pinkfloydI want you to think about Pink Floyd for a moment.  I want you to think of your favorite song or album.  Think of every experience you’ve had associated with their music.  Have you synched Dark Side of the Moon up with the Wizard of Oz?  Have you gotten baked out of your gourd and listened to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”? Have you, say, tripped on mushrooms and watched “The Wall?” People of a certain age group have probably done all of these things.  Now, I want you to picture all of the band member’s faces.  Hell, I’ll make it easier: just picture Roger Water’s face.  You know, the tall, cranky guy who wrote every lyric to Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall.  Can you? Some of you probably can, but most probably cannot.  Why is that?

The simple answer is that he wanted it that way. They all wanted it that way. Pink Floyd created a mystique that few bands have.  They craved their privacy.  To explain it sounds oxymoronic.  They created an identity based on anonymity. This was both brilliant and unprecedented.  It would also prove to be a double-edged sword.

There was a time when being a successful pop star was based as much on your personality and looks as your talent. It was a template that was started with Elvis and worked right up until the Beatles. “George is the quiet one, Paul is the cute one…”- and so on. The overarching idea being that if you, the consumer, thought you knew a band and felt comfortable with them, you would be more likely to buy their music or merchandise. The manipulation of an image requires press and usually the courting of the press requires a manager and PR people.  In many cases these people are as essential to the success of an artist as the quality of their actual musical output.

Elvis is a good example. Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who had actually been a carnival barker in a former life, masterfully drained every dollar out of Elvis hysteria.  The Colonel, who, of course, was not a Colonel at all, practically controlled every facet of the young Elvis’ life.  Elvis was told what to do and how to act.  Elvis was forbidden to marry because it might turn off his female fans. 

Elvis & Colonel Parker, 1960

Elvis & Colonel Parker, 1960

Elvis was encouraged to turn up his sexually suggestive stage act as to create controversy in the papers. Objective musical journalism had not been conceived of yet.  Elvis’ relationship with the press was mutually beneficial.  He was as good at selling magazines as albums.  Elvis the musician was a creative musical force for a relatively brief time.  However, the Colonel oversaw his crossover into the movies and was in charge of a herculean merchandizing machine. It also turned out that Elvis, or what was left of him, was good at packing theaters and selling what can only be described as crap.  The Colonel kept the money rolling in for decades often at the expense of the health of his own client.  The Colonel didn’t create Elvis or his talent, he actually had very little input or even interest in music, but he undoubtedly made Elvis much more of a success then he would have otherwise been.  Elvis was an innovator, but the Colonel was more of one.  Those in the biz had now been shown that selling records was only one piece of the puzzle.

The mold was cast. Almost every musical force of note had a ubiquitous manager pulling the strings. Back door dealing was common. DJ’s were routinely paid to play certain records. It was a kind of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” world in which musicians, DJ’s, and the press ran in the same circles. Merchandizing was paramount.  The endorsement of products by bands was common. TV appearances were coveted. The point was to get the band’s name, and more importantly, their faces in the public’s view.  Pink Floyd was born into this world but they wouldn’t live in it.

Pink Floyd bucked almost all of these trends. They managed to be unbelievably successful yet hated the spotlight.  Press? Interviews were only obliged when absolutely necessary. Merchandizing?  Beyond the actual music and occasional t-shirt, it was almost non-existent during the years they were actually a functioning band.  Endorsements? 

The Floyd's lone attempt at an endorsement deal

The Floyd’s lone attempt at an endorsement deal

The classic lineup only ever endorsed one product (a French soft drink), quickly got embarrassed, and then donated all of the money they received to charity. Television? Their early television appearances were unmitigated disasters. This medium was written off as an outlet for them before the sixties had even ended.  Management?  Their manager of 30 years, Steve O’ Rourke, might as well have been a ghost.  He quietly pulled some strings but must have had the ego equivalent to a farmer.  In the litany of books published about Pink Floyd in the last 30 years, he is never even pictured.

