Category: Dark Side of the Moon


Carl Jung

In the 1920s, psychologist Carl Jung coined the phrase “synchronicity,” to refer to two things which are causally unrelated but seem to be connected. The two things don’t have causality; one does not lead to the other, nor does the second happen because the first did before it. Yet even so, the two share a relationship that defies logic and is purely coincidental.

According to Jung, the synchronistic events must reveal a larger pattern or conceptual framework. We’ve all had the experience of a song coming on the radio that’s been stuck in our heads (or at least all of us old enough to know what a radio is…). The framework would be the genre of music that is both what we listen to and what the radio station normally plays. If the events don’t reveal a framework, they’re merely random and don’t really have any relationship, not even a synchronistic one.

So what’s the most banal, idiotic and inconsequential way to test the concept of synchronicity?

… … … I’m thinking… … …

I’ve got it! How about we play the movie The Wizard of Oz, put it on mute, and use Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon as a soundtrack?

I kid; I’m not the first person to think of this. It’s not certain how it actually came about, but it can be traced back to a group on Usenet, in the toddler days of the internet. Later, a DJ in Boston brought it to big attention in 1997, even prompting a segment on MTV News. But the biggest culprit of the suggestion of synchronicity between The Wizard of Oz and The Dark Side of the Moon (commonly called Dark Side of the Rainbow) is drugs – lots and lots of drugs. Legitimate as it may seem, Dark Side of the Rainbow is merely the product of music geeks without a job (like me…) sitting around with nothing to do and being hopelessly stoned. How else do you explain the shotgun wedding of two pieces of media separated by 34 years?

Throw into the mix the idea of confirmation bias and you’ve got yourself a stew. Confirmation bias is the human tendency to interpret new information in a way that supports a preconceived notion. Examples would be citing the exact position of the Earth (any closer to the sun and we would burn up, any further and we would freeze) as evidence for creationism, or citing tsunamis and other things that senselessly take life as evidence for the non-existence of God. It also comes in the form of finding patterns where they may or may not exist, like in Dark Side of the Rainbow.

Unbelievably, this idea has been kept alive for almost 20 years. So like a good musical scholar and a curious critical thinker, I tested it out myself. I initially tried to do it old school – I borrowed a DVD copy of The Wizard of Oz from our local library, plugged in a boombox, and played my CD copy of Dark Side. Technological difficulties (like our near-broken DVD player that lets no disc play unmolested) prevented me from getting very far, but my frustrations were soothed by the glories of the Interwebs. One search on YouTube led me to a video of the whole thing, and I didn’t even have to worry about synching the CD with the movie.

I’ll admit there were a few things I couldn’t explain, but they fell under the category of “that’s pretty cool” instead of “THIS MEANS SOMETHING!!! THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!” About 4 minutes into the film, Dorothy is balancing on a fence while David Gilmour is singing “balanced on the biggest wave” in “Breathe.” A little later, the clocks all start sounding off in “Time” at the exact moment Miss Gulch appears on her bicycle. The musical timbre of “The Great Gig In the Sky” shifts from loud to soft at the moment Dorothy hits her head and passes out on her bed during the tornado; however, there’s nothing during the song’s previous timbre shift from soft to loud. The Wicked Witch of the West makes her first appearance right when David Gilmour is singing “black” during “Us and Them”; she’s wearing black robes. The exact beginning of “Any Colour You Like” comes at a scene change – Dorothy is faced with a divergence in the path of the Yellow Brick Road, one where she could choose any path she likes. The Scarecrow begins dancing uncontrollably to “If I Only Had a Brain” during “Brain Damage.” And perhaps most eerily, the changeover in the film from sepia tones to full color comes at the exact moment of the vinyl flip and the beginning of “Money.”

But do these things suggest actual synchronicity? Not according to the classical definition of the term. If you suggested to Carl Jung that his beloved theory of synchronicity applied to The Wizard of Oz and The Dark Side of the Moon, he would at best laugh derisively and at worst smack you upside the head. That is, if he had actually survived long enough to have a clue what Dark Side was; he died in 1961.

Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory calls things which seem legitimate but have no scientific basis “hokum.” Dark Side of the Rainbow is hokum. I’m astounded that this ridiculous idea has survived for more than 30 years. I’m even more astounded that I had a hand in its survival; in fact, I’m having a hand right now by talking about it. So in the interest of not beating a dead horse, I’m gonna move on.

Next: how does Genesis top “Supper’s Ready?”

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The Quarrymen (later The Beatles), with Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best

Pink Floyd didn’t start with The Dark Side of the Moon. Their beginnings actually date back to the early 60s, right around when the Beatles hit the scene. After the Fab Four, every punk kid with a guitar and a chip on his shoulder thought he could have a band. One of the biggest effects the Beatles had on the music scene was opening up the floodgates of possibility; if these four hoodrats from Liverpool could make it big in the music biz, anyone could.

The band that would become Pink Floyd started as just another group of teenagers with dreams of stardom. The group initially orbited around the nucleus of Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason. Other people circulated through, but they found their direction when Syd Barrett randomly introduced himself to Mason.

The newly gelled four-piece band went through a great many name changes (some of them pretty ridiculous – my favorites are the Meggadeaths and the Screaming Abdabs) before finally settling on the Tea Set. In 1965 at one of their gigs, there was another band named the Tea Set on the bill, so Syd made up another name on the spot. It was derived from two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. And like that, Pink Floyd was born.

Syd Barrett

In 1967 Pink Floyd’s debut album came out, whimsically titled The Piper At the Gates of Dawn. Syd had taken the role of band leader, a natural position being the lead singer and guitarist, as well as a very out-going personality. But soon thereafter, Syd started to unravel. There are many theories about what was actually wrong with him; some say schizophrenia (a rather easy answer), others say bipolar disorder, and still others Asperger’s. Psychology has developed to 3,000% what it was in the late 60s, though, so they didn’t have language like that back then. But perhaps the biggest contributor to Syd’s insanity was LSD. The drug was extremely poorly understood back then, as were its long-term effects.

Various biographies have been written about both Syd and Pink Floyd, and the stories about Syd’s behavior seem like they can’t be real. “Antics” seems like too mild a word to describe some of the crap he did. Nevertheless, his “antics” proved too much for the band. Roger Waters relates one story of Syd coming into a practice session with a song he had just written called “Have You Got It Yet?” They tried playing it, but in the middle of the first run-thru, Syd made changes to the arrangement. That pattern repeated for long time, each time the band singing the lyric “have you got it yet?” The band eventually realized that they never would “get it,” and that they were instead the victims of a very strange joke Syd was playing.

David Gilmour

Enter David Gilmour. He was a childhood friend of Syd’s, and in 1967 the other three brought him in as a second guitarist. His real purpose was to provide reliable guitar. During shows, Syd often stood there doing absolutely nothing, or he wandered around the stage aimlessly while the rest of the band played. Occasionally, he would join in the song, but there was no way for them to predict what Syd would do. They needed Gilmour to add some surety.

On their way to one gig, the four completely sane members said to each other, “Shall we pick Syd up?” The response was, “Let’s not bother.” It was just easier as a four-piece than a five, or rather a four+crazy.

Syd’s genius, disintegration and departure from the band had a lasting impact on the rest of Pink Floyd’s career. Roger Waters, who became the Floyd’s primary songwriter after Syd’s ousting, spent over a decade contemplating the nature of madness, writing music that had it as its centerpiece. Not only is The Dark Side of the Moon solely about things that drive people to madness, but Floyd’s 1979 album The Wall is a rock opera about one man’s descent into the depths of insanity, brought on by rock and roll stardom.

“Brian Damage” from Dark Side is like the whole of Pink Floyd’s career in miniature. It could be said that all the entire Dark Side album could be summed with this one song. In it, Roger Waters is talking specifically about Syd Barrett, but the application to more general terms of madness is clearer than on any other song. When Roger sings, “the lunatic is on the grass,” he’s singing about Syd. But it’s more than just simple symbolic representation; Roger shares some of the idiosyncratic methods of Syd’s logic, or lack thereof. It’s clear from “Brain Damage” and other songs (as well as the very existence of The Wall) that Roger and Syd shared a sort of kinship – not just musically, but mentally.

