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A Dream is a Shadow of Something Real
I’ve mentioned before that I’m simultaneously writing these anecdotes for my own benefit, and something that really interests me are the amount of synchronous events that have shaped my life. Some of them seem completely bonkers, but they happened, and they usually begin with a dream…
I was at the top of the stairs, looking down at my friend, the musician and producer, William Orbit. He was standing next to a doorway and holding a big bunch of flowers. As I got to the bottom of the stairs he turned to me and said ‘you can’t go in yet’. Wondering what this was all about I peered through the doorway, and there relaxing on a chaise lounge with a vast array of cushions was Madonna.
I woke up and reached for the pen and post-it-notes that I always leave on the night stand, in case of odd dreams like this. I scribbled a couple of very rough looking flowers as a memory prompt and went back to sleep.
On waking, the dream made no sense to me whatsoever, but I was aware that William was working in the studio with Madonna again after the incredible success of Ray of Light, still one of my favourite albums of all time.
It was September 1999 and I was working at 2000 AD publications, along with other freelance design and photography gigs. I was very happy because I’d just had two of my images printed as postcards after a recent trip to Holland to visit Art Unlimited, the publishers in Amsterdam. Longing to do something else, I thought it would be nice to work with William again. It had been quite a while since the Guerilla Records and Strange Cargo III days, so I had an idea… If the dream had any kind of significance at all, I should send these two postcards to him in California, but before I placed them in the envelope, I stuck the post-it-note with the flowers to the back of one of the postcards. If it meant anything to him, he’d get the significance – and if he didn’t, it would just seem like it had got in there by accident. The other little wrinkle was that I sent it on the 9th day of the 9th month, 1999.
I went to the mailbox, posted it, and banished it from my thoughts.
A few days later, I was strolling along the high street in Notting Hill Gate to meet my longtime friend Tim Dry, and my mobile phone rang. A number I didn’t recognize, but I answered anyway. A woman’s voice said ‘Is that Steve?’ I replied ‘yes’. The voice said ‘Hi there, it’s Tracey, William Orbit’s PA. I’m calling from LA but William is currently in New York working with Madonna. Anyway, this is really quite strange… but he called me just now to ask if I had any ideas who could design the invite for his album release party next month. I was opening the mail as we were talking, and your cards suddenly fell out onto the desk. I said, ‘Oh! - Steve Cook just sent you some postcards,’ and he said ‘Of course!!! - Let’s get Steve to design it!’
Whether the 9.9.99 had anything to do with this I’ll never know, but it was pretty spectacular timing. I said yes, naturally, and she said that she’d fax me the details. It was the re-release of an album advance that William had given me back in 1995, called The Electric Chamber – Pieces In A Modern Style, but this would have new tracks and a newly designed sleeve. Being familiar with the music I set about drafting up some ideas.
The release party was to be held on the 21st October at a well-known celebrity night spot called Chinawhite in Piccadilly, London. By all accounts, working with Madonna was pretty intense for William, and trying to get his feedback on what I was sending, plus problems we were having with the fax machine at both ends proved really difficult. In the end I spoke to his manager and suggested that due to the tight deadline it would be more expedient if William got someone nearby in New York to design it. He agreed, thanked me for my help, and said, ‘you must come along anyway, I’ll put you on the guest list plus one, oh, and Madonna will be there’.
When the invites arrived by courier I was surprised at the finished design. Flowers on a plain background. The Pieces in a Modern Style album cover reinforced this theme; an extreme close up of a rose.
If I’d analyzed my dream correctly, I should have used flowers as a motif, instead of the rough ideas I’d submitted, but the great thing that came out of those unused designs was the concept for Alternity, a project that played a massive part of my life from that year onwards, leading to exhibitions in London and New York, and all sorts of things. Below is the unused design, featuring a photo I’d taken of William looking out of the window at an earlier photoshoot. This was later updated to become Escape from Dealey Plaza.
I turned up at Chinawhite on the night, with my good friend Lisa Sherman, who looked stunning wearing designs we’d recently utilized on a collaborative fashion story for Skin Two magazine, that she’d produced and styled.
As we entered, we handed our flower covered invites to the doorman, and I suddenly had a flashback to my dream. In the main room there was an abundance of cushions, and the petite woman walking towards us that I didn’t immediately recognize as Madonna, was the same woman I almost didn’t recognize on the train a couple of years later.
I leave you with this quote from one of my favorite books.
“No, there was nothing unusual in any of these dreams as dreams. They were merely displaced in Time.”
― J.W. Dunne, An Experiment with Time
An Experiment with Time is a book by the British, aeronautical engineer and philosopher J. W. Dunne about his precognitive dreams and a theory of time which he later called ‘Serialism’. First published in March 1927.
The sleeves from the first and second pressing of William Orbit’s Pieces in a Modern Style. Above: My attempt at a James Bond pose with Lisa Sherman, of Skin Two magazine that night.
To finish writing this post, I wanted to find the two postcards I’d mentioned. One I called The Landing at Halo Cradle, and the other The Story of Zero (a collaboration with Alexander Brattell and Grant Morrison). I realized that when I relocated to California in a hurry, I didn’t bring either of them with me. I remembered however, that out of the blue, my friend Roanne had sent me a photo of one that she’d found on her bedroom floor, with no idea how it had got there, as she too had moved to another country. So, I opened Messenger and scrolled back to our earlier conversation of 14/04/2015, and realized that not only was it eight whole years ago, but eight whole years to the very day… because last Friday when I logged into Messenger was 14/04/2023!
When I explained what had just happened, Roanne replied: ‘That remains an inexplicable moment for me. No idea how that postcard was on the floor, at that moment, in a different country. But also doesn't surprise me. The multiple layers of synchronicity are beautiful!’
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