This should not be mistaken as laziness.  The members of Pink Floyd were extremely ambitious.  This ambition even extended to meticulously creating an aura of hipness while somehow revealing little about who was actually cool.  No other band has ever come close to giving as little of themselves to the public and getting back so much money in return.  Pink Floyd could have easily become just like their contemporaries.  And by that, I mean that if certain events hadn’t happened, they would have had trouble leaving their own houses.  Yet even today, the members of a band that has sold over 200 million records can walk down the street of any American city unmolested.

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Pink Floyd was signed to the same record label as The Beatles and were seen in many ways as their successors. EMI happily showed off the fresh faced foursome as they engaged in the ridiculous “What is your favorite color?” type interviews during their first year together.  Syd Barrett was their primary singer and stuck out as the most handsome and charming member.  He seemed happy enough to oblige interview requests when he was actually able to speak.  As Syd’s mental health deteriorated rapidly Roger Waters was left holding the bag.  On a disastrous American tour Syd finally snapped.  It all culminated in a surreal appearance on The Pat Boone Show in which Syd refused to lip synch and stared blankly at Mr. Boone afterwards while being “interviewed.”

The dog and pony show was over.  Syd Barrett was eventually tossed out of the band and replaced by David Gilmour.  The band was left in an awkward position.  The three original members did not fit any kind of teen idol model.  The band’s new leader, Roger Waters, tended to rub people the wrong way and was long fed up with absurdity of the “star making” process anyway.  Rick Wright had written some good material but was brooding and quiet.  Nick Mason was the drummer and…well, he was the drummer. David Gilmour was naturally handsome and talented.  He was a very likeable guy but was handicapped by the fact that he had just replaced the most recognizable member and had some kind of aversion to soap and shampoo.  For a moment, Syd Barrett even seemed poised enough to recover and become a successful solo artist without them. The band was not dealt a winning hand.

In 1968, they were not given much of a chance.  Their first set of managers actually left the group with Syd Barrett because they thought he had a much bigger chance of success than the new version of Pink Floyd.  They did this knowing full well that a) Syd was in the middle of a mental breakdown b) Syd could no longer even perform in public and c) you should never, ever, ever accept anything to drink at Syd’s home because there was a good chance it was spiked with acid. Talk about a vote of confidence.  However, this was the reality of the music scene at the time.  Robert Daltry, Robert Plant, and Mick Jagger were the British prototypes. If you did not have a front man who was marketable, you might as well not even play.

What is a band to do?  At first Gilmour was employed as a Barrett clone.  They had known each other since childhood.  Gilmour found it easy to mimic his old friend and was far more capable on the guitar. However, Dave was not yet comfortable writing his own music.  Roger Waters was growing into his own in this realm but his songs tended to be long and hardly light. Pink Floyd eventually coalesced around the “albums only” concept.  The plan was simple: no singles, try to get better at writing songs, and tour your ass off. The first two have nothing to do with PR and their live shows generally became successful based on word of mouth and not press.

However, the early reincarnation of Pink Floyd was dealing in smoke and mirrors.  If you wanted to believe it was the same lineup who recorded Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, they were certainly not going to correct you.  A conscious attempt was made to conceal who was actually guiding the ship.  From the start, their stage shows were legendary acts of diversion.  You hardly had time to look at the band before you were hit with an array of lighting effects, films playing on screens, and inflatable toys.  The presentation worked well.  One night while Syd was still in the band and they were touring with Jimi Hendrix, he failed to show up for a gig. He was replaced by Dave O’ List of the band The Nice. No one noticed.

After awhile though, it seemed safe to come out of hiding. Syd Barrett was simply not capable of being a viable solo artist .  His mangers had made a gross miscalculation.  And, if anyone stood to gain from the disintegration of Syd, it was the band itself.  Now, there would be no argument about who was actually Pink Floyd.   However, they were too decent to ever see it that way.  The band worked incredibly hard at trying to make Syd a success.  They presided over the making of his solo albums and seemed more concerned about them than he was.  In a round-a-bout way they actually worked towards the detriment of their own product and worked to make their biggest detractors money.

That is one of many stories of civility that followed Pink Floyd.  The cut-throat nature of rock ‘n roll seemed at odds with their upbringing.  Pink Floyd is an interesting exception to the traditional “rags to riches” story of rock ‘n roll.  None of them ever really wore rags.  Only Roger Water’s childhood was affected by considerable hardship.  His father died in 1944 at the Battle of Anzio in Italy. The other four(I’m including Syd) came from solid, upper-middle class families.  They could count doctor, pathologist, and film-maker among their parent’s professions. They need not worry about “buying momma a house” as so many rock stars before had been.  Their families quaintly seemed to just want them to be happy.  There never seemed to be any desperation for money. Money could be made in many ways anyway.  If the boys failed, and even they assumed they would, they could just finish their schooling and become architects, as had been the plan in the first place.

There aren’t a lot of honest journalists. They often want to put down your work. I can’t accept that. Our work is for the public, not for journalists.”

~ Nick Mason, 1975

A psychologist might say that they never craved attention because they had gotten enough of it from their parents all their lives.  They were averse to the sensationalism that came along with their profession.  They were not going to set their hair on fire for attention.  There were never going to be any high profile drug busts or tawdry tales of groupies flying around in the press.  Refreshingly, Pink Floyd knew what shame was. The boys liked to have fun, no doubt, but this was seen as work.  Songwriting is seen by some as something that you’re born with.  Many assume you can’t learn it.  But Pink Floyd is proof that you can.  In a span of 4 years they were churning out ambitious, thoughtful, and exciting work that bore no resemblance to what they had done with Syd Barrett.

Anyone fascinated by the mysterious nature of the members at the time must have been thrilled when word leaked in 1971 that they would be starring in a feature film called Live at Pompei.  The film featured the band performing live to the ghosts in the unearthed amphitheater of the ancient city.  It could have been a fascinating insight into their lives right before the release of Dark Side of the Moon.  Shortly after it was filmed, their music would be known throughout the world.  The director was allowed access to the band as they were recording, by many standards, the most successful rock’ n roll album in history.  The finished film is perfectly executed and unbelievably forgettable.  In many ways the film is Seinfeldian in its attention to the mundane and unimportant details of their lives. When they are not recording, they are seen eating pie and drinking tea in near silence. You are not left with any sense of the individual members personalities. For Floyd fanatics it is roughly the equivalent of Adrian Zupruder filming the Kennedy assassination and then never developing the film.

Playing for the Ghosts of Pompei

Playing for the Ghosts of Pompei

A hard core Pink Floyd fan may actually enjoy hearing David and Roger argue about whether Dave’s guitar sounds “toppy” enough on “Brain Damage.” A hardcore fan may also find it interesting to know that Nick Mason does not enjoy crust on his apple pie.  But the layman is probably perfectly content just watching the band perform an immaculate rendition of “Echoes” and then shutting off the set.  Infuriatingly, the director interviews all of them at length and you walk away knowing no more about them then you did before.  What is more vexing is that is just the way they wanted it.

At least in retrospect, it appears that director Adrian Mabin actually tried. In the director’s cut, which was released in 2003, previously unreleased footage shows Roger being hilariously obstructive and evasive.  In one scene he simply answers the director’s questions with questions over and over again. The band practically treats Mr. Mabin as a spy in their camp. At one point Nick Mason quips “Adrian, this attempt to illicit conversation from the chaps has got to stop!  They know you’re trying to get them to talk!” It seems that the boys were not concerned that Mr. Mabin had been hired to, you know; make an interesting movie about them.  Any type of media exposure with Pink Floyd usually happened on their terms.

The last time the anything the press said had any effect on Pink Floyd was in 1975.  After witnessing what he perceived as a half-hearted and crappy concert, Nick Kent wrote a scathing review for New Musical Express.  In it, he attacked their lack of musicianship, their seeming indifference to paying customers, and David Gilmour’s personal appearance.  Gilmour was offended enough to sit down to dinner with one of Mr. Kent’s colleagues. He conceded some of Mr. Kent’s points about the performance Kent had witnessed.  However, he convincing argued that Kent’s article was mostly a pre-meditated hack job.  An angry Gilmour ended by saying: “When I’m standing there I’m conscious of trying to give the most I can.  And I don’t need clean hair for that!”

