Thursday, January 25, 2018

And I Am Not Frightened of Dying

Jay and the Americans, aside from being a memoir, is a survey of rock music through the 60s, 70s and 80s. AM is a history lesson of sorts, but music in Jay is like a soundtrack to many of our lives. The 60s were my penultimate informative years; second best only because I was little, a kid, and my tastes lent themselves more to the Monkees than the Beatles, to the Partridge Family more than King Crimson. Instead, I was lucky enough to have an influential older brother who pointed my path away from Bobby Vinton and toward psychedelia.

It was in the 70s, though, and in my teen years, when I came into my own, when music was no longer second-hand smoke. The most influential LPs for me were Close to the Edge, Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Trilogy, and Houses of the Holy, though nothing compared with Dark Side of the Moon, even Sgt. Pepper. I wrote a post recently on when I first heard DSOTM. It prattles on about "The Great Gig in the Sky" and my personal connection to the LP, similar to the way Jay muses on music in the novel. But DSOTM is more than just incidental music; more than just a soundtrack to my exploits. It's an LP that I have explored on a myriad of levels, deconstructing the music and the lyrics, putting them back together again, listening for flaws and deciphering the goings on. Today I thought I'd tackle the ephemeral voices, which were an afterthought and the last piece in the LP's fabrication.

The seemingly random voices on Dark Side were, instead, well-orchestrated components of the LP set into place by Roger Waters and engineer, Alan Parsons. The voice overs (or unders) were off the cuff responses to a series of questions listed on index cards, in sequence, without an expected reply. The questions ran the gamut from sanity, greed, violence, favorite color or food, and death. Interviewed participants were chosen for various reasons, such as availability, personalities, accents, perspectives and other qualities, but mostly they were chosen at random. Paul and Linda McCartney were in studio 3 at Abbey Road for the Band on the Run sessions. To Waters and Parsons, their responses seemed canned and less than spontaneous. That was not the case for Wings guitarist, Henry McCullough.

Of the voices, Waters stated, "People often ask me about the voices on Dark Side. I was trying to gather audio snippets to mix into segues on Dark Side. Rather than interviewing people I came up with the idea of writing a series of questions on cards. The cards would be in a stack on a conductors stand in front of a mike. We would scour Abbey Road Studios for willing guinea pigs, bring them to the studio, sit them down, roll tape and then ask them to respond to each card in order.

“As I recall, the first card was something irrelevant and innocuous, like 'What's your favourite colour?' and the last was the more enigmatic 'What do you think of The Dark Side Of The Moon?' I can't remember the ones in between, except for: Are you afraid of dying? When were you last violent? Were you in the right? Do you ever think you’re going mad? If so why? End of Story.”

The utilized voices were (I have yet to put them in order, forgive me):

1. Gerry O'Driscoll, the doorman at Abbey Road Studios, has the most distinguishable soliloquies with "There is no dark side in the moon, really. Matter of fact it's all dark. The only thing that makes it look light is the Sun." The voice appears on the track "Eclipse" as does an unintentional orchestral snippet of the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride" which was playing in the background at Abbey Road.
2. The voiceunder for "Us and Them" was a response to the question, "When was the last time you were violent," to which Roger "The Hat" Manifold replied, "I'm not gonna kill ya, so like if ya give 'em a quick, short, sharp shock, they don't do it again, dig it. I mean he got off light cause I could have give him a thrashing, I only hit him's the only difference of right and wrong, isn't it.... I mean, good manners don't cost nothing do they?" He was also quoted as saying, "If I participate in this fucking effort I hope I'm going to get my gold disc at the end of it.” Most of his statements were edited out.
3. For the question, "Does death frighten you?", Gerry O’Driscoll responds with, "And I am not frightened of dying. Any time will do, I don't mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There's no reason for it – you've got to go sometime." The quote appears at the beginning of "The Great Gig in the Sky" as well as a very faint whisper, Puddie Watts (wife of road manager, Peter Watts, who in turn is Naomi Watts' father) says, "I never said I was frightened of dying."

4. There is extended banter at the end of "Money" that includes Henry McCullough (of Wings), Gerry O’Driscoll and Puddie Watts: "HuHuh! I was in the right!" (Unknown)/ "Yes, absolutely in the right!" (Unknown)/ "I certainly was in the right!" (Henry McCullough)/ "You was definitely in the right. (O’Driscoll)/ “That geezer was cruising for a bruising!" (Watts)/ "Yeah!" (Unknown)/ "Why does anyone do anything?" (Unknown)/ "I don't know, I was really drunk at the time!" (Henry McCollough)/ "I was just telling him, he couldn't get into number two. He was asking why he wasn't coming up on freely, after I was yelling and screaming and telling him why he wasn't coming up on freely. It came as a heavy blow, but we sorted the matter out" (Gerry O’Driscoll).
5. During the running sequence early in the LP, Roger Maniforld says, "I once reached a stage in my life where I was completely convinced that I'd gone over the brink, or that's what I cared to call it!" It is less prominent and most listeners overlook it.

6. For the question, “Do you think you’re going mad?", Chris Adamson, a Floyd roadie says, "I've been mad for fucking years. Absolutely years. (Word unintelligible), over the edge. Working with bands, Ah, cirque!" Gerry O’Driscoll adds, "I've always been mad, I know I've been mad, like most of us are. Very hard to explain why you are mad, even if you are not mad."
7. Of course, there is unknown laughter throughout the LP, but the most predominant was of Peter Watts, who also provided the screaming as the LP fades in.

To me, the snippets and the sketchy history of the event are part and parcel of rock music's history. It's a difficult task to put together all of the pieces, but a whole lot of fun. If you have more to add or corrections, email me.