Dark Side of the Rainbow

To start, you turn on the movie “The Wizard of Oz”, turn the volume down, and wait for the the MGM lion to roar (some say you wait for the third roar). At that point, you fire up Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album and keep the audio on. From there, you sit back and watch as the music from that album plays in snyc with the scenes from “Oz”. It is uncanny. Like many things that combine marijuana, Pink Floyd and some unrelated movie or album, it started as an urban legend back in the 1990s – watch “Oz” while listening to “Dark Side of the Moon” and smokin’ a doobie – but really seemed to take hold in the late 1990s when an article authored by a then 19 year old Charlie Savage started to make the rounds on this new thing called ‘The Internet’.

Like other band members have done consistently over the years, Waters denied that Pink Floyd intentionally structured its 1973 album to align with the 1939 film. (As Alan Parsons, the recording engineer who helped create “The Dark Side of the Moon,” pointed out in a 2020 interview, “We didn’t have VCRs back then.”) Waters described it as more of a “cosmic coincidence.” Then he launched into a story he had heard about a cop in Louisiana who, out on patrol one night, pulled over a tour bus for weaving. Penetrating its smoky interior, he discovered none other than Willie Nelson in the back, listening to “Dark Side” while watching “Oz.”

“I don’t believe it for a minute,” Waters said, “but I like the story.”

“Yeah, I don’t even want to investigate that — I want it to be true,” Rogan replied. (Journalistic principle compelled me to email Nelson’s publicist, who wrote back four minutes later to say, “It doesn’t sound true.”)

Rogan went on: “I’ve watched ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ listening to ‘The Dark Side of the Moon,’ while high on marijuana. And if it’s not on purpose, it is a cosmic coincidence because it’s kind of amazing. It’s kind of amazing how it just flows.”

I happened to stumble across a reference to this exchange online, but there was little chance it would escape my attention for long. That’s because I have a strange connection to the phenomenon: Nearly three decades ago, I wrote the first article about it when I was a summer intern at The Journal Gazette in my hometown, Fort Wayne, Ind. In recent months, as various music magazines and websites have been putting together packages about “The Dark Side of the Moon” in honor of its 50th anniversary, I have received a surge in interview requests about this article I wrote when I was 19, which has become an absurd footnote to my career as a national-security and legal journalist.

The link has been a recurring intrusion into my thoughts for years. Alerts I set up to deliver email to my inbox when someone writes about one of my New York Times articles also bring word of new references to that old Journal Gazette piece. And if those fail, friends and family text or email me whenever they see it mentioned in the wild. Every year or so, another co-worker stopping by my desk or a government source I’m meeting for a drink brings it up with a chuckle. At some point, somebody stuck the fact into a brief Wikipedia entry about me, and since then whenever I give a talk about something like surveillance or drone strikes or presidential power, people introducing me have often mentioned it — much to the audience’s amusement.

I didn’t come up with the idea of pairing these two works. I’m not the inventor of “The Dark Side of the Rainbow.” But in a strange sort of accident, I played a key early role in its becoming a cultural phenomenon. Before my article, “The Dark Side of the Rainbow” was just a word-of-mouth thing on an early internet message board. Hardly anyone knew about it, and those who did had no idea who came up with the idea or where it started.

Charlie Savage, The NY Times

There are many urban legends like this out there related to Pink Floyd, The Beatles and other bands. While none of these ‘collaborations’ appear to be intentional, it is yet another example of how creative people can get when they have some time, some music, some movies and a doobie.