Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Wizard of Oz (Pink Floyd version)

The Wizard of Oz (Pink Floyd version)
seen @ "Brew & View Movie Mondays" @ Hiro Ballroom, Maritime Hotel, New York NY

My first exposure to Pink Floyd, as I'm sure was the case for many people, was the song "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)." I remember there was a day camp I went to as a child in which some kids sung a version that mocked one of the head counselors. In high school, I got heavily into classic rock and naturally, Floyd was among the many bands I got deeply immersed into, though some of my friends were more into them than others. Of course, I saw the film The Wall during this period, and it freaked the hell out of me like it does for many people who see it for the first time. I'm not sure, but in college I think I went to one of those laser light shows that they used to do at the Planetarium, set to Floyd or other classic rock bands.

If I had to explain Floyd's initial appeal to me, I'd say that for one thing, their music was so unlike anything on the radio (and I grew up as a total Top 40 junkie): atmospheric, moody, and bleak, yet emotional and edgy, with virtuoso guitar riffs and haunting melodies. It's not always the kind of music one can rock out to, but it's artistic and highly refined, and attempts to say things about the human condition.

The first Floyd album I bought, sadly, was not Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall, but the post-Roger Waters 80s album The Delicate Sound of Thunder (which I still have). It's not bad, in and of itself: "Dogs of War" is a fierce cut, and if "Learning to Fly" was a radio-friendly ditty, complete with a video (I was also heavily into MTV back when they still played videos), well, to my way of thinking, there are worse sins. I didn't grow up listening to bands like Floyd when they were at their peak, so I can't help it if my view of them is a bit skewed to purists.

I do remember when Waters performed the entirety of the Wall album at the site of the demolished Berlin Wall in Germany, with an all-star band backing him. It was broadcast live on radio stations worldwide, including New York's old WNEW-FM, my station of choice during my high school years, so I was able to tape record the concert. (Wish I still had that!) This was back when rock really meant something, even though it wasn't that long ago. Linking a concert of this magnitude with a major event in world history seemed like the kind of thing only rock and roll could be audacious enough to pull off. 

That's how much rock meant to me and my friends, and I suspect, to others of my generation. Sure, we may not have been around for Woodstock or Monterrey or Altamont; we may not have taken LSD or protested Vietnam or fought for civil rights, but listening to that music, particularly on radio stations like WNEW, which had a reverence for it and felt duty-bound to keep its spirit alive, we understood its importance and we made our own connection to it. Some of us picked up guitars, or in my case a keyboard, and made a go at being musicians ourselves. Some of us appropriated the fashions of the generation before us. I had a few friends in high school who fancied themselves neo-hippies. As visual artists, some of us even applied that aesthetic to our work. 

But it always came back to the music - and not just the old stuff, either. Guns 'n' Roses, more than any other band from the 80s, pushed that spirit forward into the next generation - and later on, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and the grunge movement expanded it outward in a new direction. But that's another post.

I don't recall when or where I first heard about the notion that Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon LP could be played in sync to The Wizard of Oz. It might have been in college; I'm not sure. It was an idea that always interested me, though, and it was one of those things I figured I'd try one of these days. Well, wouldn't you know it, the opportunity finally came on Monday night. A local nightclub in the city called the Hiro Ballroom is currently hosting a free movie series of rock-themed movies. Most of them are the usual suspects (Purple Rain, Tommy, Streets of Fire, etc.), but it was the Oz/Floyd combo, sometimes referred to as "The Dark Side of Oz" or "The Dark Side of the Rainbow," that stood out for me.

Located in Chelsea, the Hiro is, as its name would suggest, a Japanese-themed club. Paper lanterns and Japanese calligraphy decorates the spacious room. The central dance floor has a disco ball hovering above it and constantly-moving spotlights flashing in all directions. The bar is to the far left as you enter, and dining booths are at the opposite end. Rows of cushioned benches were set up on the dance floor facing the screen for the occasion. The club's most bizarre feature, however, is what appears to be a dragon's head above the wall where the screen was set up, shrouded in darkness with red glowing eyes and periodically shooting bursts of dry ice into the air.

The crowd was smallish at the outset but grew as the show progressed. I took a bench in the rear of the dance floor area in a central position. The menu offered snacks with rock-themed names, like "Rockcorn" and "Lemmy Sliders" (as in Motorhead's lead singer). I had "Chocolate Chip UFOs," which were small (maybe a bit larger than a silver dollar) but fat and freshly baked. I had already eaten prior to coming there and hadn't planned on getting anything else, but I figured what the heck.

My impression is that this Oz/Floyd synchronicity idea may be overrated. Now I don't know the names of every Floyd song on the Dark Side album, so you'll have to bear with me. At first, I could see some parallels: when Dorothy is trapped in her house as the cyclone carries her up, there's a section on the album with a woman's voice wailing, and that goes together kinda nicely. When Dorothy opens the door onto Oz, that's approximately when the song "Money" kicks in. When she meets the Scarecrow, he appears to dance to "Brain Damage."

After awhile, though, the parallels didn't seem as obvious to me. I don't know if this is how it's supposed to be done or not, but when they're in Oz, sometime around the time the Wicked Witch of the West skywrites "Surrender Dorothy," the DJ brought the music back to "Money" again, which I thought was odd. Eventually I stopped paying attention to whether there was any synchronicity or not, except at the end when Dorothy's back in Kansas and the lyric "Home, home again" popped up. While it was fun to watch Oz this way, I think the Floyd parallels are questionable on the whole. But then, maybe I needed to watch it stoned!

While I'm on the subject, I may as well say a few things about Oz as well. The plot holes have been discussed at length elsewhere, to the point where it's difficult to watch the actual movie without thinking of them. What it comes down to is that Glinda is a poorly-written character with highly-questionable motivations, and Plot-Induced Stupidity abounds almost everywhere. But of course, with a movie as charming and fun as Oz, one's tendency is to overlook such things.

The scene where they walk down the long hallway and finally meet the Wizard always freaked me out as a kid - not so much the actual meeting as the build-up to it. Something about the combination of the hallway, the scary music, and of course the Lion's own reaction filled me with a sense of dread that I'm always reminded of whenever I see Oz.

And then there's Judy Garland. Even with Pink Floyd playing over the original audio track, it's next to impossible not to hear her singing "Over the Rainbow" in one's mind. (Indeed, that was true for a lot of the songs in the movie.) Much has been written about her tragic life, but seeing her here, we're reminded of what an exquisite talent she was - a beautiful young woman with a heavenly singing voice, acting her heart out in her most iconic role.


  1. The Hiro Ballroom sounds like something out of Big Trouble In Little China!

    Recently at a small house party I was slightly buzzed, but not very. Wizard of Oz was on, muted and a computer was playing a very random playlist with rap, reggae, rock, poprock, and salsa music on it. Somehow no matter what song it was, the movie lined up in some strange way.

  2. Or maybe it seemed that way. You were buzzed, after all.


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