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Cheap Trick’s “Dream Police”, Essay Example

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Essay

While many popular songs refer to forms of mental illness, most seem to express issues with obsessive/compulsive disorder as related to love affairs, or problems with substance abuse.  There are exceptions, however, and Cheap Trick’s 1979 hit song, “Dream Police,” is a striking example of a popular song that directly addresses serious mental disease.   As the title suggests, the subject matter is paranoia, and this is evident in the pairing of the two words; as “dream” implies a personal way of feeling and thinking, the shocking addition of the stark, authority object of “police” to it creates a powerful contrast revealing the theme.  The band here is establishing a kind of frightening and unreal force, before the song even begins.

What also sets the song apart, in terms of how popular music usually treats subjects of mental disorder, is that the statements conveyed throughout it are absolute.  This is no song that speculates as to why the singer/narrator feels persecuted or uneasy.  The chorus, which starts off the song and is repeated several times, asserts as actual fact that these “dream police” are after the singer.  Moreover, it is about to get worse.  Not only do these delusional beings haunt the singer day and night, it seems that they are preparing to completely take over his life: “They’re coming to arrest me, oh, no!” (Cheap Trick).  Given the consistent persecution the singer relates, the message implied is that the “arrest” means the end of his life.  In other words, once the “dream police” finally move in, the singer will disappear.  This being the case, impending terror is the message given, and it is terror of a phantom force very real to the singer.

Extreme paranoia is, as noted, in every line of the song.  The beings “live inside” the singer’s head, pointing to delusions at the stage of hearing voices and commands.  At the same time, confusion, typically a component in paranoia, is evident.  The “police” are with him always, yet they are also always searching for him.  This points to a possible sense of self still able to remain secure from these intrusions, if one not likely to survive for long under this invisible assault.  The persecution complex here is so potent, in fact, that the song actually refers to a lack of sanity.  Several times is it remarked that the “dream police” are driving the singer insane, which is an interesting way of revealing an awareness of insanity within a state of it.  Moreover, it absolves the singer from blame completely, because no person could withstand this treatment and be responsible for what they do.  This is paranoia that acknowledges no way out,  simply because it is based on the perceived reality of the unreal tormentors.  As the “police”are both judge and jury, and as they listen in on every thought the singer has, it is only a matter of time before they claim their victim.

It is worth noting as well that the song gains force in its statement by virtue of the music.  If the song is more pop than actual rock, it nonetheless relies on a relentlessly driving beat and rhythmic structure.  Every bar of music is forced and rushed, which creates the feeling of being pursued, and the complex orchestration suggests all the “noises” that accompany severe mental disturbance.  Guitars virtually shriek, and synthesizers add a consistent background sound like sirens in the distance.  The total effect, then, is stylized and very theatrical, which is in keeping with a pop hit song of the era.  On a more personal note, I tend to admire this approach.  If it is “over the top,” it is also honest in its way because it acknowledges that a severe kind of mental illness is being addressed through a popular song.  A more sedate arrangement, for instance, as in only an acoustical guitar supplying the music, would make the song pretentious.  Loud, frenzied, and fast-paced, “Dream Police” works as a first-person account in pop music of just how a truly paranoid individual may express the state of being.

Works Cited

Cheap Trick. “Dream Police.”  Dream Police. Sony, 1979. CD.

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