It's unlikely that any judge or jury, if the suit comes to trial, will decide the rightful ownership of the name Pink Floyd by listening to a record. And both Waters and Gilmour realize that, legally or otherwise, any settlement or judgment will probably fall short of their demands. "The ideal settlement would have happened years ago when we could have all shaken hands," says Waters. "I've finally understood that no court in the world is interested in this airy-fairy nonsense of what is or isn't Pink Floyd. All I'm likely to get out of it – or could possibly get out of it – is a slice."
"It will never be solved to everyone's satisfaction," Gilmour says wearily. "But it will be solved to the point of reality. And soon, I hope."
In the beginning, there was Syd Barrett. And in London's paisley underground of 1966-67, it was commonly accepted that he was Pink. An art student from Cambridge, he cofounded Pink Floyd in late '65 with Waters, a schoolboy chum from Cambridge who was studying architecture in London, and two other architecture students, Rick Wright and Nick Mason. It was Barrett who named the group (combining the names of two old bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council); he also sang most of the songs and gave the group its charisma. Driven by his eccentric muse and regular excursions on Lsd, he steeped the fledgling Floyd in a heady synthesis of English teapot whimsy, riveting melodic invention and freak-rock tumult, all captured vividly for posterity on the group's 1967 debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Another surviving artifact of Barrett's errant genius is a captivating 1967 black-and-white promo video of the original Floyd cavorting to its first single, "Arnold Layne," a film clip Waters shows in his Radio K.A.O.S. concerts every night, always announcing at the end, "The great Syd Barrett, lest we forget." Waters says he still likes to sing old Barrett gems like "Bike" and "Dark Globe" in the bath.
"What was so stunning about Syd's songs," he says, "was, through the whimsy and the crazy juxtaposition of ideas and words, there was a very powerful grasp of humanity. They were quintessentially human songs. And that is what I've always attempted to aspire to. In that sense, I feel a strong connection to him."
That connection took a darker turn toward the end of '67 as Barrett – unable to shoulder the burdens of fame and his own acid-accelerated mental instability – withdrew into a debilitating madness. He never recovered. David Gilmour, also from Cambridge, was soon recruited to pick up Syd's guitar and vocal duties. At that point, despite two English hits ("Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play"), the Floyd was at its lowest ebb, adrift without a songwriter or a direction.
"It was an open page," Gilmour says. "My initial ambition was just to get the band into some sort of shape. It seems ridiculous now, but I thought the band was awfully bad at the time when I joined. The gigs I'd seen with Syd were incredibly undisciplined. The leader figure was falling apart, and so was the band."
Pink Floyd spent the next four years in space, so to speak. On transitional records like A Saucerful of Secrets, Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother and Meddle, the band developed a compositional style based on long exploratory jams from which melodic themes and pivotal riffs would emerge and, in turn, be spread across lengthy suitelike canvases. Although the band's vigorously antipop aesthetic and imaginative sonic architecture was in large part responsible for the rise of English progressive rock in the Seventies, Waters – who gradually assumed responsibility for writing the band's lyrics after Barrett's psychological collapse – scoffs at the "space music" tag frequently applied to the Floyd records of that period.
"The space thing was a joke," he says. "None of those pieces were about outer space. They were about inner space. That's all it's ever been about – human beings and their insides, whether it was Syd's writing or mine. They were both about the same thing."
The group's exploration of inner space reached its artistic and commercial apex in 1973 with the release of The Dark Side of the Moon, one of the biggest-selling Lps of all time; as of this writing, it has spent 698 weeks on the Billboard album charts. Conceptually unified, immaculately recorded, The Dark Side of the Moon found the Floyd grafting the rigors of formal songwriting onto its muralistic style of composition – and succeeding beyond its wildest expectations. It was also one of the last genuinely collaborative Floyd records, highlighted not just by Waters's incisive observations of alienation, schizophrenia and death but by the strong instrumental brushstrokes of Gilmour and Wright, particularly the latter's love of jazzy minor-seventh and flatted-second chord changes. (Wright's chorus for "Time" was based, in part, on "So What," from Miles Davis's album Kind of Blue.)
"Occasionally, people would come in with a complete song," says Wright. "For example, 'Us and Them' was a little piano piece I had worked out. I played it for them; they liked it. Roger went into another room and started working on the lyrics. Whereas things like 'Echoes' [on Meddle] would be all of us in a rehearsal room, just sitting there thinking, playing, working out ideas to see if they went anywhere. It's a nice way to work, and I think, in a way, the most Floydian material we ever did came about that way."
The Dark Side of the Moon had two important effects on Pink Floyd. One was stardom; overnight they went from being highly respected psychedelic artisans and Fm-radio cult heroes to being the objects of fanatic adolescent-male adoration. "It took me until ten years ago to stop being upset that people whistled through the quiet numbers," says Waters. "I used to stop and go, 'Right! Who's whistling? C'mon, be quiet!'"
