Tuesday, December 22

Now the "other half" of Floyd.

Well, just like The Beatles or most other bands with staying power, Pink Floyd evolved over the years. Syd Barrett, their original frontman (lyrics, lead guitar, and voice) lost his mind and never found it again. Then the band noodled around a bit in the late sixties and early seventies until they found a new sound, this time splitting musical and lyrical duties, though Roger Waters was always the chief writer of the words. By the same token, David Gilmour sang maybe 2/3 of the songs and played lead guitar and wrote most of the music. Waters played a very proficient bass guitar, Richard Wright brought a bit of jazz/avant garde/psychedelia to the keyboards, which were new at the time, typically Moogs and other early models that have that trademark "spacy" sound we identify with today (Bowie's "Space Oddity" employed a Moog, and early Duran Duran tracks evolved from Moogs to Rolands and eventually Yamaha DX-7s). The constant was always really Nick Mason on drums, who locked down an insistent, steady backbone for the others to jam against, much like Ringo Starr did for the Beatles. In fact, there are quite a few similarities between the two bands that I won't go into just now.

Anyways, once Syd had gone mad and the other four found their "sound" in the early 70s, they reeled off four straight concept albums that are probably as good as anything anyone's ever done, in my opinion and in the opinion of many critics. Among them was Dark Side of the Moon, issued when I was just an infant, from which the songs "Breathe," "Time," "Money," and "Us and Them" came, amongst others. The entire album was engineered by a young Alan Parsons and recorded at Abbey Road. It is by some measures the most successful album of all time: It stayed on the "Billboard Hot 200" charts for 591 weeks, or an incredible 11+ years. There is still a CD manufacturing plant in Germany that does nothing but press copies of it for the current market, as it still sells about 250,000 copies a year, more than most new acts (except superstars), or popular but aging acts. It's routinely on the short-list of critics "best ever" albums. This and the subsequent mega-albums Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall would add to and firmly establish Pink Floyd's legacy as a band, along with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who, as a sort of classic British rock sound. The USA had The Doors following a similar tract; rock-poets Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Canada had Leonard Cohen and Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot. But North American music has always mirrored the vast lands that have spawned it - British rock, then and now, has always been (in my view) tinged with just a bit more angst, more paranoia and claustrophobia. And in the case of Pink Floyd, the overriding theme was nearly always alienation.

"How do people communicate, and empathise with one another," Roger Waters asked, "rather than passing one another by without a glance, without making any connection? How do we find any connections at all in this huge world, even with those closest to us, with the pressures of time, work, and money?" It's a theme that would haunt him and guide his lyrics for the rest of the band's tenure. Their last album, which is really a sequel to (or closure of) The Wall, is for all intents and purposes a Roger Waters solo album. He had become so obsessed with controlling all aspects of the band's output that the other members lost their patience, and the group never made another album as a foursome, though after Roger's departure in 1983 Gilmour, Wright, and Mason would continue on under the name Pink Floyd and record two more very good albums, one in 1987 and one in 1994. Waters would also go on to record three solo albums. But it would be a rare fan who considered either endeavor equal to what the band as a whole did together in the 70s and into the beginning of the 80s.

That last album, The Final Cut, was panned by critics at the time of its release but has aged extraordinarily well, and proved that Waters was a lyrical visionary in the mold of John Lennon, with the knack of knowing which way the wind was blowing and where the politics and social surges of the time would ultimately lead. Listening to that album now, with its Cold War anxieties and almost overbearing sense of pessimism about the modern human experience, is at once a joy of identification, a strain of recognition, and ultimately I think a catharsis. In reality, it's the story of Roger Waters' own life, his own attempts to reconcile the death of his father in World War II when he was young, his own feelings of isolation, his own suffering. It's what makes Pink Floyd at its heart so profoundly different from those "good time" rock and roll bands, and I think it's time to feature Waters' singing in a short movie he and his brother put together for the last album, and contrast it to the transcendent, otherworldly soundscapes that Gilmour creates, lasers and all. For my part, I enjoy both "halves" of Pink Floyd equally, just like I enjoy John and Paul (and George) for their contributions to The Beatles's unique sound. As the saying goes, the whole was always greater than the mere sum of its parts.

Here then is Pink Floyd's titular track to their last album, "The Final Cut."

The Final Cut (Waters)

Through the fish-eyed lens of tear-stained eyes
I can barely define the shape of this moment in time.
And far from flying high in clear blue skies
I'm spiraling down to the hole in the ground where I hide.

If you negotiate the minefield in the drive
And beat the dogs and cheat the cold electronic eyes
And if you make it past the shotguns in the hall
Dial the combination, open the priesthole...

And if I'm in, I'll tell you what's behind the wall.

There's a kid who had a big hallucination
Making love to girls in magazines.
He wonders if you're sleeping with your new found faith
Could anybody love him, or is it just a crazy dream?

And if I show you my dark side
Will you still hold me tonight?
And if I open my heart to you
And show you my weak side
What would you do?

Would you sell your story to Rolling Stone?
Would you take the children away
And leave me alone?
And smile in reassurance
As you whisper down the phone?
Would you send me packing?
Or would you take me home?

Thought I oughta bare my naked feelings,
Thought I oughta tear the curtain down.
I held the blade in trembling hands
Prepared to make it but...
Just then the phone rang
I never had the nerve to make the final cut.

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