The George Parsons project
A look at Dream Magazine, a psychedelic collection of eclectic ephemera, in its waking hours
If this is the story of anything, it is the story of a moth in a dark, twisting landscape. A blue tree grows, and a man sits with his back to the tree, one knee up. His eyes are open. Before him, inches from his face, is a moth that slowly and hypnotically moves its wings. Other moths slide toward the man, as if to join him in his quiet reflections.
Under the earth, below the man’s seated figure, the tree’s roots are smooth and silky, looping and twisting around the bones of a skeleton, knotting through the pelvis, around the femur. A jet of flame escapes the skeleton’s foot; rises through the air; becomes a shape of fire, a spirit, a bird. The spirit is the fire. The fire is the man, is the moth, is the tree.
If this is the story of anyone, it is the story of George Parsons. Parsons is both the man and the moth, and perhaps the skeleton and the spirit as well. This is his world—in banal terms, it’s a CD cover he drew for Verdure’s 2004 release The Telescope Dreampatterns. A visual artist, former radio DJ, music fanatic, collector of detritus and magazine publisher, Parsons has his fingers on the various pulses of a scene that is, like the moth, slowly flapping away at the outskirts of consciousness—always present, always interesting, but never quite coming into view.
Of course, that position on the outskirts is more the fault of the fickle tastes of the “mainstream” than it is Parsons’ own. After a lifetime spent in a variety of arts-related jobs, Parsons has happened upon what may very well be the finest articulation of his various interests: Dream Magazine.
Opening an issue of Dream is like opening an ornate and mysterious box. Appearing sporadically since 2000 (and now in its sixth issue), Dream’s pages hold enough treasures to keep a reader enthralled for hours. Consisting primarily of interviews with musicians, writers, comic artists and poets, Dream offers what can be described only as an alternative view of the universe. Musicians discuss albums that most SN&R readers have never heard of, ponder ideas that aren’t often considered and contemplate a world of art and dreaming that few of us are likely to visit.
Perhaps the magazine’s Web site, at www.dreamgeo.com, states it best: “Dream Magazine (the printed paper version) exists mainly because of music, much of it psychedelic (old and new), experimental, pop, jazz, folk, or somewhere happily beyond classification. There’s also some art, lots of images and writing as well. Dreams, nightmares, visions and revisions.” It is a step directly into the landscape of the moth. When you open Dream, you become the man seated by the tree. You become the skeleton twisted in that tree’s roots.
Stepping into Parsons’ cluttered home in Nevada City is something like falling down into those roots, or perhaps like climbing out of them. Pick a rainy day and wander the bewilderingly crisscrossing streets until you happen upon an unassuming mailbox in front of a ramshackle, decaying home. Perched on the edge of a gully, next to the roar of Highway 49 and crawling with vines, Parsons’ enclave appears like something plucked from William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County tales: a place where weird collusions of history might mingle with murder, dread and disappointment.
Inside, the image isn’t much different. Parsons lives in a stumbling heap of creative squalor that is as impressive as it is confusing. Piles of papers, CDs, comic books and magazines litter the floor. His unfinished artwork (quite impressive artwork, actually) hangs on dusty easels. The CD player shuffles from John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk to John Fahey. It’s the stuff of Dream, and it’s the stuff of Parsons himself.
A tall, bearded wizard, with long hair flowing well past his shoulders, Parsons speaks with a mixture of elfish glee and studied intelligence about the process of his artistic development. He’s in his early 50s but conveys the enthusiasm of a young child always in the process of rediscovering the world. “It’s certainly the vehicle I’m using to communicate with people,” he said of Dream. “But it’s certainly not the end. It feels like it’s all on the way to something.”
That way has seen Parsons through a variety of different positions, perhaps starting with his 22 years as a DJ at a radio station in Nevada City that Parsons declined to identify by name. His position there ended badly but not before he played a variety of music ranging from minimalist composer Terry Riley to avant-prog rockers Pere Ubu and punk freak Richard Hell. “I got banned from the radio station for life,” Parsons explained. “If I say much more, we’ll have to get lawyers involved.”
His time as a radio DJ had come to an end, but his particular interest in fringe artists and musicians had not. That interest had led him early on to Jandek, the reclusive Texas-based musician who has become something of a cult figure in recent years. Parsons is one of the few outside of the reclusive musician’s friends and family to speak to Jandek himself (via the telephone). When a pair of documentary filmmakers endeavored to make a film on Jandek, the artist refused to be interviewed but supplied them with a list of folks he knew or had contact with. As a result of that list, Parsons appeared in the 2003 documentary Jandek on Corwood, a fascinating exploration of the nature of cult iconography.
This same field of interest led to Dream Magazine. “After having been involved in indie music for over two decades, I didn’t want to stop,” Parsons explained. “And so I continued to do all the networking with labels and artists, and soon the magazine started to take shape. Then I got a Mac, and it wanted me to do something with it, so the magazine became my first big project.”
Dream’s primary focus is on the interview, and this is where the magazine shines, in large part because Parsons asks the kinds of questions a regular person might ask of an ordinary acquaintance. For example, when interviewing the late great poet Robert Creeley, Parsons asks him a raft of literate questions, but he also asks, “Seen any good movies lately?” and “What’s best about being your age?” (To the latter question, Creeley responded, “At this point (76), there’s not much good about it at all.”)
The magazine’s greater purpose is to turn readers on to new music or art. “There is a whole generation of people my age who are completely alienated by mainstream music,” Parsons noted, citing psychedelic rockers the Green Pajamas as a band such listeners might respond to.
Swimming against the mainstream seems a worthwhile project, and Parsons has put forth a fair amount of material representing this counter-culture stance: writings on avant-garde, psychedelic and outsider music of all sorts; writings on underground comic books and film (mostly foreign); and dream-inspired visual art. Many issues of Dream also include a bonus CD featuring unreleased or unavailable cuts from artists close to Parsons’ heart. (The upcoming issue’s CD features unreleased tracks from Vibracathedral Orchestra, Black Forest/Black Sea, Windy & Carl, and Michael Gira, to name a few.)
Parsons cited influences from other zines, and Dream does carry a zine-like aesthetic and feel, even though it is a glossy-covered magazine. The pages are thin and look like photocopies. Although there is a standard, three-column magazine layout, the rather eclectic content veers very far from the mainstream.
The connection to zines is an important one. Essentially underground, self-published magazines, zines have a way of accessing underground culture in ways that more mainstream publications can’t, won’t or simply don’t. Furthermore, zines dictate the interests of the individual publishers and writers, free of the pressures of the marketplace. This was certainly true during the 1980s, when punk and hardcore zines were one of the only ways punk fans could get wind of new releases, and it’s also true of Dream. As Parsons noted, almost in passing, “It’s an open channel for intercommunication.”
Ultimately, the magazine is the stacks on Parsons’ floor, the art on his easels, the decaying house, the man, the tree, the skeleton and the roots. It’s entering a separate world, a world of dreams, of ghosts, of music, of art and of poetry, and though it’s not a world for everyone, it’s certainly, in the end, everyone’s world.