Smarter in Sixty Seconds: The Zen Of Pink Floyd

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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?

That’s where it all began for Roger Waters, mastermind behind one of the most successful and influential bands of all time, Pink Floyd.

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.)

In his tiny and most excellent little book, Tribes, modern marketing guru, Seth Godin describes the secret to how ideas spread.

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.

There are always more messages to be gleaned from DSOTM.

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?

You may now unleash your inner Mona Lisa.

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.

The message.

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.

Deeper still…

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.)

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  • what an awesome dissection of Pink Floyd, very cool….thanks for diving in and reminding us why this band was/is so great!

  • Mark Hermann

    Let’s just say they were a big part of my music education in my formative years. Glad you dug the article, David. Shine on…Mark

  • AntiO

    They lost me with the Wall. I felt like Waters was saying that life, hope, and belief were all futile and that society’s wall was insurmountable. I refused to go along with that view and besides, I was disappointed in the music of that release as well. Meddle and Dark Side of the Moon were masterpieces.

  • Mark Hermann

    I would agree The Wall was certainly the most in your face concept album they released and I second your emotion on Meddle. Echoes is still one of the most amazing pieces of music I’ve ever heard. We used to get….umm, into a different frame of mind and turn out the lights and listen to Echoes when I was a teenager. We called it Floyding out.

  • i also share a deep appreciation for at least three of the four albums mentioned (i’ve never quite gotten into Animals (in any sense!)). however i really feel “The Final Cut” offered amazing pieces of music and resonating messages. that it was created by then-separate entities “Roger Waters and Pink Floyd” is pretty ridiculous and sad. for people to make so much commentary on war and fighting, you’d think they could actually get on better than they did. anyway, i could not say how many times i listened to The Final Cut front to back, and was enveloped by it every time. it’s their sleeper.

  • Mark Hermann

    Charlie, I have to admit by the time The Final Cut came out, it felt like the band was kind of done (for me). Maybe not musically but spiritually spent. It felt too much like a Roger Waters solo album featuring members of Pink Floyd. As amazing as the music was, and it was! I had moved on by then. But it just goes to show the depth of their musical genius. To be able to make albums of the highest order even when they couldn’t deal with each other is incredible. No other band I know of ever pulled that one off.

  • thanks for your response, Mark. it’s true, 3 years had passed since the Wall was released which is a long time. also you make a good point in their ability to create while at odds. did the members of Rush & Led Zeppelin always get along? in my mind they’re the only other bands even close to Floyd musically. perhaps the Beatles too, if they were able to stick around long enough to get that cynical!

  • IraCord

    Great article! I believe MOST Pink Floyd records were masterpieces with-for me!-Meddle, Ummagumma, Piper, & Dark Side-the most compelling!

  • Mark Hermann

    Thanks Ira. I had to draw the line somewhere for the sake of the length of this article. Meddle certainly looms large for me. Obscured By Clouds too, though I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece. It was a soundtrack. No matter how you slice it, it’s an incredible volume of work!

  • Mark Hermann

    Charlie, Exactly! Yes, Led Zeppelin’s volume of work stands as an iconic pillar of rock and roll. But no they didn’t always get along. And Zen is not a word I could use to describe their work ethic. Cream essentially hated one another. That’s the whole point. In the end, it’s the work that stands the test of time, not the relationships.