Dark Side of the Rainbow?

by Christopher DeFilippis

DeFlip Side, Vol. 1, No. 4
(First Appeared: March, 1999;
First Light E-zine, Issue #79)

First off, we weren’t smoking anything.

That was the first thing my wife asked me, knowing full well that I’ve never really taken a drag of anything stronger than a cigarette, and I haven’t even had one of those in a year.

Granted, I had been up for the better part of three days, two of which revolved almost exclusively around my next mouthful of Guinness Extra Stout, Samuel Adam’s Boston Lager or (when in the mood for something lighter with which to cleanse my palate) Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap.

So when the friend of a friend brought the whole thing up, it probably sounded a little bit cooler than it ordinarily might have.

Let me provide a little bit of context. I recently drove up to Schenectady (NY) to visit my pal Eric and get “reacquainted.” As any male reader out there who’s older than twenty-five can tell you, this is really just a clever excuse we guys employ to get together and do a lot of drinking. And I don’t mean heading down to the corner pub and throwing back a few (though that’s how it inevitably begins); I’m talking college-style drinking here—binges that test the limits of your aging body and require you to muster up more stamina than a Klingon hopped up on Viagra.

So it was little wonder that Sunday morning found me sitting in Eric’s living room, feeling like something in my head had broken, thanking God that I wasn’t the one driving home and wondering if I would make it into work the following day. I wasn’t alone. The once-boisterous conversation had adopted hushed and soothing tones. Too tired to think creatively, we were retreading some of the more interesting ground we had broached while getting zonked the previous night—the topic of urban legends.

Though I’ve never seen the movie of the same title, I thought I could at least hold my own; after all, I’ve heard all the ones about high-beams thwarting the murderous impulses of the guy hiding in the back seat, the pet dog from Mexico that turned out to be a rat and (my perennial favorite) that girl in every middle-school who goes into the bathroom with nothing but a frozen hotdog and a healthy adolescent curiosity and exits on a paramedic’s stretcher, crash cart in tow.

But, as it turns out, these classics are blasé nowadays. The others wove increasingly fantastic tales, leaving my stories in the dust and leaving me feeling out of touch. But then one claim came up that I found down-right intriguing. I don’t know how long this rumor’s been floating around, but it was news to me.

Apparently, if you mute The Wizard of Oz and begin playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon at the end of the MGM Lion’s third roar, the music and movie progress in sync.

Well, the claim also caused some others to take pause and, soon enough, one guy had run back to his place to get the Floyd CD while Eric’s wife searched high and low for their daughter’s copy of the movie.

Call it genuine curiosity or call it a convenient excuse for a hung-over bunch to veg in front of the TV and listen to Floyd all afternoon, we had it all together in short order. It was time to either verify or debunk this great myth of the American social landscape. And since The Wizard of Oz is, at heart, a work of Fantasy, I thought the experiment’s results could pull double duty as fodder for this month’s column.

A word of warning: You might find this a little hard to follow if you’re unfamiliar with either the album or the movie. Hell, you might find it hard to follow even if you’re intimately acquainted with both. Personally, I never liked The Wizard of Oz, even when I was little. But bear with me; the results were somewhat interesting (and even if they weren’t, I have nothing else to write about).

For the benefit of you non-Floyd fans, Dark Side of the Moon (DSOTM from here on in) is chock-full of extraneous sound effects—heartbeats, murmured conversations, planes flying by, clocks ticking, maniacal chuckles—that combine to give the music a other-worldly texture.

The “Play” buttons are pressed simultaneously.

The union begins somewhat eerily. The heartbeat at the beginning of “Speak To Me” which ushers the listener into DSOTM lends a touch of surrealism to the black and white landscape of Dorothy’s Kansas. Even though she’s skipping happily down a dirt road with Toto, the music makes it seem as if she’s headed toward the brink of something ominous.

I find the whole thing is just a bit freaky, but this in itself proves nothing. I wait. Dorothy soon begins singing that damn song (you know the one). Here I have my first inclination that maybe there’s something to the myth.

At one point in her annoying aria, Dorothy looks up and pans her head across the sky. In the movie, I think she’s yapping about little birdies or something. But at this point DSOTM features the sound of a plane flying by. The combined effect is of Dorothy looking up and seemingly following it across the sky.

I look at Eric. He looks at me. We raise eyebrows, but both of us have the same unspoken thought: it’s just a coincidence. We’re way too cool to be suckered in this easily. So we resume watching. DSOTM winds on. Other coincidences occur which are too small and numerous to mention, except to say that the lyrics seem to accurately reference the actions of the characters on the screen.

Then the bells of “Time” sound. At that precise moment, the movie cuts to a scene of the woman who will become the Wicked Witch riding a bicycle down the road. And what do you suppose she’s doing? Ringing the bell attached to her handlebars.

Okay, I think. Increasingly weird. But I’m still not really convinced. I watch on.

The tornado hits at the same time “Great Gig in the Sky” begins. Dorothy runs into the house, gets bonked on the head with a shutter and falls senseless to her bed as the house is lifted up into the funnel cloud.

At this point, the movie relies on a series of match-dissolve shots—each a profile of Dorothy’s face at a slightly different angle—to signify that she is entering into the dream state. The chords of the piano bridge in “Great Gig” correspond exactly with the shifting images.

Again, I look at Eric. He looks back. This is getting nutty.

The house touches ground again and Dorothy walks cautiously toward the front door. The album has become suspiciously silent—until she turns the doorknob. The cash register effects at the top of “Money” begin and I get my first glimpse of the Technicolor nightmare that is Oz. Soon, 500 or so Munchkins are bopping across the screen in time to “Money’s” guitar solo. Glenda the Good Witch floats into view as if cued by the lyrics “Goody-good bullshit.” The coincidences are just too much. I’m converted.

These are but the first of a few dozen examples that follow throughout the movie. I could go on, but I’ve rambled for about 1,200 words already and I’ve barely scratched the surface. It’s uncanny. And if it is a coincidence, then I guess that roomful of 1,000 monkeys with typewriters have finally managed to get Hamlet right as well.

The very convincing visual evidence aside, I believe that the synchronization between The Wizard of Oz and DSOTM is deliberate on Pink Floyd’s part for a couple of reasons.

First off, it’s too intricate. The album only has a run-time of about 45 minutes. This means that you have to listen to it on repeat two and-a-half times to make it through the entire film. But the synchronization keeps up with only minimal adjustment, with different parts of the songs corresponding to different scenes each time they repeat.

Secondly, I think it would be just like Roger Waters and David Gilmour to do something like this. Floyd albums have always worked on several different levels. I wouldn’t be surprised if both men had been sitting back and laughing until the advent of CDs and VCRs made it possible for the rest of us to discover and share in this inside joke.

The last evidence is the album jacket itself: a prism breaking solid light into a rainbow.

As I mentioned above, this might be old news to a lot of you. After writing the bulk of this column, I went web-surfing to see if I could find any supporting evidence online; of course, the Internet kooks didn’t let me down. There are pages and pages devoted to this one subject, with far more detailed breakdowns than I’m able or willing to provide. Just plug into any search engine and you’ll be on your way.

Besides, I don’t have the time to study this any longer. A new experiment awaits. A friend of a friend has a cousin whose brother-in-law heard about a guy who claims that if you mute the film version of The Wall and start playing the classic Vince Guaraldi Trio album A Charlie Brown Christmas when the maid steps down on the vacuum-cleaner lever, Pink goes insane to the beat of “Linus and Lucy” and throws his TV out the window at the crescendo of “O Tannenbaum.”

I’ll let you know how it works out…

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