“Great Gig in the Sky,” Formerly Known as “The Mortality Sequence”

Pink Floyd's meditation on death and dying
Dark Side of The Moon

Credit: amazon.com

According to Roger Waters, when vocalist Clare Torry walked into the studio to record the ethereal wailing on the epic instrumental track “Great Gig In the Sky,” she was told, “There’s no lyrics. It’s about dying – have a bit of a sing on that, girl.” She nailed it in two takes, cementing her place in the canon of rock history.

“Great Gig in the Sky” is the fifth track off Pink Floyd’s groundbreaking concept album “The Dark Side of the Moon,” a 42- minute and 49-second meditation on the stages of human life. The album explores themes of loneliness, greed, the passage of time, mortality, consumerism, love, mental illness and the hazards of social identity thinking. The five tracks are a luscious, layered sonic journey exploring some of the weightiest aspects of the human experience, book-ended by the sounds of synthesized heartbeat.

“Great Gig In the Sky” began as chord progression composed by Pink Floyd keyboard player Rick Wright, which the band referred to as “The Mortality Sequence” or “The Religion Song.” In the March 1998 issue of Mojo magazine, Wright spoke of his own mortality anxiety, expressed most acutely through his flight phobia. “For me, one of the pressures of being in the band was this constant fear of dying because of all the traveling we were doing in planes and on the motorways in America and in Europe,” he said.

Before the band recorded “Dark Side of The Moon,” they performed the song live as an organ instrumental accompanied by spoken word samples from the Bible and clips of religious speeches by conservative British writer Malcolm Muggeridge. By the time they went into the studio to record it in 1973, they had replaced guitar as the lead instrument with a piano. Then, after tinkering with recordings of NASA astronauts communicating on space missions, they decided to bring Clare Torry in to record vocals. I can’t imagine any words being as emotive or emotionally piercing as Torry’s velvety wailing, alternately desperate, fearful, and ecstatic over the course of a few seconds.

Pink Floyd

credit: latimes.com

The only words that ended up on “Great Gig In the Sky” are words spoken by Gerry O’Driscoll, the Abbey Road Studios janitorial “browncoat” and Patricia ‘Puddie’ Watts, the wife of Pink Floyd road manager Peter Watts. During the recording of “Dark Side of The Moon,” bassist, co-lead vocalist, and lyricist Roger Waters went around Abbey Road studios recording people’s answers to questions like, “Are you afraid of dying?” Snippets of Gerry O’Driscoll and Patricia Watt ended up making the cut. O’Driscoll is heard at the beginning of the track saying “And I am not afraid of dying. Any time will do, I don’t mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it. You’ve got to go sometime.” Later on in the track, Patricia ‘Puddie’ Watts’ says faintly, “I never said I was frightened of dying,” right before Torry’s voice comes back in with one of her more ecstatic vocal riffs. I know no other song rock song about mortality that allows for and successfully expresses such a range of feeling.

Read the full lyrics of the song “Great Gig In The Sky” here.  You can also watch a live performance of the song in the video below.

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Congress Attacks D.C. Death with Dignity Law

The House Appropriations Committee has approved a measure repealing the bill

After failing to block the enactment of a Washington, D.C. law that legalized medical aid in dying earlier this year, the House Appropriations Committee recently succeeded in attaching a measure to repeal the law to a 2018 spending bill. The amendment was introduced by Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, a Republican, who justified the measure with the statement, “We have the absolute ability to judge anything that the District of Columbia does that is bad, bad policy.”

Woman protesting repeal of D.C. Death with Dignity Act

A woman protests the measure repealing the D.C. Death with Dignity Act
Credit: usatoday.com

The full House and Senate must also vote to approve the measure before it can go to President Trump for signature. According to Compassion & Choices, Trump has gone on record as opposing the use of federal or local funds to implement the D.C. medical aid in dying law.

About the Law

The D.C. Death with Dignity Act passed the D.C. Council by a vote of 11-2 last year after a year-long period of intense debate. It was signed into law by Mayor Muriel Bowser on Dec. 20, 2016. Like Death with Dignity laws in other states, the law permits mentally competent adults who have been told by their doctor that they have six months or less to live to obtain a prescription for lethal medication. The patient can choose to self-administer the medication if his or her suffering becomes unbearable.