Roger Waters

Roger spotted something that’s kinda been gnawing at me, too. Maybe Syd wasn’t really crazy – maybe the rest of us are. The sign says KEEP OFF THE GRASS, but why? What possible consequence could come from stepping on the grass? Isn’t grass meant to be stepped on? Isn’t that its purpose? Yet any logical and “sane” person would obey the sign and keep off the grass. But, according to Roger Waters, “the lunatic” wouldn’t. “The lunatic is ON the grass.” And if Syd were still alive, he’d be one of those “lunatics.” That’s the spirit of punk rock – the spirit of defiance.

I’ve already stated that in order for defiance against something to be good, the something needs to be bad. Grass doesn’t really qualify. But for other things, rock and roll has the right idea. In some cases, defiance is the holiest and most righteous thing you can do.

Next: Dark Side, The Wizard of Oz, and synchronicity.

While I first heard about Pink Floyd from Tanya and the youth group when I was single-digit age, my first real experience with The Dark Side of the Moon came from my friend Joe, when we were in high school. Joe’s dad is a musician, so his tastes became even more eclectic as he grew up.  I tried to get him into Smashing Pumpkins and R.E.M. in high school (in the interest of his own enlightenment, of course…), but his interests drifted more towards Steve Taylor and Carman, but also Earth, Wind and Fire and Stevie Wonder, but also classical mad scientists like MussorgskyDvořák and Grieg.

As you can see, Joe isn’t one to tow any party line unless he actually believes in it (he’s a staunch Republican and a fervent 5-point Calvinist, for instance). He likes what he likes and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, and I admire that. Probably through my prompting, he did eventually come to appreciate Smashing Pumpkins, but he came to it on his own terms and only after I had stopped pestering him. More than anyone else I know, his musical tastes are his tastes, and no one else’s.

Joe may not always know a good thing when he sees it, but he zeroed in on Pink Floyd a lot sooner than I did. I remember he had discovered the Floyd in his dad’s record collection, and like a typical teenager, thought everyone needed to know about this incredible thing he had been the first to unearth. “Neal, you HAVE to hear this! It’s amazing!” The first song he played for me was “Us and Them,” his favorite song. I was extremely unimpressed.

If you know the song, you might think it’s not the best introduction into the world of Pink Floyd. It’s like saying, “Never read Shakespeare? Try Cymbeline.” The reason it’s little less relatable than other Pink Floyd songs is an issue of space. “Us and Them” takes up a lot of space. By that I don’t mean length, though it is almost 8 minutes long, the longest on Dark Side.

“Us and Them” is slower than a lot of other songs, even others by Pink Floyd. But it also has long distances between chord changes. Whereas a normal rock and roll song would take 2 measures to make a chord change, an “Us and Them”-type song would take 4 (or maybe 8). It’s quiet and subdued for all of it except the chorus, which is grand and sweeping without being energetic. Energy has never been Pink Floyd’s strong suit, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you’d do a lot better with Green Day or the Ramones.

Room to stretch out is one of the things Pink Floyd does particularly well. Allowing a song the space to move at its own pace and not hurrying through it takes a skilled artist. Don’t get me wrong; hurrying through has its place. In fact, there’s an entire genre of rock music dedicated to hurrying through – it’s called punk. But Pink Floyd takes a completely different approach, one of taking their sweet time to bring a song to full closure. “Us and Them” is almost like a jazz song; all the musicians work within a general framework of D-B-A-B-D, and in the long pauses between those changes, they’re free to do what they wish.

While “Us and Them” took me a while to really sink in (a few years…), Joe keyed into it very quickly. I’ll admit that some of my hesitancy towards the song (and Pink Floyd in general) was because the suggestion came from Joe. Growing up, Joe and I had a very adversarial relationship – each of us was always trying to convince the other that what we liked, what we did, or what he thought was better than what the other liked/did/thought. Smooth peanut butter vs. chunky, chunky applesauce vs. smooth.

