Song Lyrics

Bad Dreams

by Joni Mitchell

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The cats are in the flower bed
A red hawk rides the sky
I guess I should be happy
Just to be alive...
But we have poisoned everything
And oblivious to it all
The cell phone zombies babble
Through the shopping malls
While condors fall from Indian skies
Whales beach and die in sand...
Bad dreams are good
In the great plan.

You cannot be trusted
Do you even know you're lying
It's dangerous to kid yourself
You go deaf and dumb and blind.
You take with such entitlement.
You give bad attitude.
You have no grace
No empathy
No gratitude

You have no sense of consequence
Oh my head is in my hands...
Bad dreams are good
In the great plan.

Before that altering apple
We were one with everything
No sense of self and other
No self-consciousness.
But now we have to grapple
With our man-made world backfiring
Keeping one eye on our brother's deadly selfishness.

And everyone's a victim!
Nobody's hands are clean.
There's so very little left of wild Eden Earth
So near the jaws of our machines.
We live in these electric scabs.
These lesions once were lakes.
No one knows how to shoulder the blame
Or learn from past mistakes...
So who will come to save the day?
Mighty Mouse?
Bad dreams are good in the great plan.

© 2007; Crazy Crow Music


As told to Dan Ouellette:

The chorus line, "Bad dreams are good/In the great plan," came from my grandson, who said this when he was 3-years-old. My daughter, grandson and I went to see the play version of The Phantom of the Opera. He was all dressed up and had been really well behaved during the play. But afterwards when we went to a restaurant, he was tired and hungry and started acting up. To try to stop his tantrum, I pointed to the theater across the street where the play had been performed and told him that the Phantom lives in a tunnel under the old house. Basically I was resorting to telling him a black fairy tale to keep him quiet. When he settled down, my daughter said, "It's a wonder sometimes that he doesn't give me bad dreams." He responded by saying, "But Mamma, bad dreams are good in the great plan."

And I said, how do you know that? And he replied that he didn't know. All I know is that this was one of the few profound things people have told me in person. (Another one was a guy telling me once, "Joni, Joni, keep up the divine dissatisfaction, but don't worry.")

The beginning of the song is based on a haiku I had written - the only poetry I had written in ten years:

The cats are in the flowerbed
A red hawk rides the sky
A little dog is chewing on a book of matches.

Well, the little dog didn't fit the melody, but the rest did. So, those two lines and the "If" poem by Rudyard Kipling were the only words I had in my head when I started the album.

It's true there's a sorrow and despair in this song. But it's factual. Rather than make a sad sack out of myself, I figured, let's talk turkey and face facts. It's not that I have a negative view. And I don't want people to think, "Oh, Joni, she's suffering." If people are seeing me confessing to something, they're missing the point of this song. Even though I'm using "I," I'm hoping people won't think this is autobiographical, but that they will see themselves in it. Certainly I see myself in that grocery list of failures - like being selfish, forgetting to be grateful, focusing on the me me me.

As for the superheroes saving the day, children who grow up with those fantasy figures may end up being frustrated by this rough world. Fantasy escape may not necessarily be the best toy for the troubles that lie ahead.

Bad Dreams has been recorded by 2 other artists


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bozito on

"When I thought life had some meaning
Then I thought I had some choice
(I was running blind)
And I made some value judgments
In a self-important voice
(I was outa line)
But then absurdity came over me
And I longed to lose control
(into no mind)
Oh all I ever wanted
Was just to come in from the cold"
Joni Mitchell