Something about Pink Floyd had always spoken to the adult side of me. I first became aware of them about age 12, and really sunk my teeth in them when my late great friend Rob Pontician and I made it a goal to collectively own all their albums and to assemble a box set compilation to put the 1991 Led Zeppelin box to shame. We did just that, and I still have the cassettes of our work.
I never even smoked pot until after we made our "In The Pink" box set. In those pre-Amazon, pre-Napster, pre-YouTube days, it took Rob and I almost a whole year to acquire all the CDs, the rare LPs, and a couple bootlegs which I still own (Dark Side of the Moo!). Most of them were bought sight-unseen, featuring tracks we'd never once heard. It then took another month or so to to plan the set list to perfectly fill four 74 minute cassettes and manually mix the tracks so they had that signature Pink Floyd cross-fade the whole way through.
Along the way, past the dense sonic fury, the clock alarms ringing and the boat oars working through the Thames, past Roger Waters' self-importance and David Gilmour's detachment, Rob and I noticed something very grown-up about the songs. Granted, this was the days before Emo, before Alice in Chains and Nine Inch Nails, before the human condition had really been committed to vinyl -- really, before it became a cliche, and later, totally fucking boring. For music that is 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 years old ... there is so much wisdom in it, courtesy Roger Waters lyrics; and it's made so, so, SO easier to bear and so much closer to relate to, courtesy David Gilmour's voice, melodic sensibility, and his incredible, ethereal guitar.
I mean, at my funeral, there had better be a fucking Gilmour guitar recording playing. I can think of no sound that better sums up my life, and my outlook on life, than (say) his simultaneously hopeful and mournful solo on "Comfortably Numb." Minus Gilmour, Waters is basically a cantankerous old lech, attacking the system and his fans while getting rich off them both. (And this from a huge fan, who paid big money to see the Wall concert last year with my great friends Kyle and Samantha . Waters took great glee shooting us all with an AK.) Likewise, Gilmour is simply a cypher, an amazing echo of the music and voice of life -- without Waters feeding him, he is as hollow in portraying real life as, say, a Thomas Kinkade painting.
And I'm as big a fucking fan of Gilmour as they come, but let's face it - we only know his post-Waters Pink Floyd work cuz it's labeled Pink Floyd. ("On the Turning Away," anyone? Time to slow dance!) I own the LPs "David Gilmour," "About Face," and "On an Island," and have listened to them all millions of times, and have no connection to them whatsoever. Gilmour's work on 1972's "Fearless" is infinitely more meaningful simply cuz Roger Waters wrote the words he sang.
Well. Rob Pontician passed away in the Autumn of 1992. For a long period, I couldn't bear to listen to Pink Floyd. Then, just as I really got back into it, not long after the "Echoes" compilation came out, my father passed away, and I had to separate myself once more. It's not that the music reminded me of them -- both great Floyd fans -- or the pain of losing them, but that it recalled so much of the human condition that I could scarcely divide between Pink Floyd's take on life with my own (sometimes grand, sometimes awful) experience with it. Between Syd Barrett's trip through young adulthood as it related to his pet cat on "Lucifer Sam," to Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast and his view that "Breakfast in Los Angeles [is] microbiotic stuff," through "There is no dark side of the moon, really," through "We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl," through "It's gonna get harder, harder!, HARDER!, as you get older!," through "If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding!", and even through "Fuck all that, we got to get on with this," Pink Floyd has always been a presage, a commentary, and a recap of what my life has been about.
There is no moment I've experienced that can't in some way be related to a Pink Floyd song: my father's death is "Free Four," my mother's sometimes overbearing love was "Momma's gonna keep baby healthy and clean," my every fucking sexual experience is Clare Torry's wailing on "The Great Gig in the Sky," and my entire high school experience was "Learning to Fly." Many of the moments in between were Dick Parry's sax solo in "Terminal Frost."
The track I've linked to this post, "Dogs," has rarely been played on air due to its obscene length and much maligned overindulgence. But it is the Waters and Gilmour collaboration to a tee. They first composed it together as a live concept, and thanks to YouTube, you can hear the original 1974 masterpiece, then titled "Raving and Drooling," as performed three years before they polished it, repurposed it, and released it as "Dogs" in 1977 on the Animals album. Both versions of the song have very few sound effects, very few keyboards -- it's all roaring guitar and sullen mood, cynical lyrics and cries for help, death wails and murderous intent. Almost 18 minutes' worth of total dark side shit.
I can't stress enough that no piece of music has ever touched me as much as this -- not Richard Thompson's "Shoot Out the Lights" (When the cure is made of poison and it's hard to rest your eyes) ... not John Lennon's "Imagine" (I wonder if you can) ... not Liz Phair's "Divorce Song" (And it's also true that I lost the map) ... not Perry Farrell's "Then She Did" (The blink on and off, hotel) ... all works I have endlessly touted as more important than you think, like that insufferable asshole Jack Black played in "High Fidelity."
And I don't give a shit how bleak "Dogs" sounds on the first listen. Sure, it's about soulless alpha males who reap what they sow, who realize too late that they can't shed the weight they used to need to throw around. The subjects of the song go to Florida and die lonely deaths from cancer. Along the way, the dogs totally destroyed people, while keeping one eye over their shoulder to avoid the knife aimed at their back.
But fuck all that. "Dogs" is so sweeping that it has given me something to relate to no matter WHAT has happened, no matter WHAT I'm going through: when I'm mourning, when I've felt suicidal, when I've wanted to fuck the world right in its ass, when I've gotten up from being knocked down with blood streaming from my nose and a Kubrick under-the-brows look in my determined eyes ... whether I'm up, down, rising, sinking, having a fit, having an orgasm ... every fucking time I have triumphed, and I've wanted the naysayers to burn for their heresy and the women who dumped me to feel like stupid bitches ... I have heard this song in the background.
If you've ever heard this song, then goddamnit, you've known me.