Tag Archive: David Gilmour


Worms

Worms: just the very word sounds gross, doesn’t it? The first image I conjure up when I hear it is the earthworm, then Earthworm Jim, then the parasites that dogs and cats sometimes get. After that, I think of the Pink Floyd song “Waiting For the Worms.” In The Wall, worms are a metaphor for what happens when we close ourselves off to human emotions and descend into singularity and isolation.

On a smaller, tighter scale, worms also represent Pink finishing his transformation into a Hitler/Mussolini figure, carrying out his plan to elevate himself over all of humanity. Nazi imagery is very strong in the language of “queens and the coons and the reds and Jews.” Many people think the Holocaust as an exclusively Jewish thing, but it wasn’t. Nazi Germany didn’t just hate Jews, but all people who weren’t Aryans, weren’t of the “Master Race.” Hitler was an equal-opportunity discriminator.

Back in “Hey You” at the beginning of the second disc, the narrator sings in the bridge, “No matter how he tried, he could not break free / And the worms ate into his brain.” And in “Waiting For the Worms,” much is made of “follow[ing] the worms.” Those worms have taken up residence in your brain, and are now controlling your actions. And where does following them lead? To a perfect land where the weaklings and degenerates have been expunged in the showers and the ovens, where “our colored cousins” have been sent back home, where “Britannia rule[s] again.”

Wait a second… Britannia? I thought this was supposed to be a totalitarian control state! I thought this was the Third Reich! Surely the United Kingdom is as distant ideologically from Nazi Germany as the night from the day! Axis and Allies, man! Different sides! Britain would never!

Sense the sarcasm, people. Roger Waters is indeed saying that his beloved homeland has the potential to become everything that WWII was fought specifically to stamp out. Britain could descend into government-sponsored racism, and according to Waters, it wouldn’t even be that hard.

When Pink is at his absolute worst, riding through the streets with a megaphone and his goons marching before him, he has a sudden and jarring halt. The crowd is shouting, Pink is delivering his megaphone diatribe, and the David Gilmour is playing that harsh, minor key refrain that appears in “Another Brick In the Wall” and “Hey You” that binds the album together, and all of the craziness that The Wall has been building towards is at a fever pitch. Then Pink suddenly shouts “STOP!”

With that, the song “Stop!” starts with its 30 seconds of piano interlude. This is the moment where Pink breaks out of his isolation and attempts to deal with what he has done. And once again, he retreats into his own mind and creates a cast of characters who put him on trial.

“The Trial” is the lynchpin and climax of the story, and as such, it’s actually very hammy and unintentionally comical. It sounds very much like a piece from a Broadway musical where the rest of the album does not, even though The Wall has a cinematic feel and scope rarely seen. Pink is put on “trial” for the crime of “showing feelings of an almost human nature.” The schoolmaster from the first act, Pink’s wife, and his mother are brought in to testify, and then “Worm, Your Honor” (the judge or arbiter) pronounces Pink’s sentencing.

The figure of Worm, Your Honor, given the symbolism present previously on The Wall, must be the epitome of solipsism, and the pinnacle of cutting yourself off. In light of that, it’s pretty ironic that the “sentence” that Worm, Your Honor imposes on Pink is what ultimately saves him from complete isolation. “The Trial” ends with the repeated chanting of “Tear down the wall!” followed by a the sound of a single, gargantuan blast, echoing through the vast nothingness that separates Pink’s solipsistic world from reality.

In my opinion, all the characters in “The Trial” (the Crown lawyer, the judge, the mother, the schoolmaster, the wife, even the chorus who sings about how crazy Pink is) are creations of his own mind. After all, he lives in a world where the only occupant of even the tiniest consequence is himself. He’s reached a point where even he is not willing to go, and there has to be a breaking point. Creating a scenario where he’s put on trial is the perfect way to point out his own colossal, self-inflicted guilt for all the atrocities he’s done to both the people most important to him and the world at large.

There’s one more track, and it passes in little more than a whisper. You may think “Outside the Wall” will be a summing up of the entire 90 minutes and 2 discs-worth of material on The Wall, but you’d be wrong. Instead, “Outside the Wall” finishes the album looking at things from a slightly different angle.

The narrator is probably Pink himself, but since he’s addressing the listener specifically, it hardly matters. He talks of your own loved ones, “all alone or in two’s;” because even though you may have descended into a world where only you seem to exist, you still leave behind a lot of people who care about you. In fact, that’s the whole point of The Wall; Pink thought he was leaving behind the people who made him build the Wall, but he wasn’t. They came back to convict him in “The Trial.” And if God forbid you start to go down the same path as Pink (the same path as “me,” says Roger Waters), remember there might be people who want you back, people who love you.

Huh; I guess “Outside the Wall” does a pretty good job of summing up after all.

