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The Joelist Book of The Dead, pt. 2, “The River of Dreams”

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In case you missed part one of this series, you can find it here. This post will make more sense in context. As with “Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel),” I have not sought out other analysis from either Billy Joel or other sources.

Apparently, a common theme in dreams (human dreams, at least) is trying to cross a bridge or a river. I have this dream a lot; sometimes I can cross the bridge, other times my car blows off into the river (one of my worst fears and the reason I dread crossing the Mackinac bridge every year). On the occasions I’ve made it across the dream-bridge, I’m usually then involved in some kind of incidental meeting with a dead relative. I was shocked when I relayed this dream to Bronwyn Green and she told me she’d had similar dreams, and that pretty much everyone has them, like the naked at school dream or those dreams where all your teeth fall out.

Can we talk about that for a minute? Because I always have way more teeth in those dreams than normal people should have in their mouths.

Anyway, when listening to Billy Joel’s “The River of Dreams” one day, I began to make some connections between my river dreams, the river dream he describes and, well, everyone’s river dreams. And as the song comes directly after “Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel),” a song I previously analyzed to be a message about immortality and a connection between the world of the living and the dead, I began to think of “The River of Dreams” as a universal interpretation of life, death, and the collective human consciousness.

Let’s consider the lyrics:

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
From the mountains of faith
To a river so deep
I must be looking for something
Something sacred I lost
But the river is wide
And it’s too hard to cross

Here we have a poetic description of a dream, a journey from “faith,” a belief so strong as to become reality to the faithful; here I’m interpreting it to mean knowledge of the waking world, and trust in what our conscious mind shows us. Moving from the conscious to the subconscious, the traveler begins a journey for knowledge of something that escapes upon waking. The source of the knowledge, however, is made unobtainable by an obstacle, i.e., the river.

And even though I know the river is wide
I walk down every evening and I stand on the shore
And try to cross to the opposite side
So I can finally find out what I’ve been looking for

This is a reoccurring dream, and so familiar that the dreamer has begun to consciously see a pattern. They are aware that something lies beyond the river, and that to learn that knowledge they have to cross over.

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the valley of fear
To a river so deep
And I’ve been searching for something
Taken out of my soul
Something I would never lose
Something somebody stole

In our waking thoughts, fear of our own mortality might prevent us from speculating on the nature of our souls, but in the subconscious world of our dreams, we are free to meditate upon it. The sense that something has been taken from the dreamer, something that they should be able to access, but can’t, is perhaps because of the manipulation our cultural beliefs have in forming our thoughts.

I don’t know why I go walking at night
But now I’m tired and I don’t want to walk anymore
I hope it doesn’t take the rest of my life
Until I find what it is that I’ve been looking for

When conscious, the dreamer is frustrated at the lack of easy answers, without realizing that it won’t just take the rest of their life, it will take the end of their life to understand their place in the collective conscious. More on that after the next verse:

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the jungle of doubt
To a river so deep
I know I’m searching for something
Something so undefined
That it can only be seen
By the eyes of the blind
In the middle of the night

“The jungle of doubt,” here could mean doubting the existence of a life after death. Likewise, the “eyes of the blind” can be interpreted as the knowledge gained by the dead in the world beyond. “Blind” and “unseeing” have been used to describe the dead in literature and spirituality, especially in Christianity, where Jesus “opened the eyes” of Lazarus in his tomb. Hence my earlier assertion that only through death can we truly “cross the river.”

I’m not sure about a life after this
God knows I’ve never been a spiritual man
Baptized by the fire, I wade into the river
That runs to the promised land

Christian theology points to baptism of fire to refer to the trials and tests faced by Christ and his disciples. So, baptised by the tests of life, the dreamer once again tries to cross the river to gain entrance to the land beyond.

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the desert of truth
To the river so deep

The “desert of truth” refers to absence of divine spiritual truth in our conscious lives.

We all end in the ocean
We all start in the streams
We’re all carried along
By the river of dreams
In the middle of the night

The final verse leaves us in ambiguity; is the “promised land” a conscious state that exists only in dreams, a world we access upon death (our permanent sleep)? If so, that means that the life of each soul is entwined in the “river of dreams,” that forms one collective human experience in some kind of universal subconscious.

From this song, I’ve formed the Joelist belief in an afterlife built around the familiar locations in recurring dreams. When we die, we cross the river of dreams, and enter into communion with the thoughts and minds of others. Until then, our subconscious self still tries to unite us with that collective consciousness, even though we can’t cross the river yet.

The next part of the Joelist Book of The Dead will be “2000 Years,” a song that details the evil and the divine in human nature, and the eventuality of fate.

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7 Comments

  1. I’ve never had this dream. Or the ‘naked’ dreams everyone talks about. I wasn’t aware bridges were a common theme in dreams at all. I had the same recurring dream for well over a decade that involved getting stabbed instead. The bridge dream sounds much better…

    I definitely believe that dreams are important. It’s become pretty clear to me over the years that they can reveal a LOT about how you really feel about something. Generally for me at least when I get stuck in a dream it usually happens when I feel stuck in life. I keep opening doors and ending up back where I started, never getting to leave, usually happening when I feel like I’m trying to figure out how to get out of a rut and failing miserably.

    I always interpreted this song to be something along those lines. He wants to get somewhere he feels he belongs, but something is stopping him. Something out of his control. Something he doesn’t understand. And it’s when he passes through the desert of truth, and returns to the water with a new perspective, he can finally cross. It comes off, to me, as a journey of self discovery. Those without preconceived notions, ‘the blind’, are able to figure it out right away because they can see things for what they really are and what’s really in front of them, but those who have ideas on what they’re looking for, can’t find it, because they’re looking for the wrong things. It’s not until you face your doubts and fears, and abandon your preconceived ‘truths’ that you’re free to find what’s been hidden from you by your own mind.

    I’ve been going through a massive overhaul of, well, my ‘me’. So I’m a little predisposed to see things from that perspective.

    January 8, 2015
    |Reply
    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      This is also a great analysis!

      January 9, 2015
      |Reply
  2. Artemis
    Artemis

    I have to say, even though I’m not really a fan of Billy Joel’s music, this post makes me feel like Joelism makes a lot of sense.

    January 9, 2015
    |Reply
    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      Good! I’m kind of trying to piece a whole spiritual framework together for it.

      January 9, 2015
      |Reply
  3. the-great-dragon
    the-great-dragon

    I feel totally stupid tbh because I didn’t realize these were about Billy Joel. I’ve spend, like, a month under the impression that you were in a cult called Joelism and that The Joelist Book of the Dead was your guys’ bible.

    January 9, 2015
    |Reply
    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      That’s not… NOT what’s happening.

      January 9, 2015
      |Reply
    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      Except I’m sort of building the cult from the ground up.

      January 9, 2015
      |Reply

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