Joined Up Thinking
How do you connect Pink Floyd to Alchemy and a suicidal Dwarf?
The Dark Side of the Rainbow
Seven is a number steeped in lore and superstition and has special significance in almost every form of religion or faith. In Hinduism there are seven Chakras called Muladhara, Svadhisthana, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha, Ajna and Sahasrara. There are seven Sacraments in Catholicism: Baptism, Penance, Marriage, Communion, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Last Rites. The Bible tells us that it took God seven days to create the universe, and there are hundreds of other references to the number seven in the ‘good book’; a staggering 55 in the book of Revelations alone.
So it’s no surprise that, back in the days when science, faith and mysticism were still intertwined, the so-called ‘Law of Sevens’ - the idea that the natural laws of the universe obey a simple mystical numerical rule – was very popular. Certainly, Sir Isaac Newton, who spent as much time studying alchemy as he did true science, believed in the idea that seven was, in some way, special.1 After all, the Greeks had divided science into seven categories: grammar, rhetoric, logic (the Trivium) and arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy (the Quadrivium). There were seven known celestial bodies other than the Earth: the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. There were seven metals used in alchemy - gold, silver, copper, mercury, lead, tin and iron – and seven alchemical processes: calcination, dissolution, separation, conjunction, fermentation, distillation and coagulation. And there were (and still are) seven notes in a musical scale (A to G), seven bodily functions (respiration, circulation, assimilation, excretion, reproduction, sensation and reaction) and seven bodily entrances and exits (ears, mouth, nostrils, anus, urethra). So it’s easy to see why the idea carried so much weight, and why, when Newton first split white light using a prism, he naturally expected to see seven colours. He must have been somewhat confused when he saw a graduated band of colour with no distinct number of separations. However, he decided to plump for seven, recording in his 1704 book Opticks: ‘The originall or primary colours are Red, yellow, Green, Blue, and a violet purple; together with Orange, Indico, and an indefinite varietie of intermediate gradations’. He linked the colours to the musical scale, with A to B being blue, B to C indigo, C to D violet, D to E red, E to F orange, F to G yellow and G to A green. There may be some validity to this assertion as we now know that many artists, musicians and writers have a form of synaesthesia; a curious neurological mingling of the senses. It is a matter of record that many synaesthetes assign colour values to sounds.
The colour indigo was first recorded in the 13th century and takes its name from a plant Indigofera tinctoria, from which a dye for cloth was extracted. These days, many respectable scientists – including the late Isaac Asimov – have dismissed the colour altogether as just a shade of violet, suggesting that Newton included it to ‘make the numbers up’ to seven.2
Curiously, the front cover of Pink Floyd’s 1973 LP Dark Side of the Moon features a beam of light being split by a prism into only six colours. Which begs the question … did they suspect Isaac Newton of ‘making up the numbers to seven’? Sadly no. The reason why a colour was omitted from the final graphic is a simple printing issue. The album cover was designed by the late Storm Thorgerson of the Hipgnosis group and illustrated by artist George Hardie. Thorgerson claimed that he left a colour out because he thought that two shades of violet would merge and lessen the impact of the other colours when set against the black background. The seventh colour is also absent from the revamped LP artwork on the 20th and 30th anniversary editions of the album, even though modern print technology would make the divisions clearer.3 Thorgerson also said that the image of the rainbow was a reference to the band’s groundbreaking use of complex light shows, but some people believe that there is another reason why it was chosen …
The rainbow is a major theme of MGM’s classic 1939 musical The Wizard of Oz and there is a persistent myth that the Dark Side of the Moon was specially written and arranged to synchronise with the film. Those who ‘know’ will tell you that if you start playing Pink Floyd’s album on the MGM lion’s third roar and watch and listen to both simultaneously, a remarkable series of coincidences occur. For example, the tornado sequence ‘synchronises’ with Clare Torry’s soaring, emotion-packed vocals on The Great Gig In The Sky. And when the film changes from sepia tone to colour (upon Dorothy’s arrival in Oz), the track Money begins and Glinda the do-goody-good witch of the south is on screen when the line ‘do-goody-good bullshit’ is sung. Of course, the film is much longer than the album but aficionados will tell you that that isn’t a problem. You simply have to play the album three times through, one after another, and the synchronisations will continue to occur.4 Scientists who study such phenomena will tell you that these things happen because of apophenia – the human mind's tendency to recognise patterns by discarding anything that does not fit with expectations. There are, after all, a much greater number of moments where no such synchronisation occurs. As for Pink Floyd themselves, they have always denied that the album has anything to do with the film and point out that, when the album was recorded, it would have been almost impossible for them to have watched it inside a recording studio. That said, in 1997, drummer Nick Mason did tell MTV viewers that, ‘It's absolute nonsense. It has nothing to do with The Wizard of Oz. It was all based on The Sound of Music ..."
