Lily Dreams On

February 9, 2012 at 6:29 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ll take a flyer and say that 99% of the folks on the planet have never heard of the band Cotton Mather. They were from Austin, Texas, and were active in the 1990’s.

That said, if you’re visiting this blog, there’s a much better chance that you have. If you’re a friend of mine personally, there’s an even better chance that I’ve forced you to listen to Cotton Mather and forced you to listen to me pontificate on their greatness. So…here comes some more of that.

Last year Cotton Mather frontman (and current leader of the band Future Clouds And Radar, another fave here) Robert Harrison launched a Kickstarter.com campaign to try to reissue Cotton Mather’s second–and perhaps most-heralded album, a gem of a thing called Kontiki. Harrison’s aims were modest. He needed $20,000 to hit the goal that would allow him to repackage and re-release a remastered version of the album with a bonus disc of outtakes and some extensive liner notes.

Word got out. Within about a week or so Harrison had his $20,000. In a few more weeks he had way more than that. The reissue happened. For those of us lucky sods who got in on the Kickstarter thing, we got our copies of Kontiki some time after this past Thanksgiving. For everyone else, the album comes out next week. Check it:

You want to own this for the music, obviously. But let’s say you’re one of the roughly 500 people or so that I burned a copy of the original Kontiki for over the last 15 years, and you still have that crumbling CD-R, or you ripped it to a hard drive long ago. You still want this, if only for the outtakes disc but especially for the liner notes. The liner notes have all sorts of background on the band, the recording, and where it fit with the times, written by journalists, musicians, and producer Brad Jones. Robert Harrison then comes along to do a track-by-track breakdown of each song. And that, finally, is what this post is about.

If I’ve never run across you or been able to blather in your ear about Cotton Mather, there’s still a chance you heard them if you’re a fan of the excellent but short-lived TV show Veronica Mars. At the center of the show is the mystery of the death of Veronica’s best friend, a girl named Lilly in the show, and in the final episode of season 1 the series used the Cotton Mather song “Lily Dreams On” in it’s entirety. (Turns out show creater Rob Thomas is a huge Cotton Mather fan, and he had Paul Rudd lip synching to another Cotton Mather tune from Kontiki on season 3.)

So. For the agnostic, the one song folks might know from Cotton Mather is “Lily Dreams On”. Here’s that track. (Forgive the poor dude who put that up for the misspelling of the band’s name.)

The song opens with this line:

“Lily I hope you picture me in your dreams”

Later in the first verse you get this evocative doozy:

“‘Close your eyes, baby I’ll dry mine'”
Echoes through the phone”

I’d always thought that song was a lovelorn song about a girl. It sort of is.

And sort of, it isn’t.

The song is about Robert Harrison’s mother. In the liner notes, Harrison mentions that “Lily” was his mom’s childhood name. Further, he states that “This song was far too personal for me to ever sing live.”

And so now go back and revisit those song lyrics. Why does the singer want Lily to picture him in her dreams? Not because she’s a long lost lover, but because he wants the affirmation from someone he seems to have lost (I’m guessing here, obviously. If Mrs. Harrison is alive and well and I’ve missed the mark, then mea culpa. For my own meaning, though, I need that to be the narrative.) Hitting even more like a ton of bricks is that second couplet.

I’d always thought that it was Harrison trying to reassure and assuage the sadness of a girl on the other end of the phone. Knowing now who “Lily” likely is, though, it seems like the conversation echoing through the phone is coming the opposite direction. The person saying “Close your eyes baby, I’ll dry mine” may well be a mother delivering exceptionally bad news to a son and trying to still somehow make things seem OK. And so now you listen to the song, and the chorus, and the whole thing takes on an entirely different meaning. There’s more poignancy and sense of loss (and perhaps hope?) here than I’d ever imagined.

It is that universal theme then, that strikes me now so deeply. My own mother is probably nearing the end of her days. She has been doing OK, but not well. She has been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for over a decade now and is in the latest stages, unable to talk, recognize anyone at all, or do much of anything besides eat, sleep, and, for lack of a better word, exist. That’s a far cry from the lady who once read to her six-year-old son the entire Lord Of The Rings trilogy a chapter at a time at bedtime, or the lady who constantly encouraged my creative efforts–lame as they were, or the lady who never seemed to not be singing at all hours of the day around the house. No, when I see her now, she’s in a very nice nursing home and she’ll smile and sort of nod…and sometimes she makes what sounds like words but which aren’t, really. She seems to like to have her hands held. She likes to be hugged. That’s pretty much all you get.

Before her disease completely claimed her brain but after I knew her diagnosis, Mom would talk to me about some of the vivid dreams she would have. Not nightmares, just dreams of her life and past. I have always wondered if somehow in her ravaged mind, that maybe there isn’t a sort of coherent state that she still has access to in her dreams, even now. I hope, I suppose. I hope that my own Lily still pictures me in her dreams. I hope that far from this, she dreams on.

1 Comment

  1. Stu said,

    I was turned on to Kontiki near the time of its release by Bill Forsyth at Minus Zero Records in London. And what a magnificent purchase it was. Bill was a true proselytizer of all things power pop, psych pop and jangly (especially R.E.M.) and he rarely if ever led me astray with his recommendations.

    I’ve since purchased the rest of the Cotton Mather catalogue (and Future Clouds & Radar, of course) and love Robert Harrison’s terrific brand of psych-infused power pop. I plan to buy the new, expanded edition of Kontiki, both for the extra tracks as well as to help support Robert. Here’s hoping he has another Future Clouds & Radar album in the works…

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