Pink Floyd didn’t start as an exercise in industro-psycho-social experimental rock. The band started with a curious name which served as a nod to the blues, and a lead singer that did so much LSD that he never returned. The Pink Floyd of 1967 was a far different beast to the Pink Floyd of the final three albums – Animals, The Wall and The Final Cut. The original Pink Floyd carved a niche in the then emerging genre of psychedelia, with it’s dark adult nursery rhyme-like lyrics and strange aural landscape of sound effects, clashing melodies and kitsch simplicity. The band was as famous for their light shows in those early daze, as they were for their music.
They were the UFO Club house band, a sort of Andy’s Factory-cum-Max’s Kansas City for the British scene, where avant guard films, poetry readings, light shows, and sets from the likes of Hendrix, Yoko Ono, Soft Machine and Pink Floyd, were presented to a hip and tripping audience. What did the discerning LSD freek want to listen to in 1967? Matilda Mother ‘tell(ing them) more’, and how that mouse without a house was called Gerald, that’s what. Syd wrote the songs, all the lyrics and was the lynchpin in the band. With Syd’s swift deterioration and exit after only one album, replaced by Gilmour on guitar, the band had to pivot.
Roger was the phenomenon they pivoted around. He took over lyric writing duties and provided both the edge and the experimentalism to balance out the bland but talented Gilmour, who in turn stopped Waters from being too self indulgently insane. Mason and Wright, on drums and keys respectively kept on providing the stability and balance. In an aside, I have a bit of a soft spot for the apparently gentle and talented Nick Mason. His drums never get in the way, never get boring, and he always holds it down. I was offended for him when Roger Waters said in a recent interview that drummers were not musicians, even if it was said in jest. I am not sure Waters is ever truly entirely joking, he doesn’t seem constitutionally able to do so.
The band denies being a ‘drug band’, at a guess partly so the BBC would continue to give them play time, and they would not be subject to the no radio play death that would befall them if they were seen as endorsing or admitting to imbibing illegal mind altering substances. Waters hilariously insists he has only ever done LSD once or twice and that he was never into anything but a little hash. He can go on the liar liar pants on fire suspect step with Patti Smith. I’ll even provide a teenth of hash. The simple fact of the matter is that the Floyd sound, that deep under water oceanic echo, the lyrics, the far away acid soaked sound and substance is infused with so much lysergic acid that the listener is treated to a trip-by-proxy. A musical contact high. There are certain tropes to be followed to any early drug experimentation: joints need to be rolled on Astral Weeks, and Pink Floyd should provide the soundtrack to the first trip.
As the band moved away from Barrett and his influences and towards Waters’ obsessions and various brain damage (any color you like) meanderings, it also evolved into a far different animal. The transformation was complete by the final Floyd trilogy.
The last three Floyd albums, besides being the pinnacle of their musical and lyrical output, form a heavily political treatise. The themes of ‘we live in a society (and it mostly sucks)’, time exists (and it is running out as we speak); we live in an animal farm (and it is hard not being a farm animal surrounded domesticated creatures of habit), and if you don’t eat yer meat (they won’t let us have any pudding), runs alongside the thread of the losses of both Syd and his father.
Syd, a veteran of a thousand psychic wars, and his father, killed in WW2 not making it home to the infant Roger and his mother, both left indelible marks on Waters, and formed the seed for the rage against a society that uses human beings as human cattle fodder. The educational system sets creative and different young men up to either fail or fatally rebel, as Roger recognized in Floyd’s least ‘floydy’ but most recognizable song and the chorus that has tormented teachers ever since.”We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control” is the battle cry of a soul tortured by the education system that failed to recognize the best way to get through to a disaffected and angry young man.
Roger didn’t seem to change much over the years. He is now a very angry and disaffected old man, whose ranting and raving against both the dying of the light and the system that tries to extinguish lights early has thankfully not calmed over the decades. I do think that Gilmour should let him back into the Floyd website though. Waters deserves to profit off the name that would not exist without him. Perhaps the world does not need Waters to still be so righteously angry, perhaps we need him to rage more than ever before.
As a small aside, Roger claiming that he WAS basically Pink Floyd has not been borne out by his solo output. Waters without the mediating calming rest of the Floyd behind him is prone to a lot of what I call ‘diggity diggity’ avant guard posturing, random dolphin screeches, blood curdling cries of torment, and tuneless experimentalism, that shows flashes of brilliance without being anchored into anything listenable or to the reality of what actually sounds good. The edges are all left on the music, and the lyrics remain unrefined and comedic. Take the track More Than Seven Dwarves in Penis-Land from Music From The Body. It starts off with some lightly satanic sounding gregoriann chanting, horrendous overlayed anti-melodic screeching that skips from left headphone to right, and gets worse from there. The desperately manic falsetto gives me the willies every time and not in a hauntingly good way, and that is before Roger starts whooping offensively and hooting like a constipated owl towards the end of the track! That track, put through the mill of the rest of the Floyd ‘members’ would either be laughed out of the recording studio, or else reinvented as the gloriously swooping scream of Breathe.
With Biden having the word “Putin” painted on surface to air missiles being sent out to the Ukraine, various dangerous posturing and dick waving, a world that doesn’t put value on all human life, entire potential brigades of young people being brainwashed into being good little agents of the anti-revolution, the great stabilization of a status quo that destroyed Syd, and killed not only Roger’s father, but millions of human beings that only wanted to live peacefully and had no interest in the politics of death of the rich white men who never seem to have to sacrifice their own sons to the war and profit machine.