Incredibly geeky note: “Outside the Wall” – and thus The Wall as a whole – ends with someone saying, “Isn’t this where-“. At the very beginning of the album, in the first few seconds before “In the Flesh?” kicks off, the same person can be heard saying “-we came in?” There ya go – useless information of the day!

The Wall is a monument to madness, pulling together so many experiences and influences from Roger Waters’ life, but that’s not the reason it’s great. It has some of the best and most well-known songs in Pink Floyd’s entire career, but that’s not why, either. It’s great because it captures a moment in time, a sliver of being in which Roger Waters, and indeed Pink Floyd itself are on a precipice. It marks a decision to not go down the road it details, and to instead come into the light.

Pink Floyd at Live 8 in 2005

Pink Floyd at Live 8 in 2005

Soon after, Roger Waters would release his swan song The Final Cut and angrily part ways from Gilmour and the rest. He would even try, unsuccessfully, to sue the other three Floyds for use of the Pink Floyd name. Pink Floyd’s final album The Division Bell, released without Waters in 1994, is a treatise on communication and what happens when we stop talking to each other. Gilmour was offering an olive branch to Waters with The Division Bell, and in 2005, the finally got back together… for one performance. Live 8 saw the first time Pink Floyd had performed as a four-piece in 24 years – and the last time the world ever saw them in that form again. Sigh…

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Lonely ≠ Alone

Very Lynn

Vera Lynn

The solipsism of “Is There Anybody Out There?” (the implied answer would be “no”) and “Nobody Home” is suddenly broken when Pink starts singing about a girl named Vera Lynn. “Vera” is a startlingly sparse but affecting song, being little more than Roger Waters’ voice and some light orchestral touches. Pink, now clinging to the wall because there’s just a vast empty space away from it, is going as far back into his memory as he can. What he finds is Vera.

Vera Lynn was commonly referred to as “The Forces’ Sweetheart,” owing to the fact that she was the most popular singer among the British Army in WWII. She visited the troops in Egypt, India and Burma, and her songs “We’ll Meet Again” and “The White Cliffs of Dover” were emblems of national identity to British soldiers all over the world. And in particular, “We’ll Meet Again” lent hope to not only the soldiers but everyone they left at home. She became a symbol of the United Kingdom during that time, and was made a Dame Commander in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1975.

The invocation of her name by Pink is an acknowledgement of his father and the gap he left in Pink’s life. Vera sang that all those brave men who went to war would be reunited with their loved ones “some sunny day.” And the song “Vera” is Pink’s lament that her words didn’t come true, that her promise was in vain – Pink’s father never came home, and the two of them never even met for a first time, never mind “again.” Vera might have been talking about the hereafter as well as on Earth, but that was missed by a good percentage of her audience, Waters included.

But Waters has much more delicacy that to make “Vera” a simple accusation leveled at the Forces’ Sweetheart. Instead, “Vera” is not directed at anything or anyone, but is a whimper of anguish, a very small vocalization of the despair Pink feels at this. Despite that it’s beatless, not very long and doesn’t follow any pop conventions that I know of, I can’t help but feel the tiniest lump in my throat whenever I hear it.

“Vera” leads right into a further musing on war, loved ones and being lost, “Bring the Boys Back Home.” It starts off with a snare drum war march growing louder, like an approaching army. Then it explodes in epic and operatic singing, led by Waters. It sounds like it could be an actual WWII-era hit song, perhaps sung by Vera Lynn herself. The lyrics are very simple – just the title twice, then a tag, then the title once again. But the real crux of the song is the delivery. Roger Waters is joined by the New York Opera, as well as 35 New York drummers all playing the snare and the New York Orchestra on strings. It’s arguably not a Pink Floyd song, but it packs a powerful emotional punch.

It’s followed by one of the most famous and greatest Pink Floyd songs to ever grace our ears, “Comfortably Numb.” In the storyline of The Wall, it represents the moment when Pink is as far gone as he can get and has retreated completely from human emotions; he’s a true sociopath. In the movie version of The Wall, it’s shown as Pink’s manager, tour crew and doctor breaking down the door of his hotel room, reviving him with drugs, and carrying him out to the limo that will take him to the show for tonight. As he’s carried down the corridor, his skin starts melting and growing cancerous bulges and oozing sores. His fingers elongate, his limbs become trunks and his facial features become almost unrecognizable. Finally, in the limo, he rips off his own skin to reveal Pink as we knew him before (crew cut and eyebrow-less), but dressed in a military-style dress uniform, black and red with a leather strap across the chest. The intended Nazi reference is quite clear.

