Saucerful of Secrets
By Dan Amrich
Since last June, fans of Pink Floyd, rock's most mysterious band, have been engaged in a bizarre treasure hunt. Publicity stunt? Bald-faced hoax? You decide-
Pink Floyd fans, take note: There's a treasure hunt going on, and The Division Bell is the map. In what could be the biggest mystery in the annals of rock, Floyd disciples around the world have been carefully following a trail a clues, left by a self-proclaimed messenger known only as Publius. The person who deciphers the enigma has been promised a special, secret reward.
Publius - who may or may not be a member of the band - first began leaving mysterious messages this past summer in the midst of a Pink Floyd discussion on the worldwide computer network known as the Internet. His rather cryptic clues have caused confusion and controversy among Pink Floyd stalwarts - and sent them racing back o listen to The Division Bell with new ears.
The mystery began last June 11 with an anonymous, generically titled note left in the alt.music.pink-floyd newsgroup, an electronic forum where Floyd fans from around the world "meet" on the Internet and discuss the band. It read:
The message was immediately greeted with the nasty, often insulting responses known as "flames," which attempt to expose the messenger's phoniness. There was some speculation that Publius was out to mock Floyd fans for their penchant for seeking deep meanings in the band's music; others felt that the whole thing was a record company plot to drum up sales of The Division Bell. Less cynical fans suggested that Publius was David Gilmour, himself. In any case, approximately every two weeks, Publius would offer more veiled clues and references to The Division Bell's lyrics, such as this post from July 8:
AS SOME OF YOU HAVE SUSPECTED, "The Division Bell" is not like its predecessors. Although all great music is subject to multiple interpretations, in this case there is a central purpose and a designed solution. For the ingenious person (or group of persons) who recognize this - and where this information points to - a unique prize has been secreted.
With most net users remaining skeptical, Publius promised a demonstration of his legitimacy in the form of "flashing white lights" at the July 18th Pink Floyd concert in New Jersey's Meadowlands Arena. Sure enough, as the band performed The Division Bell's "Keep Talking," the words "ENIGMA PUBLIUS" lit up in front of the stage. This occurred nowhere else on the tour - neither before the Giants Stadium show nor afterwards. To some, this special displaywas amper proof of Publius' validity, and readers eagerly scanned his previouse messages for Floydian slips. Skeptics maintained that Publius was simply someone who knew the lighting staff at the stadium and had pulled off a good scam.
While Publius' posts are cryptic and melodramatic - the classic signs of a net crackpot - there's plenty of mysterious fodder surrounding The Division Bell to fuel his fire. Why is the artwork different for the CD and vinyl releases? What's going on in the audio collage that interrupts "Poles Apart"? Why does the boxing referee count out of order during "Lost for Words"? It certainly wouldn't be out of character for a band who put backwards messages and quirky audio tricks in many of their previous albums to plant a hidden puzzle within their latest release.
Proposed solutions to the mystery have involved a wide variety of people, places and things - among them physicist Stephen Hawking, Easter Island, the Federalist Papers and the geography of cambridge, England. "My personal favorite," says net user Allison Clark, "was when they were organizing an expedition to og dig up the grounds of Ely Cathedral [the structure pictured on the album cover ], last August. I could just see the police picking up a bunch of teenagers chanting Pink Floyd lyrics as they excavated the grounds with their shovels, and the newspapers dutifully reporting that the youths would only say that David Gilmour had sent them on a mission."
The band, meanwhile, will neither confirm nor deny any knowledge of or involvment with Publius. Whatever the outcome, most newsgroup readers agree that the experience hasn't been a complete waste of time - even if there isn't a hidden treasure buried somewhere, just waiting for some lucky Floyd fan. "It has been great to see people take heed of Pink Floyd's advice to 'keep talking','" says Rudi Riet, a concertgoer who witnessed the ENIGMA PUBLIUS light show. "If anything, the Publius Enigma has widened channels of communication on alt.music.pink-floyd. And if that was the ultimate goal, Publius - whoever he may be - has succeeded."