D ion McGregor is one of the few human beings — can you think of another? — ever to achieve renown for a body of work created while fast asleep. For several years beginning in the early 1960s, McGregor’s New York roommate Michael Barr would rise early almost every morning to capture on tape what are still among the strangest narratives the world has known: the astounding spoken dreams of Dion McGregor.

In 1964, Decca released an LP compilation of these extraordinary “somniloquies” called The Dream World of Dion McGregor. The album’s fanciful cover image was by a young artist named Edward Gorey, who also illustrated a book of transcriptions by the same title from Bernard Geis Associates. It was 35 years before the CD sequel— Dion McGregor Dreams Again — was released on John Zorn’s Tzadik label. That shocking, beguiling and hilarious compilation was brought to life by the efforts of a unique cultural conjuror named Phil Milstein.

I’d been fruitlessly on the trail of unreleased McGregor dream tapes for years when I finally happened to connect with Phil just prior to the release of the Dreams Again CD. Eventually satisfied that a guy whose record label was called Torpor Vigil might indeed be qualified to release material by a dead sleeptalker, Phil put me in touch with Michael Barr himself. Our shared love of “the dreams,” and my willingness to hear of his production hopes for a musical he’d written based on his friendship with the legendary sleeptalker, meant that Mike and I hit it off very well. Soon the entire reel-to-reel archive was in the care of Torpor Vigil Industries, so that I might digitally preserve its recordings and begin work on another Dream World sequel. The first new compilation was a 2004 CD called The Further Somniloquies of Dion McGregor: More Outrageous Recordings of the World’s Most Renowned Sleeptalker. After a considerable hiatus, I’ve recently begun to sequence three new compilations, which I hope to begin releasing in the fall. My track lists were being developed in consultation with Phil Milstein and, until so recently, Michael Barr.

Michael lived to share Dion’s dreams with the world. Sadly, he did not live to see his own greatest dream realized: a Hollywood or Broadway production of the musical inspired by those fascinating, flabbergasting somnolent monologues he’d diligently captured so long ago.

I hope you’ll find a few moments — or a couple, at least — to visit the MySpace page of Mr. Michael Preston Barr, where you’ll hear selections from his delightful repertoire of original songs, some of which have been performed by such luminaries as Blossom Dearie, Anita O’Day, Joel Grey and Mike’s lifelong favourite, Barbra Streisand (she recorded “Where Is the Wonder,” which features lyrics by Dion).

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of these forthcoming CDs. Meanwhile, thanks for stopping by, and thanks as well to Denis and Stuart for making Mansfield a wonderful enterprise to be part of. (Is that an acceptable way to end a sentence? Oh well, Stu will correct it if not — right, Stu?)

Michael Barr’s website
Phil Milstein’s biographical essay on Dion McGregor
More information on Steve’s website (torporvigil.com)

Audio Somniloquies

New poetry by Catherine Owen

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