Hanging on in quiet desperation

Column by Craig Marshall Smith


Forty years ago, Paige Ernster invited me over to her Westwood apartment to listen to a new vinyl album.

I listened to the entire album from start to finish. Now and then I still do.

It remained on the “Billboard 100” for 741 weeks, and it is in the top 25 of best-selling albums, ever, in the United States.

I know you know the album, and you might even know every “heartbeat, clock tick, and register ring” by heart, but I'll bet you a case of Guinness that you can only name one song on the album: “Money.”

“Money” made it to the radio, even with a profanity.

Here are some other titles: “Speak to Me,” "On the Run,” and “The Great Gig in the Sky.” See what I mean? You don't know them by name, just by sound. And the sound is brilliant.

“The Dark Side of the Moon” was recorded in two sessions in 1972 and 1973 at Abbey Road Studios in London. “Dark Side” was different from the band's seven previous albums, because there were fewer extended instrumental excursions, and because the songs were seamed together.

The album's themes include “conflict, greed, the passage of time, and mental illness, the latter partly inspired by former band member Syd Barrett's deteriorating mental state.”

The lunatic is in the hall

The lunatics are in my hall

The paper holds their folded faces to the floor

And every day the paper boy brings more.

I still see the album's cover art on T-shirts worn by teenagers. The band had 7 Storm Thorgerson designs to chose from. It took them three minutes to decide on the prism.

“The band trooped in,” Thorgerson said, “swept their gaze across the designs, looked at each other, nodded, and said, `That one,' pointing at the prism.”

Here are some other things you might like to know. The original working title of the album was “Eclipse” because the previous year a group called Medicine Head had released their own “Dark Side of the Moon.” When it flopped, Pink Floyd claimed the title.

“Money” is one of the few hit singles ever to utilize 7/4 signature time. I have no idea what that means.

“At the very end of `Eclipse,' in the right channel, there is the faint sound of a Muzak version of the Beatles' `Ticket to Ride.'”

A lot of these tidbits can be picked up in the documentary, “The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon.” I recommend it.

The group's leaders, Roger Waters and David Gilmour, somewhat estranged, still perform “Dark Side” with other bandmates.

I was in my mid-20s when I spent that afternoon with Paige. I was a college student. I didn't know what was going to happen to me, so there was a lot of apprehension. And there should have been. An art degree is notorious for being impractical and almost worthless to employers. To employers other than college and universities, which is where I landed for the next thirty years.

I lifted the name of this column from one of the songs, “Time,” and Waters lifted the words from a Henry David Thoreau poem: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

It's quite easy for me to become sentimental about “The Dark Side of the Moon.” It has been in a sidecar with me for the past forty years. I haven't always stayed on the road. One troubling night, I heard my old friend “Speak to Me.”

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time

Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way

The time is gone, the song is over

Thought I'd something more to say.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net


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