That interview perfectly encapsulates Gilmour’s place within the band at that particular time.  By then he was far from a mere replacement for Syd.  He was perfectly comfortable arguing with Roger about the musical direction of the band. He was certainly the most capable musician in the band and was not afraid to flaunt it.  He possessed an ear for musical talent (he discovered Kate Bush), was a talented producer, and would become coveted session musician. By the mid-seventies Mr. Gilmour only played second fiddle to one Roger Waters.

By 1977, Richard Wright, who had once been seen as Pink Floyd’s musical savior, was a shell of his former self. He would contribute nothing to either Animals or The Wall.  He would later blame Roger’s overbearing presence for destroying his confidence, and thus, his lack of material. David Gilmour stepped into this void.  In the future, despite what appeared to be a laid back demeanor, Dave would not back down.

The blank stare of Syd Barrett

The blank stare of Syd Barrett

After Pink Floyd became incredibly successful, the gates closed permanently.  Little to no information leaked out of their camp. Any negative review was not met with a formal verbal response anymore.  A package containing a boxing glove on a spring did the trick (yes, they actually did this).  Of course these stunts further enraged the press.  Once punk rock hit in 1976 Pink Floyd were routinely dismissed as “dinosaurs” and constantly insulted in print.  Decades passed and they never even responded. Pink Floyd had figured out that what the press said had absolutely no effect on their success.  They had absolutely no respect for the press anyway.

Perversely, the stoic nature with which the band absorbed repeated punishment in print eventually gained the respect of some of their antagonists. Upon writing a profile about Gilmour for Q Magazine in 1993, David Bennum would say, “ The carpings of the likes of Melody Maker have been as gnats stamping the back of a buffalo.  All that time, all those insults and he never gave a damn…it’s enough to make you lose faith in the power of the press.”

Pink Floyd also applied an anti PR machine in the form of their “press officer” Gary Stromberg.  Waters describes his duties thusly, “His brief was ‘No.’ That was it.  We said, ‘Gary, we want you to come on the whole tour and deal with the press and media in every way possible and the answer is ‘No.’”

It was not only the press that was kept out.  Waters maintained a curious superstition that interactions with fans would somehow cheapen or dilute the quality of their work.  All letters or inquiries were immediately chucked.  Very little gratitude has ever been expressed publicly by them to their rabid fans.  Money continued to pour in by the boatload.  Ironically, to this day, Roger continues to profit from The Wall, an album whose impetus came from his complaint that fans did not understand him.

The information vacuum and the band’s psychedelic past just created more intrigue and hysteria.  Syd was posthumously said to have supernatural powers by former band associates.  His specter was said to follow the band everywhere.  The press put a quasi-romantic twist on what was a devastatingly sad story. Syd was portrayed as a misunderstood genius whose fall was hastened by the other member’s greed and indifference.  That was hardly the truth. Syd’s second solo album, Barrett (1970), was practically a Gilmour/Wright album. Possessing the patience of saints, they would painstakingly lay down every musical track themselves in advance of Syd’s arrival to the studio because he was no longer even able to perform with a live band. These facts usually went unpublished.

Watching the pressures of fame destroy a great friend and talented musician in his prime had considerable effect on the other members.  Much of their material afterwards was based on watching his slide into madness. The searing images of the character Pink from the movie The Wall shaving his eyebrows or staring of into space while a cigarette burns his fingers actually came from the other members watching Syd. However, their anonymity helped fuel a widespread belief among casual fans that the other members were drug addled lunatics.

Compared to some of their contemporaries, they were actually a tame bunch.  A good deal of hash and weed was smoked, but hardcore drugs seemed to have little effect on their productivity. Only Rick Wright was ever rumored to have let drugs get in the way of work.  It was all rather innocent. Roger, the man most responsible for their trippy material, claims to only have tried psychedelic drugs on one or two occasions. Roger, who also wrote psychotic classics like “Careful With That Axe Eugene,”probably did not want fans to know that he was more likely to be holding a pitching wedge than a syringe(or a hatchet for that matter).