But as we developed into men, our opposition to each other gradually became a healthy iron-sharpens-iron. While I still find frustration in Joe’s opposition, I also find comfort. It lets me know that the world doesn’t end with me and my opinions; there are more things in this world than are dreamed about in my meager imagination. Most of all, though, I’ve come to respect Joe’s unflinching devotion to his own preferences. You can tell him up the Wazoo that something is lame, but you can’t tell him he shouldn’t like it if he does.

And with “Us and Them,” Joe found something that I didn’t, or at least not right away. I’ll happily concede that when it comes to Pink Floyd, he was right and I was wrong.

Filthy Lucre

Pink Floyd’s journey through madness takes us to a brief segue from the end of “Time” (which is actually “Breathe (Reprise)”) into a gentle piano, the intro to “The Great Gig In the Sky.” Over the piano is laid a snippet from one of the interviews Roger Waters did during the album’s production. It speaks of how you shouldn’t be frightened of dying, and “any time will do.” These wise words come from Gerry O’Driscoll, the Abbey Road Studios janitor.

The only vocals on the whole track (other than the interview snippets) are those of Clare Torry, a vocalist that engineer Alan Parsons suggested. Clare wasn’t enthusiastic about it, since she was not a fan of Pink Floyd. It didn’t really get better for her when she agreed to come to the studio, as the members of Pink Floyd didn’t really give her anything to do; they themselves didn’t even know what they wanted. So she just said to herself, “Maybe I should just pretend I’m an instrument.” She did two and a half takes, stopping in the middle of the third because she felt it wasn’t working and that she was repeating herself. But while she was losing confidence in herself, the members of Floyd and the production team were simply blown away. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the album, and even to this day her performance is amazing.

Despite the absence of lyrics, “The Great Gig In the Sky” deals with death and mortality. Death is scary at first, but so much of its bluster and noise is man-made. Something’s only scary if someone’s scared of it. Like “On the Run,” “Great Gig” shouldn’t be strictly thought of as a song, but a wordless piece of art that evokes a feeling without spelling it out for you. There’s a pigeonholing of music that says that only the words of a song can be about something. That’s an extremely limited way of thinking, and The Dark Side of the Moon proves that it doesn’t have to be that way.

The vinyl flip brings more sound effects, these ones from an old-style cash register. The song “Money” is a crunchy, groovy piece of rock in the novel 7/8 time signature. The odd time puts the listener a little off balance, particularly because “Money” is plodding and a little machine-like. When the guitar solo comes, though, it switches to 4/4 in order to make guitarist David Gilmour’s life easier.

The lyrics talk about the excesses money can bring, but more poignantly about selfishness. “Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie.” They also make a rather infuriating mistake with the line, “Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today.”

Money is not the root of all evil. There is a great misconception out there that somehow the cause of all our problems is money, but that’s just not the case. Never mind that it’s ridiculous to focus on the badness of money and forget things like power, sex and self-gratification. It’s also ridiculous to say that an inanimate object could be the source of an exclusively human problem. No, the reason horrible things are done in the name of makin’ that dollar is not money itself; it’s us.

Jesus didn’t say money was the root of all evil, but a great many people think he did. In fact, one of the only things Jesus had to say about the subject was “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s,” which basically means stop whining, pay your taxes, and get back to doing God’s work. The “root of all evil” thing is actually from the Bible, but not only doesn’t Jesus say it (Paul does), but instead of money, it’s love of money. The Bible talks a lot about splitting your loyalties and how you shouldn’t do it. You can’t serve two masters because you’ll hate one and love the other, and that includes money.

Pink Floyd has a similarly cautious approach to money here, not wanting to delve into the excesses that commonly follow success. Money can quickly become an obsession, and that leads to paranoia and madness, which is Floyd’s central theme on Dark Side. But it’s ironic that “Money,” a song that speaks very jadedly about monetary success, was Pink Floyd’s breakout hit and their first taste of the very thing “Money” cautions against. And with the Floyd’s next album, Wish You Were Here, they lament about the hole that money and “Money” got them into. And they didn’t really get themselves out of it until 20 years later with their final album, The Division Bell.

