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Pink Floyd: Journey to the Dark Side

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Save for the genuine bite of "Money" and "Time," Dark Side is among the least visceral and most cerebral of great rock albums, all floating textures and creeping tempos. "My doctor said never play above your pulse rate," Mason says. But Gilmour's incandescent lead guitar is a constant link back to hard rock. "Some punch, some rock guitar," he says, nodding. "You know, once you've had that guitar up so loud on the stage, where you can lean back and volume will stop you from falling backward, that's a hard drug to kick."

Dark Side lacked an ending until Waters came in one day with "Eclipse," a short but immensely powerful track that's constructed as a prayerlike litany: The first two lines echo lyrics from "Breathe," at the start of the album: "All that you touch/All that you see," Waters sings, as the track gradually gains momentum. "I remember working hard on making it build and adding harmonies that join in as you go through the song," says Gilmour. "Because there's nothing to it – there's no chorus, there's no middle eight, there's just a straight list. So, every four lines we'll do something different."

The last step was the album cover. Thorgerson prepared numerous sketches, including one that would have been a photographic treatment of Marvel Comics' Silver Surfer at a beach. The whole band instantly selected the image of a prism emerging from a triangle (which symbolized "thought and ambition," according to Thorgerson), partially a tribute to its light show. In a gesture of largesse that today's recording budgets wouldn't quite allow, Floyd then sent Thorgerson to Egypt to shoot pictures of the Pyramids for the album's interior art.

'Money, it's a hit," Gilmour sang, and so it was, along with just about everything the band would do for the next eight years. "Money" made the Top 20 in the U.S., Dark Side began what would be a 741-week run on the charts, and Pink Floyd were an arena-level act in the States. Waters, who had been a committed socialist, saw a certain cynicism creep in. In the Pink, a long-unreleased memoir by his friend Nick Sedgwick, has Waters saying things like, "Oh, I'll just go write another song and make a few thousand quid. Here's to the punters – let's buy another motorboat." "I don't shine in a positively bright way in the book," says Waters, who's putting it out himself soon. "But I don't give a fuck now. We all are who we are." The book apparently also makes a strong case for Waters' creative dominance, which he has said led the other members to reject its release.

The Floyd were already trying to work on songs for a follow-up to Dark Side by 1974, and they started having the worst arguments of their time together to date. "Looking back, we shouldn't have gone back into the studio so soon after Dark Side," says Mason. "We should have toured for [another] year."

By 1979, Waters' control of the band was all but complete. He forced out Wright, whose contributions had slipped in the wake of personal problems. 1979's The Wall was Waters' baby (though Gilmour is proud of his musical contributions), and 1983's stark The Final Cut was a Waters solo album in all but name. "Maybe the band could have continued if everyone decided to do everything exactly how Roger wanted," says Mason. "But it may just be that Roger had outgrown the band." In 1985, Waters left Pink Floyd – and was stunned when Gilmour and Mason decided to carry on without him.

"Roger left in '85," says Gilmour. "I was in my late thirties and I'd joined Pink Floyd when I was 21. My entire adult life had been working on this artistic enterprise, this band, which was pretty much playing the sort of music that I loved. Why would I suddenly want to quit? I didn't want to quit. Roger leaving, you know, one can discuss forever what we lost and how what came afterward in some way didn't consistently match up to what may have been our best previous moments. I don't know. Very tricky sort of area to discuss, but the fact is for me, we went on, we continued doing what we did, we were pretty damn successful at it, and had a fantastic great time."

The Gilmour-led Pink Floyd recorded two studio albums, 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason and 1994s The Division Bell. They commercially trounced Waters' solo work, with the bassist sometimes seeing half-sold arenas at his own shows while Floyd played stadiums nearby. "You know, he set up confrontational things," says Gilmour. "The humiliation you talk about was designed by him as a head-to-head, and hopefully he learned. And he wanted to do his solo stuff and mix in Pink Floyd. There was a certain pride in that."