The D.C. Death with Dignity Act went into effect on July 17, 2017. However, like all legislation enacted in the District of Columbia, it was subject to a 30-day Congressional review period during which either the House or Senate could pass a “disapproval resolution” to repeal the law. Members of the House Appropriations Committee passed the amendment on July 13 by a vote of 24-28, mostly along party lines. Two Republicans, Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington, joined Democrats in opposing it.

Harris’ proposal is the most recent in a long list of attempts by Congress to limit the authority of the D.C. Council, which was granted limited autonomy in 1973.

Mayor Bowser strongly condemned the measure, stating,

None of the members opposing our law were elected to represent our residents. This is not a federal issue. This is a local issue. Members of Congress who are interfering with our laws must begin to realize what they are really doing: attempting to sidestep the democratic process to impose their personal beliefs on 681,000 Washingtonians.”

Inaccurate Arguments

Rep. Andy Harris standing in front of Capitol

Rep. Andy Harris, a physician, spearheaded the repeal of the D.C. law
Credit: gannet-cdn.com

When arguing before the committee in favor of the measure, Rep. Harris, who is an anesthesiologist, made a number of factually inaccurate statements, both about the D.C. law and medical aid in dying laws throughout the United States. For example, he stated that “25 percent” of patients who take advantage of medical aid in dying are clinically depressed. But he presented no statistical evidence to back up that claim. Further, he ignored the fact that all medical aid in dying laws contain safeguards to ensure that doctors screen patients for mental illness before granting their request.

Rep. Harris also claimed that people from all over the United States could come to Washington to get a “lethal injection” if the D.C. Death with Dignity Law were allowed to stand. This statement was patently untrue, since [a] anyone who wishes to take advantage of the law must be a citizen of the District of Columbia and [b] the law states that the prescription for lethal medication must be an oral drug that the patient takes himself. The law specifically prohibits lethal injection by a physician or anyone else.

Subverting the Public Will

According to the most recent Gallup poll on attitudes towards medical aid in dying, 73 percent of Americans support the notion that competent adults should have the option of ending their lives if they are terminally ill. As of September 2017, five states and the District of Columbia allow medical aid in dying, and several others are considering such legislation or attempting to decide the issue in the courts. All of these laws could come under attack if the Harris measure is allowed to proceed, potentially taking away the right to make informed end-of-life decisions from millions of Americans.

If you support medical aid in dying, we at SevenPonds urge you to call your legislators and urge them to oppose the Harris amendment repealing the D.C. Death with Dignity Act. You can find their contact information on the website GovTrack by adding your address into the search form. Or, if you prefer, you can provide feedback to your representatives by adding your name and contact information to the letter protesting the Harris amendment on the Compassion & Choices website.

If you would like to learn more about medical aid in dying, check out our interview with Sarah Hooper about the passage of the California End of Life Options Act. 

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“Death is our friend, precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love.”

- Rainer Maria Rilke

Sky and sun's rays darkened by a black cloud

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Monday Hearts for Madalene

Page Hodel creates beautiful hearts as a tribute to enduring love
handmade heart

I still have stars in my eyes

It’s an honor for SevenPonds to share with our readers the story of the Monday Hearts for Madalene project, a true account of the power of enduring love.The project began in 2005, when Page Hodel first met Madalene Rodriguez and fell “instantly, dizzyingly in love with her.” Soon afterwards, Page began leaving handmade hearts on Madalene’s doorstep every Monday.  

“To start her week with a visual reminder of our beautiful love.”

Just seven months later, Madalene was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died on June 20th, 2006. To remember her, Page continues to make a heart every Monday in celebration of her life.

To learn more about Page and the Monday Hearts for Madalene Project, please visit her website, Monday Hearts for Madalene

See more Monday Hearts for Madalene here.

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“The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

When is following orders without question valiant?

When people seek poems about soldiers valiantly facing death, they often turn to “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It’s little wonder. The poet was so moved when he received news of the battle that inspired his work, he wrote the poem in a single day. The British journal, “The Examiner,” published it a few weeks later in December, 1854.

Relief depicting the "Charge of the Light Brigade"

Credit: artuk.org

The charge that led Lord Tennyson to put pen to paper occurred during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. A small band of 670 soldiers received orders to attack a Russian cavalry of 5,240 heavily armed men.

