The Dreamer. The Unwoken Fool

It’s interesting, what can be brought back into your mind with a seemingly innocent statement.  Katherine Coble, in a gun control post, had a throwaway line about the fact that she liked Electric Light Orchestra.  Now, I have no way of gauging just what she meant buy “like” (perhaps Mr Blue Sky makes her happy, and that’s it), but ELO is a group to which I will always be thankful.  If it had not been for their obscure album, “Eldorado”, I don’t know if I could have made it through the teenage years. 


 I think I should clarify something at this point.  I’ve alluded to my unhappy teen-hood several times.  I fully understand that some people had a far, far worse adolescence than me.  But, as you probably know, at that age, perception is reality.  Daily humiliations, no dates, no prom, few friends, the butt of practical jokes: this, reality, to my 16 year old mind, was hell.

I coped the way teenagers in my situation have always coped: escapism.  For a while, I buried myself in Tolkien.  There was always TV, or the movies, especially the fantasy or science fiction genres.  And while I loved all kinds of music from the time (especially the Police and the Cars), the one thing that helped more than anything, the thing that let me escape my miseries while at the same time wallow in them, was the 1974 “concept” album by ELO, Eldorado.

Every night, after homework, I would sit in my room, turn down the lights, and just listen.  The album starts with a soft orchestral piece, with a booming, spoken voiceover:

The dreamer, the unwoken fool
In dreams, no pain will kiss the brow
The love of ages fills the head
The days that linger there
In prey of emptiness, of burned out dreams
The minutes calling through the years
The universal dreamer rises up above his earthly burden
Journey to the dead of night
High on a hill in Eldorado.

Oh, how I related to those words!  The hero in the “story” of this album, “the dreamer”, can no longer tolerate his reality, and escapes by being taken away in dreams.  As I listened to the album, I was swept away as well.  I left behind the high school tortures of the day, and journeyed to faraway lands, filled with wonders, magic, and epic battles.  And I got to be the hero: defender of the Right, protector of the downtrodden, object of female admiration.  Yes, it may seem pitiful today, but it’s all I had at the time.

You’ve probably heard one track from this album: Can’t Get It Out of My Head, a hauntingly beautiful song.  In my mind’s eye, it was about a mermaid, but Jeff Lynn always left much to the imagination in his lyrics.  He employs the always beautiful 1/5/4 with a solid 1 bass (the same one Springsteen used in the second half of JungleLand).  His vocals, as usual, were sweetly melancholic.

By far, the greatest up-tempo song is Poor Boy (The Greenwood).  It held so many fantasies of mine: quests, fighting a noble fight, camaraderie.

The city boys, and the country boys, they come from miles around,
To defy their king and country, save the poor folks from the hand,
Of the thieving dukes and abbotts, and the gentry of the land.

The next track, Mr Kingdom, fed my just-short-of-suicidal melancholy:

Help me such a lonely soul,
In dreams to leave behind the world.
Mr. Kingdom help me please, to find the rainbow’s end.

Looking from this empty room,
The corridors of endless gloom go crawling through the night,
To meet the dawn that’s on its way.
Oh to sleep, per-chance to dream,
To live again those joyous scenes,
The laughter and the follies that are locked inside my head.

But the song that spoke to me the most, was the title track.  It met me where I was, took my by the hand, and said, “I understand.”  Try to imagine what these words meant to a kid who was constantly mocked by both girls and boys:


Here it comes, another lonely day, playing the game,
I’ll sail away on a voyage of no return to see
if eternal life is meant to be
and if I find the key to the eternal dream.

And I will stay, I’ll not be back, Eldorado.
I will be free of the world, Eldorado.

And I will stay.  I’ll not be back.  Damn.  How I could picture my tormentors in my mind as Jeff Lynn belted those words on top of a crescendo by the orchestra!  I’ll not be back.  Good riddance.  Dreams of seeing unknown lands and fighting the good fight replaced tormented feelings that I was desperately trying to understand.

Funny, like George Bailey, I never got out to see the world. (In a weird way, the world came to me).  Once college age, when my peers were turning to REM and other melancholy “college” music, I rebelled.  I dropped ELO in favor of Staxx Records.  When you’re manic, you can turn from depression to euphoria on a dime.  Damned if I was going to like a music that was even in the same mood as them.

So, I had not thought about ELO in over 20 years (except for the occasional playing of “Mr Blue Sky”, or “Poker”.  Kat, not meaning to, brought it all back.

In the movie Apollo 13, near the end, the astronauts say goodbye to the LEM, which had kept them alive through their ordeal.  I feel the same way about Eldorado.  It was a heck of a lifeboat.

Thinking of it makes me very happy, in a way.

11 Responses to “The Dreamer. The Unwoken Fool”

  1. x117236 Says:

    REM’s Out of Time was the one for me. I was in my 1st year of college. Country Feedback was THE song. I listened to it tonight – and I’m happy to say I don’t remember the pain that caused me to internalize that song.

  2. Lynnster Says:

    OK, I just now read this, go read the comment I left on Kat’s post earlier this evening.