Again though, if you wanted to believe it, they we’re not going to correct you.  David Gilmour made a half-hearted and hilarious attempt to put the rumors to rest in Live at Pompeii.  With bloodstained eyes and a cheesy smile he explained, “I still think most people think of us as a very drug orientated group.  Of course we’re not.  You can trust us.” However it was left at that.  The band didn’t want people to know how they lived.  Pot smoking was one thing, but if it was believed that they were on something else, so be it.  At least, as Dave Gilmour later put it, their mystique wouldn’t be ruined by the “fans getting too much information about us sitting at home watching television or drinking beer.”

In Nicholas Schaffner’s fabulous Floyd biography A Saucerful of Secrets, an anonymous band associate described their views on the drug image that was propagated to their fans: “Their attitude was, ‘Fair enough-they may think we’re doing it, and we’re very happy they think so, but we’ll just carry on in our own normal way.’ Ultimately they were well-brought-up upper-middle-class college kids.”

I suppose it is not inconceivable to be an incredibly successful rock group and remain somewhat anonymous. If any member of Chicago walked up to me today, I would not recognize them(nor would I want to). However, Pink Floyd has sold well over 200 million records.  Almost every artist who has sold more than that (Michael Jackson, Elvis, The Beatles, Madonna) either has his/her face on a stamp or required a police escort or a disguise to venture in public.  The other thing these particular artists have in common is a great deal of success at a very young age , employing their own PR machines, and becoming entangled in various personal “controversies” that are great fodder for music magazines and newspapers(which is good for record sales). None of that applied to Pink Floyd.

The music…creates an anonymity which paradoxically carries it’s designer label like a badge.”

A Pink Floyd fan might say, “Well, the music was just that good.” Not quite. I’m not saying that the four albums bookended by Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall (the bulk of their sales) are not spectacular.  Even Pink Floyd’s greatest detractors in the press harbored personal beefs but usually gushed over their music. However, any attempt to link “credibility” and critical praise to commercial success is hard. Ace of Bass has sold more records than Bob Dylan has. Critical success and a diehard following does not always equal commercial success on a huge scale.  What can account for such a staggering number?

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Pink Floyd’s “brand” may rival Coca-Cola or Apple. There is a certain type of conditioning that happens to every Pink Floyd consumer.  They are a band who does not have an “image”, but they have an identity wrapped up in images that do not include the actual band members.  Think about them: the prism and the spectrum, a pig floating in the air, a cow grazing in a beautiful field.  They all instantly say Pink Floyd but say nothing about the band members themselves. The members have not even appeared on any of the band’s album covers since 1969.

In any other endeavor this is not remarkable.  If you own a Mercedes, do you need to know the name of the guy who put the brakes on it?  Of course not.  The symbol reassures you that it is a quality car and you can trust them.  It is the same with Pink Floyd. Do you really need to know who is playing keyboards?  They do not think that you do.

Rick Wright - In better days with the band

Rick Wright – In better days with the band

In 1983, Pink Floyd released The Final Cut.  Rick Wright’s omission from the linear notes was notable, in that he was a founding member and had written a considerable amount of their music. Dark Side of the Moon could not have happened without his substantial input.  His omission was also notable in that it was the first inkling many fans had that he had been fired by Roger Waters four years earlier.  Kurt Loder’s review of the album called it “rock art’s crowning masterpiece.” Upon release the album immediately went to #1 in the UK.

Consumers have consistently proven that they either don’t know or don’t care how the Pink Floyd sausage is made.  And by consumers I mean consumers. From the 70’s into the 90’s, Pink Floyd’s musical style veered wildly from spacey and meandering to claustrophobic and lyric laden and then back again.  All of their releases were successful, no matter what the style.  Incredibly, this also included bootlegs.

