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Fred Mills: Dreams So Real – the Last Great Southern Pop Band?

Dreams So Real crop

Quite possibly so… everybody has some favorite bands and enduring memories to go with ‘em—here’s one of mine, from the late ‘80s college rock era. Hey, just because grunge came along and wiped a lot of folks’ slates clean doesn’t mean I had to go along with it!

BY FRED MILLS

In the aftermath of my last move, I was faced with, literally, hundreds of U-Haul boxes of records, CDs and books, and once all the available shelf space was occupied I still had, ahem, more than a few unpacked boxes. Procrastination—or perhaps denial—being what it is, I chose to ignore those boxes, at least until the significant other started making discordant noises on the other side of the room. (Memo to spouses and partners everywhere: the person you are sharing living space with does not buy the argument, “But it’s my shit, honey…” so don’t even attempt it. Just clean up your mess.)

So among the better-late-than-never unpacking yield was my stash of Dreams So Real CDs and tapes. Damn, I’d wondered where all that was. For those of you who arrived late to the table, Dreams So Real was an Athens-based trio who emerged in the wake of the Athens scene success spearheaded by the likes of the B-52’s, Pylon, R.E.M. et al, releasing their first LP, the Pete Buck-produced Father’s House, on Hoboken’s Coyote label in 1986 and going on to snag a deal with Arista for 1988’s Rough Night In Jericho and 1990’s Gloryline. The ’88 album managed to hit #28 on the Billboard album charts and also landed DSR on MTV, but the followup was a commercial disappointment and after getting dropped by Arista the band soon split up. In ’92, DSR self-released an odds-and-sods posthumous collection, Nocturnal Omissions, and the lingering impression for fans was that here was a group that had huge potential—handsome guys, exuding confidence onstage, and most important, they had some frankly brilliant, hook-draped tunes—but was done in by the vicissitudes of the industry, which was at that point in time making an inexorable shift away from the poppier “college rock” of the time and towards the harder-edged sound that would come to define the Northwest scene and, ultimately, the alternative rock era.

Me, I dearly loved ‘em, every note they played, and whenever they came up from Georgia to Charlotte, NC, where I was living during the mid and late ‘80s, I would catch ‘em live. I’m proud to have called the three guys—guitarist/vocalist Barry Marler, bassist Trent Allen (also on quite prominent backing vocals; in addition to hooks, DSR had harmonies out the wazoo), drummer Drew Worsham—friends, too. I vividly recall one night in ’90 or ’91 when I found myself in Atlanta, near the tail end of a long road trip, and upon learning totally by chance that they were playing that evening, I shelved my weariness and headed out to the club. After buying my ticket and a drink, I wandered towards the rear of the venue, intending to go say hello, only to be blocked by your stereotypical meathead bouncer. He flatly refused to send a message back, but I was able to get word via a roadie or someone in the vicinity, and within seconds Barry had come out to grab me, giving me a bearhug and asking me what the hell was I doing in Atlanta? (Below: the band doing “Golden” in the film Athens GA Inside Out)

Over the years I moved around and, inevitably, lost touch. One day in 2003 I received the shocking news through a mutual friend that Drew had been in a tragic accident, surviving a gunshot wound from the ex-boyfriend of his girlfriend, who shot and killed both her and himself. It turns out that only Drew had remained regularly active in music, with Barry going into biochemistry and bioinformatic systems and Trent founding an acclaimed graphic design company. Meanwhile, I would return to my DSR albums from time to time—Jericho remains, in my opinion, as powerful and lasting a document of the Southern pop sound as R.E.M., dB’s and Let’s Active albums of the mid ‘80s, still holding up today without a hint of “eighties sound syndrome” (save a bit of reverb on the drums) to date it. Out of the blue one day a small package arrived in the mail: an old associate had transferred Father’s House to CDR for me, additionally shrinking/copying the artwork and, as a bonus, including a CDR of a gig I’d attended, Charlotte’s Milestone Club on Nov. 11, 1988. I well remember that show (still have a flyer from it, in fact), and at one point on the recording the band even gives me a shout-out from the stage. Quite a little thrill—a private thrill, but the kind of personal memento any music fan can appreciate.

Dreams So Real now

Revisiting Dreams So Real over the past couple of days has been a genuine treat… likewise, a private treat, but also the kind that any music fan can appreciate, I suspect. Inspired, I took to YouTube and found some great clips of the band at a 2012 reunion concert in Athens that I had been completely unaware of. They’d done a reunion once before, in 2009 for the annual Athfest, and this time around they did a pair of shows, one in their hometown and one in Atlanta. They’re all older of course—see the photo, above—but they don’t appear to have lost a lick to age. It’s pretty inspiring, actually. (The below clip of them at the show doing the title track to “Jericho” is especially riveting. It’s interesting to compare it to this clip from the early ’90s doing the same song.)

Guys, if you happen to read this, a big howdy and a salute from your old friend. A lot of great memories, and I still cherish the music. Methinks you’ve got many old friends out there as well, and that a lot of us would turn out for any more reunion shows you might be inclined to undertake, not just in Georgia but throughout the region. Keep us posted, will ya?

DSR at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DreamsSoReal