While reading about Roger Waters’ current summer “Wall” tour, some Floydian memories washed over JD. Everybody was sacked. Teenaged JD sat alone out on the deck in the early morning moonlight, seeing eyes in the woods, soft wind in the willows, then looking overhead into the interstellar galaxies, pumped up swirls and spins through the twinkling skyways as “Astronomy Domine” cascaded through the Advents in the living room. “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” was a menagerie of fairy tales, warped vignettes, hard-edged and spatial spaceways, garage and magical melodies. It was and is among the trio of pop masterpieces and major influential albums that appeared in 1967. Beatles Sgt Peppers was the prettiest, a mass consumpted epic pop psychedelia. Everybody heard Sgt Peppers when it arrived. Practically nobody on the east coast, outside of NYC, London and Europe heard the other two for months or years later. Peppers was the warm home to leave from.
Velvet Underground and Nico was the other side, the needle next to the pipes of Peppers. Louie Mandera was J.D’s hipster friend, black curled locks over his collar and eyebrows. He and his friends were transported downtown and into a world of charm and decadence, listening to the Velvets at Louie’s house when his Mom was at work. It was a bit scary, not totally taken to by JD’s hippie sensibilities. That may have kept him from drifting into Louie’s bedroom, where others would nod off. One morning, he went to Louie’s, and the place was empty.
No, literally, studio wise next door to Peppers, it was Pink Floyd’s “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” that captured the unlimited possibilities of Alice’s wonderland and psychosis, science and space and JD’s imagination. Those three albums and a few others (from the same year) – Cream’s hard rock psych gem “Disraeli Gears”, Hendrix’s “…Experienced” and “Axis…”, Who’s conceptual power punk “Sell Out”, Dylan’s country rock “John Wesley Harding” and Buffalo Springfield’s “…Again”, Kink’s alt indie “Something Else”, Sly Stones foray into psych funk, Zappa’s Bizarre and Beefhearts “…Milk”, the psychedelic sounds (where psych may have begun, at the border) of the 13th Floor Elevators’ “Easter Everywhere,” the dark and fire psych of the breakthrough Doors, San Fran’s the Airplane’s “…Pillow” and “…Baxters”, and in many ways, Floyd’s west coast counterpart, improvising ‘delia Grateful Dead’s self titled first release – would be the influential albums for practically all the genres of rock to come. (Brian Wilson’s and the Beach Boys pop psych masterpiece was held up by Capitol records’ rejections.)
Beatles with pop, song craft and recording advances, eloquence and imagination. The Velvets were raw punk, raw playing, raw beauty and edged truth. Pink Floyd explored space and grim nursery tales.
With young J.D. it was in the pages of the glossy, music mag, Circus, a few years later that he read about a band called Pink Floyd, named after two bluesmen. “Atom Heart Mother” had just been released, and the article gave the history of the band losing it’s leader, songwriter and guitarist, Syd Barrett, virtually after Piper (though one more followed with him involved) and moving further from psychedelic pop songs to the experimental spaceways of their Canterbury light show freakouts, and scoring outre film soundtracks in Europe.
JD wasn’t sure about Atom Heart. Cows on the cover didn’t totally make sense, but it surely was unassuming, earthy and boring. But Atom Heart was a twenty minute suite unlike what JD had heard before. Of course he was familiar with the sounds of west coast psych, and had been blown away when Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” first hit the turntable. The sounds weren’t that heavy and there was brass and orchestra, but a motorcycle revving off as the music drove to crescendos was pretty cool.
JD was intrigued enough to do another and found a copy of Ummagumma and the live rendition of “Astronomy Domine” changed his perceptions, and the album sent him spelunking and battling flies – and this before he practiced what he read in the “Electric Kool Acid Test”. JD hunted out the rest of the catalogue, the lovely fractured solos by Barrett, and Waters’ “the Body” with experimental composer Ron Geesin, and bought “Meddle” when it arrived.