Next: “Us and Them” and the balance between the ugly and the beautiful.

Though it’s not one my top 10, a movie I greatly admire is Dead Poets Society. It was released when I was pretty young, but I was aware of it because my older sister loved the artistic passion it portrayed and the lightly angsty atmosphere it had floating above it. And that it had a bunch of hunky young guys in it probably helped her along. However, it stars a rather un-hunky guy, Robin Williams. He plays an English teacher at an expensive prep school who ignites his students’ passions to create and be bigger than they currently are, which motivate them to seize life and take some fantastic chances. Unfortunately for one of them, this also meant not knowing where to go when everything was pulled out from under him.

Williams’ character gives a speech to his students, the highlight of which is this: “We are food for worms, lads. Believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die.” A pretty morbid statement on the face of it, but he was explaining the Robert Herrick poem To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time. The Latin language can sum up that whole poem with two words: carpe diem.

That Latin phrase means “seize the day,” but if you didn’t already know that… well, nevermind. The sentiment means living life to its fullest each day, and never letting an opportunity pass you by. On the one hand, I see this as foolish. There is no better way to set yourself up for failure than to set unachievable goals for yourself, and carpe diem, in its most literal form, is impossible. One simply cannot take advantage of every opportunity because opportunities are split into two; for every road you go down, you sacrifice going down another. If you take the left fork, you’ll never know what’s down the right one.

On the other hand, that, I think, is not what carpe diem is supposed to mean. It’s not meant to be treated like a goal, but a platitude. In Dead Poets Society, the correct usage of carpe diem is summed up in a scene in which Knox Overstreet (Josh Charles) is at a party, a few drinks in him, when he sees the girl he’s madly in love with passed out on a couch. The room is filled with drunk people, she’s asleep and not gonna remember this anyway, so what’s the harm in giving her a little kiss? Big harm, apparently, because her burly quarterback of a boyfriend catches him in the act, thinks he’s doing a lot more than giving her a kiss on the forehead, and punches his lights out. But he DID kiss her, and set in motion a chain of events that ended with the girl dumping her boyfriend for Knox. Score!

you tell ’em, Mr. President!

Carpe diem is translated far and wide as “seize the day,” but that’s just a more poetic and less useful way of saying “don’t waste your time.” Pink Floyd understood this concept, and they fully explore it with “On the Run” and “Time.” “On the Run,” like “Speak to Me,” is not really a song. It’s just a collection of sound effects and a little dialog set over a frantic bass line. It might also be the first dubstep song. That bass line is made out of four notes being played on the keyboard of a synthesizer, sped up to about 50x speed, and then looped. It’s so fast that it doesn’t even sound like notes anymore.

But if one shifts their understanding and doesn’t think of it as a song, it becomes clear that it’s about hurrying. When we speed through life without even an occasional pause, we miss out on what could be most important. The frenetic pace of running at such a speed can only have one result, as the explosion that ends the piece makes clear.

After the explosion and long fade-out that ends “On the Run,” “Time” starts with just the quiet sounds of ticking clocks. They tick for a few seconds, then all chime the hour at the same time in a cacophonous flurry of noise that makes you cover your ears. The first time I listened to it, I was incredibly frustrated with Pink Floyd; we were 8 and a half minutes into the record, and they had only given me 2 minutes and 45 seconds of actual music! And this is one of the greatest albums ever made? It’s just frickin’ sound effects! I’m getting my money back…

But then about a minute into “Time,” a powerful note strikes, followed by its minor 3rd (I guess those music theory classes were worth something) and my ears prick up. This is slow, doomy, and standard Floyd. Then comes the first verse and chorus, delivered with much more oomph than Floyd listeners at the time were used to.

“Time” relates to the concept of Dark Side as the first idea that’s explored in this series of about Why People Go Nuts. “On the Run” communicates what happens when we go too fast, and here we have the opposite. Enjoying life’s little moments can become inactivity, and that’s taking it too far. All too often we realize too late that we haven’t actually lived, even though so much time has passed. Before you know it, as the movie Inception says, you’re “an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone.”

