Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd

(Da Capo)

 

www.dacapopress.com

 

Mark Blake has clearly done his share of research, checking
in with everyone who ever got within a quarter-mile of Pink Floyd’s inner
circle, it would seem. And yet, it’s not until he’s kicked off Chapter Three
with “What a rave! A man crawling naked through jelly. Girls stripped to the
waist. Offbeat poetry. Weird music…” that he’s pieced those notes together in a
way that makes you want to turn the page and find out more.

 

Setting the stage at the Live 8 reunion is an interesting
enough device, but the details may have resonated more at the end of the book,
once the character flaws of the individual members of the band have been
brought sharply into focus (although Roger Waters’ standing as the royal
bastard of the group is clear from page one). And a flair for overstatement
doesn’t help. “Just when it seems as if rock music has long lost its power to
offend,” the book begins, “Pink Floyd’s reunion has thrown the establishment
into a panic.”

 

 

Chapter Two: “The Endless Summer” reads more like “The
Endless Chapter.” This one picks up a year after Live 8 with the news that Syd
Barrett has died. From there, you get a chapter on their parting ways in 1968,
with David Gilmour coming in to take his place; a chapter on Barrett refusing
to answer the door when a journalist shows up looking for a quote a week before
the Live 8 concert and some insights into Barrett’s final years before he takes
you back to the beginning of the story.

 

 

And that’s when it really starts creeping along. The trouble
is that Blake has worked in way too many minor characters to give their quotes
the proper context. And flitting around between Barrett and Gilmour and Waters
and all these minor players doesn’t help. Just when you think you’ve got a feel
for someone’s childhood, he’s already on to someone else’s.

 

 

Once you hit the Marquee Club in 1966, though, with the Pink
Floyd Sound appearing at the “Spontaneous Underground Happening,” it’s like a
different book. Blake paints an often fascinating portrait of the London
Underground and Pink Floyd’s standing at the center of that scene.

 

 

It isn’t long, of course, before the drugs that helped make Piper at the Gates of Dawn their first
and — some would argue — most enduring masterpiece destroyed the main
creative force behind that album. Syd Barrett’s descent into madness is covered
in heartbreaking detail, as is Waters’ emergence as the Alpha Male whose
obsession with running the show results in several classic albums (Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, The Wall) while making Let It
Be
feel like A Hard Day’s Night.

 

 

There’s not much happiness to go around in Blake’s account
of Pink Floyd’s post-Barrett career. There’s a sense of accomplishment. And
pride. And maybe even satisfaction. But there’s no real joy. As tension mounts
between Gilmour and Waters, keyboard player Richard Wright is driven from the
band by Waters after having written several of the more inspired moments on
their biggest album, Dark Side of the
Moon
. Of course, by then, you’re wondering why he’d even want to stay.

 

 

A super fan would say you’d want to stay around and deal
with Waters’ bullshit for the glory of the music. But a super fan would more
than likely have a bone or two to pick with Blake, who isn’t shy about
dismissing songs he doesn’t like. But he’s rarely as cutting as the old reviews
he quotes. An early San Francisco
gig with Barrett at the helm is written off by Rolling Stone as “simply dull in a dance hall following Big Brother
and Janis Joplin,” while New Musical
Express
insisted Dark Side of the
Moon
was “sometimes positively numbskull.” That’s when Blake is at his
best, providing those details that leap off the page while placing Pink Floyd
squarely in the context of the times – like Alan Parsons’ 35-pounds-a-week
salary for engineering Dark Side of the
Moon
. A. WATT

 

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