I’ll never forget the day my brother and I found “Dark Side of the Moon” walking to Kmart on a boring, summer day. The cassette was sandwiched inside the train track of our town noticeable only to the pedestrian eye. That particular train hadn’t run in over 50 years, so everyone from our junior high school would hang out by the tracks–get high, listen to music, and ponder the existence of drifter-life—jumping on that train, riding off into the sunset, never again to deal with our annoying parents or teachers, giving that creepy-ass guidance counselor the double deuce and bouncing. My brother’s friend, like every other stoner-kid in our school, explained that we HAD to get high and watch “Wizard of Oz” while listening to the entire album. We didn’t care. The cassette was intact, the artwork was weird and we had nothing better to do on boring Saturday.
We put on Side One. We weren’t sure what the hell was going on. It was abstract and “Speak to Me” had the word fucking in it. We had to hide this from our parents, which was reason enough to make it cool. Echoes of a creepy guy laughing, heartbeats, screams and coins clinking in the background, then this blissed out guitar, bass, drum symphony? What was going on in our little brains as we listened? What wasn’t going on in our lives? It was the 80s. It was a socio-political nightmare. Nothing made sense except for Nike Cortez’, unrequited crushes and sneaking Marlboro Reds in the bathroom when we should have been in class.
Side Two had “Money” on it. That song spoke more to us, probably because we had heard it somewhere on the radio, but mostly because our family never had any. I suppose if we had, we wouldn’t be slumming for butts and picking up abandoned cassette tapes on the side of the highway. Never the less, Dark Side of the Moon flew through our ears like audio morphine. It was cool to have something in our hands that no one we knew was really into. It wasn’t shitty metal, but it was confusing, There were weird accents with candid conviction in the lyrics. Gilmore, Wright, and Clare Torry‘s undeniable belting were a welcome break from Don Dokken and Yngwie Malmsteen.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
Soon after, my brother and I got our hands on a VHS copy of “The Wall” via our irresponsible babysitter (one of many) that my Mom hired to watch us while she was at her second, night job. We had free run of the place, as our baby sitter was always inviting her gross boyfriend over and making out with him on our American Heritage-print sofa.
I remember the first time I watched “The Wall.” I was just sitting there in a state of dumbfounded innocence. My babysitter was all: “Wait ’til you see this movie. It’s so crazy. I just remember Bob Geldof riling around on the floor. It seemed strange. I wasn’t sure why was he doing that. My innocence didn’t know madness yet. That madness with the eyebrows was more of a theatrical play. Background cinema. I was removed. The movie managed to scare me a little, because I didn’t quite know what was going on, but I didn’t much care. I must have been around 11 and the painful world of junior high school puberty and bullying hadn’t fully set in. But I remember the first few frames. The pensive, opening scenes in the dark hallway. It was clear that this band had set out to create something beautiful and strange. Why was this this Pink character so tortured while this seemingly cool, rock opera bounced in our ears? The creepy, carton images coupled with spaced-out instrumentation. I couldn’t fully fall in love with the film because it was so jagged, so I just sat there and absorbed it.
About ten years later, I was sitting in Introduction to Economics class and the room started to close in on me. I thought I was either dying or going crazy. My professor’s words melted into the ether like heavy, molten lava. My heart was racing and my face was hot to the touch. I couldn’t hear anything anymore. I just needed to escape. It wasn’t long before I found out I had experienced a panic attack. Overbearing financial burdens, transferring schools because of my parents’ bankruptcy and losing my childhood home all mounted on top of me. It all came crashing down on me and all I could do was sit in class and grit my teeth, hoping this overbearing thing would go away. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t make a sound.
I somehow managed to get through that awful time. Therapy and taking a year off helped tremendously. It was difficult. I was never really the same after that. I felt like I had touched on something that few could understand. Only one of my roommate’s was sympathetic as I struggled to piece together my degree. But somehow, I graduated two years later with high honors.
I became a Special Needs Teacher and was on my second year of teaching when myself and my boyfriend at the time decided to go to Europe. We landed in Heathrow airport and immediately made our way over to the infamous Earls Court in Central London where Syd Barrett had shared an apartment with Duggie Fields. Earls Court is where Syd reportedly threw his television out the window during a psychotic episode. I sat and heard the stories from my then boyfriend. I fell in love with Barrett’s artwork and became fascinated with his life. The neighborhood of Earls Court, at that time, still had the gritty feel to it. Just like in “The Wall,” you could almost picture Barrett glued to his television in his little apartment, writing songs, vacillating between lability and bad trips where his band-mates would reportedly lock him in the linen cupboard. Barrett’s contributions to Pink Floyd up until 1968–that blissed out, psychedelic sound–are undeniable. Anything Robert (a name he later reclaimed because Syd was his “low income” nickname) touched, turned to gold. He was a beautiful, boxed-in butterfly who managed to find his creative wings through painting in his later years.
I came back from Europe. I decided I would watch “The Wall” again with fresh eyes. I knew it would no longer be vacant, rock ‘n’ roll hi-jinx, but impressions of Syd through his band-mates eyes, the ones who probably knew him best. I sobbed. Not a sad cry, but a cry of complete empathy. I finally understood, if even partially, that part of creative madness; that piece about about wanting to break free, but not knowing how. That piece of isolation that I believe only a true artist understands. I turned the volume up and finally felt it. I felt all of it.
I’ll never know precisely what Syd Barrett’s diagnosis was, nor do I care. Much has been said about Syd’s mental state, and folklore about his episodes abound. His family never conceded to any kind of mental illness or substance abuse issue. No one will every truly know. Some say he took too much heavy acid, while others claim he was long gone before the drug use. It doesn’t matter to me. Barrett and Pink Floyd touched my soul in a deep way–once as a kid and then again as an adult. I’ll continue to go back to their music and each time, I’ll hear something new. I just hope whoever dropped “The Dark Side of the Moon” on that train tracks that day picked up another copy.
May we all shine on.
The Endless River, Pink Floyd’s latest album, will be out November 10th via Columbia Records. Here’s a clip of the album that features David Hawking:
The Endless River Tracklist:
01. Things Left Unsaid
02. It’s What We Do
03. Ebb And Flow
08. The Lost Art of Conversation
09. On Noodle Street
10. Night Light
11. Allons-y (1)
13. Allons-y (2)
14. Talkin’ Hawkin’
16. Eyes To Pearls
18. Louder Than Words