The other major consequence was Waters's increased interest in narrative songwriting, big themes and grand theatrical gestures, culminating in The Wall and The Final Cut. "I was always trying to push the band into more specific areas of subject matter," he says, "always trying to be more direct. Visually, I was always trying to get away from the blobs. I wanted to work with visual material that meant something, where there isn't much left for you to interpret."
"I don't think any of us differed all the way through on the subjects Roger approached," says Gilmour. "We were pretty much of a like mind. On The Wall, although I didn't agree with that part of the concept – the wall between us and the audience – I still thought it was a good subject to do. My father didn't go off to the war and get killed in it. So that area of it did not apply to me. But I could get into it as fiction."
Which is about as far as Waters would let any of the other Floyds get. "There wasn't any room for anyone else to be writing," he states frankly. "If there were chord sequences there, I would always use them. There was no point in Gilmour, Mason or Wright trying to write lyrics. Because they'll never be as good as mine. Gilmour's lyrics are very third-rate. They always will be. And in comparison with what I do, I'm sure he'd agree. He's just not as good. I didn't play the guitar solos; he didn't write any lyrics."
In short, Pink Floyd was now, as Bob Ezrin puts it, "Roger Waters Presents." He wrote the material, ran the rehearsals, worked on the concert presentations and judged the contributions of the others by the same rigid artistic standards he applied to his own work. He also took the initiative in firing Rick Wright, during the recording of The Wall.
Not surprisingly, there are differing accounts of Wright's exit from the group. "The story that gets out," Waters says, "is that it was a personal whim of mine, which is absolute bollocks." He argues that Wright's performance in the studio was substandard, that he was making no musical contribution and hadn't been for years. (Wright had not been listed in Floyd songwriting credits since 1975's Wish You Were Here.) Bob Ezrin describes Wright as "a victim of Roger's almost Teutonic cruelty. No matter what Rick did, it didn't seem to be good enough for Roger. It was clear to me that Roger wasn't interested in his succeeding."
Wright diplomatically attributes the friction between Waters and him to "a heavy personality problem" – so heavy that Waters threatened to pull the Wall album and make it into a solo effort if Wright was not dismissed after the conclusion of the project. "I wasn't particularly happy with the band anyway," Wright says. "The way it was going, the feeling. I'm in no way trying to put this man down. I think he has great ideas. But he is an extremely difficult man to work with."
By this time, Pink Floyd was an extremely difficult context to work within for anybody, something even Waters does not deny. "I suppose it comes down to the fact that we are people in rock & roll bands," he says, "and people in rock & roll bands are greedy for attention. We never managed to come to a common view of the dynamic that existed within the band, of who did what and whether or not it was right. It was an irritation to start with, and it became an impossible irritation towards the end."
Waters has learned, to his chagrin, that many long-time Pink Floyd fans are also mystified by the creative dynamic that existed within the band, a negative side effect of the Floyd's shadowy public profile throughout the Seventies. "It is frustrating to find out how many people don't know who I am or what I actually did in Pink Floyd. We get on a plane, and people ask what band we're in. I tell 'em I'm Roger Waters, and it doesn't mean a thing to them. Then I mention Pink Floyd, and they go, 'Yeah, "Money." I love The Wall.'
"Oh, I wanted anonymity. I treasured it. And somehow we made it big and stayed private and anonymous. It was the best of both worlds. But now it's as if the past twenty years have meant nothing."
Funny he should say that. Nick Mason did a phone interview with a reporter from a daily newspaper recently in which he answered all the usual questions about Waters, the lawsuit and the new Floyd album. In the course of this, he happened to mention Syd Barrett.
"And this reporter said, 'Hold on a minute. Who's Syd Barrett?' It was quite touching, actually. She had just started writing about pop music. She had no idea about Syd or our early history.
"Maybe in another twenty years," Mason says, tongue firmly in cheek, "if we're still around, people will be asking, 'Who's Roger Waters?'"
One of the titles David Gilmour considered for the first Waters-less Pink Floyd album was Delusions of Maturity. Waters would have liked that. When asked his opinion of the new Floyd record, he is characteristically blunt.
"I think it's a very facile but quite clever forgery. If you don't listen to it too closely, it does sound like Pink Floyd. It's got Dave Gilmour playing guitar. And with the considered intention of setting out to make something that sounds like everyone's conception of a Pink Floyd record, it's inevitable that you will achieve that limited goal.
"I think the songs are poor in general. The lyrics I can't believe." He chuckles ironically. "I'm sure it will do very well."
It is hardly an embarrassment to the Floyd's post-Dark Side chart tradition. Within three weeks of release, A Momentary Lapse of Reason was in Billboard's Top 10, while Waters's Radio K.A.O.S. was on the bottom rungs of the Top 100. There is, of course, more to this than numbers. A healthy percentage of Momentary Lapse's immediate sales are certainly attributable to the trust rock fans place in the brand name Pink Floyd. The album was leaping off the racks before many people had even heard a single note.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus