On The Dark Side of the Moon

by Kevin Loving

THUMP-thump. THUMP-thump. THUMP-thump.

The sound of a single heart beating. Beating from obscurity and gradually throbbing louder and louder until it's almost overwhelming. This is the sound that begins Pink Floyd's 1973 classic Dark Side of the Moon.

17th century philosopher John Locke speculated in his Essay On Human Understanding that we are all created without natural inclinations towards right or wrong, that our minds are like sheets of blank white paper waiting to be written upon by life's experiences. With this album, written primarily by bassist Roger Waters, the band attempts to enlighten us with their take on Locke's theory. Sadly, the original inspiration for the work supposedly came from Pink Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett's battle with reality and subsequent deterioration into insanity. As the incessant heartbeat builds toward climax, you hear a voice in the background state "I've always been mad. I know I've been mad, like most of us…"

The album was recorded over twenty-five years ago, between June 1972 and January 1973. It has become one of the largest selling albums of all time. According to the company that currently distributes the record, EMI-Capitol, Dark Side of the Moon remained on Billboard Magazine's top 200 chart for 591 consecutive weeks between 1976 and 1988. In all, it has been on the charts a total of 741 weeks since it's original release.

Recently, I took a 43 minute vacation, laid down on the floor, slipped on the headphones, and listened to this masterpiece all the way through for the first time in years. It was a thoroughly memorable trip.

The first bit of real music in the work is titled "Breathe". It is a hopeful tune. Large, flowing chords set against a steady deliberate backbeat. "Breathe in the air, don't be afraid to care." "Look around and choose your own ground." The words ring of the optimism of youth. The singer sings of those carefree days that we enjoyed when we were younger, about chasing rabbits and living long lives and touching the sky.

I was born in 1957, and I grew up in a quiet subdivision in Hamilton, Ohio. There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood. Our first memories were from those days of hope and prosperity. We were told that we could become anything we could dream. We were told that any of us could grow up to be President. We were told that any of us could fly to the moon. We read Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. We took it all in. Nothing could ever stop us. Our only limits would be the limits of our dreams, and our ability to dream had no limits.

We couldn't wait to grow up.

Then we started school. That was great. We would get up every day, get ready, and be taken to the school building early enough that we could be in our seats by the 9:00 starting bell. We had naptime. We had lunchtime. We had recess time. In between we got to do all this neat stuff that the teacher suggested. We were taught to believe in ourselves. We were taught to be creative. (I was given a saxophone and a guitar.) Sometimes we were taught to imagine, and sometimes we were taught arithmetic or spelling. We were learning the skills we would need as grown-ups. Then at 3:15 the bell would ring and we'd go home. We'd get together and play at the ball field or in the park until suppertime at 5:30. We did it every day. Then we did our homework, watched some TV and went to bed to dream.

Next is an instrumental entitled "On the Run". I must say I didn't get it. It's simply the same eight notes repeated over and over in rapid succession. Once in a while certain psychedelic sound effects are brought forth in the background to attempt to break the monotony. There's mad laughter, screaming, and even what appears to be a racecar going around a track again and again. But the melody is simply the same eight notes, over and over. Finally it all ends with the sounds of a large crash and footsteps running away.

The footsteps give way to the tick-tocking of a clock, which in turn gives way to overpowering clanging of alarm clock bells signaling the break of dawn. This is the beginning of "Time." The music projects an interesting mood, sounding both triumphant and melancholy at the same time. The singer laments about the age-old problem of not having enough time to accomplish the things he wants to accomplish and about getting old.

Our teenage years were upon us, and we all started having other things to do. We still went to school everyday and learned our lessons everyday. We were encouraged to become responsible citizens. After all, how could we ever become Presidents if we weren't responsible citizens? Many of us got after school jobs. Some delivered papers, some worked in stores, and some mowed lawns. Some days we worked awfully hard. We didn't play at the ball field everyday any more, but we did play sometimes. I managed to find a little extra time to learn to play piano. Then we'd go home to supper, do our homework, watch some TV and go to bed. Sometimes we'd dream.

There is a brief reprise of the opening musical number. The lyrics this time are more reminiscing. "Home again. I like to be there when I can. When I come home warm and tired it's good to warm my bones beside the fire."

From time to time, we hear voices in the background of the music. A few seconds into the peculiar instrumental "The Great Gig In The Sky" the careful listener will hear one of the voices say "I am not frightened of dying, anytime will do." This sets the tone for what is to follow. The melody proceeds into that same mix of triumph and melancholy that we've heard earlier. The female voice wailing, at least for this writer, provokes a whole range of emotion. You can almost feel the struggle. At first, the music soars with victorious spirit. Then, with the same notes, she proceeds into screams of agony and wrenching despair, as if violently fighting against some demon. She fades belligerently into the whimpering depths of defeat. Once again, you hear her try to fight the fight, but you know her heart is no longer in it. Four and one-half minutes after it began, it ends with the sounds of her peaceful acceptance of her fate.