    I think we probably DON’T match on the fave two but maybe one of them, I’ll be interested to see what yours are. 😉

    For the record, I think I bought A New World Record first, but I had every album up through 1979-80ish. My top three faves at the time were Cheap Trick, the Stones, and ELO. Then the Ramones and The B-52s came along and I kinda went off in the other direction. 😉

  3. Rodrian Roadeye Says:

    I found this post by accident. I was thinking about how my plans in life all turned out to be nothing more than dreams, and the beginning of the Eldorado Overture buzzed through my head. When I realized I had forgotten the words I googled them and was brought here to this post. I read it and it brought tears to my eyes…I am 56 now and know of what you speak, as I too felt the same way and many of my plans are still that…dreams. Still you failed to mention their classic Face The Music album and my all time favorite, the sci-fi future visions of Time. Everything else was just fluff for this band, but those three were my meat and potatoes. I don’t know why I am drawn to melancholy music.
    Matthew Ryan’s May Day
    Marillion’s Season’s End and Afraid Of Sunlight
    Anathema’s A Natural Disaster
    Green Carnation’s 60 minute prog
    epic Light Of Day, Day of Darkness
    Tom Cochrane’s Ragged Ass Road
    Antimatter’s Saviour and Lights Out albums
    and when all else fails some George Jones and Willie Nelson sets the mood

  4. Kev Webb Says:

    What you wrote above sounds so much like myself it’s scary.
    i would lock myself away with Jeff Lynn and the boys From ELO, every afternoon straight from school and eventually work.

    I’m writing a third book in series and was just trying to make up a paragraph about a dream when those words appeared in my thoughts. “The Dreamer the unwoken fool, in dreams no pain will kiss the brow……………”

    I was looking for the poem it came from and stumbled across your blog. Man how cool is that, I’m willing to bet that Jeff Lynn never thought his music would have such a profound effect on people all around the world. I too owe a dept of thanks to ELO for their company through some very lonely years.


  5. Al Says:

    I’m here too, because of searching for that very poem!
    Eldorado was their masterpiece; On the Third Day was also a great album.
    Although adolescence was no real hardship for me, I often yearned for what the dreamer ‘experienced’…I’m still like I was; detached, unconventional, & unable to follow the flow of ‘normal’ life.
    ELO ranked alongside: Pink Floyd, Yes, & Gabriels’ Genesis, at that time in my life.

  6. ELOfan Says:

    Dear Slart, I too stumble in here searching for Eldorado, or at least my memories of it. I hope you realize that you discovered it, the way it has been discovered by countless others. That secret, special place where the wounded go, escaping their tormentors, finding a world in which they recapture their most prized possessions: dignity, self respect, worthiness, love. Jeff must have also felt these things deeply, else he would not have written his musical poetry with such eloquence. Having found Eldorado himself, he led us there to share it with him, and our fellow travelers.

    Well, going to go see what other gems you’ve dropped along the way in your blog. Can’t thank you enough for taking me back there, allowing those minutes to once again call through the years.


  7. Robert Says:

    And so, like the music itself, this blog sits here and draws the attention of the accidental Googler who stumbles upon it, in search for the root of the bitter-sweet memory of what has been such an awful period in his life. I too Googled the poem, and I too landed on this page to find out that there were many others just like me.

    I am 46 years old now, and by the time I reached the line “It was a heck of a lifeboat” I had tears in my eyes. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for keeping this page online.

  8. Debbie Says:

    Was searching too for more information on ‘The Unwoken Fool’ – is it a poem, or just lrycis from this album ? I bought Eldorado after googling ELO songs having been a fan of ‘Time’ since I heard it on the car stereo of a friend 25 years ago when I was 18. I have played Time many times throughout my life when escapism was needed, but Eldorado has equalled its briliance. The overture is amazing, Cant Get You Out of My Head is haunting and I love the instrumental medley that lasts for nearly 8 minutes. Fantastic music and in agreement with another reply above it is all of a similar vein to Pink Floyds Dark Side of the Moon – music to get lost in when reality is too much. Thank you for this site and I very much enjoyed everyone elses comments.

  9. CN Says:

    I thought for so many years nobody could see what Eldorado was aside a dream land.
    When I first heard it as a kid in late 70’s I was hooked and listened it to a point of obsession trying to see how it applied to me. All my life and still now I have been on a lonely journey for the quest of Eldorado. For many years I molded my life to my obsession over the album as I understood it. I considered that Eldorado was never a real place but a dream. A city of gold with no people just remains of what once was. A place where dreams were never fulfilled but yet to be lived. Always in a distance and could never be reached for it is only a legend a fabled place yet, could be seen as the one song goes in Mr Kingdom ” I can dream of flying high above the city’s care, and never be afraid of anyone cause there ain’t no one there.” Today at 52 yrs old for me basically for 30 yrs the cycle is never ending of meeting sweet maid Marion over and over through so many women but she is the ocean’s daughter that is nothing more than the dreamer’s imagination of his ideal woman. I wonder if the theme was taken from “Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmerman Bradley? Why didn’t Jeff Lynne use Guinevere to relate to the Arthurian tale? Nevertheless, since Jeff Lynne was English
    I gather the whole concept of the album is associated with Camelot. The finale song is a song of death and leaving this world to find the fabled place kind of like finding Heaven. An eternal quest to find a place to rest but never really finding it. The Dreamer the un-woken fool high on a hill in Eldorado.
    I find it unique though because according to Spanish conquistador legends Hernando Cortez in 14th century claimed he found a Aztec king named Eldorado who was seen dipping himself in a pool adorning himself with gold dust. Hence, Eldorado means The Guilded one.

  10. Martin Hyndman Says:

    I recently found my ELO collection and went through them all. That first track poem has always haunted me and now with the intertubes I searched from whence it came…and stumbled on this post. I’m totally with you on all of your observations. Out of the Blue got me through my teenage years but Eldorado started the journey.

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