By 1974 a live bootleg version of Dark Side of the Moon was circulating around England.  Within a year it was estimated to have sold over 500,000 copies by Pink Floyd’s record label.  Another live bootleg, which featured songs that would eventually make up most of the Animals album, was selling at the brisk pace of 100,000 copies a month.  The band’s aversion to press and promotion ensured that most fans did not even know that they were buying bootlegs.  Pink Floyd’s label watched helplessly as others usurped hundreds of thousands of dollars that should have gone to the band.  In June of 1975 exasperated label boss Stuart Watson said; “I’ve found that well over half the people who have bought this bootleg think that it is the new Floyd album and the official follow-up to ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, and I don’t think that they will buy the official one when the Floyd get around to releasing it.” The band would actually wait over two years after that interview to release Animals.  It seems close to a certainty that Pink Floyd bootlegs have actually gone platinum!  Of course, most fans would also buy the official release, but the band now knew that anonymity could have a downside.  It would not be the last time their mystique backfired.

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The members of Pink Floyd have claimed that the disconnect between them and their fans came as result of their success outside of England.  Roger and Dave have often commented on the difference between their audience before and after Dark Side.  The former fans are portrayed as polite aficionados quietly witnessing art take place.  The latter are described as drunken Americans yelling for the band to play “Money.” The band(Roger especially) began to resent these fans even as they were lining their own pockets.

Q: Are the members of Pink Floyd stars to their audiences? Roger Waters: I don’t know, I really don’t know.

– Sound Magazine, 1972

The legendary 1977 North American In the Flesh tour is when it all came to a head.  The band had committed to play only stadiums for the first time.  The tour stretched on through six months and nine countries. Roger grew increasingly agitated as the tour progressed.  On bootlegs he can heard yelling a number each night.  Some intrepid fans figured out later that the number coincided with the number of shows they had played on the tour so far, and thus, how many more they had to get through.  Of course, this tour was also the time of the incident which Roger claimed gave birth to The Wall.  On July 6th 1977 at the Olympic stadium in Montreal, Roger spit in the face of a rowdy fan.  He later claimed that this incident was what gave him the idea of physically building a wall between him and the audience.

Although that incident is seen as the de-facto point of separation between Pink Floyd and their fans, a moment just as important was actually happening at the same time.  David Gilmour, either upon witnessing the incident or right before it, actually left the stage in disgust.  However, he did not go backstage.  He simply meandered off-stage through the crowd and watched the rest of the show from the soundboard.  Think about that for one moment: A man in maybe the most popular band in the world, who is playing to 90,000 people, simply takes off his guitar and walks into the crowd and no one notices.  In one night it became clear, if it hadn’t been already, how little Pink Floyd and their fans knew about each other.

Although Roger’s estrangement from the group’s fans did result in the inspiration for some good tunes, the work it spawned, The Wall, sounds more like a work of self pity than any kind of reckoning. The album itself is focused almost entirely on the external forces which cause the protagonist to withdraw from those around him.  The fact that Roger and the band’s problems were largely self-inflicted and premeditated is ignored.  The In the Flesh tour is a good example. The whole tour can be seen as the band wanting to have its cake and eat it too.  You should not book a tour in football stadiums if you expect quiet.  You should also not cultivate an anonymous group mystique if you want to be recognized individually. Trouble lay ahead.

An inkling should have come with the release of David Gilmour’s eponymous solo album in 1978. Since joining the Floyd, David had gained the reputation as one of the best guitar players in rock.  He was never the fastest or the most technical player, but his unique tone had become the envy of everyone from Pete Townsend to Paul McCartney. His solos are as much a part of Pink Floyd’s sound as any other element. His first solo album is polished and employs somewhat of a harder sound and shorter songs than earlier Pink Floyd works. Any debate as to what extent Gilmour contributed to the overall sound and vibe of The Wall should end upon listening to this underrated album.  Gilmour actually recorded the demo for “Comfortably Numb” during these sessions but didn’t use it. There are several songs which are quite catchy.  “There’s No Way Out of Here” seemed to have all of the elements of a hit single.  However, it flopped upon release in Europe.  The album eventually went gold but puttered out at #29 on the Billboard charts.  Although not a failure, it should have done significantly better.  It was just the first in a long line of solo works by every member that tanked before an ambivalent public.  Some of these solo albums are quite good. Along with David Gilmour, Roger Water’s Amused to Death(1992) and Rick Wright’s Broken China(1997) are all positive contributions to the unofficial Pink Floyd canon. The only thing which seemed to hold them all back was that Pink Floyd was not written on the cover.

