Posted Aug 17th, 2015 (10:30 am) by N. Neal Paradise

It’s quite natural, when saying goodbye to a loved one, to look back on your history with them, the good times and the bad, the exciting and hopelessly boring. I’ve walked with Pink Floyd most of my life, from when I first saw the cover of A Momentary Lapse of Reason at the age of 8 right up to day I read on IYS that they had at last called it quits. They’ve been my companions, there when I’ve wanted to withdraw into my own head, there when I’ve felt the sting of injustice or the gloom of my own mortality. They’ve lived in my car, in my iPod, and now they’re finally gone.

In truth, they’ve been gone for a while. The Endless River made that clear. Despite the initial excitement of a new release from Pink Floyd, even the Gilmour-shaped shell that the band had become, it was nothing new. Even the album’s name was just a regurgitation of a line from “High Hopes,” the last song on The Division Bell. Furthermore, it was primarily a tribute to the recently deceased Rick Wright, longtime keyboardist who was massively responsible for the sound of Pink Floyd. The Division Bell, released in 1994, had the central theme of a communication breakdown, a tragic separation of two people because they’ve spent so much time talking at each other that they no longer talk to each other. Zooming out, it was David Gilmour’s olive branch to ex-band member Roger Waters, one which Waters promptly pissed on.

With Waters out of the picture and Wright on hiatus, Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason created the Gilmour-solo-project-in-Pink-Floyd-clothing A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987. Four years earlier, there was the Waters-solo-project-in-Pink-Floyd-clothing album The Final Cut. Roger Waters revealed himself to be a power-hungry control freak by completely subsuming the band to tell a muddled story about his father’s WWII experience, after which he was unceremoniously booted from the band.

The two sorta-Pink-Floyd-but-not-really albums were simply not fair. Why should we fans have to suffer just ‘cause Gilmour and Waters couldn’t play nice? After all, just four years earlier, Waters proved that when he takes the reins, new galaxies can be born in eye-shattering brilliance. The Wall was one of those galaxies, and its brilliance knew no bounds. It morphed from Waters spitting on a fan during their Animals tour to a double concept album to a monster hit single and chant that every disaffected youth echoes (“we don’t need no education!”) to a feature film starring one of England’s most famous and eccentric rock stars, Bob Geldoff. In short, The Wall wasn’t just an album; it was more like a world, bigger than the sum of its parts. That’s ironic, since the entire basis of the album is a person drawing in on themselves, making their world smaller, until there’s almost nothing left.

1977’s Animals was the biggest social commentary the band ever did (a concept album based loosely on Orwell’s “Animal Farm”), but that role ill-suited them. Rather than examining the state of the world, the Floyd were much better at examining themselves. ‘75’s Wish You Were Here took the very idea of Pink Floyd and put it under a microscope, trying to find the classifiable elements and moving past all the flattering lies that hundreds of music industry people were telling them about themselves. It was the get-back-to-their-roots album of Pink Floyd’s career, but not in the contrived, dishonest way that so many bands work within. Wish You Were Here was existential, and that’s probably why it’s my favorite.

The sole reason all those record execs were drooling over Pink Floyd and making Wish You Were Here necessary was the colossal success of Dark Side of the Moon and its blazing single “Money” in 1973. Dark Side now exists as the album Pink Floyd is known for, and even the most vanilla lightweight music fan knows the prism on a black background which serves as the cover. Nearly every song on Dark Side is now a classic rock radio staple, and its influence ripples through hundreds, possibly thousands of huge bands, from Mars Volta to Tame Impala to Radiohead. It’s no wonder Dark Side is one of the top 10 best-selling records of all time.

But before then, they languished in the relative obscurity of the niche market, and they had fans that were fervently committed but few in number. Dark Side of the Moon was their 8th studio album, and the 7 albums before it (in addition to the now-classic compilation Relics) represented only a 6 year span. Meddle and Atom Heart Mother both featured excessive and self-indulgent opuses (“Echoes” and “Atom Heart Mother” respectively), each equaling over 20 minutes. Little-known albums More and Obscured By Clouds are sub-par because they're removed from their context as soundtracks to obscure ‘70s films, one of them French. And Ummagumma and A Saucerful of Secrets are logical extensions of their first album.

I haven’t even mentioned Syd Barrett yet. Oh boy.

Their debut Piper At the Gates of Dawn, spacey and freakishly psychedelic, came in 1967. At that time, Pink Floyd was a different band, almost unrecognizable. David Gilmour wasn’t even in the band yet, and it was fronted by Syd Barrett, the architect and designer of Pink Floyd at its very beginning. Piper, while so foundational it now seems kinda boring, was something the listening public at large had never heard before. Syd’s genius was bare, unguarded and obvious. It’s true that genius and madness are only separated by degrees, and the genesis of Pink Floyd’s daringly original career coincided with Syd’s mental breakdown. The shit he was pulling on stage (playing a totally different song than the rest of the band, wandering the stage aimlessly as if he didn’t know where he was) and off (messing with the band members’ heads in the studio, locking a female fan in his basement for 3 days) devolved into hysteria and schizophrenia, and caused them to get a replacement guitarist and vocalist. They called on Syd’s college friend David Gilmour. Classic lineup complete.

Pink Floyd is very dear to my heart, but the news of their passing is not tragic to me – it’s peaceful. They had their come-to-Jesus moment at the Live 8 concert 10 years ago, and I’ve been personally satisfied (if not musically) for a long time. After Rick Wright died in 2008, there was no going back. Of course I’m sad, but it’s a sweet sadness, a soft and sighing melancholy that speaks of a thousand smiles in the past. When a person dies, you have your memories of them. When a band dies, you have their music.

Goodbye, cruel world
I’m leaving you today
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye
Goodbye, all you people
There’s nothing you can say
To make me change my mind

"Goodbye Cruel World," The Wall
R.I.P. Pink Floyd, 1967-2015

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