Of all the albums that entered our world in the year of ‘73, this is by far the most popular. Of all the discs in the entire history of recorded music, only one has sold more copies worldwide. There should be obvious reasons for such amazing success. But explanations - obvious or oblique - break down in this case.
Charisma? Hardly. Pink Floyd in ‘73 was the paragon of cold-blooded corporate rock - faceless, arrogant and isolated from the world. Devoid of stage presence or interesting life stories, the band consisted of four ordinary-looking men with boring names and no discernible talents that would set them apart from 10,000 other musicians. Virtuosic playing? Originality? Sex appeal? The visceral throb that gets people up and moving their bodies? Pink Floyd had none of these. Early on, when Syd Barrett was their front man, they were charmingly acid-addled, whimseyed and weird. Their “Interstellar Overdrive” sent their fans out through the gleaming stars. After Syd was gone, the band kept some of its cosmic sublime, but headed into more doom-laden terrain, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” being a perfect soundtrack for glorious teenage solar suicide. By ‘73, with Dark Side of the Moon and the hugely profitable tours around it, Pink Floyd had lumbered to the top of the dinosaur food chain, the reigning tyrant lizards of arena-rock. With upwards of 40 million units sold, with literally billions of plays, this music - like no other - flooded the earth with its message, the gospel of self-annihilation that the moon’s hidden side represents.
Golgotha is not just a place in the little Holy Land of the Middle East. The real Golgotha - “the place of the skull” - is in outer space, a quarter million miles away, orbiting around the earth. The moon is our primal, eternal skull-icon. And all of our skulls are tiny versions of the great skull in the sky. What do we see in the moon’s leering face? Eye holes, gaping toothless mouth, nostril slits, the empty stare of the Great Death’s-Head. Calvary is not just a place of ancient torture and obscure sacrifice. Calvary - “the place of the skull” - is out there, night after night. The moon is the universal face of death and also the earth’s primary mirror - shining back the light of the sun, the source of all life. So when this Face of Death stares raptly into itself, of course there is an invisible side of the reflection: the dark side, untouchable, unknowable, real and yet absolutely unseen.
As music, Dark Side of the Moon is a grand mediocrity. With its bloated blues imitations, fake soulful moaning, banal synthesizer squiggles, its utter absence of original melodies, lyrics, or musical hooks, this album should have disappeared into the great cut-out bin of LP oblivion. Instead, it sold in vast numbers and kept selling, spending a total of fifteen years in the charts. Ultimately, it colonized more brains than all of the albums released in ‘73 combined.
The secret of this record’s success is in fact no secret at all. It’s all right there in the title and the last line of the song “Brain Damage.” To the sullen, smug teenagers of the world (young and old) Roger Waters sings “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” His lyrics mention racing “to an early grave,” exploding heads and brutal psycho-surgery. There may be many far better examples of I-want-to-die music. Originality, however, doesn’t sell. Complexity and intelligence don’t make for commercial world domination. The very banality of Dark Side of the Moon works in its favor. If a band is going to create a mass market hymn to self-obliteration, then subtlety is not going to be one of their tools. If Pink Floyd set out to make enormous profits, then playing directly to their audience’s inner deadness was exactly the right technique. Making self-pity into grandeur, numbness into stoned mysticism, stupidity into exaltation, Dark Side of the Moon is the perfect product. Heartless, pompous, blotting out everything like brain-death or an eclipse, whining and empty, this is the sound of cretinous nihilism, the wretched little self screaming “me! me! me!” in a vacuum.
Blame Th. Metzger Labels: Stereo Throb - 1973