Friday, 2 October 2015


Which One’s Pink?

I saw September out with two evenings of full Pink Floyd immersion. Perhaps pseudo immersion as the group no longer exists in the flesh. Tuesday was the Edmonton film premiere of Roger Waters: The Wall. Wednesday night the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performed the music of Pink Floyd with the able assistance of a rock band featuring vocalist Randy Jackson. Based on this slim slice of weeknight evidence, it’s possible that you might assume I’m a middle-aged hash hound engulfed in the mire of the past. I would counter that this isn’t quite exactly so.

True, there are nine Pink Floyd albums and two Pink Floyd DVDs in our music library, but I find Animals and The Final Cut impossible listening. I disliked the group in high school because everybody else didn’t. That was an easy pose because growing up neither of my elder siblings had a Floyd LP in their collections and so no Kool-Aid was ever served while my tastes were being formed. I have never seen any incarnation of the band or its past members perform live. I believe Johnny Rotten’s infamous, homemade I Hate Pink Floyd was pop art genius.

For a kid covered with acne and filled with angst about girls and everything there was always solace to be had on the Dark Side of the Moon through a pair of headphones. Then again, I’m all right, Jack, if I never hear ‘Money’ again. Perhaps the soundtrack of my eternity in Hell will consist of ‘Money,’ ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ ‘Free Bird,’ ‘Hotel California’ and a sprinkling of tracks from ABBA Gold on endless repeat; maybe I should be careful about where I’m headed and seek a highway less taken.

Forward! He cried from the rear as the front rank died. That is a deep and heavy line from ‘Us and Them,’ my favourite song on Dark Side. Military history students are well aware of the inbred, entitled incompetents who paid for the privilege of membership in the British Empire’s officer corps. Think Stephen Fry in the Great War episodes of Black Adder or Monty Python’s Graham Chapman in uniform. The miserable fate of the rank and file, most of us, was something to contemplate in a sweet and cloudy haze. I remember slow dancing to ‘Us and Them’ in a subterranean Montreal bar, hanging off a girl I loved, clutching a condensation soaked quart of beer against her spine in the sweltering humidity and feeling nothing but despair.

Mother, should I build a wall? When Roger Waters quit Pink Floyd a deal of some sort was cut: the remaining members would retain the band name (and the brand) and he would keep the rights to The Wall, the apex of his life’s creative work. The 1979 double album was a remarkably radio-friendly autobiographical scab picking of war, alienation, depression and psychosis. As far as rock operas or concept albums go, it’s sort of coherent, that is to say there are no pinball wizards lying down with lambs on Broadway.

Roger Waters: The Wall documents an ambitious and elaborately staged live performance of the album in its entirety and theatrical in its scope. A literal and virtual reality wall is constructed on stage and in turn acts as a massive video screen. The visual effects recall the album’s artwork and of course Alan Parker’s 1982 musical Pink Floyd – The Wall which starred Bob Geldof as Pink. The 2015 movie cost $15. If tickets for the genuine spectacle cost ten or even 20 times that I suspect that even though Waters was singing to the converted every single fan felt their money had been well spent even if the music was 35-years-old.

One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces. The songs of Pink Floyd in their heady 70s heyday always struck me as intricately assembled pieces of a sonic jigsaw puzzle. Is Waters or David Gilmour singing? Somebody else? I could never tell from track to track or more tellingly, from verse to chorus to bridge. And anyway, there were all those seemingly random ambient bits: I don’t know, I was really drunk at the time; cue the helicopter, cash register, heartbeat and alarm clock.

There is something magical about hearing music performed live and in person, the shared experience. I was struck by remarks in David Byrne’s brilliant book How Music Works in which he posits that too often ticket holders have counter-intuitive expectations because we tend to want carefully crafted and overdubbed studio recordings to be perfectly replicated in a concert setting. That’s not the way music works. The Winspear Centre facing Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton is the home base of our symphony orchestra. The venue is so acoustically delightful that I think it should share top billing with its house band or any visiting headliner.

Wednesday night was a slice of Edmonton. I’m guessing the median age for the ESO playing Pink Floyd was 50. Thank God ink wasn’t fashionable in the 70s; tattoos sag real bad once you’ve established a prescription stream at the pharmacy. We were all in attendance to hear what we can no longer see. The show, a taut combination of the symphony, the rock band and backing tracks, was a slick and immensely enjoyable and fan-enabled approximation of nostalgia. Yes, they did ‘Money;’ oh, well.

The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older.

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