The power of those two words should have been apparent to all of them.  Although the 1977 release of Animals was the beginning of the unraveling of Pink Floyd, it also may be the ballsiest record ever released.  Dark Side of the Moon was still on the Billboard charts(where it would remain for 15 years), and the extraordinary Wish You Were Here(1975) had only reaffirmed their greatness.  The popularity of both was buttressed by songs that were played heavily on FM radio.  Even if you don’t know David Gilmour from David Crosby, you probably can sing the chorus to “Wish You Were Here”.  If there was ever a time to pounce, the year was 1977. But the content of Animals is three songs over ten minutes long bookended by two songs(essentially the same song!) that barely reach one minute.  It is an album whose songs are impossible to play on the radio.  It was almost as if the boys wanted to see how far they could take it.  Incredibly, David Gilmour wanted to take it a step further. If he had gotten his way, Wish You Were Here would have consisted of only four songs that were all over ten minutes long.  If they were hoping to fail, it didn’t work.  Animals immediately went to #2 in the UK and #3 in the US.  It has sold close to 5 million copies in the US alone.

“I’m competing against myself and I’m losing.”

– Roger Waters, 1987

The further disintegration of the “classic” version of Pink Floyd follows a fairly typical template for rocks bands.  To make a long story short; Roger felt that the rest of the band weren’t bringing anything to the table that he couldn’t do himself.  He said that Pink Floyd was “a spent force creatively” and declared his intention to make solo albums from that point forward.  David Gilmour declared that he would lead the band, with Nick Mason tagging along for the ride, without Roger(Rick would rejoin later).  Roger’s famous response was “you’ll never fucking do it.” Dave decided to fucking do it.  When David’s new creation started to gain steam Roger tried to get a court injunction to prevent David from using the name Pink Floyd.  In essence, Roger said that since he was Pink Floyd, no one else could be. The High Court ruled that he had no case.

Dave went about recording a Pink Floyd album(A Momentary Lapse of Reason) and planning a world tour.  To add to the suspense, Roger had his second solo album(Radio KAOS) and a tour of his own in the works.  1987 was to be the year that the fans decided with their wallets who Pink Floyd actually was.

Ironically and rather pathetically, both sides went to the press to make their respective cases.  The gloves came off and the remnants of civility that the band had once had were quickly swept away.  Roger came away looking quite bad.  A proud man on the defensive, he appeared at once arrogant, hypocritical, and self-important.  However, he was put in a no win situation.  To make his case he basically had to brag about what he had done and belittle the other member’s contributions.  His prickly disposition compounded the problem and he basically came off as an ego maniac.  It quickly became apparent why he never wanted to deal with the press in the first place.

Dave adamantly made his case but did not appear desperate.  He could be charming and funny.  He also had the full backing of the band’s record company and the other remaining members.  He could win by not playing.  Roger did a lot of Dave’s work for him.  Dave could basically look knowingly into the eyes of an interviewer who had also interviewed Roger and essentially say, “See what I’ve been dealing with for 20 years?”

The Massive Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour

The Massive Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour

It was not a close fight.  Radio KAOS was released in June 1987 and never got higher than #50 in the US. A Momentary Lapse of Reason was released on September 7th 1987.  It was platinum by November. Waters played to half empty theatres while Pink Floyd sold out arenas and coliseums. The demand for Pink Floyd tickets was unbelievable. Initially Gilmour was skeptical of how it would go over, so they only booked a few dates.  The stadiums sold out within minutes. This was such a common occurrence that by the middle of the tour Pink Floyd would play on four or even five nights at the same venue just to satisfy the demand.  The tour eventually stretched to 200 shows.  4.25 million people saw Pink Floyd play in 1987 and 1988. They made an estimated $135 million dollars.  At that point, it was the most successful rock ’n roll tour in history.

