With impeccable timing, Syd Barrett appeared at Abbey Road studios in the spring of 1975 after seven years in a sanatorium. His old bandmates were adding the finishing touches to "Shine On, You Crazy Diamond" -- a tribute to Barrett's drug-enhanced schizophrenia and the lengthy centerpiece of Wish You Were Here. Ironically, the members of Pink Floyd barely recognized their former frontman and couldn't wait for him to leave. Grossly overweight, bald and dressed in a dirty white trenchcoat, Barrett spoke little more than gibberish that day. He just grinned madly and strummed a guitar without strings.
Meet synchronicity, in all of its ragged glory. Famed Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung coined the heady term during his own bout with mental illness in 1913, describing it as the occurrence of "two events that are not linked by cause and effect" but still related as "meaningful coincidences"; a good example of Jung's theory in action would be when a person dreams about a loved one at the precise moment that the loved one dies.
Fortunately, folks don't have to wait for personal crisis or a straitjacket to experience synchronicity. By cueing up 1973's Dark Side of the Moon as an alternative soundtrack to MGM's 1939 musical The Wizard of Oz, any Dick or Jane can hurtle through time and space in the controlled environment of his or her own living room. (Creepy prog rock, it would seem, can bring out the best in a flying monkey.)
Though the exact origins of the "Pink Oz" myth remain unknown, the phenomenon came into the mainstream five years ago when a Boston-based radio DJ resurrected an old rumor that scores of astounding parallels present themselves when the two works are properly aligned. Scads of homegrown Web sites now play cosmic oneupsmanship with each other by offering set-up instructions and "definitive lists" of all the connections between the film and the album. Homemade album/ video dubs show up frequently on eBay, presumably to save people the trouble of having to sync it all up by themselves.
Ted Turner is among those who are hip to the dual-track trip. After securing the rights to Oz in 1986 (and restoring the original sepia tones to the Kansas-based sequences), the television mogul soon discovered a new niche market for the children's classic. Two years ago on Halloween, Turner Classic Movies earned its second-best overall ratings when it broadcast the film uninterrupted, with Dark Side on the Second Audio Programming (SAP) channel.
More of a cottage industry than an urban legend at this point, the Pink Oz anomaly still poses several questions worth debating. To wit: Is it possible to use one medium to release the power of another for a single coherent experience? Did Roger Waters intentionally compose the album as a synchronized soundtrack? Does it work better with Thai stick and Doritos?
The biggest obstacle facing this particular cosmic reckoning is the simple difference in running times between the two works: 43 minutes of audio versus 101 minutes of video. Period. So after the final thump of the ECG heartbeat that closes Dark Side -- and occurs at the precise moment that Dorothy has her ear to the Tin Woodsman's chest -- what, exactly, do the powers of synchronicity expect us to do next? Listen to the entire frickin' thing again? Cue up a Rush album? Kansas? Toto?
Thankfully, things get off on a good note -- provided that the music begins when the MGM lion lets out its third and final roar. (Make sure the television's volume is all the way down to prevent any Oz audio from cluttering the music.) If producer Mervyn LeRoy's credit appears on screen just as the introduction to Dark Side ends (climaxing with a woman's caterwaul) and "Breathe" begins, well, sync stud, you're in for one fun, psychedelic cyclone ride.
Even a cynic won't argue with the fact that any good soundtrack, intentionally or otherwise, provides bridges between scenes and lends continuity to the story unfolding on screen. Not only do the slow, fluid stylings of Dark Side sync up with the dreamlike visuals of Oz -- lap-steel effects accent drifting clouds effortlessly, for example -- but nearly all of the song transitions match up with major scene transitions. Waters's vague but evocative lyrics comment on the screen action with alarming frequency, too. Picture Dorothy, suitcase in hand, on the lam with Toto as David Gilmour sings "No one told you when to run" ("Time"). Imagine Professor Marvel at his crystal ball, urging Dorothy to return to Auntie Em as "Home, home again" is sung ("Breathe Reprise").
Certainly Floyd fans, progressive and experimental in their own right, are more likely to search out lyrical and symbolic connections than are skeptics. There are plenty of instances where the audio components hardly match up to the pictures at all. Dark Side and Oz share inherent thematic qualities; for one, they're both journeys of discovery into fantasy worlds gone out of control. The Pink Oz experiment makes it possible to experience two familiar works of art in new ways. In other words, a viewer need not force serendipity into a headlock like a drunk munchkin. It's better to kick back and enjoy the show.
In terms of mood and timing, one of the best sustained and consistent overlaps between the album and the film comes during the dark and wild tornado sequence. Dorothy fights for her life to the improvised vocals of Clare Torry, who wails away in breathtaking harmony on "Great Gig in the Sky." In the background, Jerry Driscoll, a doorman at Abbey Road studios, can be heard saying "I'm not afraid of dying" as the funnel cloud draws near the farmhouse in Kansas. (Apparently, Waters was keen on giving spontaneous word-association tests to roadies and friends, then combining their taped responses randomly with unrelated soundtracks, one of William Burroughs's old parlor tricks.)
After spinning and spinning, the farmhouse finally lands like a butterfly with sore feet. Dorothy takes guarded steps down the hall, reaches for the doorknob, pulls it open and -- ka-ching!-- discovers she's made a one-way trip to a fabled place "over the rainbow" (itself an English euphemism for losing one's mind). As we see our first panoramic sweep of Oz, cash registers ring, receipts tear and coins drop: On the Dark Side of the Moon, "Money" ushers in MGM's insanely expensive transition from black and white to dazzling Technicolor. For a weird-ass crack in time and space, a fan of synchronicity couldn't ask for more.
But there's probably no earthly reason why any of this is happening. Why did Lincoln get shot in Ford's Theatre and Kennedy get shot in a Ford Lincoln? Why did Jack Haley (the actor who played the tin woodsman) die of a heart attack? Perhaps good art naturally creates its own synchronicities.
Pink Floyd insists that Dark Side was just another album, developed on the road from unstructured jams performed in the ruins of Pompeii. The players surely had grand spectacles on their minds, but so did a lot conceptual musicians in the early '70s. The fact that they became gazillionaires by recording a song called "Money" is hilarious on its own terms: Waters lamented that the song was misinterpreted as a capitalist rallying cry rather than a commentary on wealth's toxic effects. Pink Floyd was never the same after the monstrous success of Dark Side, the band's last amicable effort. "It was no longer a group," Waters has said. "It was just a marketing exercise that had nothing to do with music." (It's estimated that one in every fourteen people in the United States under the age of fifty owns a copy of the album, placing it third behind Garth Brooks's No Fences and The Beatles 1967-1970.)
With a hefty reputation for combining sight and sound, the band was inventive enough in 1973 to have attempted something as ridiculous as rescoring Oz. But for a band that had thrived on long, spontaneous, open-ended slabs of psychedelia up to that point, there couldn't have been a more convoluted way to make an album. Waters has never confirmed or denied any intent, while engineer Alan Parsons has pointed out that VHS hadn't yet come along at the time of Dark Side's release and that there was no way to play videotapes at the soundboard.
"It's absolute nonsense," drummer Nick Mason once told a reporter. "It had nothing to do with The Wizard of Oz. It was all based on The Sound of Music."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.