Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Existentialism & Dark Side of The Moon

On New Year's Day, 2010, the Flaming Lips performed "Dark Side of the Moon" in it's entirety, at the Cox Center in Oklahoma City. Cami had already gone home, so I stood alone on the floor, thinking about the music, the words, and my own life.

"Dark Side of the Moon" is perhaps the most important work of rock music ever recorded. Few albums have aged better. It's a cohesive piece of work, with songs linked thematically around themes of alienation, desperation, love, and peace. The music borrows from many genres, and creates new genres within itself. And all of it is rooted in Existentialist thought, that broad array of musings growing out from the Industrial Revolution, two World Wars, and advent of high speed travel and communication. Existentialists questioned our place in the world, and defended our disconnect from God. But while a select group of academics are familiar with original Existentialist writings, a thousand years from now, an observer might say, ""Dark Side of the Moon' better encapsulated what it meant to be alive in late 20th century West."

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.

from "Brain Damage"

I'd first heard "Dark Side" in my teens; and now, here I was, in my forties, reflecting on all the years that have passed. The music that I first absorbed as a 16 year old hadn't changed, yet somehow was completely new. Lyrics that once seemed simplistic now seemed poignant. At times I felt like I might cry.

"Run, rabbit run.
Dig that hole, forget the sun,
And when at last the work is done
Don't sit down it's time to dig another one."

from "Breathe"

When the show ended, I walked back to my car in the bracing cold. Snow was on the ground, a leftover from our strange Christmas Day blizzard. I walked for several blocks behind another guy, a young guy, also alone, who was singing the lyrics to "Breathe" (the first proper song on the album). The music we'd just heard was so completely absorbing, so touching, that his singing seemed completely natural. I was right there with him, inhabiting those same spaces, only with a few more lines around my eyes.

"Long you live and high you fly
And smiles you'll give and tears you'll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be."

from "Breathe"

"[People] cannot endure [their] own littleness unless [they] can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level."

- Ernest Becker

In the hyper-trendy world of popular music, "Dark Side of the Moon" is that rare piece of work that manages to win new fans year after year. Released in 1973, the album sold millions of copies upon release, but for some reason, continued to sell year after year after year. At last count, it has sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million copies, very unusual for such a downtempo and cerebral collection of songs.

"The desire for a strong faith is not the proof of a strong faith, rather the opposite. If one has it one may permit oneself the beautiful luxury of skepticism: one is secure enough, fixed enough for it."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

"Dark Side of the Moon" somehow managed to capture the essence of that very important modern philosophical construct, Existentialism, into hummable, memorable tunes. Dudes driving Camaros (who had never heard of Kierkegaard or Nietzsche) were able to relate to the concepts of being all alone in this big, scary world, thanks to "Dark Side of the Moon."

"You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun."

- from "Time"

Though "Dark Side" may seem at first bleak (just like Existentialism), it ultimately becomes a clarion call to the potential within us all. It asks us to reflect on our lives, our dreams, and what we might realistically expect to accomplish with the few years we have left on Earth. It's confrontational. It's alienating. It's disturbing, yet it's comforting: we realize that we all feel these feelings, we all hurt, we all dream. It helps us pare down to the essentials. It helps us consider what is really important.

When I realize that I am alone, I realize that I need you. When, as lonely, helpless beings, we realize we are interconnected, we finally behave as we should. We need no gods. We eschew the supernatural, and instead praise the day that we are given, and those that share it with us.

"And I am not frightened of dying, any time will do, I
don't mind. Why should I be frightened of dying?
There's no reason for it, you've gotta go sometime."

from "The Great Gig In The Sky"

I'm not exactly sure how the members of Pink Floyd (especially Roger Waters), then young men in their twenties, were able to so fully comprehend Life, in all it's madness, futility, pain, and ecstasy. They could have written another collection of songs about getting laid. Hell, their record company would have probably preferred it. But they didn't, and as the years go by in my own life, I've realized their music somehow addressed the reality of all our lives, in the spaces we now inhabit, be that 20 years old, 30 years old, or 40 years old. I suspect it will resonate when I'm 50, 60 and 70 years old, as well. This is the hallmark of a majestic piece of art.

All that you do
All that is now
All that is gone
All that's to come
and everything under the sun is in tune
but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

from "Eclipse"


Anonymous said...

I was going to say I always thought it was a catchy little ditty...but I guess I won't say anything.

Linda said...

I always wondered why this song attracted me so. I am in school and we are studying existentialism now and I have found this to be most poignant to the study. Thank you for sharing this. I too, will now ponder.