The bright side of capitalism
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon.” The album is a watershed for music lovers and audiophiles as well as prompting several critical reassessments throughout the past four decades.
While the album’s themes of insanity, fame, loneliness and death remain as universal as they did four decades ago, Side Two opener “Money” has proven somewhat problematic for free-market critics such as your writer.
Over the years, however, I have reconciled my views with Pink Floyd lyricist Roger Waters’ seeming indictment of capitalism by preferring to view it as more of a condemnation of greed and conspicuous consumption.
The song ironically appears on one of the highest-selling albums of the rock era, having spent 741 consecutive weeks on the charts. According to Glenn Povey, one in seven people under the age of 50 either own or have owned a copy of the British band’s first magnum opus. Several of the group’s previous albums also fared pretty well in the marketplace upon their initial release. After the major commercial breakthrough of “DSOM,” all subsequent albums were guaranteed platinum (sales in excess of 1 million copies) status.
Add to this tremendous success the solo albums released by the band’s guitarist, David Gilmour; keyboardist Richard Wright; drummer Nick Mason; bassist and lyricist Waters; and concert tickets and merchandise sales and you have a group of guys who earned millions of dollars for their talent, ingenuity and efforts.
“Money,” a cash-cow for the band due to its lyrical content and 7/8 time signature (although Gilmour insists it was written in 7/4), was Pink Floyd’s first successful single released since the band jettisoned original group leader Roger “Syd” Barrett in 1968. The group wouldn’t enjoy bona fide chart success until after the release of the single “Another Brick in the Wall” in 1979, although their albums sold by the boxcar and enjoyed endless FM Album-Oriented-Rock airplay throughout the 1970s and beyond.
The influx of wealth after the release of “DSOM” — kicked into the stratosphere by the ubiquitous “Money” — allowed Messrs. Waters, Gilmour, Mason and Wright to live like the rock stars they aspired to be. Country estates were purchased, film investments were made and expensive motorcars were attained.
It’s too easy to charge Waters and his former band mates (the group split acrimoniously in the early 1980s over — naturally — money and creative differences, and reformed for two enormously successful albums and tours sans the bassist) with hypocrisy, however. Your writer would rather celebrate Pink Floyd’s artistic and monetary success.
“Money” acknowledges the desire to “get a good job with more pay,” and what could be more appealing to four guys who chose the rock’n’roll life? While seemingly negative, the song’s narrator tells the listener: “Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.” Nothing wrong with that, either.
Nor can I find anything to get either all Occupy Wall Street or Ayn Rand over the acquisition of a “new car, caviar, four-star daydream [fancy lodgings],” pondering the purchase of a sports team and Lear jet, the singer’s admonition to others who might purloin his wealth or his refusal to succumb to philanthropic requests. It’s your money, Pink, do with it what you will.
So far, so good, but Waters stretches a country mile when he asserts: “Money, it’s a crime. Share it fairly, but don’t take a slice of my pie.” While some critics and listeners maintain this line is a Marxist manifesto writ small (and, admittedly, there’s much in Waters’ later oeuvre to support this), it could just as easily be interpreted as a rebuke to the high taxation experienced by British musicians in the 1970s. Notably, such successful rock acts as The Rolling Stones were tax exiles during the period Waters wrote the lyrics for “DSOM.”
While Waters admonishes money as “the root of all evil today,” it’s understood that the full quote from Timothy — “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” — is pretty difficult to sing in 7/8 time. You may argue with Roger Waters, but it’s awfully hard to disagree with Timothy regardless whether you adhere to New Testament tenets.
The song’s final line — “But if you ask for a rise/It’s no surprise that they’re/Giving none away” — may or may not be intended as a jibe against the wealthy in general. At the time of “DSOM,” however, Pink Floyd was endeavoring to renegotiate its record label contract. Who at one time or another hasn’t disparaged an employer over compensation for their self-proclaimed genius?
In conclusion, when enjoying Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” this weekend to celebrate the landmark album’s 40th anniversary, it’s perfectly alright for advocates of capitalism to embrace “Money” without wincing. Perhaps you can listen whilst enjoying your new car, some caviar or, to quote a later Floyd album, a cigar.