Sunday, September 22, 2013

Traffic: Dream Gerrard

The great eccentric of the British music scene was Viv Stanshall. And one of the more unexpected facts about Steve Winwood's career is that Stanshall wrote the lyrics of the title track on Arc of a Diver, the album that relaunched him as a star of MTV in the 1980s.

Steve Winwood one said of him:
"He was a one-off. he found the route that brought together elements of intellectual with rock’n’roll and comedy and poetry - he was incredibly well read - and it was just a unique combination. He couldn't possibly create a niche or an art form because no-one else was clever enough to do it."
This track from Traffic's 1974 album When the Eagle Flies also has lyrics by Stanshall. He described the song's genesis in one of his last interviews, which is quoted by Alan Clayton on Ginger Geezer:
Backtracking a bit, can you tell me how Dream Gerrard (on Traffic's Where The Eagle Flies) came about? 
I was suffering a severe bout of depression when I was staying at Steve's house, and he said, "We're off to dinner. Are you coming?" I said, "No, I'm reading about this French poet and I don't feel very well." So he went off and I wrote not more than a quatrain about Gerard de Nerval. When he came back, he said, "Right! That's a chorus. We need a verse for that." And he went into the front room and started plonking away on the piano. 
What was the difference between writing with Steve and writing for the Bonzos with Neil Innes? 
With Neil, we bickered when writing together, or else I attended to the words and he provided the music, or vice-versa. With Steve, it was much closer because of our agreement spiritually - although we have hardly anything in common, we go out for walks and agree philosophically. We have a damn good sort out with each other before we approach whatever the damn thing means.
Quite what Dream Gerrard means may still be a puzzle:
Hippos don't wear hats,
Lobsters shriek if provoked
On long blue ribbons
but enjoy Traffic's playing. By 1974 all their tracks tended to last 11 minutes, perhaps because they were all too stoned to be able to stop.


jamie said...

Nerval used to take his pet lobster for walks round Paris tied to a blue ribbon. So straight biography. Actually, maybe it makes more sense if you think of it as a song about Nerval's lobster.

Days of the Broken Arrows said...

Good to see this song being recognized. It's one of the rare jam tunes that can actually induce a dream-like state in listeners, so it's true to its title in that regard. It's groove elements also look ahead to the more modern soul elements Winwood would use in his solo music. It's funny that when I first came across it as a teenager I thought it was meandering crap -- the exact kind of lethargic, unfocused mainstream music that inspired the punk rebellion. Now I think it's one of the most brilliant things I've ever heard.

But my questions is: Why is "Gerard" spelled with the letter "r" twice in the song title when the poet only used it once. Mistake? Or deliberate to avoid legal issues with his estate?

avery said...

Great album my uncle recorded it on 8 track with Bridge of Sighs ,I would leave it playing all night.

Barrie said...

I bought the album when it first came out in 1974 and loved this song. Some 40 odd years later I've never been able to get it out of my head. Brilliant song.

Unknown said...

That's exactly how I feel. After such a long time, and being Spanish, which made it even harder to understand, it still turns me on

Veganpearlyqueen said...

As you can tell from my user name, I am a huge Traffic/Winwood fan. Even though I LOVE the early stuff and Traffic's second album is in my top five of all time, Dream Gerrard is my fave Traffic song - music, lyrics, and vocals. It is hauntingly mesmerizing. I could listen to it forever.

Unknown said...

Nice to read this article – hi & thanks all – but very unfair and untrue about Traffic and 11-minute songs. Maybe the live performances but not in the studio.
Most songs on this album very underrated and under-acknowledged album are 3–5 minutes long – only Dream Gerard is 11.
Love anyone who loves 'When The Eagle Flies'.

clico said...

Heard this track for first time on Saturday on Gilles Peterson (6Music). Agree that of and at it's time it seemed like the kind of long indulgent stoned ramble that partly brought on punk. With the benefit of 40+yrs on the planet it could actually be of this time!

GP played it as he had a tribute/celebration from Stevie Winwood to Johnny Pacheco founder of Fania All Stars. Stevie spoke reverentially and in glowing terms, I had no idea Steve had played with FAS. The track sat comfortably alongside the kind of stuff GP plays now.

BRW I saw Traffic at the Rainbow in maybe 1975 possibly a year before release of When the Eagle Flies. Anyone else there or have any memories?

Woodstock said...

Barrie it was the same for me. I was in the military at the time and played it in the barracks ar all hours of the day and night.

Herbert said...

Fabulous words and fabulous music. I still can't understand and get over the fact that this same Steve Winwood had transformed himself into a lobster and started squirting out shrieking MTV muzak only a few years later.

Anonymous said...

always loved this track,many years trying to work out the lyrics but evetually realised it was staring me in the face.the lyrics are weird and nonsense,just like my dreams.

Sunshine'sMommy said...

I loved the entire album in 1974. I was a junior in HS in Taiwan. Stoned much of the time and totally happy to be alive where I was. 65 now, and this music popped back into my memory, so, of course! Had to look up the lyrics. I'd ordered a cd of the album about 10 yrs ago. (Lost my pirated LP in the '80s)
The cd was a home made copy, but did the job just fine. I still love Traffic- and I still Love Steve Winwood. Rock on!