something about it. He's close! The question is always: how important is it to do what needs to be done before it happens to us? As Jung says, "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate."
Follow Zach on Twitter, and visit Morgan Stebbins's website for more information about his Jungian analysis practice.