The guitar solo of “Time” simply blows me away, particularly with its volume and intensity. A prerequisite for a great guitar solo seems to be that the faster the notes come the better, but this one’s different. It’s not the number of notes that are packed into that tiny space, because “Time” doesn’t have a lot of speed to it. What matters are the sound and the force of the solo. David Gilmour is like Jimi Hendrix slowed way down; he plays with the same intensity, but he’s not in any hurry.

Next: the best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees… or some crap like that.

Concept-ish

My wife is really smart. I’m smart too, in my own way, but she’s smart in a way that’s much more acknowledged by the world. She even has a PhD to back it up. Not only is she a lecturer in chemistry at a very large state-run university, but she’s in charge of an entire lab space that is about 20x the size of our apartment. She has a very analytical mind, and she’s pretty good at ferreting out the truth of a thing as long as the information given to her is accurate. She has a phrase for when something seems legit, but isn’t: it’s a “bunch a’ hooey.”

bonus points/ridicule if you can name all 4 people on this cover

Several things have qualified for the bunch-a’-hooey status in her mind, but in mine, a chief one is the “concept album.” The best bead I can get on the definition of a concept album is that it has a unified idea that it puts forward. Back in February, when I started this blog, I mentioned that all the best albums are like this, that indeed this is something of a requirement for it to be considered an album and not just a collection of songs.

I looked up lists of the greatest concept albums of all time and found things like Sgt. Pepper, The Dark Side of the Moon, and Ziggy Stardust. With those, you could be just prattling off the easiest answers to “best album of all time” and avoiding telling me anything about concept albums. Still others were so obscure they’re hardly worth mentioning. Paste Magazine’s list was 90% you’ve-probably-never-heard-of-them. I forgot for a second that Paste may as well be called Hipsters Only.

Despite the questionable status of the term, it’s generally agreed upon that The Dark Side of the Moon is the best concept album of all time. To the rock music press in general, this is the Mack Daddy Holy Bible of all albums, in some cases trumping even IV and the mighty Sgt. Pepper. I respectfully disagree; it’s not even the best Pink Floyd album. And if the definition of “concept album” is just “it has a theme,” there are albums with much stronger themes that stick to them more.

Reading all this, you would think I don’t hold The Dark Side of the Moon in very high esteem, so I didn’t do a very god job of representing my thoughts. Let me be clear: The Dark Side of the Moon is AWESOME. It’s hard to believe this album was made in 1973; it seems about 10 years ahead of its time. It’s still influencing musicians even to this day. It doesn’t behave like normal albums of music do, but it doesn’t spiral down to esoteric obscurity as you would expect. It innovative and different while still having loads of appeal, which is a difficult trick to pull off.

The Dark Side of the Moon’s theme (it does actually have one) is madness. The album goes through phases that highlight a particular thing that drives people towards insanity. I can’t say it moves from song to song, since Dark Side is much fuzzier than that. There are 9 tracks (and technically 10 songs), but only four subjects are explored, with an intro and outro speaking about insanity in general terms.

The beginning of the first phase, the intro, is just a collection of sound effects that occur elsewhere on the album. “Speak to Me” isn’t really a song; instead, it includes a heartbeat, ticking clocks, helicopter noises, the sounds of a cash register, and some frantic screaming. “Speak to Me” also contains parts of a series of interviews Roger Waters had with members of Pink Floyd’s band crew, as well as people who just happened to be in the studio at the time. Waters started the interviews with mundane questions like “What is your favorite color?” Then he moved on to things like “When was the last time you were violent?” followed by “Were you in the right?” Everyone was a little sheepish with the former, but vehement in the affirmative with the latter. A female interviewee talk about an altercation she had with an older gentleman, saying “that geezer was cruisin’ for a bruisin’.”

