Smarter in Sixty Seconds: The Zen Of Pink Floyd
September 17, 2012 by Mark Hermann
So you’re working your ass off on your band, your songs, your productions, your blog, your app (fill in the blank with that amazing thing you do). You know you’re not fooling yourself. You’ve really got skills. Yet, it still feels like you’re just not connecting with the world. Why?
Maybe you’re just not sending the right message.
Or maybe you’re searching for some elusive answer to your woes, when you really should be learning to ask a better question.
Is There Anybody Out There?
So here’s a simple but powerful tip that may just help to right your course on your life’s journey to shine your own crazy diamond and make a difference in the world.
(No, this is not a recipe for fame and fortune in the music business.)
He says that for an idea to take hold and spread to the world, the message must be bigger than the messenger, who created it.
For Roger Waters, that message began as a question.
Is Humanity Capable of Being Humane?
This question burned inside him as a teenager, born into a ravaged England, laid to waste by the Nazis during World War II. The same war that claimed his father’s life.
That question ultimately found its wings — and transformed into a message that would resound around the world for almost four decades and counting when Waters and Pink Floyd put it to words and music — creating one of the most celebrated albums of all time: Dark Side Of The Moon.
Within that big question were sub-chapters in the form of songs that supported the grand view.
Take for example the song, “Us And Them.”
This song speaks to the idea of separation and opposites. Each of us living apart as individuals with differing views, lifetstyles and ideals, who identify with this or that group, as opposed to the one we all have in common: the human race.
The message is that in the end, there really is no “them.” There is only “us.”
We are all the same.
“Us and them/And after all we’re only ordinary men.”
“With…without/And in the end it’s what the fighting’s all about.”
Notice how the idea is much bigger than just a great song. It’s an expansive concept that resonates far and wide.
Or take another song, “Time,” which deals with the concept that we’re so obsessed with the passing of time, we never stop to wake up and live in this moment — the only moment that truly exists. And the consequences we invite when we don’t.
“…and then one day you find/Ten years have got behind you/No one told you when to run/You missed the starting gun”
Brilliant lyrics for certain, but all the more so because the idea itself of this obsession with time is almost universal in human beings. We live either in memories from the past, which is already gone, or hope for some better future that hasn’t happened yet.
It’s really very Zen if you think about it:
The Buddha says there is no permanent self (no Us or Them) and that the only path to enlightenment lies in becoming truly awake in the present moment, not somewhere in the past or some unseen future.
And finally, take a look at the title of the album itself, Dark Side Of The Moon. Waters explained this again as a concept. That in life you have only two choices. You can either walk toward the darkness or you can walk toward the light.
It’s this combination of brilliant music wrapped around a powerful message that has resonated so far and wide for Pink Floyd over the span of their career and beyond.
The Great Gig In The Sky
If you could create just one masterpiece in your life that was loved and celebrated by the world, wouldn’t that in itself be a miraculous lifetime achievement?
Imagine. Your own Mona Lisa. (Your name here’s) Fifth Symphony.
You could leave this world with a smile, knowing you accomplished something grand with your life.
Dark Side Of The Moon has broken all records for the longest-time-running on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart, along with a wealth of other industry accolades.
If this iconic album were the one and only masterpiece the band ever produced, it would have cemented their place in music history. But for Pink Floyd, it could be argued they did it at least three times, maybe four.
So how could you possibly follow up Dark Side Of The Moon? If you’re Pink Floyd, you create another masterpiece, of course.
By The Way Which One’s Pink?
Wish You Were Here: An ode to their original band leader, lead singer and chief songwriter, Syd Barrett, who suffered a nervous breakdown and basically went into hibernation, disappearing from society.
It was a message in a bottle to someone they cared deeply for wrapped inside a musical masterpiece. As in “Syd, how we wish you were here.”
And though the sentiment was mostly Waters’, the concept was born from the first four, now-indelible notes of a song, guitarist David Gilmour was working on at the time that reminded Waters of Barrett. It became the foundation for the song, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” which in turn became the cornerstone of the record.
