On the sacred recommendation of the head chef in my kitchen, my best friend John and I traversed the breadth of Kansas state to the hum of Pink Floyd over the radio. Being immigrants, we were unfamiliar folk to the corn-sodden great midwestern expanse. For the satisfaction of our coastal curiosities, there seemed no method more appropriate to rectify this modern problem than the all-American road-trip, though in part too carefully curated with the technological luxuries of the 21st century. We bought a paper atlas, but even the desolate Black Hills are wired.
When we left the better half of Kansas City, my phone guided us to the long west. His was plugged umbilically into the aux. There was a sort of alchemic equivalency to this that seemed only fair and natural, like Newtonian physics, or well-established inheritance law. We needed direction, so we needed a soundtrack. My chef recommended the 1973 album, so we were obliged to abide.
I’m sure you’ve heard of it already, but don’t stop me. Let me have this moment. There’s the old rumor of non-causality that if you begin The Dark Side of the Moon at the same moment as the beloved Judy Garland film classic of 1939, a synergistic effect will present itself. Tornadoes tamed by screaming and brain damage resolved with basslines. Witnessing this act of alignment is something I have never done, fully intend to do someday, and lie about constantly that I already have. It’s a hyperactively celebrated rite of passage for era-hopping tab-eaters, the point of no return down the long-melting reality screen. What a load, right? Alan Parsons would agree with me. People microdose now anyhow and over-analyze these things. It’s not lost on me that we’re in Kansas. You can imagine it, if you squint.
That’s how it goes, yeah? You’ve listened to it once, at least. It always starts with a double-take. Speak to Me came in so quiet that we had to check the cable, pulling it out a couple times and blowing in the hole like bad porn or an old Sega cart. Don’t bullshit, we all do it. The only person on this Earth who never does is my chef, and I can assure you that’s only because he spends eight hours of each six days of work hitting dislike on the shop Pandora if it queues anything out of the Peter Gabriel—Neil Diamond musical range. This man is my spiritual father. Mine did alright, but I like this one’s taste in music better. He agrees that The Chain should have been the first song on Rumors. My father does not. No contest.
Rising with the track, the low morning clouds began to leak. A storm had followed us hot from the church-crack Sturgis lightning to the sweltering and sudden outpour of Chicago that soaked our socks and pruned our toes with warm, wet moisture as we hiked down Michigan Avenue. The first screams of the album welcomed in the rain and shook it like a sieve above us.
John rose from his slouch in the half-reclined shotgun seat and stiffened upright with messy angular contractions, the opening notes of a recognizable bit. Everything is a bit. His hands scrambled for purchase, slapping the center console, the right-hand handle, the child-safety lock, the glove compartment. His eyes widened, his lips tightened, he whipped his head from left to right, methodical and out of synch with the frantic ministrations of his palms against plastic. We have known each other enough, and I have yet to determine if this is social exaggeration or if this is as genuine as his anything. The adolescent textures of Roger Waters had his full attention.
The volume of falling water increased as the last chords of Breathe faded out and the driving beat of On the Run faded in. At the two-minute swell of distortion, my mouth began to creep along the edges of my face, rising up at the corners but never breaking its concealment of my teeth. The gentle drizzle had aggregated into a perpendicular firehose. The excitement in our carpeted Corolla was palpable in expletives. The death-portent of the Synthi AKS made us feel dangerous.
Around the third minute, we exited the thundercloud with the deep force bass of an airplane impact, suddenly crashing through the wall of rain and into the open sky. We were running now along the Kansas highway with the pattering fallout footfalls of the bomb behind us. With no hope of recovery from our synchronistic amazement, the cacophonous arrival of Time sealed us into a suggestible hallucinogenic state. It could only have been psychosomatic, but does that really matter? Just listen.
Sound never really dies. It exists in the aether, all around us, and under specific circumstances, it finds itself tapped and summoned. The same could be said of decades of collective hallucination, or that thing about if you crack your spine, all the acid you’ve ever taken will bubble right back up again. Nick Mason was guiding us down like Virgil through the rings, surrounded by the laughing ghosts of long-dead psychonauts and burners, all the way through to the frozen circle, where David Gilmour’s wrinkled fist punched upwards from the depths and loomed until it burst before us like a mortar.
Of a giddy shock, John pealed. I could see the little black pockmarks of his face expanding and reddening like an acidic vision. Certainly it was only the heat and our skin opened up like beggars’ hands to the atmospheric moisture, but the fantasy was fun to indulge. We spend more time dreaming about drugs than actually doing them.
Serenaded by overlapping reverb, the highway skipped us up and down, like the steady pulses of a waveform generator, bobbing us along the amps through to the sixth minute, where each respective lambda lengthened and trough shallowed until we were deposited again on level road. The grey canvas of the sky melted behind us, and Clare Torry began to scream, welcoming the reborn sun and splitting the west before us. I could catch in John’s eyes the frightened awe of God presented in the form of endless corn. She kept us tense for perceptive hours, brandishing a vocal knife and not quite sheathing it until we touched down at the bottom of the greatest gig there ever was: four seconds of silence.