David Gilmour

David Gilmour

“Comfortably Numb” has a switch in it; David Gilmour sings Pink’s parts, and Roger Waters is performing the part of the doctor. And in addition, Gilmour has hands down his best guitar solo, not just on The Wall, but ever. The Wall features a great many fantastic solos from Gilmour – “Young Lust,” “Comfortably Numb,” “The Thin Ice,””One of My Turns,” and the first two parts of “Another Brick In the Wall.” Gilmour has previously shown he’s no slouch with the six-string. “Time” falls into the category of Blazingly Awesome, and a lot of Animals has outstanding guitar work. But he would go on to more bombastic, voluminous and self-indulgent solos after Roger Waters flies the coop. Once Gilmour is in charge on A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell, the floodgates opened for guitar greatness. Just listen to a live version of “Sorrow” to see what I’m talking about. The solo goes on for 5+ minutes.

There are subtle drug references and hints of clinical depression in the lyrics of “Comfortably Numb,” but what it’s really about is disconnection. The song sums up the whole of The Wall quite beautifully. To the narrator, nothing gets through. Things hit him from all angles, but none of it means a thing. That’s the loneliest place a human being can wander into, but not because you’re alone; “alone” and “lonely” are not exactly the same thing. There are other faces all around you, but it’s like they’re all wearing masks. And once you’re in that place where nobody matters, there are no limits to the brutality and evil you can exhibit.

Next: “Are there any QUEERS in the theater tonight?”

Bricks, Pt. 3

In the middle of the first side of The Wall, there’s an interlude of sorts that explores the culture change that WWII created in Britain. “Goodbye Blue Sky” is creepy and relaxing all at once, soft and lilting with the threat of crushing death always on the horizon. It matches what the citizens of the UK must have been feeling (and the entire Allied world, really); there is a force that threatens not only how we die, but how we live. Which is worse – death or domination?

In the production of The Sandbox that I directed in college, I wanted to use “Goodbye Blue Sky” as one of the songs that the Musician plays, but my friend Mike (who played the Musician) advised against it. The song’s in drop-D tuning, and all the other songs I had picked were in standard tuning, so he would have to switch guitars, which would be cumbersome for him and distract from the main action of the play. It’s disappointing, though, since “Goodbye Blue Sky” fits precisely with the theme of death that I was trying to bring out in The Sandbox. But in the end, “Stairway to Heaven” worked just as well…

After that interlude, the album segues into “Empty Spaces,” another creepy tune that starts the exploration of Pink’s distance from his wife. She’s the first person he feels disconnected from, and that burgeons into a disconnect from the entire world. “Empty Spaces” also asks a question in the lyrics: “How should I complete the wall?”

Having lived through a fatherless childhood, torturous schooling and a smothering mother, the grown-up Pink has been bruised and scarred by the time he eventually marries. We’re given very little information about his wife, who like his parents and everyone else in the story lacks a name. But what we do know is that she cheats on him. For the purposes of understanding Pink’s psyche (or psychosis…), that’s enough.

“Young Lust” tells a story in general terms that is all too familiar to anyone who’s even dipped a toe in the world of rock and roll stardom. As long as there have been male performers anywhere in the music world, there have been girls willing to throw away every scrap of morality and restraint in order to be close to them. As long as there have been rock stars, there have been groupies.

Besides being one of The Wall’s heaviest and loudest tracks, its lyrics also have a visceral, blood-based nature, the verbal representation of a biological urge. Due to the first-person voice of the lyrics, one would think Pink himself is singing these words, but I’m not so sure. Roger Waters sings Pink’s parts all through The Wall, but “Young Lust” is sung by David Gilmour alone. In addition, it’s a very active song;  “Young Lust” makes things happen, and Pink only tells of things that happen to him; the whole time, he just says “look what they’ve done to me?” and never “what have I done?”

At the tail end of “Young Lust,” there’s a phone booth conversation in the background that goes like this:

Man: Hello?

Operator: Yes, collect call for Mrs. Floyd from Mr. Floyd. Will you accept the charges from United States?

[CLICK]

Operator [presumably to Pink]: No, he hung up. Is this your residence? …I wonder why he hung up! There must be someone there besides your wife to answer!

[REDIAL]

Man: Hello?

Operator: This is United States calling. Are we reaching–

[CLICK]

Operator: See, he keeps hanging up! It must be the maid answering!

It doesn’t take a genius to sort it out, and Pink does – his wife is cheating on him. Pink takes a groupie up to his hotel room, but instead of sleeping with her, he just sits down, turns on the TV and completely ignores her. For the first part of “One of My Turns,” the music is near-beatless with words that are barely more than a whisper. Then it suddenly switches from tightly wound to letting loose. Pink is angrily and without explanation trashing his hotel room, breaking everything in sight and scaring the living crap out of that groupie.

With “One of My Turns” and the song right after it, “Don’t Leave Me Now,” Pink is nearly finished with his retreat behind this wall he’s constructed. Throughout both songs, Pink is talking to his wife in second-person, using this random groupie as a stand-in for her. He goes apeshit on the hotel room and then spirals into a pit of despair over being abandoned by his wife, who is really that groupie getting the hell out of there. There’s a very subtle hint of physical abuse in the relationship of Pink and his wife, so subtle it probably blows past a lot of people.