One day he and a friend drank some of that kool aid after exiting stage left, toward the cemetery, off the school bus. And during that particular day away from high school visited a McDonalds at lunchtime. Waiting in a line of about twenty they inched toward the counter. Finally they were asked for their order. JD looked at the cashier and realized he was not hungry in the least, he turned to his friend who also declared no appetite at all! And the two burst out laughing and walked out doubled over in giggles while the lunch crowd looked on incredulously. Later on the bus ride home, JD said it was time to come to his house and hear this epic called “Echoes” by a band called Pink Floyd which will sonically replicate the mind melting trip taken that day.
Next stop was a ticket to finally see the Floyd at Merriweather Post. The band was in a row, a straight line across the very front of the stage, including Nick Mason on drums and gongs. Equalitarian, unlike any set up JD and his friends had seen before. The wall of speakers from floor to ceiling was mammoth. They played a thirty minute “Echoes” and “Watch the Axe, Eugene” and the punishing “One of These Days”, and they previewed some of ‘Assorted Pieces for Lunatics’ or “Dark Side of the Moon” as it became, which was yet to be released.
JD had always marveled how they were simple musicians who made the most with the least, especially David Gilmour’s lush fat guitar work. The show was only aided by smoke and lights. The spring of 1973 would change everything. The Floyd had worked its way to cult status in the US and the tour JD saw drew a few thousand at the pavilion. Next time he saw them it was at the Washington Arena with over twenty or so thousand, film and inflated pigs and stuff, but not as magical as the Post show.
JD bought Dark Side on release day and shortly after he dropped the stylus he knew this was gonna be it. Obviously not the whole gigantic blow up, buoyed by the bluesy single “Money”. The album was a cohesive synthesis of all they’d been working toward – from “if”, “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” and “Funky Dung” from Atom, the soundtrack “More” with the rocker “Nile Song,” and “Echoes” culminating in this, their Gilmour era masterpiece. Space left for the earthly sounds they leaned toward from Ummagumma’s “Grandchester Meadows” to the soundtrack “Obscured by Clouds.” Fairy tale and space lyrics left for tales of everyday despair and insanity and sonic majesties.
The “secret” love of Floyd, JD and his friends shared was about to be shared by many millions. A couple of his friends cried “sell out.” A few months later in the summer, JD found himself in the back of a smoke filled van riding the countryside, checking out cows and horses, while Dark Side played on an eight track on continuous loop for the entire day. He realized he was the only passenger who’d heard of Pink Floyd a season earlier. JD had a fanciful thought that maybe the world is progressing, on it’s way to a better place.
So Floyd became so huge five years after their early flame out in ’68 with their aborted early US tour and Syd’s descent, after he had enchanted London on Floyd’s first and classic “Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” They put out a couple of very good albums after DSOTM. Then with the overrated and uneven, “The Wall”, and the loquacious “Final Cut” bassist Roger Waters had a midlife crisis, became a tyrannical asshole, relegated keyboardist Rick Wright to “employee” status and blew away the democracy that had worked so well, and quit. Gilmour, Mason and Wright would turn the band into a crass Beach Boys touring spectacle with even more stuff than even the last U2 tour, maybe.
Wayne Coyne with his band, the excellent Flaming Lips released a punked and inverted cover of DSOTM about forty years later. They covered “Wish You Were Here” live, and monster bassist Les Claypool’s Primus cover “Have a Cigar” on an ep. Coyne commented on the irony of how Floyd came to represent the fat that got slagged by punk rock (Johnny Rotten’s “I Hate Pink Floyd” t-shirt (it was ’77 and the inflated pig floyd)), after they had actually started out with very punk ideals – learning their instruments as they went, especially Syd and Roger and pushing the boundaries of pop and rock, and ignoring commercial trappings. And JD would add putting cows on their cover and how they maintained artistic control.
Roger Waters is touring “The Wall” this summer and so far it’s the highest grossing tour of the year. The musical play of tearing down the walls of fascism, might be especially poignant in the new millennium as it sadly seems that walls are being built back up, at least in modern times of attitude and behavior, toward one another and around us.