The Gunner’s Dream, imagined by Waters as his father’s final moments alive in this world is an attempt at humanizing the loss, at bringing some good, a warning to future generations to not let it happen again. His father would have been so proud of Waters to hear that compassion and dedication to the cause of peace, a peace that he felt compelled to fight for and paid the ultimate price for. Fighting for peace, the old saying goes, is like fucking for virginity, yet over and over again we as a society are left with no choice, dragged into wars that stimulate economies, using our bodies and our love as grist to their money making destructo-mill.
Waters as a human being and a creative force was formed through loss and a natural tendency to kick against the pricks, even if it did infamously make him worry if ‘they going to break (his) balls’. Of course they were going to. Foot meet balls is just the way this world turns. You are either a ‘dog’ doing the kicking, a sheep bracing for impact and being thankful for it in a brainwashed kinda way…or a piggy with bad habits that affect the actual mensch just trying to survive their chowing down in the trough and controlling squabbling.
In Waters’ world, all dreams are ‘crazy’ or else lost, backs are only there to have knives stuck in them by the war and death machine of the ‘dogs’, the guitarist is a ‘killer’, and suitcases carry his ‘favorite axe’. I am not sure he means his guitar, or another means of world and paradigm destruction. It barely matters. What matters is that this world of inequity, of suffering and killing and judging and controlling is a swamp that has to be swum through and bourne.
At least when Pink Floyd is playing there is a means of escape and mutual comfort. Escape into the inner canyons and pools of the psychedelic mind, or escape from a system that catalogues and categorizes, controls and destroys at will, there is a certain grok, a click of recognition that we are not alone in this mess.
Animals is infused with the heavy sound of concrete, glass and steel bars, the dark satanic mills of the English landscape encapsulated by the foreboding image of Battersea Power Station looming phallically over the cover, and the only bows of burning gold and chariots of desire to be found are floating amongst Gilmour guitar solos, as vitriolic fragments of raging against both the ‘machine’ he took on in Wish You Were Here, and the inequities of the and also the dying of the light that he revisits time and time again, from Time in Dark Side of the Moon, with the sun that cannot be caught up with, to the Gunner’s warning in The Final Cut, that ‘anyone still in command of their possible future to take care.’
The evolution of the final three albums, the heavily political war and ‘we live in a society’ trilogy was set into motion with Animals, peaked with The Wall, and came to a crashing halt with The Final Cut, where Waters gave full rein to examining loss in both its personal and wider ranging aspects. Despite the pin point focus of The Final Cut on the loss of his father, the album became a metaphor for the destruction of the band. The final break up started with Waters firing Wright and ending up with Roger leaving the band, expecting the entire band to stop recording under the Floyd name, only to find the rest of the band were going to carry on without him.
Throughout the album the listener is subjected to both the fractured and damaged psyche of Roger and a world coming to terms with loss and war, whilst looking forward towards history repeating itself until we are all wiped out in a nuclear temper tantrum of rich men with privileged piggy fingers on big red buttons. It is a truly great and important album. Questions remain over Gilmour being shut out of the production and mixing, leaving me wondering if this album could have been as enticing as Dark Side of the Moon if Waters had allowed Gilmour to dilute his vision. In the final reckoning this is probably a purer and more honest production for Water’s control freakism, even if that did not make him very popular with his bandmates, destroying their friendships and bonds, and the album remains a somewhat hobbled and reduced beast.
The Final Cut is an immensely brave album, not only because it marked a final evolution and dissolution of one of the most important bands of all time, but also a final cut to the band’s journey with Waters. The band was infinitely more boring, bland and greatly reduced without Roger’s energy. One Of My Turns, (from The Wall) where it was not so much ‘careful with that axe, Eugene’, as what the heck is Geldolf/Waters doing smashing up a hotel room and scaring the groupies, showed a side to the excesses and pressures of the rock and roll lifestyle that the mild mannered Pink Floyd were seemingly immune to, yet it is this psycho energy that is not brought to the table by Gilmour’s Floyd. The remaining boys are just too ‘nice’ and sane to be truly brilliant.
With the world falling into totalitarian demands and mandates, authoritarian propaganda drives Floyd’s final trilogy is more important listening than ever. Schools think it is their place to raise children and tell them what to think, rather than encouraging independent thought and the importance of the individual. We are encouraged to buy into sets of beliefs, values and thoughts, rather than form a varied independent personal moral paradigm. It is the rise of identity politics all over again, and we all know how that goes. We don’t even need Roger to pull on his Hammerstein outfit and start the offensive parody that forces us to laugh at ourselves and question and keep the lamp lit watching out for fascist danger on the horizon to recognize that we are increasingly in danger of having to do the whole damn mass dying all over again.
Sometimes the most important mirrors are the ones that are held up to society by those that want no part of the entire game. Sometimes we need Pink Floyd to illustrate that existential yowlp of horror at the prospect of two suns in the sunset….now can someone just send the politicians copies, and force feed them The Fletcher Memorial Home For Incurable Tyrants and Kings. We need to ask them that vital question, “did they expect us to treat them with any respect?” Boom boom bang bang lie down you’re dead is just a game to them, but to us, the us that are on the bottom, it is our lives, our hearts, our families, our futures, our pasts and our presents.