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