In his cold loneliness at the end of the Fiodor Dostoïevski novel’s chapters, Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and punishment wonders: What does he live for? What keeps him alive? What makes him choose to wake up in the morning and go through the miserable day instead of getting rid of all this pain and suicide? In short, why does he live? Does he live only to continue his existence?
You may be surprised by Rasklenkov’s last question, but you have to bear in mind that the words existence and living are not synonymous. All that falls on your eyes is existing, and everything that occupies space in the place exists. You, being alive breathing and your heart working properly, you exist. But are you living? In other words, is there a meaning behind your life?
Philosophers of the twentieth century filled this question, it was the basis of specific philosophies such as existentialism. The French philosopher Albert Camus compared the modern-day person and his life in his book The Legend of Sisyphus. The comparison was about: “Waking up, the bus, four hours in the factory, the bus, the meal, four hours of work, the meal, sleep, and it goes like this on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday…”. Sisyphus, the Greek hero whom the gods judged to roll a stone to the top of the mountain, only to see him fall another time and rolling it again and again for the rest of his life. Camus raises the idea that our life beyond which we can’t find meaning is no less absurd than Sisyphus’ life.
We find this idea overcoming the works of the English rock band Pink Floyd, which in its works raises many questions about the meaning behind life, the human feeling of isolation, the absurdity of modern life and its pressures that can lead humans to madness.
In the mid-sixties of the last century, four British youths gathered in their twenties and formed the band they would later call Pink Floyd. The group then consisted of the two guitarists Sid Barrett and Roger Waters, the pianist Richard Wright and the drummer Nick Mason.
The squad remained under the command of Syed Barrett for three years before leaving it forever, soon after his mental state deteriorated as a result of taking psychedelic drugs. The band chose David Gilmour as a guitarist and Roger Waters took the lead of the squad. Waters was also the lead author of the lyrics and the idea behind Pink Floyd’s most famous albums: The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. Pink Floyd members have enjoyed standing in the hall of fame for several years. Many of the band albums and songs have entered the Rolling Stones lists of the best lyrical works ever.
Pink Floyd is distinguished from other bands by producing the Concept Album or Idea Album. Instead of discussing an idea through one song, the idea is taken as a primary theme for a whole album, with each song presenting one of its aspects. The band’s music was also distinguished by the inclusion of non-musical elements and sound effects in its songs to create a climate suitable for the idea presented in the lyrics.
The dark side of the moon
David Gilmour described the moment when Roger Waters came up with the idea of the album The Dark Side of the Moon, which came in 1973 to become one of the greatest albums ever. “We were sitting in the rehearsal room when Roger came up with the idea of discussing all the things that drive people crazy”. Said Gilmore.
Somehow, we can think of the album’s ten songs as soundtracks for life. The first part of the first song starts with a heartbeat, and the last part of the last song also ends with it. Between the first and the last heartbeat, the album’s songs continue to depict chapters of each of our lives. And in each section, there is an underlying question about the meaning behind all this.
The first things we did when we came to the world were breathing and crying. Since then, we never stopped breathing. So the simple biological breath act remains a foundation on which all our complex existence rests, and that is why the song Breathe came at the beginning of the album as the first song.
What after breathing? What comes after being? What about life? The song answers this question that the life of each of us is the sum of all his moments, all his experiences, sad and happy ones — the sum of all who mixed with him and knew him and everything that he saw.
“For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all your touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be.”
The song then moves to the other side of life, which is almost opposite to it and deals with it as a feverish track in which we all walk
On the one hand, all our moments and life experiences stand, and on the other hand, our frenzied race comes to the top. Every minute we spend in the race/work is necessarily a minute that we take from our lives. For Pink Floyd, the work that we do only to make a living comes as the stone that Sisyphus rolls forever without meaning.
“Run, rabbit run
Dig that hole, forget the sun
And when at last the work is done
Don’t sit down, and it’s time to dig another one.”
The song ends with the pessimistic idea that our race for money, success, fame, and glory is nothing but a race to the grave, citing in this sense the meaning behind these mortal aspirations.
“For long you live and high you fly
But only if you ride the tide
And balanced on the biggest wave
You race towards an early grave.”
Then comes the time as one of the leading causes of our existential crises in life. We, as mortals, possess only a limited amount of that dimension, and every minute that passes brings us closer to the end. And on the limited time, it follows the limitations of our choice in life, there is no eternity looming, so that we can experience all the options available at the crossroads that meet us. Therefore, on the name Time came the second song on The Dark Side of the Moon.
As a result of limited time and limited options, we face another dilemma: What can we do? Or, in a real sense: What do we choose? In the end, we ignore the results of our choices, and when we know them, it is too late to change them. Hence, it is impossible to see the end of each path we take. As a result, most of us are paralysed to choose from. Doing none affects the risk of doing the wrong thing.
Time song discusses this paralysis that may afflict us and prevent us from choosing. The song begins with the sound of clocks and alarms that knock, backgrounded by heartbeats. The clocks indicate time in its objective format, and the heartbeats represent with the time in its Self-format. Then, the song alludes a scene of a person who might be any of us wasting day after day waiting for someone or something to come to guide him. Then comes the endless result of waiting.
“Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young, and life is long, and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run; you missed the starting gun.”
When he was twenty-eight years old, Roger Waters wrote that song when he suddenly realised that he was no longer in the stage of preparing for the future when he grew up, but that he had already grown up and what was his future had become the present.
The album’s songs follow the casual pressures of a futile modern life that may eventually lead us to mental disorders or at worst insanity. The song On The Run comes with its sound effects that mimic the footsteps of a person trying to catch up with his plane, which eventually crashes, in another sign of the pressures of professional life. Then the song Money comes sarcastically modelling our lives, which has become consumption and the constant desire for more money to buy more things.
In Us and Them, the band displays the meaning behind the wars in analogy to a chess game in which pawns die for the kings.
Finally, in Brain Damage, we have reached the climax of insanity. Roger Waters lost the strength and could not resist the deterioration of the mental state of his friend, Syd Barrett, and forced him out of the squad because he was unable to work with them. Somehow we find in most albums of the group following his departure a reference to him, and that reference came in the album The Dark Side of the Moon in the song Brain damage.
The song brain damage can be viewed on two levels; on the first level, it can be seen as insanity in the literal sense. On the second level, the madness in the song can be considered a metaphor to describe every person who rebels against the rules of society. In the song, there is a reference to Psychosurgery, which was performed in the last century for psychiatric patients. Where entire parts of the frontal lobe are removed, and this results in a complete change of the patient’s personality.
“You raise the blade. You make the change
You re-arrange me ’til I’m sane
You lock the door
And throw away the key
There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”
Pink Floyd continued the production of albums and songs that address our most prominent questions in life and our psychological and existential crises in-depth that no other band has approached. So far, the album The Dark Side of the Moon remains the most important work of the band. And even after more than forty years have passed since its release, its songs can still address many of us on a deep level, as if a person patted his shoulder and said: “Do not worry, I am not completely crazy.”