This biography, by renowned rock ‘n roll scribe Dave Thompson (frequent Rolling Stone magazine writer and author of the Kurt Cobain bio Never Fade Away) says as much about Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, as it does about his flagship rock band. It paints a cheery if psychedelic picture of the burgeoning progressive rock music scene of 1960s England, and examines, with blissful scrutiny, the in-studio and behind-the-scenes history of Pink Floyd’s legendary albums and concerts.
The late and tragic Syd Barrett, one-time leader and co-founder of Pink Floyd, is given just enough biographical detail to emerge as a genuine human being and artist, as opposed to the impossible mythological demigod history has made of him.
While encompassing decades of the ascent of rock ‘n roll music as a true art form, and name-checking nearly every major musician of the era, the book is still an expose on Roger Waters, the quiet musician and writer who rose through the ranks of Pink Floyd to become its unlikely leader and spokesperson following the exile of Barrett. It follows him through his subsequent divorce from his band mates, (and his wives), and his confident attempt to be recognized as a solo artist, while the mammoth dinosaur known as Pink Floyd lay in broken bones around him.
The book is a treasure trove for a Floydian, the musical equivalent of a Trekkie. While Thompson writes at an arm’s length away from his subject, with no one-on-one interviews or correspondence with Waters, his insight into the music of Floyd, and his exhaustive research of the era including interviews with those closest to Waters, makes for a thoroughly engaging and often amusing read. When the famous Pink Floyd prop, a gigantic inflatable pig for the promotion of the Animals album, escaped from its mooring and floated off into the sky, Thompson assumes the point of view of a pub patron stepping out the door, looking up to the sky, and seeing a flying pig.
Pink Floyd’s opus The Wall, a monumental album that crowned Pink Floyd’s tremendous body of work late in their career, and forced the Grammy Awards people to nominate a progressive and unlikely rock music for Album of The Year, is the theme the book revolves around. It covers the album’s transfiguration into a movie version (a colossal dud, I thought), it’s impact on popular culture (The Berlin Wall came tumbling down), and Waters’ seemingly endless live touring of The Wall which has been making the rounds of the globe for the last three years.
But it’s the more detailed and intricate nuggets of Pink Floyd history that makes this book one of the finest rock ‘n roll bios I have ever read. While Roger Waters is no more “in the flesh” than he ever was after reading this, I have a deeper appreciation for his life and work. Specifically, the Wall-related loss of his father in WWII, before he was born, and the influence it had on his art. And I won’t soon forget Thomspon’s description of a drugged-up, wild-eyed Syd Barrett playing his last gig with Pink Floyd at dawn in an English park.
And now I have an insatiable urge to listen to The Dark Side of The Moon for the millionth time.