Tag Archive: Money

Magic and Madness

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there’s a little area on the 4th floor with benches, in the corner of the glass pyramid. It’s little more than a sitting area for weary museum-goers to rest their feet, but it’s also an exhibit dedicated to a particularly fascinating segment of rock history, and a turning point in the life of one band. In the middle of the area is a huge white-bricked wall, with blocks taken out of it to allow passage to the other side. What looks like a demented Macy’s Thanksgiving puppet hovers over both sides of the wall – the schoolmaster from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. There are other artifacts, mostly from the movie – the melted, blubberous Pink watching TV, another ghoulish schoolmaster with freakishly long limbs, and the crossed hammers banner used as the insignia of Pink’s totalitarian regime. (Don’t worry… all these will be explained)

When we last left Pink Floyd, they were struggling with the ideas of fame and celebrity. Roger Waters in particular found that the more people that liked his music, the less he liked the people. When Pink Floyd first started, they were very happy in their general anonymity. Their early shows were described by Waters as “magic,” intimate and personal. After The Dark Side of the Moon and the monster success of “Money,” they were playing bigger and bigger venues as time went by. By the time of their In the Flesh tour in 1977 for their newest album, Animals, they were stadium regulars.

Whereas Pink Floyd’s relationship to their fans had been close and friendly, it was now more like the ruler of a nation of millions to his subjugates. While some men might have been driven mad by that kind of power (as many rock and pop stars have), Waters found it disgusting, and that translated directly into disgust with his fans. Suddenly, it was “us and them.”

Get it? “Us and Them?” Oh, never mind…

Pink Floyd always being on guard from their fans had to come to a breaking point sometime, and it did in Montreal in 1977. The In the Flesh tour took them to arena after arena, and a fan tried to climb onto the stage at this show. He almost succeeded before security hauled him away, but before even that, Roger Waters took all his disgust, paranoia and anger out on this fan by spitting on him.

It was then that Roger, then the main creative force behind Pink Floyd, realized what he had become, and why. He was faced with the choice of either recapturing the magic Pink Floyd used to have, or giving in to the current madness and the horrible place it might lead to. The Wall is what Roger created to, as he puts it, help him make that choice.

Pink Floyd - The Wall - 11/20/1979

Pink Floyd – The Wall – 11/20/1979

When my wife and I visited the Rock Hall and saw the Wall Exhibit, I explained to her what was written on the white wall (a short detailing of the history leading up to The Wall, in Roger Waters’ own words). When I told her about Roger’s choice between magic and madness, she had a very sharp and to-the-point question (she’s full of those) – “Which did he choose?”

Perhaps it’s obvious to me, but any other reasonably intelligent person could look at The Wall and what it contains and get the wrong impression. In brief, The Wall is about a rock star who becomes so isolated by his past that he ceases to have meaningful human relationships, and thus becomes a totalitarian dictator with a brutal, fascist agenda, until he is confronted by the people he used to create his isolation. If you take a few listens to The Wall and really let it sink in – and are at least passingly familiar with any literature – it becomes clear that The Wall is a cautionary tale. The main thrust of the entire story, and what Roger Waters is looking at when he uses it as a reminder of his choice, is “don’t go down this road.”

The moral of the story is this: the more cut off you are from other human beings, the less you really feel things, and the less you care about hurting other people. That is what “isolation” means – it means a descent into yourself so deep that nothing matters anymore, not even the people you once loved.

Next: the character of Pink and the building of the wall.

cue Empire Theme from Star Wars...

cue Empire Theme from Star Wars

When I was about 13, my sister and I were watching TV and saw a news story about some up and coming boy band (I don’t remember their name). They were riding the crest of the Backstreet Boys/*NSYNC success, and were just one of the hordes of imitators. My sister was a big New Kids On the Block fan in their day. And because I wanted to be just like my big sister when I was 9, I was too, but that was more about my fawning admiration for her than any attachment to the band.

Anyway, this story had cameras follow them through a typical day in the life of their band: voice lessons, dance rehearsals, and since they didn’t have actual press appearances yet (‘cause nobody knew who they were), they practiced them – honest to God. Part of their preparation as a musical group was sitting in a row at a covered table with a microphone in front of each of them, fielding imaginary questions about their favorite color, whether they have a girlfriend or some useless crap like that.

