Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Poles Apart - Pink Floyd (1994) From the Album "The Division Bell"

Music can effect us in many different ways. I often listen to harder edged music- hard rock, alternative, metal, etc... music that excites and stimulates. I also have a passion for progressive music- music that makes you think, and inspires awe. In some cases, music can also provide comfort and have a soothing influence. I feel there is a place for this entire range of ideas. It's not enough to listen to music that is hard and fast all the time. To really broaden your appreciation for music in general, you also need to seek out music that is different than your "normal" preferences that still speaks to you as strongly as anything else.

Pink Floyd has always been one of those bands that can speak to me in a very profound way, even though it is practically a total opposite in terms of style to most of the music I enjoyed when I was younger. Their classic album "The Wall" was actually one of the first, if not the first albums that I really sat down and listened to end to end as something more than just background music, or as something more than just a collection of songs- it was the first album I thought of as a work of art- even though I didn't really understand it at first, and it was one I went back to and listened to over and over until I started to get the idea.

Fast forward several years, as a young adult. I had a temper, and a lot of pent up frustration at the world in general. There were times when I was nearly out of control. There were times when I would run out to my car, put on Pink Floyd's "The Division Bell" and skip ahead to track three - the song "Poles Apart" - shut the windows, lock the doors, and turn it up to eleven, and pretend the rest of the world didn't exist for a few minutes. The song is structured almost as a musical journey that sweeps you up, and takes you away.

It begins with an atmospheric section where a quiet acoustic guitar part and David Gilmour's vocals, eventually leading into a keyboard feature that maintains a similar mood. In the bridge section a bass/low keyboard counter melody asserts itself in a contrasting time signature, and as it becomes the focus, another layer of keyboard "circus music" comes in, transforming the piece into a completely different, darker musical place. The main musical idea reenters after the bridge at a slightly faster tempo with a stronger drum presence, almost as if signifying a triumphant breakout from the more "troubled" section into clearer pastures ahead. After the final verse, a long bluesy guitar solo rounds out the song, and fades out.

At the end of this musical journey, I always feel more centered, calm, and relaxed. I was recharged, and ready to face whatever was bothering me. The song, when enjoyed at maximum volume, was more effective than any overpaid therapist could ever hope to offer. Something about the song just makes you feel like someone else out there feels alone, or afraid, or frustrated to the point of collapse- and that they know how you feel. The structure of the song as a "journey" of sorts captures your attention with this sense of understanding, then takes you through that "dark place" and out the other side. It is almost tailor made as a relaxation tool.

I only recently delved into the lyrics themselves, although they seemed to work with the musical journey concept, they actually have little to do with anything of the sort. A little research revealed that Gilmour's lyrics are actually meant to be his words to two former band members- the first verse is supposedly directed at Syd Barrett, who left the band after his behavior became increasingly erratic, possibly due to a combination of mental illness and drug use.

Did you know...it was all going to go so wrong for you
And did you see it was all going to be so right for me
Why did we tell you then
You were always the golden boy then
And that you'd never lose that light in your eyes

The second verse is supposedly direct at Roger Waters, who left the band due to creative differences, and personal conflicts. Waters had almost complete creative control, and may have even actively prevented other members of the band from contributing material to his last Pink Floyd album "The Final Cut".

Hey you...did you ever realize what you'd become
And did you see that it wasn't only me you were running from
Did you know all the time but it never bothered you anyway
Leading the blind while I stared out the steel in your eyes

The final verse is a little more obscure, it seems to refer to fond memories, possibly of either Barrett, or Waters, or even both. Some fans theorize that the last stanza is directed at Barrett- who was also the subject of the song "Wish You Were Here" - others think it is directed at both Barrett and Waters at the same time.

The rain fell slow, down on all the roofs of uncertainty
I thought of you and the years and all the sadness fell away from me
And did you know...
I never thought that you'd lose the light in your eyes

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