Writer in Residence

Eclipsed by the Source

By Peter Counter

“It’s not all dark.” - Roger Waters, “Eclipse”

They say the original is always better. In our era of reboots and revivals, when adaptations or sequels fail to capture the scope of their source material, we accept disappointment as inevitable. Our culture is one that demands improvement and gains, even in entertainment where it ought to be impossible. There can never be enough Niles in the new Fraiser, enough Egon in the new Ghostbusters, enough bendy guitar notes on the new Pink Floyd album. And I suspect that’s why the general feeling toward The Dark Side of the Moon Redux is disappointment.

A nearly complete solar eclipse.

(photo by Matt Nelson, via Unsplash)

For this year’s 50th anniversary of the seminal progressive rock album The Dark Side of the Moon, former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters re-recorded all nine original tracks. Released earlier this month, his Redux is slower, gentler, and pensive. Gone are the saxophone solos on “Us and Them.” The iconic vocal solo on “Great Gig in the Sky” is not replicated either. And, most controversially, the small snippets of found audio that peppered the original—people commenting on the album’s big existential themes like money and death—have been replaced by a single voice: Waters himself monologuing through the whole record.

“Let the music do the talking” is the main takeaway from the largely negative reviews painted across the classic rock corners of the internet. It’s a sentiment that echoes Pink Floyd fans’ frustration with Waters’ refusal to simply perform the past. An anti-fascist provocateur, Waters is clearly motivated by the politics of the present, and as populist authoritarian movements infect many of his fans with loser ideology, he is choosing to leave less up to their interpretation. When he interrupts his live shows to read from his memoir, one gets the impression that he wants people to walk out. Alienation is the goal, shattering the illusion that he is the person he used to be.

By refusing to become a nostalgia act, Roger Waters’ art has become self-criticism. The new Dark Side is a distilled version of this. “The memories of a man in his old age are the deeds of a man in his prime,” he says on the first track, “Speak to Me,” quoting the even older Floyd tune “Free Four” and setting the stage for the remaining 47 minutes of the new album. We are reflecting, not rebooting. Redux is not here to replace. Redux is here to critique. The album comes across as a musical personal essay, as the author engages with the original themes of war, greed, madness, and death.

A pyramid-shaped prism.

(photo by Michael Dziedzic, via Unsplash)

Criticism is a derivative form of art. It depends on a separate source text, on which it can build its substance. This quality is shared by sequels, reboots, spin-offs, adaptations. The HBO television retelling of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Lana Wachowski’s fourth Matrix film, the recently concluded Halloween trilogy from David Gordon Green and Danny McBride—they all depend on an original predecessor that their very existence serves to critique. The Station Eleven miniseries transplants the inciting crisis from Toronto to Chicago, Matrix: Resurrections engages with the co-opting of the series' red pill metaphor by the alt right, and the new Halloween disregards multiple sequels to offer a revisionist story on trauma. Improving on the original is impossible. Commenting on it is inevitable.

Consider Better Call Saul, the lauded television sequel to the groundbreaking crime drama Breaking Bad. Because the original is considered by some to be the greatest television show of TV’s second golden age, the praise given to the sequel was often in the vein of “This show is even better than Breaking Bad.” But there is a conundrum: Breaking Bad has existed in a world without Better Call Saul—it can stand on its own as popular art. Better Call Saul, on the other hand, requires a familiarity with its predecessor, because the most poignant moments that make it exceptional use devices like dramatic irony, foreshadowing, and cross-series motifs. When we see Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman character working at a Cinnabon in a Midwestern mall, balding in his wireframe glasses—practically cosplaying Breaking Bad antihero Walter White—we can only understand the symbolism through reflection. It’s all commentary on another show.

Better Call Saul is a major achievement in television. But it can’t be better than its predecessor. It is wholly dependant on its heritage, which it exists to critique. And that’s fine, because in art, gains are not the goal.

Media like Better Call Saul proves art that critiques can be just as powerful as the art it’s critiquing. By expanding, reframing, commenting, but never replacing, critical art meets us as an audience to show us what we already love in a new light. If you don’t like the new Dark Side of the Moon you can listen to the old Dark Side of the Moon. It’s still valid. But if we love something so much to make it iconic, and to protect it from perceived harm, then we must also love it enough to consider it in the present moment, after time’s oppressive march has beat us into new shapes. So what greater act of compassion can an artist have than to give us a new take on an old fav? To join us here and now, decades later, and reminisce. To recall a man in 1973 stating there is no dark side of the moon because it’s all dark, and then saying, no, I don’t believe that anymore.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Peter Counter is a culture critic writing about television, video games, film, music, mental illness, horror, and technology. He is the author of Be Scared of Everything: Horror Essays and his non-fiction has appeared in the WalrusAll Lit UpMotherboardArt of the TitleElectric Literature, and the anthology Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church. He lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Find more of his writing at peterbcounter.com and everythingisscary.com.