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There is No Dark Side of the Moon, in Fact it is All Dark: Philosophy the Dark Side of the Moon from Pink Floyd
I have lots of albums in my music collection and they all are there for a reason, but there are a few albums that reach beyond the others. These special albums instantly evoke the same emotions every time I listen to them. Some have a certain time period associated with them and by listening to them I can instantly recall that time when they first influenced me.
Dark Side of the Moon was the first Pink Floyd album I heard. I had to be under 5 when I first heard it. My father used to play it at night when we would be driving on long car trips. The combination of the dark car cruising along on the highway combined with the space rock blues anthems and David Gilmour's subtle and screeching lead guitar are forever etched in my mind to the point that now simply hearing any of these tracks recalls those fond memories of my childhood. Over the years the album has come to symbolize other things for me as well as I have spent many days with my headphones on, the volume cranked, just listening to all the details.
It is such a deep album that it has for some time been associated with myth and legend including the infamous Wizard of Oz myth that says that if you play the album to the movie they sync up well. I think its more of coincidence than anything else, but that doesn't mean that this album isn't teeming with philosophical intrigue if you choose to look at it that way.
Philosophical or not, it is a great album, but for this article I'd like to outline a little of the philosophy that I hear in Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, as well as some of the reasons this album is probably my favorite album of all time, or at least one of them.
Philosophy as a Feeling: Questions Answers and Footsteps
Deciding where to start when talking about philosophy and this album is like deciding were to start talking about the heartbreak when talking about the blues. Whether intentional or not, it just has that feeling from the very first notes. There are some albums that have very philosophical lyrics but don't have the sound but this is definitely not one of them. Perfectly crafted layers of sound are built up to make a sort of progressive symphony that still contains plenty of space, allowing you to hear all the detail. Combined with what some call a "space rock" feel, it is an sound that just begs higher thought. Plus those layers make for new things that can be discovered on each listen.
In fact there are lots of sounds effects and tidbits that the casual listener might overlook but enhance the mood for those who are interested.
First is the heartbeat. A drum effect that sounds like a heartbeat echoes throughout the entire album giving it a pulse and a bit of an organic feel even though it only becomes very noticeable at certain times, like the intro and the outro.
Second is the questions and answers. There are numerous spoken phrases throughout the work (they may be slightly paraphrased as it can be hard to hear distinct words over the background music at times).
"...I've always been mad , I know I've been mad, like most of us have. They have you explain why you're a madman even if you're not mad..."
"...I don't know I was really drunk at the time..."
"...There's no dark side of the moon, in fact its all dark..."
These phrases might seem absurd in any context but over the music, they sound more like subtle comments about perception, life and death (I'll explain more later).
Third is my favorite and the reason that music should be listened to with headphones: The Footsteps. At the beginning and the end of "On the Run" there are the sounds of a man running, (specifically his footsteps and his breathing) that pan from one speaker to the other. A neat effect that seems out of place when I talk about it, but well fits with music and the philosophical nature of the album.
All of these effects might have sounded out of place on any other album but combined with Pink Floyd's unique blend of blues, mystic and ethereal rock, they come together to form a complete work that sounds more like an artistic statement than a rock album.
The Philosophy of Dark Side of the Moon
As I said, I associate this album with a specific time in my life growing up but I also associate it with a very particular mindset. For me it is a statement about life and death.
The album starts off with a very familiar representation of life: the heartbeat. Following is "Breathe" a song that speaks quite poetically about life and how one must choose your own path beginning the journey. "Breathe" "On the Run" and "Time" all also hint at a futility in life, a feeling that our everyday scurryings to and fro is really just as meaningless as the everyday scurryings of an ant. It sounds like a depressing statement, but does have part in what I feel the album says philosophically without dragging it down into a "why bother because life is worthless" mentality. "Time" is probably the darkest of the three lyrically as it speaks quite bluntly about wasted time and time ticking along endlessly. I see this less as a depressing statement and more of a reminder that life is short and that we shouldn't waste it.
"The Great Gig in the Sky" is perhaps my favorite track off this album and really speaks to me. The soft piano lick plays while the opening question asks "...Why should I be frightened of dying, there is no reason for it, you got to go sometime..." Then the soulful female vocals kick in and it is almost like an answer to the question; the outpouring of emotion that comes with the death of someone we know. This grief is not so much a reason to be afraid of death, but I reason to understand part of why we are afraid: the losing of our loved ones. The song is both understanding of the grief that comes with death and a statement that we should not be afraid of it, should move on and must live to the fullest while we are here.
The following two songs are perfect statements about how we don't live our own lives but instead waste it worrying about things that in due time will not matter. "Money" is obviously about the capitalist society geared towards making money that we cannot take with us. "Us and Them" touches on war, conflict, opinion, differences of opinion and perception. The next song, "Any Color Your Like", echoes these ideas with its back and forth guitar parts that sound almost like bickering while the song ticks on in the background, somewhat similar to life ticking on as the two sides argue who's perception is right.