Startled by the slamming registers of Money, snipping my nerves at their split ends enough for the hair to grow again, I was bumped back into the confines of my skull. I hadn’t noticed it until I pressed a finger into each eyelid that we were slick, sweating like pigs. We had finally hit the clarity threshold of the trip non-trip. If I had learned anything of the many kitchens I have fried in, there’s always a moment like this. We’d get back shortly to the shitshow, after our milk-crate smoke break. John dabbed his tee up to his blistering forehead and carded back loose hair. He was smiling with his teeth, grimacing, bopping his chin to the wicked baseline. This was the booth at the nightclub at the bottom of Judecca. John laughs. Fucking Gilmore, what a prick.
I should say here that John isn’t the shitbag that I am. He’s a good guy. Honest. His parents built their lives to take him home from school. I was emancipated for tax purposes. There’s a particular kind of insufferable that comes of prolonged close contact, and his I could love as fondness. Likewise, he chose me on the expectation that I’d offer a measure of wisdom to his developing deadhead sensibilities. I am not nearly the chaos wizard he presumes me to be, but he doesn’t need to know that.
What he did need to know is what I’d said the day before, responding to his orgasm in the dining room of Joe’s Barbeque about two hundred and thirty-six miles behind the state line. I wish I enjoyed anything in life as much as he enjoyed everything. Good food, better music. Chair cushions, air conditioning. The honest happy relish of no exaggeration. Is it the depression or is it too many lysergic daydreams and ketamine bathrooms? Am I doomed to a Charonic fate, psychopomping all my friendships through amping crests that I will never know again myself? Fuck these contemplations of a lifetime addict: ultimately futile, all the same result. I shouldn’t care so much. We’re ordering our last shots at five minutes fifteen. We’ve got to prepare ourselves for this shit, because we’re getting back into the heat any minute now. Henry McCullough tells us he was drunk at the time.
Our thoughts dissolved in the drone of the Hammond organ and were sucked by the circulating car fans. My skull vibrated in F minor by the time the saxophone appears ahead of us on the highway, notes rising out of the distant spots of steaming asphalt, like tiny pools of water, ever out of reach. We had fallen again into a perfect silence. I was nauseous and without fear. This was a late-stage familiarity so truthful to me that I almost forgot that this was only music and that was only Kansas. In God’s country, I marveled at the power of belief.
John surrendered himself to faith. Never in his life had I seen him lose that fine and anxious edge of an arm so ramrod straight against his side that the armpit ceases to exist. He relaxed in that moment, shoulders flush and curved against the cushion of the seat, slipping down until he was playing footsie with the gum wrappers and beef jerky in the abyss. I was pleased to be ferrying this Styx, but something nagged me as I watched him melt. We coasted all the way through Any Colour You Like, soothed by solos. It was long past the peak and we’d be alright.
I didn’t put it together then, but hindsight is a bitter mistress, making an education of me always, and I know now what it was. I hope John never does drugs. I fear I’ll lose him if I put him into the business, one way or another. I’d sooner bear the burden of guilty paternal control than the exponential guilt of squandering a young man’s potential. I was just out of it enough that I kept hearing Crazy Diamond on the track and expecting a rise, but it never came. That’s the wrong album, and there was only the brilliant mirage ahead. The nearest ocean was six thousand miles away and I couldn’t say I wasn’t nervous with the thought.
John didn’t notice me grip the wheel as we rolled into minute one second sixteen, Brain Damage exploding in our ears like the bewilderment at the end of the 8 hour ride. He looked like he should be gripping the wheel instead. Chill out, man, we’re almost at the bottom. We can go to bed soon, I promise. This, I can impart without remorse. We’re the only lunatics for miles around.
We were a little more prepared for minute two second thirty. John took the drum line in, gently slapping the console to the toms, and we dove in for a last little high as we entered Eclipse, rubbing our gums with what remained on the plate. He’d gained a little experience. By the end, you always feel professional.
The last word of the name is the last word of the album. It’s poetic, and we felt smart in our silly, momentary analysis of the thing. There’s just so much more to it, probably. The Hammond coasted to a smooth finish, an extended note, and, just like that, it was done. It was over. We were silent through the last heartbeats of the album, listening to our own, looking at the corn, the sea of the fucking thing. It looked so lovely, after the rain. The American dream of what heaven must be, the sprawling sun in the wide open, golden west.
That was pretty good, wasn’t it?
We put on Rumors. There were still thousands of miles to no place like home.
Adrian Belmes is a reasonably depressed Jewish-Ukrainian poet and book artist residing currently in San Diego. He is editor in chief of Badlung Press. You can find him at adrianbelmes.com or @adrian_belmes.