I took offense to this; it violated some high-minded idea I had about “tainting the purity of music” or something. But while I took offense to the fake press conference, my sister took offense to my offense. She saw my disgust, and in an equally disgusted voice said, “What, you think Pearl Jam or Smashing Pumpkins don’t do that same thing? You think they don’t need to learn how to talk to the press? Get off your high horse!”

Nobody knows how to push my buttons better than my sister. Maybe she does it because she knows I’ll always love her and be there for her, no matter what.

Some people (and record executives only barely meet the definition of “people,” in my opinion) work their hardest to suck all the art, joy and transcendence out of music and turn it into a business. They view it not as an art form but as something they can use to make money. It may as well be manufacturing washing machines or cooking meth for all they care. They don’t see the art in it, and even if they do, they don’t care. Whether or not it’s good art has no bearing on whether or not it’s good business.

That was the right side of my brain talking. Now I’ll let the left side have its say.

It is a business, of course. A musician can produce 20 Hallelujah Choruses a day, and it’s all meaningless if no one hears it. That’s where the business kicks in. The record industry, aside from all the other things it does, gets music heard. When you go to the iTunes Music Store, there’s actual money changing hands. This isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself – commerce is one of the things that makes the world go ‘round. Two of the bedrock American principles, for good or ill, are these:

1)      Find something you love to do, and then find someone willing to pay you to do it.


2)      If you’re good at something, never do it for free.

How do you balance that? There has to be some happy medium between artistic freedom and financial success. Some bands have found it; R.E.M. is a good example. From the very start of negotiations with Warner Bros., they made it very clear that they wanted to have complete artistic control and they never wanted to be in debt. But for nearly every other band out there, it’s almost exclusively a matter of record executives taking advantage of them to line their own pockets.

In 1975, Pink Floyd was really struggling to find that balance. Perhaps in those days, it was worse than it is now. With the advent of the internet and the readiness of information, music has an easier time getting into the public’s hands, sometimes without record companies’ involvement at all. But before the days of Facebook and Bandcamp and SoundCloud, it was cigar-smoking fatcats and empty suits.

“Have a Cigar,” the first song after the vinyl flip of Wish You Were Here, is a biting examination of one money-grubbing dirtball as he drools over Pink Floyd’s musical potential and the money to be had from that. Its lyrics are a second-person account of this empty suit flattering, exaggerating and outright lying. And in doing so, he reveals his selfish motivations.

Here’s a piece of the lyrics:

Well, I’ve always had a deep respect and I mean that most sincerely

The band is just fantastic / That is really what I think / Oh, by the way… Which one’s Pink?

He has a “deep respect” and thinks they’re “just fantastic” and the douchebag doesn’t even know Pink Floyd is the group’s name and not the lead singer’s. I bet he had visions of a t-shirt that had “Pink” up front and the other members in the shadowy background.

The lead vocal on “Have a Cigar” is performed by Roy Harper, a legendary folk musician who just happened to be in the studio at the time. Both Roger Waters and David Gilmour recorded versions of the song singing lead, but neither of them were happy with the results. In swoops Roy Harper with just the right tone and character to his voice to play the part of a smarmy A&R man. His take wowed Waters and Gilmour; it was meant to be, I think.

“Welcome to the Machine” decries the slavering dogs of the music industry as well, but comes at it from a different angle. It’s still a second-person account from the antagonist (in this case “the machine,” being the soulless mechanizers of an entire art form, or society in general). But it starts with a young and green musician dreaming of rock and roll stardom. It ends with the chatter and clinking of glasses of a high-class party.

“Welcome to the Machine” is one of those iconic Floyd songs, creepy and unsettling. It has the rich, human tones of a strummed acoustic guitar, as well as cold and mechanistic synthesizer rhythms. And both “Machine” and “Cigar” have shifting time signatures that keep you on your toes, something that’s become a bit of a Pink Floyd trademark.

Wish You Were Here is my favorite Pink Floyd record because it communicates an extremely important message: never let the demands other people place on you make you forget who you are.

Next: the Fascist Regime!

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?”

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.