By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
“The lunatics are in my hall. The paper holds their folded faces to the floor and every day the paper boy brings more.”
Those lines from Pink Floyd’s song “Brain Damage” ring as true now as they did when the album they are on — The Dark Side of the Moon — was released in 1973. But these days the “hall” tends to be our electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops) and the “paper boy” is social media.
Unfortunately, there has never been a shortage of lunatics and a contingent of them is assailing the band’s use of a rainbow (actually, it’s the spectrum created by the prism on the cover of the album) in a logo celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dark Side’s release.
“Why does there have to be a bloody woke rainbow,” one denizen of Twitter groused.
“Lose the wokeness,” another tweeted. “Longtime fan. Do you now have handlers? Kanye has exposed this part of the industry. Been listening to your music since ’70s. Let’s see your response.”
“Are you going woke with rainbows?” a Facebook user wondered. “Is there a straight flag? I want equal representation, don’t get me wrong, we should all be true to who we are.”
“Lose the rainbow,” wrote another Facebook grump. “You’re making yourself look stupid.”
Never mind that the Dark Side spectrum, which has long been synonymous with the band, predates the LGBTQ rainbow flag by five years. No one associated with Pink Floyd has ever said the cover image was intended as a statement of support for gay rights or even general inclusiveness — not that those things should be a genuine cause for outrage either.
As the 50th Anniversary of Dark Side’s release (March 24) approaches with its commemorative re-release (a deluxe boxed set) a book, and events such as planetarium laser shows, I expect bigger, louder voices to be raised in ignorant anger. This ridiculous brouhaha is tailor-made for someone like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who has been busy foaming at the mouth during the flap about the makers of M&Ms candy using “inclusive” cartoon characters for advertisements. (If you are unfamiliar with the story, this clip will fill you in.)
The Dark Side of the Moon has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide while setting a record for longevity on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart: more than 950 weeks, including 741 consecutive weeks from March 1973 to April 1988. Brilliantly played, immaculately recorded, and loaded with classic, sound-and-voice-effect-laden songs such as “Money” and “Time,” the album examines life and things that drive people to despair and madness: greed, violence, alienation, indifference, divisiveness, and mortality. It continues to resonate with listeners across generations because the music still sounds fresh and the themes lyricist Roger Waters addressed are timeless.
The album’s iconic cover image is a triangular prism refracting a beam of white light into a multi-colored spectrum on a black background. When that spectrum was included in the band’s recently unveiled 50th Anniversary of Dark Side logo, conservative social warriors with homophobic inclinations objected in sadly predictable fashion.
Never mind that the image came about because Pink Floyd’s keyboardist Rick Wright had requested something “clean, elegant and precise” for Dark Side’s cover. Graphic artist/photographer Storm Thorgerson, who had been doing the band’s artwork with partner Aubrey Powell, came up with the prism after seeing a photo of one that made him think of the light shows that were a famous feature of the band’s live performances.
“The other thing was the triangle,” Thorgerson told Rolling Stone in 2011. “I think the triangle, which is a symbol of thought and ambition, was very much a subject of Roger’s lyrics.”
Ten cover ideas were presented to the band, among them a silver surfer traversing the universe — a reference to a line in the song “Breathe” (“Balanced on the biggest wave, you race towards an early grave”) — but the prism was the Floyd’s instant, unanimous choice.
“It’s a brilliant cover,” guitarist David Gilmour told Rolling Stone. “One can look at it after that first moment of brilliance and think, ‘Well, it’s a very commercial idea: It’s very stark and simple; it’ll look great in shop windows.’” Now, in our delightfully polarized, overheated age, some can look at it and see a political statement that triggers their knees and makes them jerk wildly.
Ironically, the band’s liberal views have hardly been a secret during its 55 years as a major recording act. Waters lost his father to combat in World War II and was raised by an outspoken mother who was a school teacher and avid socialist. His lyrics for the Dark Side song “Us and Them” lament the military (“Forward he cried from the rear and the front rank died”) and how the plight of the poor is ignored (“For want of the price of tea and a slice the old man died”).
Waters attacked greedy capitalists and conservative scold Mary Whitehouse, an early social warrior, on the Floyd’s 1977 album Animals and included Ronald Reagan among the “colonial wasters of life and limb” in his song “The Fletcher Memorial Home” from the band’s 1983 album The Final Cut. Most recently, the Floyd, now led by Gilmour, released a song called “Hey Hey Rise Up” to raise money for humanitarian support for Ukraine.
But the biggest stink Pink Floyd ever raised was with its chart-topping hit “Another Brick in the Wall Part II” from their 1979 album The Wall. Decrying a cruel school teacher, the song featured English children singing “We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control. Hey, teacher! Leave those kids alone!” The backlash was fierce with many (teachers among them) interpreting the song as being anti-education and an endorsement of ignorance.
Oh, the irony.
The Wall, the story of a tormented rock star who descends into fascistic madness, also included a song called “In the Flesh?” where he vows to find out where his fans “really stand.” It includes these lines:
“Are there any queers in the theater tonight?
Get 'em up against the wall (against the wall)
Now there's one in the spotlight, he don't look right to me
Get him up against the wall (against the)
And that one looks Jewish
And that one's a coon
Who let all this riff-raff into the room?
There's one smokin' a joint
And another with spots
If I had my way
I'd have all of them shot.”
Meanwhile, The Dark Side of the Moon’s cover image never raised an eyebrow until a few weeks ago. Homophobia and paranoia about pedophiles is at a fever pitch on the right, due largely to QAnon, which posits that our government is run by a blood-guzzling cabal of child traffickers. Less crazed conservative commentators and politicians have been decrying as “grooming” and “indoctrination” any attempts to understand or accommodate the LGBTQ community.
During the past year or so, whenever I’ve worn my Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt in public, I couldn’t help wondering how many people would now see the prism as a gay pride symbol and react negatively.
“What is that, Pink Floyd what a disgrace,” is yet another recent comment from a Facebook troll on the side that supposedly champions free speech and abhors cancel culture. “From this moment I don’t listen this band…”
I’m sure the Floyd will weep bitter tears when they read that one.
I can’t wait until 2025 when the classic hard rock band Rainbow celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding. One can easily imagine what the frothing folks on the right will say about that even though the band’s name came about by chance. However, the following could surely cause an uproar:
In a 1995 interview, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore said, “[The name] came from the Hollywood Bar & Grill (aka the Rainbow on LA’s Sunset Strip). I was in there with [singer] Ronnie [James Dio] getting drunk as usual and said: ‘What shall we call the band?’ and he just pointed to the sign.”
“Lucky you weren’t in the Pheasant and Firkin,” Blackmore’s interviewer said, to which Blackmore joked, “Or the Bull And Bush. Or all the other transvestite bars we used to go to.”
As Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters wrote 50 years ago, “And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too. I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.”
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.