I’ve been on a Pink Floyd buzz recently.
YouTube is like that … you play one song and the predictive playlist does the rest. Pretty soon you are on an odyssey, as my friend Tom and I would call it.
When Tom and I would go on one of our magical musical benders, there would be some wine involved. A heavy old clink in the refuse sack the next morning amount of wine.
Before we had kids, of course.
The first time it just happened.
We were neighbours and friends.
The Rioja was being guzzled almost by the neck as we swayed into the wee small hours, the music on my stereo that started the evening in background mode, now front, left and centre in the living room, loud and loose like the pair of us dancing fools.
Tom and I were all waving arms and flailing elbows as we hastened to the machine to play another of those songs to each other that meant so much.
It was an intense yet life-affirming musical journey … the soundtrack to our lives and all that, but it was also maybe our blokey way of accessing and sharing in the beauty that was still in the world. Despite everything.
Oh how we laughed as we lurched through those songs and the accompanying stories of triumphs and almost triumphs, and, more often, hilarious failures.
That first time was spontaneous, and by the time we staggered off to our cribs, we were emotionally spent, blissfully drunk on wine and life.
Well worth the hangover. Eventually.
We christened the experience The Odyssey.
So we’d do it again, every so often, and it would get better and better as the night wore on, inhibitions going down as the alcohol intake went up.
It was like our musical heroes were saying and playing the really important things we could not express to ourselves, or others. Or at least not as well as John Cale’s rising organ swirl that is the high point for me of Nick Drake’s already ecstatic Northern Sky.
The Floyd would be prime odyssey material for me.
Like those remembered prayers from childhood that lapsed Catholic me can still cite at the occasional funeral or wedding mass, I bet I would still mouth nearly every syllable of Welcome To The Machine from Wish You Were Here, or The Thin Ice, from The Wall:
“Momma loves her baby
And daddy loves you too.
And the sea may look warm to you babe
And the sky may look blue
But ooooh Baby
Ooooh baby blue
Oooooh babe .…”
Like in the best groups, there is a tension between the bigger personalities in The Floyd, and a subtle play of contrasts that shapes their finest work.
Like when Roger Waters’ nasal verse ruminations in Comfortably Numb, from The Wall, give way to the silken sonic soar of Dave Gilmour’s chorus.
“There is no pain you are receding ….”
Such bliss is mine!
Maybe Waters’ grim lyrical take on things resonated with me more as a young man, always questioning things, but I also loved the fact that, rich and successful as he was, he was not afraid to express in that crafted naive way the despair at the heart of “modern life”.
On went my YouTube odyssey, and before I knew it I was listening to Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety.
Oh how up it was to be down, as the strange beauty of this aural journey unfolded.
I sat transfixed as Waters’ words of alienation, conflict, greed, time and the melodramatic madness of sad Syd Barrett were transfigured by Rick Wright’s synthesised loops and swoops, and those disembodied voices talking as Gilmour’s spectacular guitar wailings strained at the mooring certainty of Waters’ bass and Nick Mason’s drums.
I can still remember my slightly older cousin singing all of Brain Damage, from Dark Side, in the back seat of our car. I was maybe 12 and hooked.
Magnifique, as we say in Tipperary.
But the high point of my Floyd wig out was a clip from the otherwise best forgotten Pink Floyd: The Wall movie, featuring a young Bob Geldof.
It’s an early scene in the movie, drawn from Roger Waters’ life.
The song accompanying it, When The Tigers Broke Free, did not appear on the original album. Too personal, I read later.
Waters was just five months old when his father, Lt Eric Fletcher Waters, died aged 31 during fighting between Allied and German forces at Anzio in early 1944.
In the movie scene we see dapper Lt Waters lighting his oil lamp in his billet, then igniting and smoking a ruminative cigarette as the bombs of war rumble overhead.
He loads his revolver and fastidiously prepares for what we learn would be his last day on earth.
We see his cigarette pack, cache of bullets, open razor and other familiar objects spread out on his table as he stands before a mirror and adjusts his pristine officer’s hat.
We cut to a young Waters running home across a rugby field from school and eventually discovering these same objects and his Dad’s hat in a bottom drawer in his Mom’s bedroom, “hidden way”, as he sings it.
His young head is lost in his father’s hat as he too looks into the mirror and adjusts it.
The song itself is spine-shivering, my defences in shreds as I succumbed to the wail of the still anguished Roger Waters as he berated the powers that sent out his Daddy to his death.
“There was frost in the ground
When the tigers broke free
And no one survived
From the Royal Fusiliers Company Z
They were all left behind
Most of them dead
The rest of them dying
And that’s how the High Command
Took my Daddy from me”
His father’s death, and the fact they never located his body, marked Roger Waters forever.
He was only finally brought to the place where his father was killed in 2013, and he spoke then of the impact it all had on him.
“I was very angry. It took me years to come to terms with it. Because he was missing in action, presumed killed, until quite recently I expected him to come home. The sacrifice of his life has been a great gift and a great burden to me.”
And so my latest odyssey comes to an end.
How about your’s?
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