The Dream States that Inspired “Silent Lucidity” by Queensrÿche

When Queensrÿche set about recording Empire, the 1990 follow-up to their breakthrough concept album Operation: Mindcrime, they cast a wider net in terms of the types of songs they wanted to write and play. The social and political commentary from their last album carried over to this one, but many of the songs also took a more personal turn into romantic territory. However, it was the ballad “Silent Lucidity” that proved to be the most unusual track on the album, and it became a Top 10, Grammy Award-nominated hit for the Seattle band.

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A More Traditional Ballad

Queensrÿche ballads of the past did not focus on syrupy sentiments. “The Lady Wore Black” from their debut EP was about being lured to a somber, mysterious woman whose love would exact a personal toll. “I Will Remember” from Rage for Order was not about gazing wistfully upon a star, but realizing that a spy satellite was launched into the heavens. An electric ballad of sorts, the somber sounding “Take Hold of the Flame” from The Warning was a strong call to free one’s mental shackles and reach out for the possibilities in life.

Even though some other songs on Empire dealt with romantic love, Queensrÿche took a different approach with “Silent Lucidity.” The lyrical inspirations drew from childhood and lucid dreaming.

There’s a place I like to hide
A doorway that I run through in the night
Relax child, you were there
But only didn’t realize and you were scared

It’s a place where you will learn
To face your fears, retrace the years
And ride the whims of your mind
Commanding in another world
Suddenly you hear and see this magic new dimension

A Deeper Dive

When asked by Smashing Interviews in 2010 if “Silent Lucidity” was about lucid dreaming, frontman Geoff Tate replied, “That’s one of the sub-themes of it. It was really about being a parent and waking up in the middle of the night by your kid who’s had a bad dream. They’re upset and you have to put them back to bed again, calm them down, and explain to them what dreams are. That’s where the lucid dreaming concept comes in. It’s trying to explain to a young child that dreams aren’t necessarily a bad thing or a good thing. They just are. You can have fun with them if you can discipline your mind to enjoy the experience while you’re there.”

The ballad’s songwriter, guitarist Chris DeGarmo, found inspiration from the book Creative Dreaming by Patricia Garfield. In 1990, he told Metal Edge, “’Silent Lucidity’ is about lucid dreaming, dream control—being aware of the fact that you’re dreaming. Dreams tend to recur. Very often you have the same images, and it’s being used in therapy, to confront the image in your dream. In a lifetime the average person spends about four and a half years in a vivid hallucination of the subconscious. You’re doing things like flying, walking through walls—it’s so intense. People can experience incredible physical sensations during dreaming. We created a very real dreamlike landscape for this song. Everything from the vocal delivery to the orchestration, to the melody, the instruments, it’s all trying to create this very lush landscape. It’s a huge-sounding track.”

The song’s soft-focus video vividly reflected the lyrics, featuring partially silhouetted band members against blue-drenched backdrops and a child experiencing the wonder of dreams.

A Dream Hit

Produced by Peter Collins of Rush fame, Empire became the highest-charting and biggest-selling album of Queensrÿche’s career. As legend has it, Collins did not originally think “Silent Lucidity” was strong enough to include on the album, but an added musical element changed that. The song featured orchestrations from film composer Michael Kamen, who previously worked with Pink Floyd, to whom the Seattle group had been compared. The musical combination of Michael Wilton’s acoustic guitar, DeGarmo’s passionate yet tastefully restrained electric solo, and the lush strings just clicked.

The gentle ballad with the sweeping strings became the group’s only charting single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at No. 9, while the album would reach No. 7 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. The song was nominated for two Grammy Awards—Best Rock Song and Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group—with the band appearing on the 1992 broadcast, for which Kamen conducted a string section for a shortened version of the song.

Funnily enough, the lead-up to the band’s Grammy performance was anything but relaxed. “We were the only, if not the only band that was playing live,” Tate told me in 1999. “Everybody else was lip-syncing to tapes. It was so funny … they had these partitions blocking us from the audience. We were all set up, everything was rolling, except they couldn’t get Michael’s guitar to work, seconds before [we were on]. The producer was counting it down—10, nine, eight … We were all trying to keep calm, because it’s a real calm song, and you have to deliver it really calmly. But we’re all nervous as hell because Michael’s guitar is going ‘ennnt!’ Right when he said ‘one,’ they got it to go, and they parted the partitions, and we started the song.”

As Tate has noted in past interviews, he attributes part of the success of the album to the fact that people could hear it everywhere. This was a time when rock music was king and got more promotion than any other genre. That would change in the ‘90s as genres like gangsta rap, new jack swing, country pop, and electronic music all vied for chart attention alongside various rock subgenres. But in the ‘80s, hard rock and heavy metal drove a lot of album sales.

The success of Empire also allowed Queensrÿche to do a full multimedia show of their previous concept album Operation: Mindcrime. It was the first time they were able to fully perform it as they had previously been a support band. Now they were arena headliners.

“Silent Lucidity” expanded Queensrÿche’s audience and showcased another one of their musical sides. And they did so without resorting to the bombastic or trite power ballad clichés that other heavy rock bands embraced at the time. That has helped it remain a standout track after nearly 35 years.

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Photo by Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images

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