I need you, babe / To put through the shredder in front of my friends! / Oh, babe!

There’s also:

How could you go / When you know how I need you / To beat to a pulp on a Saturday night! / Oh, babe!

The comes a repeated crashing sound, which is Pink taking his guitar to the TV screen, and then the final refrain of “Another Brick In the Wall.” It’s loud and chaotic, Pink’s breaking point with his wifely frustrations. And he decides he doesn’t need “anything at all.”

With that, the wall is complete and Pink bids farewell to the world of human emotions with “Goodbye Cruel World.” That’s the end of the first half of The Wall, too, and from then on we see how this world looks through the eyes of someone who doesn’t have a conscious.

Next: the crazy diamond rides again.

Bricks, Pt. 1

The metaphorical “wall” that Pink builds in The Wall is not a defense mechanism, something Pink builds on purpose to protect him from the slings and arrows that are commonly known as life. Rather, it’s a compilation of all the insurmountable difficulties Pink has experienced throughout his life. Several notable thing (three in particular) have contributed to Pink building this wall that force him to retreat further and further into his mind. At the last stage, he’s retreated so far that he’s completely disconnected from human feelings. That’s a poor state of being for a public figure, and is especially dangerous for one with influence over others.

The first brick in this wall is put in place even before Pink is born. He comes into this world without a father, Pink Senior having been killed in WWII. The crashing B-29 at the end of “In the Flesh?” followed immediately by the crying baby indicates that. And in “The Thin Ice,” Pink’s paralyzing fear is detailed. Nothing is certain, nothing is safe, and growing up without a father starts Pink on the road of not knowing is anything is real.

Obviously, this is melodrama.  Here in the real world, many people grow up in single-parent homes and live fatherless childhoods and turn out fine. In this way, it’s hard to think of Pink as completely relatable. Some of you are probably thinking, “He’s tortured and vexed because he didn’t have a dad? Please!”

But we have to remember that The Wall is an artifact from a past age, recent though it may be. Not only is it 33 years old, but it refers to an age that was past even then; it’s actually an artifact twice-removed. Back in the ‘40s, women had far fewer options as far as marriage and children go. Raising a child without its father anywhere in the picture was much harder, and women and men were both confined to specific roles much more than they are today. Now, those roles are mostly self-imposed as well as changeable. But back then, that was just how society worked. So the prospect of a mother in that time period having to fill both roles because the father is absent was nigh-unthinkable.

Ironically, men dying in WWII and leaving their wives to raise children alone was the very thing that made it thinkable. Things for women got a lot worse before they got better, especially in America (June Cleaver and valium and all that Mad Men stuff), but the seeds of the woman’s movement can be traced to right here.

In “Another Brick In the Wall Part 1,” Pink’s fatherless existence is given more exploration. Here we see that even though Pink never knew what it was like to have a father, he knew that he was supposed to have one, and that was enough.

“Another Brick In the Wall Part 1” has no drums to speak of and just an echo-treated clean electric guitar in addition to the vocals. Its dark and foreboding, like a coming thunderstorm. In the “Another Brick” trilogy, it’s the dreadful intro to the intense second part and the chaotic third. The song is also the first incidence of the melody line that recurs in several places, most famously under “we don’t need no education” in Part 2. This melody not only appears in the other two segments of “Another Brick” but in “Hey You” and “Waiting For the Worms” as well.

The death of Pink’s father affected not just him but Pink’s mother as well. Pink was all she had now, so she held onto him with a deadly, icy grip. “Mother” details her self-obsession and merciless smothering, all in the name of keeping Pink “cozy and warm,” “healthy and clean.” It’s set up as a dialog between Pink and his mother, with Waters singing Pink’s part and David Gilmour doing that of the mother. The song is not very complementary to Pink’s mom, or to moms in general. It shows its teeth with the lines “Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true” and “She won’t let you fly, but she might let you sink.”

The beginning of Pink not being able to feel things is with his mother not allowing him to when he was young. And though she has good intent (she wants to protect Pink from the horribleness of life), her motives are ultimately self-serving. Everything she does is about keeping Pink at her side, even after he grows up. She can’t stand the fact that Pink grew up and got married; in her eyes he abandoned her. And this constant barrage of “don’t leave me, don’t leave me” obviously had an effect on Pink’s view of women (more on this later).

All this mommy and daddy drama is the first piece of Pink’s wall, but there’s more to come. The world has much more suffering to dole out, and it would be greedy to keep more of it from Pink, and by extension, from you.

Next: “How can ya have any pudding if ya don’t eat yar meat??!!?!!!?”

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.

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.

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’.