After we graduated from high school, we attacked the world with a vengeance. We were grown up. We were immortal. We were creativity and imagination personified. We were going to make our dreams real. Some of us went to college, some of us went to work and some of us just went. We saw each other now and then, but not very often. We had to get up early, go to where we were supposed to be, do things there until it was time to leave and get ready to do it again tomorrow. Sometimes we'd get out for a beer or visit a disco and listen to the music. We'd discuss how, if given a chance, our ideas would make everything better. We'd discuss how we looked forward to buying new cars or meeting new girls or visiting Mexico or just getting ahead. Once in a while, someone might say something about settling down and buying a house. We'd laugh about things we used to think when we were little kids. We didn't talk much about going to the moon any more. Then we'd go home… to sleep.

The odd time-signatured yet hypnotizing song "Money" has become a mainstay of rock-n-roll radio. In contrast to the preceding selection, this upbeat tune seems to announce that it is time to quit fooling around and get down to business. Very steady and deliberate in its rhythm, it extols the virtues of accumulating and enjoying wealth. "New car, caviar, four star daydream, think I'll buy me a football team." The instrumental bridge in the middle is amazing. First there is a brash saxophone and we can almost see it arrogantly strutting about, as if it had way too much confidence in itself. Then we hear the two guitars. One on the right and the other on the left, playing almost as one, then splitting away in two different but equally impressive directions and finally coming back together as one to bring it all home. Every note suggests the determination and drive necessary to achieve the success we all hope will be ours some day.

At our five-year high school reunion, We were amazed to learn how many of us had recently changed what we had been doing. It was like we had all realized at the same time that we had been spinning our wheels. We were getting nowhere fast. We had to start being more responsible. We had finally grown up. Some of us had bills, some were married, some had children. OK, so none of us was ever going to be President. So what. OK, so maybe not all of our ideas were that great. Who cares? We now had good jobs. We had benefits, and savings plans and, most of all, good paychecks. We had discovered the real truth. With enough money, none of that other stuff really mattered that much. Let others waste their time dreaming stupid kiddy dreams. We didn't have to do that anymore. We would be able to buy whatever dreams we wanted.

I think they could have done without the voices. For some reason, at the end of "Money" the producers of the album decided to put in a conversation between several people apparently about one of them getting into some fight. A male voice states "I was in the right" and several others keeping telling him things like "Yes, absolutely in the right" and "That geezer was cruising for a bruising". To this writer, this type of nonsense just detracts from the quality of the work.

I don't think I was the only one who wondered. After our little post-high-school fiascoes, were we really on track this time? I mean, we must have been. It had worked out well for our parents, hadn't it? They had found the way to true satisfaction. But why did they allow our heads to be filled with all that useless nonsense? What was important was setting, and then achieving, your goals. That would get us those cars and houses and fancy vacations. We were ready to cash in. Dreams about going to the moon were for kids, right? Who needed those dreams anyway?

They just messed up our schedule.

Peaceful yet pensive, the albums sixth cut, "Us And Them", begins with an organ solo which reminds one of walking into a small church on Sunday morning. As the other instruments join in, the sounds remain very harmonious, yet there is always this strangely discomforting dissonance just barely in the background. To this writer, it sounds like Waters was trying to musically describe the struggle and cost of society's worship of our daily rat race. The author's lyric questions the notion that joining in the race is something we must do in order to succeed. He ponders whether we should be responsible only for ourselves, or should we be responsible for each other. He even muses whether becoming another face in the crowd isn't a little like being hijacked. It then segues into a heartfelt instrumental that seems to project feelings of both passive acceptance and pride. Of course, they had to add another crazy voice bragging about winning some fight.

At our ten-year reunion, many of us returned to our old stomping ground victorious. We had good reason to be so proud. The 80's were being very good to us. We had become successful bankers, brokers, lawyers and morticians. Many of us were being recognized as the very best and brightest up-and-comers in our chosen fields. Sometimes we won ugly, but we always seem to win. The important thing was that we had made it. We were poised to become pillars of the community. We had the houses and the cars. We went on the fancy vacations. We worked hard to earn these things. Someone asked me if I played anymore. I told them "not much."

The second section of the "Us and Them" song is more decisive. The singer and the music seem to come to the conclusion that we all must look out for ourselves because no one else will do it for us. While it will eventually kill us, working hard is still the best and only way to go. We've got to look out for number one. We will never really be able to do any more than that. That's just the way it is.

I never made it to our twenty-year reunion. I had too much to do. I heard that I wasn't the only one. That was all right, we all knew how busy we all were. After all, we were at the top of our game. We owned companies and sat on influential committees. All of this took time. We had not done badly for our scant 30-some years. We had it and we were going to keep it. Best of all, we were still young, and there was still a lot more of it to be had. We just couldn't let up now. Occasionally we heard stories about each other. There were plenty of divorces and other small crises to fuel the rumor mills. We'd see one another occasionally when we would pass in traffic or meet at a funeral for one of our parents. There was always just too much work at the office that needed to be done right now. Several years ago I read a card that said " Do a good job and work hard 8 hours a day, and someday you'll get to be the boss and work hard 20 hours a day."

I thought it was funny at the time.