The new Floyd finished their last tour in 1994, and without fanfare, Gilmour called it quits. "I was launched into being pretty much" the sole leader by Roger leaving," he says. "And I was having to bear that hurdle, that burden, all by myself. It was difficult, it was a learning curve, that first album. But you know, Division Bell's got a lot to be said for it. After that the weight of carrying that burden was getting a bit much. And I thought I might sort of retire or look into solo things."

Gilmour released a solo album, On an Island, in 2006, and embarked on a well-reviewed theater tour with Wright onboard. "Doing it on a slightly smaller scale without the expectation of that Pink Floyd tag on it, doing whatever I wanted with whatever musicians I wanted was joyful," Gilmour says. "Not many people want to change scale in that direction, to downsize. Most people want to get as big as they can be and cling up there to the last possible dying gasp. I've been there, and I've done it, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it and I'm satisfied with it, and I just do not want to play a stadium again." But his retreat from the Floyd legacy left a hole that his former bandmate was all too happy to fill.

Two days after Gilmour's houseboat interview, Waters sits in his own, more businesslike home base on the other side of the Atlantic – a production office on the 10th floor of a downtown Manhattan office building. At 68, Waters is wiry and fit, and he's exuding some seriously feral energy today. It's not just because it's his first time back in the office after a summer off: His Wall tour was the second-highest-grossing in North America last year, and it's only getting started. "In Europe, it seemed to be even better than over here, and it just gets better and better – we sold 86,000 tickets yesterday," he says with a broad smile, referring to a run of shows in Buenos Aires. Then, as if to upstage the rerelease of his own band's back catalog, he makes a point of announcing that his tour will return to the U.S. next year, based around baseball stadiums.

In other words, the album that decried the inhumanity of stadium shows will, for the first time, hit stadiums. The wall that goes up during the show, Waters says, will now have a square surface of 140 yards: "We've done light tests in Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium, and it's fine. It works." He's also working on a filmed version of the tour, a long-planned Wall Broadway show and multiple upcoming productions of Qa Ira, his opera about the French Revolution.

Once the Wall tour is over, Waters may follow Gilmour's lead and scale down. "I'm not sure I want to go out and do greatest hits again," he says. "I think if I did any more in the future it might well be smaller."

Waters was busy touring while the reissues came together, and waves off questions about the specifics. "Dave and Nick would know a lot more about what's going on than I would," he says. ("I sent him the box a year ago," says Thorgerson.)

Sitting by an immaculate glass conference table in the wood-floored office – where it's impossible not to notice a window opening onto a brick wall – Waters takes great pains to avoid debating his former bandmates. As he told me last year, "I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings ever again." When I mention that Gilmour claims that Waters rarely wrote vocal melodies, he looks grim for a second and then embarks on an answer about how memory can be unreliable. He does make a point of noting the importance of the collaboration. "Something might have happened without Rick or without me or without Dave," he says, perhaps accidentally leaving out Mason's name, "but it wouldn't have been what did happen."

The truth is, Gilmour and Waters were never particularly close friends, and hardly knew each other until Gilmour joined the band – though Waters remembers being delighted when he first arrived. "He's a wonderful singer and a great guitar player," he says. "What more could you want? And he's also a nice bloke. Good fun, likes a laugh and all that. It wasn't like, 'Oh, he's a great guitar player and a beautiful singer, but, he's weird.'"

From the outside, it seems that relations between Gilmour and Waters are the strongest they've been since Waters left. "You would think so, yeah," Gilmour says, pursing his lips and staying silent for a moment. "You could say that, but when I hesitate, it's almost nonexistent. I played on Roger's Wall show here one night a few months ago, and I haven't seen or heard a word from him since." In the intervening period, Gilmour's son Charlie was sentenced to 16 months in prison for his participation in a violent protest against a U.K. university tuition hike – which might have been a good opportunity for Waters to get in touch. Months before that, Waters and Gilmour played "Wish You Were Here" and three other songs at their charity acoustic gig, and they had no communication in between, according to Gilmour. "It's not unfriendly. But it's not part of either of our day-to-day existence."

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