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Echoes – Pink Floyd
By Michael Dalton
“Echoes” by Pink Floyd is an epic song. Back when vinyl and cassettes ruled the world, the song, clocking in at 23 minutes and 30 seconds, takes up the entire second side of an LP or tape.
Part of the Meddle album, it preceded the fame that would come with the release of The Dark Side of the Moon, which globally is the fifth highest selling album of all time.
“Echoes” is like a journey or progression in time. In the beginning there is a single note. A sonar-like piano chord echoes by itself. David Gilmour, is the first to augment the sonar sound with soft, melodic guitar.
As the other musicians join in, and as the music builds, we hear the gentle harmonizing of the lyrics. The soft vocals are unique to the band, and part of what made them so great.
The first stanza of the poetic lyrics originally referred to the meeting of two celestial bodies, but this was later changed to reflect underwater imagery. There may have been a desire to avoid the space rock label.
The lyrics point toward a shared relationship with others. In a Rolling Stone interview, bass player Roger Waters said he was trying to describe "the potential that human beings have for recognizing each other's humanity and responding to it with empathy rather than antipathy."
My favorite part of the song comes after the long build-up when the intensity reaches its peak. At that point, the song plateaus and the band experiences a dynamic synergy. Bass and drums provide a solid beat, and the organ swirls around industrial-sounding guitar improvisation that soars and reaches farther on each successive effort. The other instruments carry on and answer in reply to this extended guitar solo.
In the Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii DVD you can watch a bare-chested Gilmour put his muscle into this amazing sequence. It goes on for several minutes before the guitar begins to fade. A wind like sound is introduced followed by guitar screams, resembling a distorted whale song. If you liken the beginning of the song to Creation, this is the Crucifixion. It’s the descent into the agony of chaos and disorder. “God, where are you? Why have you left me?”
Those massive, foreboding guitar solos could only hint at what now envelopes the listener. It’s like the road to the Cross. Jesus early followers couldn’t fathom what would happen to Jesus even when told. They didn’t realize that those early skirmishes with the religious leaders would lead to the piercing of their hearts, just like the sword that would pierce Mary’s soul at the death of her son.
With the death of the high-pitched piercing sounds, new light gradually dawns. It’s like the beginning of a new day. A verse from the hymn “The Comforter Has Come” captures the feeling. “The long, long night is past; the morning breaks at last, and hushed the dreadful wail and fury of the blast, as o’er the golden hills the day advances fast! The Comforter has come!” Once again the song begins to build to usher in the last vocals before the music slowly and blissfully slips away.
This song was a big part of my early life. I don’t think I had a cassette that I played more. With a portable tape deck, I was able to take it everywhere.
It became a favorite with some of my friends. Rod and Roger would call out “Echoes” when it came time to decide what music to play as we smoked pot.
Rod became a best friend. I still remember introducing him to marijuana in my backyard when we were in Junior High School. I thought I was doing him a favor. I sure was wrong.
Rod went with me when my family took our annual houseboat vacation on Trinity Lake. We were allowed to take one friend, and Rod went two years in a row.
On one of those houseboat trips, “Echoes” saw me through one of the blackest days of my life. My memory is vague, but I can remember the aftermath of a terrible fight.
I told my parents that I had no intention of going to college, which at the time was true. Drugs had taken over my life, leaving me with no motivation or thought for the future. For my attorney dad, education and sports were everything. Saying that I wasn’t going to college was like a slap in the face, and it didn’t take much to make my dad’s Irish blood boil, especially if he had been drinking. I felt his wrath that night. It didn’t matter that other people were around.
Not going to college would seem to fulfill the prophecy given by a nun when I was only in first grade. She told my devastated parents that I would never make it to college. The best that they could hope for was trade school and driving a truck.
What prompted the whole blow-up that night was Rod’s clear desire to attend college. Ironically, to my knowledge, he never went, but I eventually did.
After that fight, Rod and I retreated from the houseboat to the adjacent hill in the cove where we were moored. I was so upset that I couldn’t even talk to Rod. I was as low as you can get.
We sat down at a picnic table surrounded by trees high on the hill overlooking the waters of the lake. Being a concerned friend, Rod proceeded to roll several joints (marijuana cigarettes) that we proceeded to smoke one by one as we began listening to “Echoes.” I didn’t even care about getting high, but I went along with what Rod was doing. He was trying to bring me back to life.
Through the first part of the song, no words passed between us. About the time that I heard David Gilmour’s soaring solos, I found my voice and my outlook began to brighten. The combination of the drug and my favorite part of the song gave me some hope.
It was quite a setting for such a powerful song. The trees stood around us like sentries pointing to the many stars above us. Tree-lined hillsides framed the calm, moonlit waters of the lake. Crickets added music of their own. In such a setting, I could momentarily forget my heartache.
Rod’s concern and loyalty shown through that darkened night. He saw that I was deeply distressed and did the only thing he knew to do.
Rod and I eventually drifted apart. After I became a Christian, I hoped that I could influence Rod to become one too. In my early and sometimes-misguided zeal, I remember being in front of a building inside the grounds of a local fair. I was handing out printed information explaining how a person can become a Christian. I saw Rod and offered him one of my flyers but he shook his head like I was crazy. I’m sure he thought that I was brainwashed.
Occasionally, over the years I would see him and say hello. Sadly, he graduated in his drug use to crystal meth. He lost his wife, his job, and the last I heard, he was in some kind of transitional house for those with drug problems.
Those who are not Christians may not understand why Christians want to share their faith. It’s a little like the story of one of the first followers of Jesus, who, after meeting Jesus, went to his friend and invited him to see for himself that this man was truly the Messiah. “Come and see,” he said.
Christians want others to discover for themselves what they know in their heart of hearts to be true. We often fail in the way we go about it, but there remains a genuine desire to introduce people to Jesus. He lives and can be known. If a person just opens their heart to Him and begins to do what He said, He will make Himself known to that person.
Rod’s loyalty in one of my darkest moments reminds me of our need for Divine Companionship. Before Jesus left this world, he said to his followers, “I will not abandon you.” His going meant that he would send the Holy Spirit, who would not only be with them but in them. That’s as close as you get.
Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is part of the one God. He is the Spirit of Jesus Christ sent to guide and comfort believers with His presence. I so appreciated Rod’s concern for me, but human loyalty and comfort only goes so far. I need God through the Holy Spirit to walk with me through the highs and lows of this life. Thankfully, because of Jesus dying for our sins, the Holy Spirit is available to all who ask for Him.
I sure received my money’s worth from that “Echoes” tape. It went with me everywhere. I played it at home, in the car, in the woods, near the ocean, at the lake and once even in the middle of Sears. As much as I liked that song, its’ influence was limited. Just like the band, Pink Floyd, it’s now just part of my story.
I don’t know if Rod and I will ever connect again, but the Holy Spirit has never left me, even though I’ve grieved Him many times. The loyalty that Rod showed illustrates in a small way the far greater love and faithfulness of the God who has come along beside me. I can turn to Him for comfort on my blackest nights.
I may live with echoes of
my past, but I’m a changed person because of God’s presence in my life.