Pink Floyd are not calling it quits just yet, according to longtime drummer Nick Mason. Although the group has not released any new material or toured in eleven years — with its guitarist-turned-frontman David Gilmour currently working on a solo project — Mason maintains that the Floyd are currently keeping their options open. “Last year [David] really had no interest in revitalizing the band,” Mason tells Rolling Stone. “But I think it’s interesting that he also hasn’t declared it over. No one has actually said never again.”
While fans will continue to wait and wonder about the group’s future activities, they can find solace in a new book about the band penned by Mason himself, Pink Floyd’s only continuous member since 1965. Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd (Chronicle Books), due out in May, documents the famous moments in the psychedelic rock legends’ forty-year musical odyssey: the rise and descent into madness of former singer Syd Barrett; the making of the blockbuster Dark Side of the Moon album; the mammoth Wall tour; and bassist and chief songwriter Roger Waters’ acrimonious departure. It also contains little known stories such as the group’s appearance on an American TV show hosted by Pat Boone in 1967; Jimi Hendrix offering the then-struggling band free use of his Electric Lady studios; Floyd’s visual designer Storm Thorgerson being grilled by a record executive for putting an image of a cow on Atom Heart Mother (“Do you want to destroy this record company?”); and Pink Floyd’s collaboration with a ballet company in the early Seventies.
Working on the book for ten years, Mason drew from his personal observations and memorabilia, as well as the recollections of band members, associates and friends. “When I started it,” he recalls, “I thought this was going to be the official band history, and it just became apparent that whatever I wrote was never going to be acceptable to everyone [in the band]. It was resolved by calling it ‘a personal history.’ With the publication of the book I didn’t lose the friendship of Roger, David or Richard [keyboardist Wright].”
Unlike the previous books about the band, Mason’s account takes on a more personal and light-hearted approach. “I wanted to tell the story in a slightly different way,” he says. “It’s hopefully a rather funny book about a serious band.” He didn’t want to turn the book into a sordid tell-all, and he offers these reasons: “You have to remember the three guys are still my friends, and they’ve all got families. Most of them are bigger than I am, and they have better lawyers.”
In the book, Mason writes candidly of the moment when the other band members decided not to pick up their eccentric singer Syd Barrett — who had a drug-induced breakdown — en route to a gig in 1968, thus effectively kicking him out of the band. “In hindsight we behaved in a very selfish way,” he admits. “But I think also we wouldn’t have done very much better [to help him]. Because we needed him, we desperately tried to keep everything rolling along with him on board. What he actually needed was just to be taken out of the whole music business.”
Mason describes how Dark Side‘s phenomenal success — the 1973 album is the longest charting album in history — made for strained relationships. “That’s the moment in which we stopped functioning entirely as a democracy,” says Mason. “It wasn’t so much that Roger took over. It was more of a sense that the songwriters had more control of their individual songs.”
Long-time Floyd fans may be surprised to read Mason’s fair depiction of the band’s former creative force Roger Waters, who tried unsuccessfully in 1986 to dissolve the band and to prevent Mason and Gilmour from using the name. “I don’t think he does feel he behaved particularly badly,” he admits. “It’s a little bit like the Syd thing. We were all on a mission to do one thing, and you do whatever you think best to achieve it.”
Mason and Waters reconciled three years ago, but the drummer is only slightly optimistic that his other bandmates will be able to make peace with Waters. “I think anything is possible,” he says.
The remaining members of Pink Floyd successfully carried on without Waters, but the continuation of the band is now up to Gilmour. “I think David realized just how much Roger carried on his shoulders, because David suddenly was the frontman,” Mason says. “It’s a hell of a responsibility. I think he came away from it without much enthusiasm to do it again. But I think time changes people’s perceptions, so you never know.” The author hints in the book that certain band ideas have remained unexplored, including the ambient tapes from The Division Bell‘s 1994 recording sessions and an “unplugged” concept.
Forty years and 116 million albums sold later, Pink Floyd remain a cultural force. (Mason calls the disco remake of “Comfortably Numb” by New York hipsters Scissor Sisters “fantastic!”) While band chemistry and good fortune were important factors in Pink Floyd’s longevity, Mason believes a sense of humor contributed as well. “We did all make each other laugh,” he says. “The bulk of the years was spent having a good time. It’s still about the best job in the world.”