“The Charge of the Light Brigade” probably would have been doomed even if the numbers had been more equal. The Light Brigade got its name because its soldiers carried only light weaponry like a saber or a pistol. They also had little protection. Light units were mainly used for communication, reconnaissance and skirmishes. And every soldier knew it.

As Lord Tennyson wrote in “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

“’Forward the Light Brigade!’

Was there a man dismayed?

Not though the soldier knew

Someone had blundered.

Theirs not to make reply.

Theirs not to reason why.

Theirs but to do and die.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.”

Many horses were lost in the charge of the light brigade

Credit: pinterest.com

Later, when all was said and done, it became clear that the order to charge had been a mistake. The man who carried the orders, Captain Louis Nolan, misunderstood a commander who was trying to order the Light Brigade to stay away from the battle. Nolan died during the charge. Had he lived, there were officers who said he would have faced court martial. Then again, it’s always easy to blame the dead.

The Light Brigade suffered heavy losses with 118 killed, 127 wounded and at least 60 soldiers taken prisoner. Many of the horses were also killed. In the end, only 195 teams of men and horses remained.

The British public thought the soldiers in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” showed true courage in riding to their deaths, even though they knew the order to attack was a mistake. Families who had lost loved ones in the charge were highly honored, and Hollywood has paid tribute to these soldiers in at least two films.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, author of "The Charge of the Light Brigade"

Credit: en.wikipedia.org

I have to admit to having a bit of a problem, though, both with the poem and with the event that inspired it. On the one hand, the soldiers were brave to follow orders into what they clearly knew was a massacre. On the other hand, it seems unwise to choose certain destruction over questioning poor judgment. Not challenging the command to charge was not even sound judgment from a military point of view. The armed services were badly outgunned as it was. And they could not afford to lose so many men and horses. In addition, in the 1940s, we all learned far too well the harm that can come from following orders without questioning them.

In the end, though, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is an epic poem that commemorates a point in history that we might otherwise forget. It is also a fine memorial to the soldiers that died in the charge, and one that their ancestors can appreciate.

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Announcing the 6th Annual Art of Dying Conference in NYC

Presented by the Open Center, the three-day event will be held October 13 through October 16, 2017

Banner advertising the Art of Dying ConferenceThe New York Open Center is presenting its 6th annual Art of Dying Conference in New York City from October 13 through October 16, 2017. Featuring well-known end-of-life experts such as David Kessler, Stephen Jenkinson and Henry Fersko-Weiss, the conference will focus on the scientific, spiritual and practical issues involved in living and dying well.

Sponsored in part by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and the Friedman Family Foundation, the conference explores many of the most pressing issues facing our aging and death-averse society. Discussions will focus on a number of questions, including:

  • How can we work more compassionately and intelligently with the dying?
  • How can we face our own death and the death of those we love with courage?
  • How can death become less frightening both for ourselves and for our loved ones?
  • How can we develop more enlightened care for the dying even in our environment of technological medicine?

Speakers will include a diverse array of practitioners from various disciplines, including physicians, nurses, psychologists, theologians and social workers. Pre-conference seminars will begin at 10:00 a.m. on October 13 and include a presentation by Stephen Jenkinson, MTS, MSW, the celebrated author of “Die Wise.” An alternate session will be offered by Henry Fersko-Weiss, who will provide experiential exercises and hands-on training in death doula techniques. A third concurrent session presented by Megory Anderson, Ph.D will explore ritual and meaning at the end of life.

Photo collage of art of dying conference speakers

Featured speakers at the Art of dying Conference Oct. 13-16, 2017

Plenary addresses on Friday evening will be followed by plenary sessions and workshops on Saturday and Sunday. Featured topics include grief and loss; ethical decision-making at the end of life; caring for dying animal companions; the mechanics of energy and consciousness; death midwifery; and much more. Saturday’s session will be followed by dinner and an evening performance of Rumi’s poetry by Coleman Barks and renowned concert artist Eugene Friesen.

Early ticket sales for the Art of Dying Conference are currently closed. However, you can still purchase tickets through the Open Center through October 13. Pre and post conference seating is limited and can only be purchased with main conference tickets. To learn more about current availability, call the Open Center at 212-219-2527 ext. 2.

For those who cannot attend the live event, portions of the conference, including plenaries and a selection of workshops, will be available on October 13, 14 and 15 via live video feed. To learn more about registering for the video conference visit the Institute for Better Health, the co-sponsor of the webcast.

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