Roger Waters spent years kicking himself over a perfect plan. He would later say:  “Oh, I wanted anonymity.  I treasured it.  And somehow we made it big and stayed private and anonymous.  It was the best of both worlds.  But now it’s as if the past twenty years have meant nothing.” Roger would clarify his position in future promotions.  Solo tour announcements would say “the genius behind Pink Floyd” after his name.  Later, when David wasn’t touring with the other remaining members he would bill himself as “the voice and guitar of Pink Floyd.”

Dave and Roger were never able to come to terms and collaborate on new music again.  To the uniformed, Live 8 seemed like the pre-curser to a full-fledged reunion.  However, David Gilmour was basically dragged there kicking and screaming by Bob Geldof who capitalized on Gilmour’s well known passion for charity work. For me, at least, watching the performance is rather painful. When they are performing “Breathe”, Gilmour is almost gritting through his teeth as Roger gyrates and sings the lyrics even though there is no microphone in front of him.  It is almost as if a game of tug-of-war was happening live on stage.  Two men are there vying for a single audience’s attention, much as they had been for the previous twenty years.

The Bittersweet Live 8 "Reunion"

The Bittersweet Live 8 “Reunion”

Sadly, they are two proud men who never knew how much they needed each other.  Their actions after their break up and before Live 8 speak for themselves.  Waters would hire both Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck for his solo projects – the obvious message being that Gilmour should know that he was dispensable.  But he wasn’t.  Roger’s solo work never came close to anything the Pink Floyd ever did together.  Roger’s thematic visions and concepts would never be counterbalanced by the beautiful melodies or harmonies that only David and Rick could supply.

Interestingly, Dave would spend much of his time hiring others to help him find the themes that only Roger was capable of conjuring.  Both A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell are obligatory “concept albums.”  However, it also never quite worked.  Gilmour’s Pink Floyd was an enormous success on paper and interesting musically, especially when Rick Wright began contributing again.  However, they never gelled lyrically and the concepts were never really all that interesting.

Roger Waters has become somewhat of a public figure recently.  He has even appeared on shows like Conan O’Brien and 60 Minutes and clearly relishes every second of attention. After Rick Wright’s death, Pink Floyd has permanently been put out to pasture.  Roger doesn’t have to worry about the others stealing his thunder anymore.  He can finally enjoy the recognition that he deserves.  However, it seems that the actual works he helped create will always be more popular, and somewhat disassociated from the man himself.  For instance, I had a variation of a conversation I’ve had hundreds of times the other day:

Friend:  “Aren’t you going to see Pink Floyd play the Wall in DC this summer?”

Me: “I’m seeing The Wall but not Pink Floyd.”

Friend: “What? I thought The Wall was by Pink Floyd.”

Me: “It is.  But I’m seeing Roger Waters.”

Friend: “Who?”

Me: “Uhhh.  Nevermind.”

As recently as a few years ago I might have snapped. Spontaneous history lessons by me have broken out over less.   It used to infuriate me when friends of mine, many of whom would classify themselves as Pink Floyd fans, would refer to Pink Floyd as “he.” I used to think that lifting the veil of Pink Floyd should be important to anyone who cares about their music.  It isn’t.  The real members cannot compete who “he” became.  I love the fact that there are those who picture “him” as a Hunter S. Thompson type figure, ingesting huge quantities of hallucinogens, tearing up hotel rooms and cavorting with an incalculable number of groupies.  All the while what I picture is David Gilmour on his huge houseboat, surrounded by his beautiful wife and many children, happily smiling and maybe, just maybe, even having a beer or two.

 

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Kevin Cenedella

By day Kevin works as a counselor, helping kids prepare for and get into college, but by night he is a student of Rock and Roll. With a penchant for the long form, Kev is a big fan of the quality over quantity value proposition. Read his articles, they are quite good.

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