The aptly named instrumental "Any Colour You Like" is an excellent example of using music to paint with color. If you close your eyes, you can almost touch the rainbow swirling through the opening keyboard sequence. Rippling back and forth through your head, first yellow, then red, then swirling with greens and purples. It is really quite dreamy, like lying on your back and imagining shapes in the clouds. I haven't felt this good since I was a child. The music seems to flows over me like a calming stream. It's actually flowing through me now. It's so peaceful here. It's gently pulling me under into some reflecting pool. It's getting deeper. I can see myself. No, that can't be me, I'm not like that. I'm far, far under, way over my head. I see the warmth and the bubbles. I feel something touch me. It leaves me with a smile, like a big hug. This is fun. Why did we ever stop having fun? This is nice; I could stay right here. It's getting darker and everything's such a calming shade of blue. Is this what it would be like to go to the moon? I like it here.

Stop it! Stop it now! Why is that guitar so angry? Please make it stop shrieking. Oh no, now there's two, one inside each ear, pushing and pulling me back and forth like some small child's plaything. What's happening to me? We've got to get back to work. The guitars are screaming at me to get back to work. "You know better", they cry, " We've taught you better than this". "Be like us now, boy. You have to be one of us." Their rhythmic throbbing seems to dig deeper and deeper into my brain. Quit shouting, you're hurting me. What about me? I want to hear the rainbow. We can't stop now; there's always one more. Is there such a thing as enough? We must always have one more. I don't like the guitars, but they won't go away. They're telling me there's no time at all to dream. Yes, the colors will help me. Please help me, make them stop. The guitars are mean. There's never any time. I want to go back closer to the beginning. The colors will take me back closer to the beginning. I want to dream. I like the dreams. I want to be the colors. I want to fly to the moon. The guitars are still nagging. I know, I'll just turn them off.

Ah yes, and now it's called "Brain Damage". When I sold my company about a year ago, I was faced with the question of what to do next. I knew I really should keep myself in the game, but I really wanted to get out, at least for a while. I knew what I should do, but I was tired of it all. If I didn't work everyday, I would have time to relax, explore and do some things I hadn't done in a long time. I would have time to expand my horizons. At the very least, I would have time to play guitar and piano again. But it was so hard to let go. It was no time for this loony to veer too far off the path.

I thought I might go back and complete college. I never allowed myself the time, or the patience, to do that before. But I just couldn't give up everything all at once, could I? People depended on me. They just kept calling. It was my job to help them complete their transactions. Besides, I was far too young for retirement. That's what you do when you're ready to die. Every day, I continued to find more and more and more that I could be doing.

I always had the utmost confidence in my abilities. I had usually been right. Now something new started happening. I felt unsure. I started to feel lost and afraid. At the same time there was a strange calmness about it all. What had got into me? Everyday, I was being pulled by a need to chuck it all and give academia another shot. I needed to stretch my imagination. I had a need to get the dreamer back to the dreaming.

But I couldn't drop out just like that. There were deals to be consummated. There were committees that needed my input. There were decisions that needed to be made. Things couldn't run without me, could they? What could I have been thinking to sell out? Now what would happen? What would people think of me? I had to get back in the game. They wouldn't really let me leave, would they? I would just make a few calls.

I must have been crazy for even thinking about giving it up. How irresponsible had I become? I was always the one with the clear thoughts about why, where and how. For crissakes, I'd had some kind of "real job" constantly since I was in the seventh grade. Now I was thinking about doing this thing. I was starting to believe that I really did belong in an institution.

A few weeks ago, I did it. I enrolled in the institution. I've barely looked back since. Once again, I am a full-time student. My old colleagues think I've flipped my wig. They think I've become some sort of middle aged lunatic chasing the rainbow. But you know, every day this decision seems a little more right. I'm starting to see the daily grind differently. The future is starting to look a whole lot more promising. I must have been crazy not to do this before now. Ma I won, now I am. I hope the rainbow was right choice for me. It must be.

As for all of the other kids who stayed to the path, I'll wait here for you.

 All that you touch, all that you see,

Jeff is a professional investor.

All that you taste, all you feel.

Tommy is a sound designer.

All that you love, all that you hate,

Pete is a Baptist minister.

All you distrust, all you save.

Paul and Steven are doctors.

All that you give, all that you deal

Jimmy and Chris are bankers at competing firms.

All that you buy, beg, borrow, or steal.

Bruce and Johnny are attorneys.

All you create, all you destroy,

Phil is a public school administrator.

All that you do, all that you say.

Ricky competed in the Olympics.

All that you eat, everyone you meet,

Dave raises polo ponies.

All that you slight, everyone you fight.

Robby and Pat and Steve all operate real estate brokerages.

All that is now, all that is gone,

Mike fried his brain and stares at the sun.

All that's to come, and everything under the Sun

Doug is dead.

Is in tune but the sun is eclipsed

Billy runs the cemetery.

By the Moon.

And I am right, here.


The record closes with the voices coming through one last time "There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it's all dark" as the music fades out until all you hear is the sound of that single beating heart.

It is almost like hearing it for the first time all over again.

THUMP-thump. THUMP-thump. THUMP-thump.



Last Updated 5/12/2008 9:09:15 PM by 'Editor'

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