The Great Gig in the Sky

When I was five years old, my mother was admitted to St. Elizabeth’s, a mental hospital in Washington DC, for depression.

While she was there, she tried to commit suicide by setting herself on fire. Another patient there threw her to the ground and smothered her with blankets to put the fire out. She suffered second-degree burns over most of her body, and bore scars — visible and not so visible — for the rest of her life.

The popular album at St. Elizabeth’s, at the time, was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. When my mother returned home, she listened to that album often. It was at the center of the soundtrack of my life, growing up, for reasons I never properly understood until years and years later.

My Mom died of cancer eighteen years ago. You want to believe, when someone close to you dies, that you will remember everything about them for all time, but the truth is that, as the years pass, you remember less and less. For my mom, it’s always music that makes me remember.

I love music because of her. I remember listening to Gnarls Barkley’s “St. Elsewhere” and feeling that my Mom would have loved, and understood, that album better than anyone I’d ever met. I remember how she cried when I broke her old Tascam reel-to-reel player when I was nine, and not understanding why it upset her so. I still have that Tascam, and think often of fixing it and playing the old tapes of hers that I kept along with it. And I remember sitting with her in our living room in our old house in DC, listening to The Great Gig in the Sky. I remember how she looked the way she looked when she listened, even now, like a snapshot. She was a beautiful woman.

Right before the end, when she was confined to the hospital bed that had replaced the dining room table in our home, slowly dying from the tumours that would soon kill her, I asked her if she was afraid.

She was, I’m sure of it. But her response was: “I am not frightened 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 gotta go sometime.”

Richard Wright, the keyboard player for Pink Floyd and the primary author of Great Gig, died yesterday. Today it’s pouring rain, and I find myself listening over and over to his magnum opus.

Thanks, Rick. Mom, I miss you more than I can say today.

The Great Gig in the Sky

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