Waking Up Dead

Originally Performed ByPhish
Original AlbumBig Boat (2016)
Appears On
VocalsMike (lead), Page, Trey (backing)
Phish Debut2016-06-29
Last Played2018-07-25
Current Gap254
HistorianLance Judd (ThinkSnow)
Last Update2020-02-08


A good night of sleep is one of the finer things in life, something we do daily/nightly, and in most cases, without much planning or thought. Sleep doctors, or somnologists, tell us there are five stages of sleep that follow each other in a cyclical fashion when our heads hit the pillow each night. Those stages are as follows: 1) Wake 2) Relaxed wakefulness 3) Light sleep 4) Deep sleep -- and the big kahuna -- 5) Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.

Somnologists have determined there are essentially two types of sleep. Type I, or deep sleep, typically begins within 30 to 45 minutes after you fall asleep. This is the type of sleep you need to feel refreshed when your day begins. Type II, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, occurs approximately 90 minutes after you fall asleep. REM sleep is also closely linked with intense brain activity.   

Lucid dreaming, which is directly connected to REM sleep, involves a type of dream in which the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming. Somnologists have concluded that a lucid dreaming experience differs in many ways from ordinary deep-sleep dreams since lucid dreams involve significant body movement, a heightened pulse, and rapid breathing. Lucid dreams have also been linked to a phenomenon known as false awakenings, a vivid and convincing dream about awakening from sleep while in fact, the dreamer continues to sleep.

After a false awakening, subjects often dream that they're completing a range of mundane tasks and daily rituals such as showering, cooking, eating, and -- as evidenced in the lyrics of Mike Gordon and Scott Murawski's song "Waking Up Dead" -- vacuuming.

A closer read of the first-person lyrics provides further evidence that our "Waking Up Dead" lucid dreamer suffers from haunting visions of nefarious shadow figures while almost certainly exhibiting classic tendencies of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In fact, he’s compelled to be "vacuuming about, in a straight line, a very straight line."  Dreams in which vacuums are prominently featured are said to reflect feelings of emptiness and/or a pervasive sense that the dreamer needs to clean up his act and/or his attitude.  Dreaming of vacuums and vacuuming is also said to signify or reflect the dreamer's loss of control.  Whether the dream appliance captured and noted within "Waking Up Dead" is a baby blue Electrolux or a modern Dyson upright remains up for debate.

What's not debatable is that, after being sound checked twice during the Summer of 2016 (06/22/16 St. Paul and 06/24/16 Wrigley Field), "Waking Up Dead" made its official Phish debut on 06/29/16. This ode to night cleaning first opened its eyes on the Mike-side of the bed, sandwiched between the still-toddling (less than-one-year-old) "Blaze On" and the venerable trailblazing "Llama" at The Mann in Philadelphia, PA. Additionally, the haunting Gordon/Murawski composition managed to secure a cozy, cuddle-friendly (and arguably "turgid") berth below the helm (at track seven) of the band's thirteenth album Big Boatreleased in October, 2016. It also made its Mike’s band debut on 9/23/16 at the Catskill Chill Music Festival in Lakewood, PA, and has continued to be a part of his repertoire since.

The tune begins with a guitar lick that some have said is sneakily reminiscent of the Law & Order theme song, and while those notes might subconsciously conjure up visions of felonious intent, shady lawyers and sleepy jurors, it's when Mike's vocals join the slumber party that the sleep-walking, and "vacu-uming" races truly pick up momentum. The exploratory and "all consuming" middle section leaves plenty of air in the proverbial vacuum bag for future type II REM-sleep explorations, but the capper is the ending jam right after the "connected by a thread" line which includes heavy guitar passages that several online listeners have dubbed as the "built-in 'Tweezer' tease."

Although official details from Gordon/Murawski on the "Waking Up Dead" origin story are few and far between, the song (despite seeing modest playing time since its debut) maintains an out-of-body, lucid-dreaming and dissonant vibe that at least one fan here on the forum has opined, "creates a kind of tension that never really resolves, and that can be a very powerful thing."

Phish ”Waking Up Dead” – 06/29/16, Philadelphia, PA. Video by LazyLightning55a

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