Mojo August 2011: In praise of mid-'70s Floyd
Surprisingly perhaps, considering the psychedelic CREDO of our MONSTROUS PSYCHEDELIC BUBBLE mixes and compilations over the last decade, it's ACTUALLY the '70s period of Floyd that we REALLY REALLY dig.
As great a service as SYD rendered for mankind by extending the concept of songwriting to previously untouched terrain, MY HEART resonates, sinks and swims, far more readily in the chasmic space, depth and texture explored in this incarnation - the '70s FLOYD! Too young to fully engage with Floyd at the time of release (I saw ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL on TOP OF THE POPS when it hit Number 1, aged 12) I was happy at the time to take OR leave the FLOYD. At the beginning of my teens I would decamp in school lunch hours to listen to music (FLOYD/HENDRIX/ROXY/ BEATLES etc.) with mates and/or members of my first fledgling bands. It was enough for me to listen, but others got stoned and proceeded to explore the deeper implications as much as was possible. This did nothing to encourage my actual participation in widening my consciousness 'recreationally' in that way AT ALL; in fact it put me off entirely. It all seemed a bit embarrassing for a cool cat like me (or maybe I was just too scared and conservative?). Anyway, only MOTHER/GOODBYE BLUE SKY found their way onto my cassette compilations of that period. Zoom forward a decade to the '90s - ensconced as we were (loosely!) in the electronica and ambient period as FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON - we played ON THE RUN and some instrumental track from MORE in numerous DJ mixes. There was a usability to this side of FLOYD - the trippy, avante-garde FLOYD that I was perhaps keen to align with - but still my heart hadn't really been TRULY stirred. Around 2000, though, something changed. Maybe it was the plight of impending middle age or the state of the world impacting on my evolving search for answers both spiritual and political, but somehow FLOYD returned, and this time as something TRULY ESSENTIAL and meaningful. I was looking for voices NOW, not merely sounds. I had explored every avenue of sound in FSOL; now I wanted philosophy to stir my soul.
The track that first hooked me in was COMFORTABLY NUMB. I had heard it years before, during one of those teenage lunch breaks, but it was little more than a distant cellular memory. One day, while pinned to a bed undergoing acupuncture, the tune wafted through the open window of the Chinese doctor's where I lay. Its dialogue of a seemingly enforced sedation of consciousness administered by a malevolent force acting under the authority of 'doctor' or state hit me full on. From there I embarked on a FLOYD 'catch-up', devouring everything to try to repeat the deliciousness of hours of repeated listens to COMFORTABLY NUMB. Thus SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND and WELCOME TO THE MACHINE were quickly ushered into my affections. Although the spacey sounds and sonic invocation are huge aspects of the Floyd legacy, it is nonetheless THE SONG and the stance of the song that has been responsible for the group's timeless relevance. THE way the voice/lyrics and harmonies sit embedded within the music - they know their position and this 'knowing' is a totally unique one. Part narrator, part observer, partly non-committal, partly disaffected but somehow, after decades of music where the musician has employed every deception and technique, every artifice to engage us emotionally and dupe us with their authenticity, the FLOYD invented a new way - allowing the music to be equal (if not greater) in emotional pitch and intensity than the voice itself. The somehow detached voice correlates to a resigned, weary, restrained, sedated, restricted, imprisoned soul that - and here is the crux - arouses a delicious pathos and empathy in the listener, all of us victims in some way.
For me, '70s Floyd has come to signify the emergence from the optimism of youth into the realisation of the bigger picture: corruption, greed and cruelty, the acceptance of mortality, sinking deeper into merely observing (but NOT participating in) a world that inexorably moves on in its destructive cycles. On another level it functions as a sonic device for observing oneself, detached, outside looking in. States of (in)sanity, emotions ebbing and passing. TRAVELLING without moving.
As a meditator and yogi at that particular time, I had felt the light, the love; it felt like I could see clearly for the first time. The problem was that now I could also see the DARK clearly too (something I hadn't counted on), the mechanisms of the world that I hadn't wished to contemplate, the socio-political agendas and the underlying human conditions of greed and oppression. There was war and division in the air again. I was on the streets with thousands marching against a visit from Bush. The soundtrack to all of this was FLOYD - there was no other band that chronicled the social and personal paranoia, the psychoses interlaced with nostalgia for a potentially better world more potently. The resignation of an older man coupled with the nostalgia for the openness of a child. Listening was akin to acknowledging one's own potential insanity, dicing with going too far, immersing and not coming back. Such is the measure of FLOYD - who else could occupy that space? Over the last ten years my love hasn't dwindled, although now I must add it has been tempered somewhat by the realisation of JUST how much Floyd leant on Syd, his madness, even in his absence. I haven't really liked FLOYD post '70s; the ensuing decades reveal a lack of subject matter beyond the influence of SYD's 'madness/ psychoses'. This was Floyd's most potent device, it gave them BOTH their emotional and conceptual depth.
Ironically, then, considering my allegiance to post-SYD Floyd, I'm not sure that '70s FLOYD were 'post-SYD' after all. There's a part of me that can't quite escape the feeling that they must feel a measure of guilt over the way they employed Syd's absentia dementia as such a major element in their greatest success. Did they really care for him and grieve for him as much as they claim - did it really affect them so deeply, OR was it simply subject matter for self mythology used READILY in the absence of any better ideas?
These are the questions. I don't claim to know the answers. Why were FLOYD so damn good in the '70s? It's the human condition again, the agony and turmoil of the contradictions, the sadness of human detachment, the guilt of NOT FEELING as much as one should THAT sense of numbness!
FLOYD sure as hell are an INSTITUTION, and a MENTAL one at that.
By Garry Cobain
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