Storybookland by Gareth Wilson
Plastic castles six feet tall.
The animatronic band playing music in the hall.
Reality crept up oh so suddenly
It was enough to startle me
In the mirror house
At the carnival.
I took a photo from nowhere
I tried to see from no perspective.
I took two steps back so that I could be objective.
I’m the only one I’ve ever known
But my mind is not my own
I’m a forest.
I’m a field of corn.
I was bored but I couldn’t sleep.
I can’t feel the wind but I feel the heat.
I was reading fairytales in my bed.
Baby baby she lost her head.
This song is trippy, and one of the great things about it is its structure. Rather than progress through the typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus pattern, it progresses as verse-verse-chorus-chorus. The transition halfway through the song is unexpected, and it resolves into a Paul McCartney-esque melodic coda.
The lyrics recount the story of someone wandering in a grotesque amusement park, one step removed from reality. The castles are tiny, the animatronic band plays the same songs on a continuous loop, and the mirror house distorts any rational perspective.
It recalls the first Canto of Dante’s Inferno, in which the pilgrim loses the straightforward path and finds himself in “a forest dark”:
I cannot well repeat how there I entered
So full was I of slumber
At the moment in which I had abandoned the true way.
In the song’s second verse, the narrator tries to ground himself in an objective perspective by taking a photo from “nowhere”, but comes to the terrifying realization that his mind is not his own. He is a part of the landscape.
This recalls Bernard Williams comment in Problems of the Self, namely that in cinema, the point of view is constantly shifting. That is, in most films, we do not observe the action from the perspective of the director or the actors. We watch from the point of view of the camera, and yet we do not imagine that the camera is actually there:
This point of view, relative to the actors and to the set, is in fact that of the camera…one thing…is certain: we are not there.
The narrator’s realization is disorienting, and he soon finds himself trying unsuccessfully to fall sleep. He enters into the inferno, only to find himself right back in Storybookland.
This is truly the stuff of nightmares — and yet the chorus is beautiful and transcendent.
My brother wrote this song in 2010, when he was only 26. At the time, my head was so wrapped up in graduate school that I failed notice. I was 30 and married — he was dating an older woman — and so our lives had diverged for a bit.
In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t “discover” this little gem by my brother until 2016 — a good six years after he originally wrote and produced it.
When I finally did come across “Storybookland” on my brother’s SoundCloud profile, I was instantly hooked. Hoping to somehow build upon its greatness, I re-recorded it, adding my own back up vocals. All I managed to do was lower the sound quality.
But now I present the song to you, my dear reader, in its original form. I have no doubt that you will enjoy “Storybookland” as much as I do.