Jane Ellen

1.12 Eclipsed by the Moon

Jane's Musical Takeaway
bits and bobs and my two cents

Episode 12: Eclipsed by the Moon

The song 'Brain Damage' by Pink Floyd concludes with the lines And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon. This is the next to last song on the album, which means well over half an hour passes before the band namechecks the title of their classic work The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), now recognized by critics as one of the greatest albums of all time. Scientifically speaking, there is no dark side of the moon because the moon is tidally locked. There is a far side, which can only be seen from space, but happily, Pink Floyd chose the more poetic version for their record title. While they were still recording the album, they discovered that another band called Medicine Head was releasing a disc by the same name, so they shifted their album title to Eclipse. When the album by the other band came to naught, the original title was restored.

At that time Pink Floyd was made up of guitarist David Gilmour, bassist Roger Waters, keyboardist Rick Wright, and drummer Nick Mason. There have likely been millions of words written about this legendary band, and yet Mojo.com has managed to cover a great deal of the story in only 6 minutes:

The band originally presented this musical material live at the Rainbow Theatre in London in front of an assembled audience of music press. It was called Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics, and Michael Wale described the concert for The Times as 'bringing tears to the eyes. It was so completely understanding and musically questioning.' Dark Side was indeed an unflinching exploration of the human condition and the universal pressures of life - beginning and ending with the sound of a human heartbeat - and invoking such topics as anxiety, empathy, authenticity, war, mortality, consumerism, mental illness, and finally, the idea of unity.

The resulting concept album consisted of two 5-track suites: sides A and B of the record were meant to be played continuously, with no break. (Sadly, this is an important recorded music technique we've lost to digital technology and the popularity of the ubiquitous mixtape or playlist.) Before we get into the takeaway, however, we should look at a definition of progressive rock, but even avant garde guitarist Dennis Rea has found it to be 'a notoriously difficult term to define'. Here is a short explanatory video by Dennis himself (5.5 mins):

One could easily write volumes about this album, but within the constraints of this column I have chosen to focus on the last two pieces of the second side, 'Brain Damage' and 'Eclipse'. I could get sidetracked by ex co-founding member/guitarist/front man Syd Barrett's mental health issues, which inspired the first song; according to a sister, he and all of his siblings were on the autism spectrum, and he may also have suffered from schizophrenia. Rather than delving further into details, though, you can read an excerpt from the biography Madcap: The Half-Life of Syd Barrett by Tim Willis here.

The following video includes lyrics for both pieces that I will address in the takeaway (you'll notice a blip, since it is cutting in just after the previous track). Be sure to listen to the entire video, as there is a deceptive ending.

Jane's Musical Takeaway:

  • 1. 'Brain Damage' contains some puzzling lyrical elements:
    the lunatic is on the grass - not marijuana, but literally grass as in 'Keep Off the Grass'. The implication is that if you can't obey a simple sign there's something wrong with you. Songwriter Roger Waters has stated that he had a particularly verdant spot of grass in mind, and was thinking that one must be crazy to try to keep people from such a beautiful spot.
    you raise the blade, you make the change - this passage refers to a lobotomy
    and if the band you're in starts playing different tunes - refers to Barrett's last days with Pink Floyd when he began playing a different song from everyone else due to his illness.
  • 2. The 3 sections beginning with 'the lunatic' (15 sec, 0.44, 1.48) have a similar, almost hypnotic feel accentuated by simple percussion (hi-hat). The 2 contrasting sections (1.16 and if the dam breaks, 2.35 and if the cloud bursts) are far more intense. The 'lunatic' verses progress from the lunatic being on the grass to in the hall to in my head. This last verse leads not only to the lobotomy passage, but to a sense of isolation and social alienation as expressed by the phrase there's someone in my head but it's not me. The volume and density of the instrumentation rises in these contrasting sections, amplified by a choir and gospel vocals that pull the listener from a reflective state into an active state of involvement with the music and lyrics.
  • 3. Just when you feel as if you're on the way to a traditional fade-out ending, there are 4 strong drum beats and at 3.50 the song shifts from the 4/4 or common time of 'Brain Damage', into a triple meter (3/4) for 'Eclipse'. The instrumental texture is now packed with sound: the organ wails, the simple hi-hat used for most of the previous song has been replaced with a crash simple, and we are presented with a completely new lyrical format of simple quatrains with alternating lines in direct oppostion to one another.
  • 4. It's at this point that many musicians would have been tempted to drop to a very soft volume and slowly build through the repetitive refrains. The genius of Pink Floyd is that they never back off, resulting in a seemingly never-ending wall of sound that relentlessly builds to the final line of the lyric. Relief comes on the last word, 'moon', as the instruments fade out followed by the entrance of the heartbeat.
  • 5. I'll let Roger Waters have the last words on 'Eclipse'. In the book Pink Floyd: Bricks in The Wall (1987) by Karl Dallas, Waters explains the last lines of the song (and everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon): 'The album uses the sun and the moon as symbols; the light and the dark; the good and the bad; the life force as opposed to the death force. I think it's a very simple statement saying that all the good things life can offer are there for us to grasp, but that the influence of some dark force in our natures prevents us from seizing them. The song addresses the listener and says that if you, the listener, are affected by that force - and if that force is a worry to you - well, I feel exactly the same too.'
  • 6. Trivia: Road manager Peter Watts provides the laughter in 'Brain Damage' and Gerry O'Driscoll, doorman of Abbey Road Studios, speaks at 5.23 after the heart-beat begins at the end of 'Eclipse'.

Progressive rock is a combination of imaginative, adventurous, well-crafted music and provacative lyrics; in other words, it's rock music for those who think. It's impossible to listen to Pink Floyd, or Opeth, or Jethro Tull, or Dream Theater, or Porcupine Tree, or Rush without stopping to try to make sense of what's happening. Progressive rock demands active listener participation, even from the comfort of your living room.

Find Pink Floyd:
Official Website
Pink Floyd on Twitter
Pink Floyd on Facebook
Pink Floyd on Instagram
BONUS: Dark Side of the Moon (documentary 2003, 25mins)

This episode goes out to my dearest friend and long-time supporter Claire, who has been co-author, poet, and lyricist for my music, as well as the unsung editor of many projects including Jane's Musical Takeaway. Thank you!
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