Thursday, December 13, 2018

Us and Them: The Poetry Within the Music

Pink Floyd is known for their enthralling and poetic lyrics and psychedelic music. As an extremely progressive rock band from London, they topped charts internationally and were inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Their concept album Dark Side of the Moon, conveys the disunity and fragmentation of society and analyzes human nature.

According to Laurence Perrine, poetry should broaden or deepen the reader's experience by allowing one to be present in the poem. Not necessarily moral nor beautiful, it gives us glimpses into realities we can't even dream of.

Pink Floyd's song, "Us and Them" from Dark Side of the Moon does exactly that. On the surface, it seems to simply be about the cruelty and futility of war. If we look closer, we see that war is used as an extended metaphor for society's dictators.

Us and them
And after all we're only ordinary men
Me and you
God only knows it's not what we would choose to do

The first lyrics in the song establish the us vs. them mentality in war. It is simply a matter of the "other" and a way that we justify the murder of other human beings, or "ordinary men". On a deeper level, it reflects the human experience that we are always comparing and pitting ourselves against someone else in our lives. We dissociate ourselves from this "other" when we're really in the same boat trying to live through life. Overall, this extended metaphor illustrates the self-centered mentality that most of us have.

The song later explores the powerlessness people have over their own lives.

And the general sat
And the lines on the map moved from side to side
Black and blue

The imagery of the general sending men to fight while not suffering the consequences himself puts the reader in the shoes of the common man. The reader can feel the anger and frustration with the general, especially when we see him moving miniature figurines on a map in place of human life. On a level deeper than war, one deepens the experience of feeling powerless - whether that be in the battlefield, the workplace, or in any other hierarchical situation. The use of "black and blue" conveys the battering and sickening experience of being at the mercy of a society-deemed important figure. In reality, it's one man determining the fate of thousands. One merely has to glance at our current political saga to see the real life applications.

Finally, Pink Floyd's references to those in poverty and the seemingly indifference of the person in power that follows exemplifies the speaker's disgust of inequality.

Down and out
It can't be helped but there's a lot of it about

"Down and out" refer to those in society who are destitute. The nonchalant tone in the following line that basically says, "Well, whatever!" to society's neglect of its citizens, its human beings, is angering and disgusting. Just these two lines convey the experience of neglect, desolation, and indifference.

We can either look to ourselves to change our faults or we can choose to ignore them and blame them on human nature.

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