Other people’s insomnia isn’t usually thrilling to hear about, but it thrilled me to hear Michael Suddes sing, “I tossed and turned like a dryer” in “I’m a Bird.”
Not only is that exactly how it goes for me when I can’t sleep – I throw myself over in frustration, like a heap of wet clothes – it’s also a clever way to build setting with a simile.
The song barely describes “this place where I’m dwelling,” the stale room where the singer dreams, but with this line, Suddes furnishes it with the swish and thump of a dryer somewhere nearby. Maybe there isn’t a dryer in the room Suddes is imagining, but there is one in the simile, so there’s one in my tired mind’s eye.
The instrumental parts of the song also help build the room. The drums start out as a rigid one-two, one-two, regular and definite as telephone poles, or the bars of a birdcage. As the song goes on, a brush and some maracas soften the percussion, and flugelhorn lines slip in and out like a small creature determined to be free.
I’m looking for a bedroom in this song partly because of the music video, which features Suddes and friends amid an assemblage of furniture arranged in a field. One of the things Suddes gets up to in the video is writing, curled around a journal on the edge of his bed.
Supposing I’m not the only one here interested in songwriting, let me riff on this for a minute.
When I realize I’m dreaming, I’ll sometimes start running, to make the dream generate a landscape for me to look at. When I’m writing a song, there’s a similar feeling of propulsion – one line presents an image, a question, or a tone of voice that demands other lines to support it. Writing begets writing, once you get going.
Suddes uses dreams as a metaphor for writing throughout this song – maybe most directly when he sings, “and no one cares about my dreams.” He turns that one around and says, “the only one who needs to believe is me.”
You could roll your eyes at that for being too cute or affirming, but consider this: maybe he’s the only one who needs to believe because he’s the dude writing the song. A dream only needs one dreamer, but it needs that person absolutely – it can’t exist otherwise. Same with a song; if you don’t write it, it’s not getting written. So even if nobody else cares, that doesn’t matter, because nobody else is writing the song for you. It’s less of a consolation and more of a lonely responsibility.
But Suddes doesn’t let it get too heavy – even when he wonders, “Is there a part of me that’s lying / about who I want to be?” he attributes the worry to his “mosquito mind.” And the song just gets groovier as it goes, climbing to a solo on toy piano and a long walk out with vocal harmonies on the syllable “do” – a nice syllable to repeat just for its sound, but also a key word for the song. “Let me do my thing,” Suddes sings, and then he does.