This leads directly from a backwards cymbal crash into the next song, “Breathe.” This is what Floyd is known for; soft, spacey music that both excites and woos. “Breathe” discusses madness in terms of doing what’s expected of you by everyone from society to your girlfriend. According to Pink Floyd, that leads to insanity. There must be a lot of insane people out there, then…

Henry David Thoreau, the original punk rocker (I’m only half kidding)

But maybe, just maybe, that’s the point Pink Floyd is trying to make. In another song, “Time,” the lyrics are “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.” Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and the Floyd calls on Thoreau’s tradition of absolute liberty and freedom to pursue any dream that enters your head to combat the attitude of complacency and inactivity. By falling in line, doing what you’re told and fulfilling everyone else’s expectations of you, you may be ignoring yourself and thus losing yourself. And what is insanity if not what happens to you once you lose yourself?

Next: an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone…

Anonymous

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon – 3/1/1973

I’ve talked about personality-based bands before; most of the best bands are based on not just music but who is making that music. The Beatles are an excellent example. So much of their popularity (at least initially) came from who they were as people, not just musicians. The fact that they were four very visible and appealing youngsters gave their fans something visual to latch on to, something that went beyond mere music. The Beatles’ fans felt that they knew them as people, that every time they played one of their records they were inviting friends into their home.

Personality is a distinct advantage, but the flipside is when you don’t have the musical chops to back it up. Countless artists and bands use up their musical cache in one shot, creating the cliché of the One Hit Wonder. OHWs get by on their one hit and make up for the rest in personality. Their flame is bright, but it quickly burns itself out.

And then there are personality machines, the boy bands and girl groups and the like. These musical acts are all personality, with little to no musical merit to them. Only a miniscule portion of the thought and energy put into their creation is spent on the music they perform.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Pink Floyd. If acts like the Spice Girls, One Direction, Ke$ha, and the New Kids On the Block are all personality and no music, then Pink Floyd is the exact opposite – all music and a distinctly absent personality. Granted, they were around before this modern age of musical artist being recognized for how they look just as much as how they sound – we have MTV to thank for that. But the fact is that Pink Floyd are really just four quiet, shy, unobtrusive Englishmen, and much more representative of the typical British citizen than other more flamboyant and radical acts. Where Brits like Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Johnny Rotten explode in a fury of “look at me, look at me,” Pink Floyd is almost anonymous.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a visual element to what they did – quite the opposite, actually. Pink Floyd is one of the pioneers of visual spectacle in rock music. At their live shows, they used to have a huge screen hanging from the roof of the stage on which they would project multi-colored psychedelic abstracts, moving and pulsating like the band itself. And in 1982, they made a feature film to go along with their 1979 concept double album, The Wall.

Pink Floyd’s album covers, though, are probably the most striking way they set themselves apart. Seven of them were designed by Storm Thorgerson, and a few more by Hipgnosis, the studio he heads. Pink Floyd had a very lucrative partnership throughout the 70s until he and Floyd bassist Roger Waters had a falling out. In the early 80s, Roger had a further falling out with his band mates and quit. David Gilmour kept making Floyd records, and Storm came back to design those.

Storm’s work is vivid, unsettling, and a special and unique sort of beautiful. When you look at a Storm picture, it’s like you’re an alien looking quizzically the strange planet called Earth you’ve just arrived at. In many instances, they have subtle yet scathing messages, while others are simple yet difficult to interpret. And Hipgnosis is responsible for one of the most famous covers in all of rock and roll history, and it’s nothing but light passing through a prism.

The cover for Muse’s Black Holes & Revelations, designed by Storm Thorgerson

Those who know of the relationship between Thorgerson and Pink Floyd just assume that he designed the cover art for The Dark Side of the Moon, but actual credit goes to George Hardie, a designer at Hipgnosis. It came out of Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright’s request for something “simple and bold.” The folks at Hipgnosis came up with seven different designs, and the prism one was agreed upon by the band members to be by far the best.

The triangle features into the design of the album in more than just the cover, too. Inside the gatefold is an infrared picture of the Great Pyramids at Giza, designed by Storm and Hipgnosis co-founder Aubrey Powell. The original LP also came with several triangle-themed stickers. I’m not sure what the triangle symbol means, but my guess would be something to do with the triangle’s long association with mysticism and esoteric knowledge.

Next: that geezer was cruisin’ for a bruisin’.