Meddling in Strangeness with The Pink Floyd

Lets be honest about it, as much as I can go on and on about the Small Faces being a drug band (don’t ask me, I get a little obsessed), they don’t have even a start on Pink Floyd! Where someone once said the Faces made music about drugs, on drugs….the Floyd went one better: they made music for people who were also on drugs as well. I know the band shied away from the label, especially in the more judgmental days of the 1960s where such a label could be the commercial kiss of death, but the fact remains that The Floyd have always been kind to their fans that way – making music to trip to and recreating the psychedelic experience through performance and sound, and if you were not into tripping, Floyd gave you a pretty good idea of what you were missing out on. Of course Pink Floyd grew out of it, not entirely, but mostly. If a band were to get an award for most productive use of drugs, I would have to give it to Pink Floyd, no contest. Heck, if the various allegations of cocaine use are true, they even made that work for them! The Wall is bombastic brilliance. Pink Floyd never made a misstep musically, at least not the only Floyd that matters to me: the Floyd with Roger Waters at the helm.

The early UFO club days were places for freaks to freak out tripping with some really cool light shows and psychedelic music courtesy of bands like Floyd, Soft Machine and The Incredible String Band. The liquid light shows and music provided the ultimate backdrop for the hippies and their drug of choice – the consciousness-elevating LSD and shrooms. By 1971, Floyd were transforming themselves, and the album on the cusp between stadium rock and the old psychedelia was Meddle.

Post Syd, the band were heading that direction under the leadership of Waters. Gilmour was proving to be the perfect guitarist for the job. How far had he come between the days of him standing far away from the rest of the band, removed and looking like he didn’t quite fit in. In the music promo for Paintbox in ’67 It was almost as if they were not sure if they wanted to keep him yet, and he wasn’t sure he was staying either. Paintbox was the B side to Apples and Oranges, written by Syd, but due to his overuse of psychedelics and quaaludes (or mandrax if you were in the UK – a now long gone sedative drug with more than a hint of dreaminess) Syd had ceased to function well enough to be part of the band. He had stopped turning up, and the band just stopped inviting him to play. In a 2007 Mojo magazine interview, Rick Wright recounts telling Syd they were going to buy cigarettes, and instead going off to play a gig, and returning to him asking if they had got the cigarettes yet. Syd was the perfect psychedelic popstar, but the price on his physical and mental health was far far too high.

Whizzing back through time, the young me didn’t see a Syd that was a rock and roll sacrificial lamb. I didn’t hear wish you were here, Syd, you’re gone, I failed to pay heed to the “now your eyes are like black holes in the skies”, I just heard crazy diamond and wanted a bit of that. Syd’s dark black hole eyes didn’t put me off one bit, I thought Syd had seen enlightenment, seen beyond the veil, and I did too. Syd probably did, I figure, except you are not going to make it back from that far beyond. Poor beautiful Syd. Sitting in a room in a squat on the 13th floor of a dingy high rise in some dingier part of some scuzzy city with a group of friends, I solemnly brought out Echoes and put it on the record player. We had scored some LSD. I had been waiting for this, it was not the drug de jour, I was late to the party. The album was just hitting San Tropez the second to last track, and I had just said for about the 50th time that nothing was happening, when something happened.

Danny walked across the room and left behind him trails of light, echoes of footsteps. Danny was not a graceful being, but he was transformed into a piper at the gates of dawn, a laughing clowning Mr Tambourine man. I got up, and started walking, my feet sunk into the floor and the thin carpet up to my knees, the sensation of wading through marshmallow accompanying the feeling. Seamus howled from the Stereo and I started laughing as the needle returned to the rest. It took me some time to reset the album, and start from the beginning. The boys didn’t let me down, time was fluid, and the twenty minute freak outs passed in blinks of an eye: it was an acid test on tape, a Pink Floyd assisted journey through the sea. It all fell apart when Danny turned to me and said, “it’s getting kinda cold and dark in here,” just as Waters’ bass with a slide dragged across it fed through an Binson echorec peddle (I joke that this album schould be called Peddles) did the best impression of a dying whale ever wrought in rock and roll history. I would like to say that it was all hunky dory from there on in, but things took a turn for the worse. Hamburgers that someone magically made appear started talking to me, screaming and spurting blood from wounded bitten hamburger-faces, faces peered out from walls, and Roger and the boys started to accompany all the stars falling out from the sky. I think the third tab I took, after I had convinced myself that the stuff wasn’t working at all, might have been a step too far.

Sometime the next day, after things had become more sensible I played Meddle through again. Something had changed in my brain, the vibrations of the Floyd had rewired my neural pathways…ok so the acid had helped but the Floyd had helped provide the direction. I passed my hand, open palmed in front of my eyes. Nothing. No hint of sparkle or trail, no intensified colors, Rolling a joint on the sleeve of Obscured by Clouds, as Echoes played I finally got it, the Pompei, the dying of the empire, the laying to rest the ghosts, the moving on from the toys of childhood into the full flower of adulthood, looking darkness in the face and daring not to dream. “And no one sings me lullabys and no one makes me close my eyes, so I throw the windows wide..” sings Richard Wright, and I nod as I finally understand, the party is over, and innocence has gone forever.

..ps….a delightfully stoney trippy interview with Roger blowing some smoke rings. It is worth watching for Roger’s antics alone. Remember boys and girls, “Oysters are beyond nationality.” Waters as Lewis Carrol! T’was brillig!

14 Comments

  1. R. Cross

    Great story–it had a familiar ring to it. I remember a trip in college, coming down to the sounds of Echoes; the ascending wobbly noises at the fadeout were unbelieveable. (We then somehow ended up listening to Jimmy Buffett, but it worked somehow! Suddenly we felt like we were in hammocks in the Virgin Islands, without a care in the world.)

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