The Dreaming Tree Comes Alive!
By Jake Vigliotti
January 30, 2007
Every so often, I’ll become slightly obsessive/compulsive over a song. Usually it’s a version of a song for me, and generally speaking it’s a rare song. For a while, I was trapped on the 10.1.93 Any Noise/Anti Noise (early Say Goodbye), then it was 2.19.96’s Weight Of The World (early Don’t Drink The Water). My obsession has moved onto more common (and recent) songs, and also broadened my horizons a bit – I’m off the specific performance. Lately I’ve had a hankering for some Dreaming Tree.
The haunting melody and poetic lyrics of Dreaming Tree tend to suck us in. As far as complexity of songs, it may rank #1. Funny (not ha-ha) that a song almost 10 years old still gets the awed reaction live. Throw in the roughly 50 times it’s been played in 10 years, and that seldom-played thing that we DMB fans so love probably has a bit to do with it too. So what exactly is going on in Dreaming Tree?
There are a lot of people who think that Dreaming Tree is a very personal song to DMB – Stefan receiving a co-writing credit seems to be the giveaway to some. Something hit me the other day about Dreaming Tree; it has more in common with other songs that share its album.
Before These Crowded Streets is the Holy of Holies to DMB fans. Fittingly, it has more religious overtones to it than any other DMB release. Besides the obvious Last Stop and Spoon, there seems to be more people backing the idea that The Stone is about Judas. Could Dreaming Tree be a fourth song with a direct religious tie to it?
Let’s get some basics out of the way. Dave admitted in a 2004 radio interview that the title came from a children’s book, but has nothing to do with that book. What is the Dreaming Tree? On this very site, we state that the Dreaming Tree represents “that happy place, figuratively or literally, where everything is all right.” Truth be told, this song used to boggle my mind, and that description of the literal Dreaming Tree was determined by my wife shortly before this site came into being. I didn’t mind that we don’t specifically tell you what exactly the song was about, because there is so much to the song – especially with the presumptuous thought about its meaning – it is one of those songs that until Dave specifically says, “Yes! Dreaming Tree is about…”, we’ll never know.
In the interest of keeping the speculation to a minimum, and keep it off the boards, people long thought the song had a relation to the unfortunate passing of Stefan’s first child (note: I’m really uncomfortable even discussing this, because it’s none of our business, so don’t email me or PM me or post on the boards ‘what happened?’). I’ll just add that I thought that interpretation impossible due to the lyrical content pertaining to the female subject of the song.
So what is the Dreaming Tree? It’s a real tree. In fact, the wife’s description above is pretty accurate.
”… The old man said to me…” The phrase is more common to us now than it was in 1998. We now recognize the phrase to be a code-word for God. Sure, figuring that out is about as hard as winning a game of Clue, but from there we can determine more of the song.
Jumping ahead to another easy part, is the ‘chorus’ if it is as such. The subjects, a man and a woman, are calling out God. “If I had the strength…” to deny God, both subjects say they would. In the end, they come back to a familiar cry that many have said to God; “Won’t you speak please?” All those prayers, yet rarely is a verbal answer heard.
The other part brought to you by Captain Obvious is the death. Both subjects are dying. “Air is growing thin…”, “wilted so and soured” are a few of the more clear references.
God, man, woman, anger, death: Doesn’t exactly narrow it down. In fact, if this were a game of Clue, everyone would still be in the running. Maybe the man and woman are a pair? This idea seems logical since they’re in the same boat, so to speak. Since we have God, and the other songs taken from the Bible, let’s try some famous biblical pairs. Samson and Delilah? Nah… Lot and the salt pillar? No way. How about the original two?
Adam and Eve actually fit the bill. They both died (that whole original sin thingy), both were probably pretty bitter about it. Both know about a tree. In fact, it was a tree, the Tree of Life, That forbidden Tree of Knowledge that gave dreams to people (get it?), and once death – an unknown in Heaven – is upon him, ‘how he longed to be, beneath his dreaming tree’, before the time he was human and subject to human frailties.
There’s an interesting line that has a tie to the Tree of Knowledge (or Life). “Conquered Fear To Climb…” It could be taken that a fear to eat the fruit by threat of God was defeated, and he ‘climbed’ the Knowledge Tree. Pretty trippy, eh?
The Eve version fits as well. It seems that she is younger – “for sure she’d make the grade” – which Eve was, since she was made from Adam. (side note: given Dave’s obscure references [see Tripping Billies], it wouldn’t surprise me that the line is a homage to The Beatles “A Day In The Life,” which mentions a man who ‘made the grade’) The references to the ‘black tears’ show the extreme sadness in death.
There is a catch; they’re not literally dying. They’re previous existence is what is dead. Now they’re both “falling.” Sure, falling can represent falling down from life, but these two are literally falling; falling from Heaven. This is why both “long to be, beneath (that) dreaming tree,” before they ate the fruit and became human. Both of their initial reactions (mentioned above) are anger, but in the end they just plead for a guiding voice.
There is a bit of ambiguity to the song as well. The male character cries out for ‘Mommy’, whereas the female calls out ‘Daddy’. That is probably a combination of poetic license and the fact that you can interpret God as both male and female.
Think that’s way off? “Crooked as a danger…”. Weird line, eh? Lets see, anything crooked to do with Adam and Eve? Oh, I don’t know… maybe… SATAN! How about that Serpent, who convinced little Ms. took-a-rib to have a bite of fruit? Fits the bill nicely.
The Dreaming Tree tells the story of Adam and Eve’s fall to earth, and their anger and angst reciprocate throughout all humankind.
The song ends with the line “Save Me please…” Dave eventually wrote a song called Save Me about this guy in the desert for (eventually) 40 days. As the Before These Crowded Streets album setlist reads; it’s almost like telling you, “Spoon is coming up soon”.
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