Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Sunday, January 5, 2014


By Tom Stoppard. Just listened to it last night. It's going to be very difficult to describe it--in particular to relate just how good it is. Because it is. It may take a few posts.

Think about how you can coordinate The Wizard of Oz with The Dark Side of the Moon.

Now imagine that Tom Stoppard (Tom Stoppard) has written a play interwoven with The Dark Side of the Moon. Deliberately.

(Have you bought it on amazon yet? I hope you will by the end of this.)

Stoppard is clearly a very profound Floyd fan. He uses Syd Barrett in Rock 'n' Roll, the most recent play of his I've seen, where he is The Piper.

Here, I think, Syd (who is not, and is, on the album itself) is The Juggler. The first song Syd recorded after he left Pink Floyd was “Clowns and Jugglers.” And no doubt he is a Trickster.

It's how the play ends--wondering where he is. The madness on The Dark Side of the Moon is so…serious, unwhimsical. Yet he is woven into it…somewhere…into its sense of play and its feeling of danger and beauty. And yearning: where is he, where is the Trickster when we need him?

(Which is of course what Waters, Gilmour, Mason and Wright are also all thinking as they record the album itself.)

(And what we are thinking if, dear reader, you have attuned to my way of thinking ecologically…of which more in a moment…)

And its feeling of suspension--it's all hypothetical, this play and the album, it's all a thought experiment, of the most serious kind. Serious play. Which is also the utopian feeling of music, and of pop.

This gives you an idea of how the whole play works. Words, characters, actions are given--styles of pretense (how do you know whether it's pretense or not?)--for beloved, oft-played lines of music and lyric on the album. As if musical phrases, songs and riffs were people.

Or as if the characters were suffused with the lived, felt resonances of their styles of being. Which is how things can go mad and Dionysian with too much-ness.

And the way radio is a voice in your head, and a signal from outside your head. It's a radio play.

And the way thoughts in your head are people (I've been on about this for a while.) And the way people are not just how you think they are. (And so on, to OOO and ecology…)

And the way the play functions, with its many meta-levels, and the album, with its implicit levels, so simply and skillfully evoked by the use of the voices (responding to Roger Waters's cue cards). This use of the meta never departing from a powerful sincerity yet providing a feeling of being able to escape, to jump, to dissolve fixations into emptiness, and bring them back.

The way drama is a projection of the chorus (Nietzsche, who shows up in this). The characters are the holograms projected by the R2D2 of the music itself. Revitalizing the idea of melodrama, dismissed as kitsch. Music in the play is never simply accompaniment.

It's one of those rather wonderful Stoppardian chiasmuses. Drama >> music and music >> drama. Philosophy and music. Sincerity and irony.

It's a weird way of making the unspeakable (music, the space cadet glow of listening to this music, and so on) strangely explicit. It feels in part like a homage to the album, a playwright's loving way of making the same thing, by tracing it, as one would trace an inscription on a wall with one's finger.

But it is also a very compelling dramatization of the thoughts that are implicit in the album, as if philosophies, religion, art, politics (and on and on) were jostling and competing. It's as if it is already there, in the album itself.

It is an interpretation, by a genius. High fidelity. A weird very serious comedy, comedy in the highest sense of the word. It makes you realize how drama is the highest form and how comedy is its highest mode.

(And strangely Stoppard and I had the same idea. Pink Floyd + ecology: see this talk.)

A very peculiar logic of the supplement is in effect--enhancing something intrinsic, yet adding and embellishing. Or purely adding without embellishment. It brings new meaning to the notion of melodrama. And to the deep connection between drama and music. And (as I said up there) philosophy and music.

The overall effect? It's like you are listening to the album for the first time, all your memories of having heard it thousands and thousands of times stripped away. The play is like sandpaper, stripping the album back to its freshness--weird in the sense that this is an album that above all others traffics in truisms.

It's like the way we re-master classic 70s rock. But now re-mastering via drama, not Dolby surround.

Its like the first time you heard it--for me as an early adolescent, thinking “This is the most important thing that's ever happened to me on audio” as I devoured it, or it devoured me, with headphones and my Sanyo walkman. The sense of urgency and the sense of danger.

And all the time, an ecological theme keeps leaking through, as one finds when one listens to the Floyd over and over--because this is a play that, like global warming has done since 1972, makes that theme of the psychedelic 60s and early 70s explicit, so you can hear it.

Two incredible moments: the sense of being in a  strip club at the end of the world, and so much more, as Clare Torry starts to do her thing on “The Great Gig in the Sky.” And the way we somehow end up walking into a country church on a sunlit morning and wow, who is there on the organ--it's Rick Wright and he's playing “Us and Them.” That part made me cry, both as a true statement about the emotional core of the album, and as an elegy to the departed Wright, and as the heart of the play's exploration of ethical relations.

And all the way through, that theme: how we dispose ourselves towards one another. And maybe one another is not just human.

1 comment:

Nick Guetti said...

I will definitely download Dark Side at some point. This was also the first time I ever heard your Floyd Ecology talk: probably your greatest breakthrough in making OOO accessible to date.