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Was it all that miserable?
on 27 December 2010
Ultimately, I found this book depressing.
Written chronologically with a 'flash forward' at the start of each section, it tells the tale known by most Floyd fans: the pre-pro bands and teenage rebellion in Cambridge; drugs; cool 60s London; and trips to Europe and India by some band members and hangers-on. The one album of the Syd Barrett Floyd featuring his whimsical, eclectic talent, followed by Floyd 2 with Gilmour; a band who spent the next three years aimlessly thrashing around, producing dodgy albums, whilst trying to keep Barrett alive and sane, although as a drug victim Syd was by then both mentally ill and incapable. Meddle (and Echoes especially) eventually summarised Floyd 2's early output in a convincing manner, and while the band were toying with Dark Side they slipped off to produce the 'solid' Obscured by Clouds in a couple of weeks - a feat they were unable to achieve (or couldn't be arsed to achieve) with their main Floyd output to that date. Then Dark Side and Wish You Were Here, the high point, followed by Water's increasing domination leading to less and less musical content and more and more lyrical angst about Waters' father's death, his childhood, and Syd . Gilmour was seemingly culpable in not being bothered, despite his talent, to write anything to complement Waters' vision during the late 70's and early 80's. By the time of The Wall & The Final Cut, Wright had been sacked and the other members of the band could barely manage to be in the same room with each other. This divide and bitterness continues for 25 years, during which Waters re-stages The Wall and produces a number of very variable solo albums, including an opera, provoking modest interest, while Gilmour's Neo-Floyd create two very popular records that make a fortune, and Wright and Mason also engage in a number of relatively low-profile projects. In the end, a brief reconciliation at Live8 and a crappy 'not quite a reunion' at a post-mortem Syd memorial concert prove to be the final gasp before Wright sadly dies of cancer.
Blake indicates that Waters is a damaged, domineering, determined bully who takes it out on Wright in particular, but has mellowed by the new millennium. Wright is passive and quiet, losing musical influence because of that at time goes on. Mason is the 'happy go lucky' balanced one who mediates and would doubtless be prepared to admit he is the least competent drummer who ever made a major rock career. Gilmour is quiet, gentlemanly, but incredibly stubborn (and seemingly lazy as a composer), while the 'old' Syd was madcap but ultimately mentally ill.
The style of Blake's book is very workmanlike, while it is also very much a chronological list of, 'he did that, they did that, they said that', which is ultimately rather dull over 400 pages. But what gets me is how he almost never mentions anything positive. Was being in the Floyd really this miserable? ALL the time? The only hint of fun is their having an endless succession of 60's fashion model girlfriends - but this is quickly superseded by a collection of miserable, failed marriages. If it really was that ghastly, then poor sods (what a waste: such privileged success, ruined by bickering and bitterness) and since there MUST have been some good sides to their massive 'success' story, then, for me, Mr. Blake has somehow failed to create a rounded picture.
Solid, detailed, but flat and miserable.