Logo Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon for good reads Ronnie S Stangler MD music and epigenetics

¬†Neuroscientist dissects Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”

Music is an epigenetic intervention, powerful and inspiring. rss

Here’s an enduring legacy: Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon was released 50 years ago (March 1, 1972) and it’s still on the Billboard charts, making it the longest-charting album in history.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1159798950/11602979 (Interview with brief segments of music)

Dark Side of the Moon can be enjoyed for its far-out sonic landscapes or its inventive production, which reveals new surprises with every listen. You can also study its lyrics. Much of Roger Waters’ writing was inspired by a former member of Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, who was forced to leave the band he’d helped found after his behavior became too erratic, influenced in part by drug use and in part by fame. Some say it was a psychotic break.

“His bandmates tried to get [Barrett] to a psychiatrist, but he wouldn’t go,” explains author, neuroscientist and musician, Daniel Levitin, a Pink Floyd fan who has studied the lyrics of Dark Side. “The band said the spark had gone out of his eyes.”

In honor of the anniversary, Dr. Levitin was interviewed on NPR. Transcript follows below.

transcript of NPR interview above:
LEILA FADEL, HOST:  Here’s an enduring legacy. Pink Floyd’s album “Dark Side Of The Moon” was released 50 years ago today, and it’s still on the Billboard charts. It’s the longest charting album in history.


PINK FLOYD: (Singing) And if the dam breaks open many years too soon, and if there is no room upon the hill.

FADEL: “Dark Side Of The Moon” can be enjoyed for its far-out sonic landscapes or its inventive production. You can also study the lyrics. Much of Roger Waters’ writing was inspired by a former member of Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett. He was forced to leave the band he created when his behavior became too erratic. Some say it was a psychotic break.


PINK FLOYD: (Singing) The lunatic is in my head.

FADEL: Author and cognitive psychologist Daniel Levitin is a Pink Floyd fan, and he studied these lyrics from a psychologist’s perspective. He joins us now. Welcome.

DANIEL LEVITIN: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Daniel, what do we know about Syd Barrett and why he left the band?

LEVITIN: Well, he was very creative. This was a sound that explored psychedelic music. But not coincidentally, Syd Barrett was using a lot of LSD, and he was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. LSD and psilocybin are known as dissociative drugs that can lead to temporary depersonalization. So in the context of spiritual growth and therapy, this could be positive. Your ego dissolves. You see yourself as part of a larger whole, connected to others. But sometimes the ego can dissolve and dissociate, and you become crazy.

FADEL: Is that why he left the band?

LEVITIN: Well, ultimately, I think, Leila, the problem was that Syd was unreliable as a bandmate. He missed gigs. He was paranoid. And on stage, he would sabotage the performances or not play at all. His bandmates tried to get him to a psychiatrist, but he wouldn’t go. And so they kicked him out in 1968.

FADEL: Now, Roger Waters says he based a lot of “Dark Side Of The Moon” on Syd Barrett. Where do we hear that?

LEVITIN: Well, I think the themes of madness and alienation permeate the record. We can’t know for sure which specific lyrics were about Barrett, as opposed, more generally, to mental anguish. But listen, the very first thing you hear on the record is that haunting heartbeat and some machine sounds and voices. And I always imagined it as a mental hospital.


LEVITIN: And the narrator says, I’ve been mad for years. I’ve always been mad. And Roger Waters has said that Syd was always the heartbeat of the band.


LEVITIN: I always thought “Us And Them” was an interesting reference, too, because on the surface it’s talking about generals and ranks, and it seems as though it’s about an army.


PINK FLOYD: (Singing) Forward, he cried from the rear, and the front rank died. The general sat, and the lines on the map moved from side to side.

LEVITIN: I think Waters is too good a lyricist to not use a metaphor, so I assume it’s a metaphor for the firing of Syd. And I might be going out on a limb, but the line, forward, he cried from the rear, and the front rank died.


LEVITIN: So that’s Roger, formally in the rear of the band, firing the front rank…


LEVITIN: …Saying that, you know, the band must move forward, and it means sacrificing Syd.


PINK FLOYD: (Singing) And in the end it’s only round and round and round.

FADEL: I’d love to talk about the song “Time.” From a psychologist’s perspective, those lyrics – they must have great meaning.

LEVITIN: Right off the bat, they’re playing with time. You hear that clop-clop sound, like a heartbeat or a clock ticking. And you think that the higher-pitched one is the downbeat. But as soon as the instruments come in, you realize you’re off the beat, and everything’s upside down. And your sense of time is distorted.


LEVITIN: And then you’ve got this long intro, and the proper part of the song doesn’t start until well after two minutes in, as though they’re ignoring the time convention for a rock song.


PINK FLOYD: (Singing) Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day.

LEVITIN: Roger said about that year and that song that he suddenly realized that life was already happening. The idea that you prepare your whole life for a life that’s going to start later – he suddenly realized life wasn’t going to start later. It had started. And the idea of time was to grasp the reins and start guiding your own destiny.


PINK FLOYD: (Singing) Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain. And you are young, and life is long. And there is time to kill today. And then one day you find 10 years have got behind you. No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun.

LEVITIN: The whole album gives you a sense of self-reflection, doesn’t it?

FADEL: Yeah.

LEVITIN: It’s impossible to just keep it out there. It gets inside your head.


FADEL: So it’s 50 years. What is it about this album that makes it still so relevant?

LEVITIN: Well, I suppose part of it is that it’s now a cultural touchstone. If you’re, you know, under 30, it may be that your grandparents heard it and your parents heard it. I think also the art of it is that the songs flow into one another symphonically, and it’s just full of little Easter eggs – little things that you can pick up that you hadn’t noted were there before. And the lyrics sort of work all together as a whole. That final lyric where the sun is eclipsed by the moon – maybe it’s a metaphor. Syd was the sun of the band, the brightest spot. And Waters was the moon and overtook him.


LEVITIN: And probably felt a little bit of guilt about that.


PINK FLOYD: (Singing) All that you touch.

FADEL: Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin. He’s written many books including the bestseller “This Is Your Brain On Music.” Today is the 50th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon.” Thanks so much.

LEVITIN: Thank you, Leila.


PINK FLOYD: (Singing) The sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

related reference of interest: “The Mind at Work: Daniel Levitin on the secret life of the musical brain” by Anthony Wing Kosner