“The only way artists can do things is to do it for themselves. Trying to second guess what the public wants or likes is kind of a fool’s game.” -David Gilmour
“There is no dark side of the moon, really. As a matter of fact, it’s all dark. The only thing that makes it look light is the sun.” -Abbey Road Studios doorman, Gerry Driscoll
There was a stretch of a few years which I reflect on as being the most artistically formative period in my life. Frankly, it was was probably the most formative stretch of my lifetime in general. It started somewhere late in 5th grade. In elementary school I had 3 very close friends. One moved away in 3rd grade, the next in 4th grade, and finally halfway through 5th grade the last of the 3 moved away. People who know me well know that 9 times out of 10 I’m a pretty upbeat and friendly person, and in the back half of 5th grade I kept that bubbly persona up, but in reality I was pretty lonely. I was the kind of kid who was friendly with everyone but didn’t have any real close friends. As a result I found myself retreating into video games, books, movies, and music more than I had before. Through all of elementary school my entire musical experience consisted of hearing the pop hits of the time on the radio and listening to classic rock singles on the way to school with my dad, but sometime in the spring of my 5th grade year that changed. I don’t really remember how, but discovered Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and became obsessed with it. I’d never had a musical experience quite like that before and, although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the moment that I realized that music could be more than just entertainment for the radio. For the first time in my young life I had engaged with a piece of art.
“The Bohemian Rhapsody” was something of a catalyst for me. I began to discover more music and expand my taste. My kindle fire was quickly populated with songs by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Queen, The Eagles, etc. For the time it was just songs, though. It would a couple years before I would actually listen to an album start to finish. I started to have similar experiences with other mediums as well. In middle school I watched The Shawshank Redemption for the first time, a film which I consider responsible for my love of movies and which is still my favorite to this day. Shortly after that I read Fahrenheit 451 and The Count of Monte Cristo in the course of 2 weeks, books which are still my favorite novels. My love for music was growing, I was discovering more serious movies, and I was reading books that I probably wasn’t ready for. To put it simply, my appreciation for art was blossoming. I made some actual friends finally, and my quest for finding some physical activity which I actually enjoyed came to its conclusion when I signed up for track in 7th grade. Things were coming together for young Ben through middle school and in 8th grade, while exploring different music, I discovered a musical group who would become very dear to me. Before I knew it, Pink Floyd was my favorite band.
Like I said, I hadn’t listened to any albums yet, so I just went through songs randomly, loving pretty much everything I was hearing. It’s strange, really. Pink Floyd were a decidedly anti-single group, a band whose albums were greater than the sum of their parts, but I had never heard anything like “The Great Gig In The Sky” before and I just loved the sound of it. It became clear to me that a number of their songs which had become my favorites like “Brain Damage”, “Eclipse”, “Time” and “Breathe” were all from the same album, and I recognized that all but ubiquitous album cover. Finally, one day on a long car ride to the family cabin for the weekend, I took the plunge. Without any knowledge of the critical or commercial success of the album, with total ignorance to its influence and power, I listened to The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. For 42 minutes and 53 seconds, I was enraptured in a soundscape the likes of which I had never experienced before. Each song flowed into the next. Every song built off the prior track. The themes in the album were universal and the lyrics were just non-specific enough that I could engage with it and have a totally unique experience with it. The music was perfection, the sounds appealed to my ears and the words made me think. Most importantly, it made me realize that an album could be so much more than just a collection of songs. No other piece of music ever had or ever will have such a profound effect on me as The Dark Side of the Moon.
Over the years since I first heard Dark Side I have revisited it time and time again and it never seems to lose its potency. Even after becoming very familiar with the ins and outs of the album, the stories surrounding its conception, and the cultural context in which it was released, it has yet to grow old. As I mentioned earlier, part of what makes Dark Side so powerful is its universality. Over the course of the album, Pink Floyd explores a number of things which nearly every person in the modern world has had to deal with. Birth, life, death, spirituality, the afterlife, the unrelenting forward march of time, money, the chaos of travel, war, conflict, futility, the human mind, insanity. The themes are not unique to any group of people, they are shared aspects of the human experience, and while these themes are all clear when presented, Pink Floyd presents them in broad enough terms and imprecision that what exactly it all means will be different from person to person. In my own experiences, different parts of the album will speak to me differently than they had before. For example, listening to Dark Side this summer in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the lyrics “Black and blue/ And who knows which is which and who is who?” from “Us and Them” seemed to carry an implication of police brutality. I had never heard those lyrics like that before, but at the time they seemed to clearly speak about violence committed between police officers and people of color. In this way, Dark Side seems to work as a reflection of its listener and their environment. The album is honest and unapologetic, innovative and beautiful, fearless and free, both dark and colorful at the same time. It shows us not only that all types of music are just different branches of the same tree, but that everybody on this planet is a human being and no matter what we do, what we say, or who we are, we all get to live one human life. Every life is another color on the spectrum of humanity.
At this point, everything that can be said about The Dark Side of the Moon has been said. Much smarter people than me have studied and dissected this album, so I decided to illustrate its power with my own experiences. If I had not discovered this album, chances are I wouldn’t be doing the Musical Training Plan at all. My taste in music and feelings toward art would probably look quite a bit different. This is an album which really says something to you if you let it, and each time I listen to it I get something different out of it. Recently, when reflecting on this album and my adoration for it, something occurred to me. This album is, somehow, the 3rd highest selling album of all time. If this album had such a powerful effect on me, I can only imagine how many other people were touched by this music, or will continue to be touched by it.
I can’t promise you that Dark Side will change your life like it has mine, I can’t promise you that you’ll enjoy it, even. All that I can say for sure is that this is an album which is undoubtedly worth listening to at least once in your life.
The Dark Side of the Moon is my favorite album of all time. I love it.
Thanks for reading.