For the filming of The Wizard of Oz, dwarfs were flown in from all over the world to play the Munchkins.5 They were kept segregated from the other actors during the making of the film and rumours went around Hollywood of wild orgies, drunken debauchery and drug-taking in the dwarf’s accommodation. It has been suggested that much of this rumour was put about by an alcohol-fuelled Judy Garland and the film’s producer Mervyn Le Roy. The most virulent and macabre rumour of all, however, concerns a Munchkin who apparently developed a crush on Garland and, when he was rejected and found his love unrequited, hanged himself on set as the cameras rolled. His body could be seen swinging from a tree at the end of the Tin Man’s scene. Of course, MGM always claimed that the shadowy figure was probably a stagehand accidentally on set or, more likely, a flamingo, stork or pelican; the studio had hired several large birds from the Los Angeles Zoo to add realism to the woodland scenes. But they didn’t deny it too hard, especially whenever a new edition of the video was released. However, with the arrival of DVD and Blu-Ray, it’s pretty clear for all to see that it is a large black and white bird flexing its wings and not a hanging Munchkin. But don’t take my word for it - watch the scene and judge for yourselves. if you don’t own the film, the clip appears several times on popular video sites and the supposed suicidee is in the distance at top left of screen.6
Despite the story being nothing more than urban myth, it didn’t stop Dean Kavanagh and Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh turning it into a controversial stage play called Babylon Heights. It opened in 2006 to universal condemnation from dwarfs everywhere, mainly because the show’s producers chose to cast the play with ‘normal’ sized actors working with outsized sets and props. The Restricted Growth Association said that, ‘This is just another example of the media ridiculing the lives of people of restricted growth, who are already disadvantaged. It’s disappointing that theatre needs, for the sake of entertainment, to be disrespectful and irresponsible. If you changed the references to people in wheelchairs, this wouldn’t be allowed. Why is it allowed with people of restricted growth?’ However, writing in The Guardian newspaper, Welsh was keen to refute this claiming that ‘We decided we didn't want to have a situation whereby sensationalist elements of the media might portray the experience as a bunch of ‘normal-sized’ people sitting in a theatre watching ‘dwarfs’ perform (...) The play resolutely attacks the spirit of discrimination, including the type actively practised by the studio at the time. It does this not by painting the characters as perfect and virtuous, but by making them real people’.
The term ‘Persons of Restricted Growth’ is the preferred term because of the negative connotations attached to the terms ‘dwarf’ and ‘midget’. Most of those negative connotations come from the world of fairy tales and mythology where dwarfs, and little people of all types from trolls and Cornish piskies to elves and leprechauns, are generally portrayed as mischievous and occasionally downright nasty. One exception to this can be found in the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. These chaps are quite friendly and, depending on which version you read, were woodcutters, miners or hunters. We are most familiar with the characters from Walt Disney’s 1937 animated film: Doc, Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey ... but woe betide if you use those characters in your pantomimes, plays and school fêtes as the allegedly litigious Disney corporation lawyers are liable to spring to animated life. Before Disney’s film, the dwarfs (or should it be ‘dwarves’?)7 were best known from a 1912 Broadway play by Winthrop Ames. In this version, they were called Blick, Flick, Snick, Glick, Plick, Whick and Quee. Before that came the Grimm Brothers’ version of an old German story (which, in turn, may have originated in Asia) and in these older tales, the dwarfs were not named at all. However, the one element that is constant across all of these different versions is that there are always seven little men.
The number seven turns up time and time again in popular culture: The Magnificent Seven, Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Samurai, Blake’s Seven, the Seven Seas, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers … the list goes on and on. We’ve already mentioned its many appearances in The Bible but it’s also a major symbolic number for other faiths too. During the Haj, for example, Muslim devotees walk seven times around the Ka’ba in Mecca. Buddha is often depicted sitting within the seven petals of the lotus flower. The Jewish Talmud refers to the Sheva mizvot bnei Noah (The seven commandments of the sons of Noah) and the Menorah candlestick has seven branches. Meanwhile, in the sciences, the Pythagoreans called seven the perfect number as it describes the total number of sides in a triangle and a square - the perfect geometric figures and, if folklore is to be believed, a seventh son of a seventh son is destined to have extraordinary powers. Then there is Jaques’ famous soliloquy from As you like it, in which Shakespeare tells us all about the Seven Ages of Man – infancy, childhood, the lover, the soldier, the justice, old age, dementia (and death):
‘All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;8
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.’
And guess what the most popular day for marriages was in 2007? The 7th of July of course. More than three times as many weddings took place on that day than is usual for early July because seven is considered lucky in Western culture. Las Vegas was a particularly popular venue and the casinos and chapels were very happy to play along (and take in the extra revenue). The Flamingo Las Vegas and the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino both hosted 77 weddings on the day. And it was an especially audacious day for Jewish weddings, which already have the bride circling the groom seven times and seven days of festive meals built into the ceremony.
Seven is a number steeped in lore and superstition …