One major underlying theme was absence.
The absence of Syd Barrett. Or the absence of conscience of, say, a record executive as depicted in “Have A Cigar.” Thrilled with the band’s success, he claims to be on the same team when really all he cares about is the money they’ve made for the record company. He’s so out of touch, he think there’s really a guy named Pink in the band.
Sure you could read about all the turmoil in the band at this point in their career and who contributed what. But in the end, what resonates is the work itself.
One could put up a strong argument that Animals, which came out in 1976 was indeed their fourth masterpiece. An opus in three movements whose titles are based loosely on George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The concept that people basically fall into three categories: Pigs, Dogs or Sheep.
It’s perhaps Waters’ most directly caustic view of society but no less brilliant a body of work to the other three mentioned here. But whatever your position on Animals as masterpiece, no one would argue about their follow-up album.
Mother, Did It Need To Be So High?
The Wall: Released in late 1979, it was perhaps their most ambitious effort, though tensions within the band were at a breaking point. Their only double album, it sold more than 23 million units.
It was born out of Waters’ deep frustration with — and isolation from — an audience that was growing so big as to become unreachable, due to the band’s monumental success and stadium-sized productions at that point.
The story is built around a fictional rock megalomaniac named Pink. A pop cult leader who stirs his legions of minions into a frenzy with a not-too-distant-nod to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. (The first brick in Waters’ own wall with the death of his father.)
But the real Pink grows ever more insular and disconnected from the crazed world around him until he completes the wall and arrives at a near catatonic state, “Comfortably Numb.”
The Wall is back on tour again now, more than 32 years after the original tour (which this author saw back in 1980 and still remembers quite vividly). Why would people still even care?
Maybe because the work was so profound and the incredible songs that comprise it so embedded in our collective psyche that the message still resonates today across all cultural, geographic and generational boundaries.
So how can you benefit from all this praise — showered upon a band which really doesn’t need the plug at this point?
In all of Pink Floyd’s incredible body of work (and we didn’t even touch on any of their early albums) there are some common threads you could apply to any work, including that unique thing you do.
Remember When You Were Young? You Shone Like The Sun
You begin with an idea. A concept. Your passion. Like say, forming a psychedelic art rock band. You play around with the idea. You nurture it.
If you find yourself returning to it consistently over time and you’re still passionate, one day you decide to dedicate yourself to it. Even when everyone seems to be ignoring you. No matter. You’re committed now.
You experiment with it, toiling away in obscurity. You hone it until it begins to take shape.
If you’ve chosen the right course and you are creating something of real value to others, people begin to take notice of your dedication, of the excellence in your work. A tribe forms. They begin to tell their friends. The message begins to spread.
You endeavor to distinguish yourself from everyone else in your field. You dissect every aspect of your craft, the songwriting, the musicianship, the album production, the live show, and you endeavor to push the envelope to the brink.
Until one day, your work combines with timing and opportunity and you hit that bullseye and explode into a blazing sun that serves as a beacon of inspiration for all to see.
Don’t Be Afraid To Care
So if you’re trying to figure out where your tribe resides, the secret is not to change where you’re looking. Change your focus.
Remember Us and Them?
Start focusing on Them.
If you’re focused on others; what they long for, what keeps them awake at night, if you can find empathy with the human condition you begin to recognize that we are all much more the same than we are different.
Your fears, your doubts, your feelings of disillusionment and alienation are pretty much the same as everyone else. We’re all trying to figure it out. And no one has the answer.
You are not alone.
If you can always keep that focus at the forefront of your craft, then wrap it around your remarkable music, or your product or your service, you’re on your way to finding a message that can resonate far and wide.
A message bigger than the messenger.
There is no dark side of the moon.
NYC-based producer/artist/engineer/more Mark Hermann spends his life in the professional service of music. He has toured the world with rock legends, produced hit artists, and licensed music for numerous TV/film placements. Hermann also owns a recording studio in a 100-year old Harlem Brownstone. Keep up with him at Rock & Roll Zen.