I can see myself standing on the beach in front of my childhood home by the sea. The tide rolls in, licks at my toes, then drifts back in a flirtatious dance. Like a mood ring, the water changes, from mossy green to aquamarine to the bluest saddest blue, under the moon that hangs heavy in twilight. I breathe in the air filled with salty memories…
I’m a California girl, born and raised, and came of age on an island where we had a summer house four doors in from the waterfront. It was the 70s, baby, and I remember growing up with a sense that life was easy. I was too young and naïve to worry about inconsequential things like the gas crisis or that hostage situation in Iraq or wherever. Instead, I would be out in the sun, wearing a bikini, riding my skateboard on the boardwalk and talking to the toe-headed boys, giggling and flipping my feathered Farrah hair.
At 13 years old, I practically lived at the arcade. When I wasn’t taking sailing lessons or swimming in the bay, I ruled the skee ball lanes, and had a pretty fierce hold on the market for cap guns and Chinese finger cuffs. Eventually, dusk would set on my days, as would a certain melancholy. At night I would look out at the harbor and listen to the water lapping up on the sand. The murky bay smelled like seaweed, but I never minded. And back at the musty beach house, I would play my favorite album over and over, and my adolescence became saturated with the ethereal, slippery sound of Pink Floyd.
The Dark Side of the Moon. Brilliant. Psychedelic. Mad genius. My brother and I would sit on the floor, fixated on the iconic graphic on the cover: A prism with a spectrum of colors emerging. It was described as “The white light into the pyramid”. It has to be the most recognizable album cover of all time, and it doesn’t have one word on it.
Dark Side is a masterpiece. A concept album originally titled Eclipse: A Piece For Assorted Lunatics, it contains lyrical themes that tell a story about mental illness, aging, greed, living truthfully and death. It’s Art Rock, inspired by insanity itself.
Of course, I went through my own witless period of instability. As I got older I had no interest in behaving myself. That was boring and I was restless. Staying out past curfew was much more fun, even though coming home smelling like Marlboros and booze would get me in a lot of hot water. I was a dark little hippie; to me, the rules my parents tried to lay down were killing my spirit. But there was solace in the ocean. I would sit on the moonlit seawall at night, and think about life and writing and music, waiting for someone or something to show me the way.
And then I fell in love. Dave was my first true love, actually, and I fell hard, the only way you can fall when you’re 17, barefoot and free-spirited. I had a wanton abandon I wish I could bottle. It was all so new, that burning, all-consuming passion for another human being. We didn’t last, and I was devastated.
And so it began. When I was sad about something, or times were bleak or complicated, I would take a drive up the Malibu coast in my gold Datsun 280 ZX and listen to Dark Side of the Moon. Sometimes I’d find myself on the hour-long drive south to the island, just to hear it all over again, and sit on my seawall and think about life. (That is, until the day the tape player ate it and all its ribbon guts came out.) T-tops off, stereo super loud. Dark Side was a refuge for me.
When I was young I hadn’t yet heard of Syd Barrett, or his drug-fueled descent into madness. I didn’t know he was part of the original Pink Floyd, or that he was a musical genius, or that anyone missed him after he faded into insanity, and eventually, obscurity. Those who knew him said he was like a candle that was about to be snuffed out at any moment, but they agree that without the magic of Syd, there would be no Floyd. (They also said he put acid in his coffee every morning, so I’m thinking there’s a link there.) I’m not an artist or a music maker, and chances are slim anyone will ever do a best-selling tribute album for me. But I admit, in times of quiet desperation I’ve had fears of ending up like Syd, withdrawn from life, living in a strange self-imposed exile. There was a time he shone like the sun. Dark Side is a guts-on-the-floor, beautiful and haunting work of art. The same can be said for Syd Barrett.
Science tells us there is no such thing as the “dark side” of the moon. It’s all one giant glowing orb in the sky, all part of the same. It’s a fact that arrests and psychiatric admissions are higher during a full moon, and I’m not surprised. Who wants that much light shed on their life and their shortcomings? It’s scary. No wonder there are so many lunatics running around. There are hideous, unflattering parts in all of us that we don’t want anyone to see, but like water finds its own level, the light finds its way in. For me, it’s a relief. Ultimately, when all my mistakes are laid bare, they don’t seem quite so terrible.
I was six years old in 1973 when Dark Side of the Moon was released, almost 40 years ago. It speaks something new to me every time I listen to it. Five years ago I was in the first row for Roger Waters at The Hollywood Bowl, and he played Dark Side in its entirety. It was exquisite. And there I was, in that watery place in time, young again and fearless, and I found myself thinking about my life with salty tears in my eyes, smiling, happy, and breathing in the air.
…And like a sphere, with no beginning or ending, light was all around, and inside, like prisms and music, and time and love, and water and memories, and life and death, and you and me and us and them.