JFK Assassination Song: “Sleeping In” by The Postal Service

November 22, 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This post is part of a series that will run throughout this year focusing on songs that address the JFK assassination.

“Sleeping In” is an electronic pop track on Give Up (2003), the only full-length album release to date from the Postal Service. In “Sleeping In” the Postal Service describe a recurrent strange dream where “everything was exactly how it seemed”.  In the first occurrence of the dream “there was never any mystery of who shot John F. Kennedy.” They go on to describe JFK’s assassin as “just a man with something to prove, slightly bored and severely confused.” This description sounds much like the Warren Commission‘s conclusions about Lee Harvey Oswald. The Warren Commission determined that Oswald had acted alone. He was a “lone nut” who was driven to kill the president because his life had been “characterized by isolation, frustration and failure” and he “was profoundly alienated from the world in which he lived.” In “Sleeping In” the narrator doesn’t want to wake up from the dream because, the song suggests, reality is much murkier than this. The implication is that Oswald did not, in fact, act alone, and that the public was too willing to be soothed by the simplistic pronouncements of the Warren Commission.

The Postal Service go on to describe a recurrence of the strange dream in the second verse of “Sleeping In” where the focus is on global warming. In the dream global warming is not a threat but a reward of living a good life–for following rules and for being good to others. Here again the Postal Service appear to be saying that the public’s desire for reassuring messages belies the crisis before them. In the dream the narrator celebrates that “[n]ow we can swim any day in November”. The reference to November serves two purposes here, as an example of viewing a radical environmental change through rose-colored glasses, and as a further reference to the JFK assassination, which occurred on November 22, 1963.  Over and over again the narrator states, “Don’t wake me I plan on sleeping in.” as he doesn’t want to awaken from the soothing dream and and be faced with the uncomfortable truth.

Sleeping In
by Ben Gibbard/The Postal Service

Last week I had the strangest dream
Where everything was exactly how it seemed
Where there was never any mystery of who shot John F. Kennedy
It was just a man with something to prove
Slightly bored and severely confused
He steadied his rifle with his target in the center
And became famous on that day in November

Don’t wake me I plan on sleeping
Don’t wake me I plan on sleeping in

Again last night I had that strange dream
Where everything was exactly how it seemed
Where concerns about the world getting warmer
The people thought they were just being rewarded
For treating others as they’d like to be treated
For obeying stop signs and curing diseases
For mailing letters with the address of the sender
Now we can swim any day in November

Don’t wake me I plan on sleeping
(now we can swim any day in November)
Don’t wake me I plan on sleeping in

Give Up was released by Sub-Pop and sold over a million copies. Earlier this month it was reissued as a double-CD Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition. The album was popular enough to inspire photographer and filmmaker Thomas Andrew to produce an unauthorized video for “Sleeping In”, and the video itself has become something of a YouTube hit (uploaded under the name carbootsoul). As of this writing the video has been viewed 3,140,048 times.

The dreamlike quality of this video was produced by having the actor perform actions backward and then showing the film in reverse. After the video had been viewed over 2,000,000 times, carbootsoul uploaded a “making of” video, which shows how the action was filmed.

Update (May 5, 2013). I emailed Thomas Andrew with a few questions about the video he made for “Sleeping In” and he had this to say:

Turn Me On, Dead Man: What inspired you to make a video for “Sleeping In”? Did you ever have any correspondence with the Postal Service about it?

Thomas Andrew: Well back when I made the video in 2006 I had just discovered the Postal Service through their “Give Up” album. I was at University in London studying broadcasting so as part of my studies I produced many short TV programmes. I made all sorts of things from documentaries, to dramas and finally a music video. I got the train into London each day and would often stare out of the window and I would pass the location the video was eventually shot at. I think for me the lyrics really spoke to me and I could visualise how it would work out .

After I posted the video on YouTube (2006) I wrote to the Postal Service, Ben Gibbard and their record label essentially letting them know what I had made and asking their permission to keep it on YouTube. I didn’t get a response so it has been up ever since. To be honest I am not at all upset about that as in the end someone somewhere (the band/label) must approve of it as it hasn’t been removed. It would be a great shame if it was taken down, but now as it’s been downloaded all over no doubt someone else will put it back.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: I’m always fascinated by dream sequences in movies and I love the effect created by the backwards motion in you video. Can you talk a little bit about the imagery you used in this video and how it relates to the track?

Thomas Andrew: I had the idea of this guy essentially dreaming and reliving his journey shot from start to finish. Visually I was inspired by a video by/for Radiohead “There There” which had used a similar technique to create this strange creepy walk. I also have always loved the work of Michel Gondry who makes amazing dream sequences often through very low tech means. The final video was shot in forward motion as normal, so the actor is walking backwards at all times and the wool is being pulled away from the trees. The idea is that when the footage was reversed the actor would be walking forwards and the wool would look like it has a mind of its own.

We shot the video just outside London in April, so the leaves were just starting to come out on the trees and the sunlight was bright. We used about 500 feet of red wool to cover some of the woodland and then would proceed to remove it as the character walked past (backwards). The most difficult thing about the shoot was that I had to always think how this would work in reverse so quite a few shots never made the final cut.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Were you expecting to get so much attention when you initially posted the video on YouTube? What sort of feedback did you get about your video?

Thomas Andrew: I really wasn’t expecting the kind of reception the video got from the users of YouTube. I posted it just after I submitted it for my university course mainly to show my friends. However after a few quiet months the views and comments grew. At this stage it seems even though it is unofficial it has been adopted by the fans of the Postal Service as their video of choice.

Turn Me On, Dead Man: Also, your “About” page has very little about you. Where are you located and do you make your living through your photography? App development? Something else?

Thomas Andrew: Yes been meaning to sort that out! I am located in Buckinghamshire, UK (about 10 miles from Oxford and about 50 miles from London). I’m 28 and now I use my skills working in Education teaching my skills to others and developing software and videos for education. I do also do photography work and video work for all sorts of clients…. I’m a busy guy… but still available for the next Postal Service video, if they give me a call!

Turn Me On, Dead Man: One last question. Any thoughts on the JFK assassination? I’m just curious if that event has much significance anymore in the UK.

Thomas Andrew: I think the JFK Assassination still has a presence here in the UK, US politics is present on the news most evenings so no doubt several references will be made to it on the anniversary. In terms of the video I did do a bit of research so to reference it within the video. The most significant reference is when the actor is taking photographs and then throws the camera away. This was meant to signify the event in terms of how show many images were captured on that fateful day (one of the first world news events to be captured as it happened on video), a truly world changing event but now this time later those memories have faded.

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