Darkside: When Philosophy Drama Pink Floyd and Madness Collide

by Bob Schwartz

Last week, the most unusual pop album ever was released. That’s an incredible overstatement, literally unbelievable, because who has listened to all those truly out-there albums and how could you possibly contrast and compare them anyway?

Okay, last week, the most philosophical unusual pop album ever was released.

Tom Stoppard, maybe the greatest of all living English-language playwrights, is a longtime Pink Floyd fan, with a special place in his heart for Syd Barrett, the disturbed creator who sparked the group, even after his untimely but unavoidable departure. You may know Stoppard most popularly for his Oscar-winning work as co-writer of Shakespeare in Love. Before and after that, his total embrace of language, philosophy, literature and the overall beautiful strangeness of people led to masterful theatre and, often, radio plays.

When the BBC wanted to mark the 40th anniversary of Dark Side of the Moon, they asked Stoppard to create one of his radio concoctions. The result is Darkside, which integrates dramatic scenes into the music of the album.

Description is futile. Stoppard has always believed that philosophy is a form of play, that you can play philosophy the way you do language and music and entertain with it. Listeners and viewers might also learn something. Here we have clever demonstrations of moral philosophy and discussion of the nature of thought itself; that is, as he keeps pointing out, what he is doing is a thought experiment—as is all creativity. He then asks us and them about the juggler on the radio: there is a juggler on the radio, but not hearing him, how do we know? Do we believe in the juggler?

What is most clear listening to Darkside is not just that Stoppard knows how to play with words and mind, but that Pink Floyd was just as agile doing the same, with the addition of some of the most memorable and popular music of all time. Dark Side of the Moon was on the Billboard 200 chart for 14 years after it was released in 1973, and still hovers near there, 40 million copies later. Thousands still buy it every week and somewhere right now someone is listening and discovering something. Stoppard has devised a valuable appreciation of the weird wonder that is Dark Side, making it just a bit more wonderful. The lunatic is still on the grass and in your head.

All that you touch
And all that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
And all that you love
And all that you hate
All you distrust
All you save
And all that you give
And all that you deal
And all that you buy
Beg, borrow or steal
And all you create
And all you destroy
And all that you do
And all that you say
And all that you eat
And everyone you meet
And all that you slight
And everyone you fight
And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that’s to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon
Eclipse, Dark Side of the Moon