"Brain Damage" again has references to death coming early as well as madness and perception. It is the beginning of a point that states that no matter what happens "I'll see you on the dark side of the moon" soon enough as that is the only thing we can be certain about. This point is then finalized in "Eclipse" with lyrics very directly geared towards the knowledge that no matter what we all do, in the end we will all die, perhaps to be forgotten as just another pass around the circle of life. It is the perfect statement to end an album about life and death as no matter who we are and what we do, death is unavoidable and the only thing we can be certain about.
It sounds depressing, but I think the complete album makes pretty philosophical statements that I think are best summed up by the lyrics of "Eclipse":
All that you touch
And all that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
And all that your love
And all that you hate
All you distrust
All you save
And all that you give
And all that you deal
And all that you buy, beg, borrow or steal
And all your create
And all you destroy
And all that you do
And all that your say
And all that you eat
And everyone you meet
And all that you slight
And everyone you fight
And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that's to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.
- Written by Roger Waters song "Eclipse" copied directly from the liner notes
In the end, we all die, and will all be forgotten as the circle of life goes on. It is a call that we should live life to its fullest, not to worry about making money, about making war, killing or convincing others that we are right and they are wrong, about the meaning of life or even about death, because in doing so we are only wasting our time during this lifetime. Instead life is what we make of it.
These ideas are carried through the special parts of the album I pointed out earlier.
The quotes are questions to remind ourselves of both differences in perception, as well as that we shouldn't be afraid of what others think of feel because their lives are not our own. We may spend part of our life drunk, part insane or part grieving and the sum of those experiences make up our life. My favorite quote, the ending quote of the album, that there is no dark side of the moon, its all dark, highlights that in the end, even death doesn't exist, but is just another part of the cycle. As a whole, these quotes that exist throughout the album are good, subtle snapshots of different parts of life and different ways of perceiving things.
The heartbeat is a constant reminder of how fragile life is and how quickly it passes with each beat like the tick-tock of a clock. My favorite part of this album, the panning footsteps, represent both how we might be running away from things like death, and living our lives because of fear, and yet we are still moving forward towards our eventual death. This running is futile just like the running footsteps cannot escape from one side or the other of the speakers but go back and forth trying.
The references to madness both serve as a memory of original guitarist Syd Barrett (lost to LSD influenced mental illness earlier in the band's career) as well as a reminder that the only thing that separates any of us from madness is a different perception and that in the end our perceptions are lost anyways. Not exactly the same themes as the circle of life motif, but still relevant to the topic.
All of these effects are purposefully placed and enhance the feel of this album creating a complete piece of art.
Overall, to me, Dark Side of the Moon is a great philosophical statement about how we should not waste our lives, live them in fear of being judged, or in fear of death because in the end we will all die, as that is nature and the circle of life. Personally, it serves as a good reminder to always spend everyday like it may be my last, to spend it doing the things I love, and with the people I love, and to not constantly live for the future, but to live for the present while still remaining who I am.
Is that too much to ask from a simple rock and roll album? ...oh yes of course it is... after all it is only a rock album. It does seem pretty absurd to analyze any music to this depth, but the fact that you can and can reach a number of different philosophical viewpoints without too much of a stretch or it falling apart, is part of what makes this album a classic. The album works well purely as a piece of music as well. It is good rock 'n' roll with or without philosophical undertones making it deep, but definitely open for interpretation.
As I've said in many of my other articles, I believe music is what you make of it. I've made Dark Side of the Moon into the first of many masterstrokes by this band that is both great musically and deeply philosophical. A complete art piece that speaks to me on a very deep level about life, death and purpose. You might find it to mean something entirely different to you. As an album, it is strong enough that new people are constantly discovering it and making it their own.
That is a good definition of great art. It makes us think, even if we think it is bad art, it is still making us think. This album excels at making me think.
Having spent an incredible 741 weeks on the Billboard music charts, and loved by people across the globe, Dark Side of the Moon is certainly speaking to more people than just me. I believe that it will continue to be one of the classic musical works for years after its writers, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Richard Wright and Roger Waters (the members of Pink Floyd), are long gone and even long after this article I've written on it is gone.
Eventually it too will fade into the past, just as everything does, but for the time being we should enjoy it and live our lives to the fullest.
The fact that I still listen to this album almost 20+ years after I first heard it, continue to love it and find new levels of complexity within in on every listen, is a statement of it's quality and the impact it has had on me.
I know my life is better having this album as one of my favorites of all time and that in the end, I'll see all of you on the dark side of the moon as the cycle continues.