Thursday, June 30, 2005

Excuse me for remaining comfortably numb to the planned reunion of the nearly-original Pink Floyd tomorrow at the Live 8 concert in London. I’ve been a devoted Floydian since the 1960s, and debt relief for impoverished African nations certainly sounds like a good cause.

But it’s hard to work up much of a sweat for a resurrected Floyd after a nearly 25-year wait. Can you spell a-n-t-i-c-l-i-m-a-x?

This reunion is way more than a day late and a dollar short. The lads are all 60-ish now, and wouldn’t we rather remember them as they were in their glorious, laser-lit youth, shoulder-length hair blowing in an interstellar wind, jamming under a helium-gorged pig hovering overhead?

Do we really need the spectacle of yet another band of ‘60s rockers proving they can still get it on and bang their flame-encircled gongs once more?

Well, yes. But not so much for the music. No, the real interest here is prurient: to see if Pink Floyd will really pull it off and bury the hatchet, but not in each other’s backs.

Pink Floyd has been famously fractured for nearly 25 years by one of rock music’s most bitter, long-lasting feuds. This isn’t so much a concert as it is high theater, brimming with real-life melodrama. Will there be handshakes or fisticuffs? Hugs or punches? Will they even acknowledge one another’s existence? Will some pre-show quibble over camera angles or microphone placement short-circuit the event?

The band was originally formed by Syd Barrett amid swinging London’s psychedelic scene in 1966. Mr. Barrett suffered a drug-induced mental breakdown during the recording of its second album in 1967. Acid-casualty Barrett had been their chief songwriter, singer and lead guitarist, so it appeared that the curtain was falling on Pink Floyd.

It was then that Dave Gilmour stepped in and proved to be a far greater musical force than his illustrious predecessor. It was Mr. Gilmour’s superior musicianship, combined with bassist Roger Waters’ latent songwriting skills, that slowly but steadily forged the band into a world-class, progressive rock act.

After the phenomenal sales (35 million to date) of 1973’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” success went to the dark side of Mr. Waters’ head. He began to grow dictatorial, demanding ever-greater creative control of the band, even firing keyboardist Rick Wright during the recording of “The Wall” in 1979. (Mr. Waters maintains it was a group decision; the others dispute that).

Mr. Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason could see Mr. Waters’ ax swinging their way too, so Pink Floyd disbanded in 1983 after the dismal “Final Cut” album, which was virtually a Waters solo album.

When Mr. Gilmour, Mr. Mason and Mr. Wright re-formed without Mr. Waters in 1987 to record and tour, the feud erupted into full-scale civil war. Mr. Waters filed suit to stop them from using the Pink Floyd name, and he even barnstormed American radio stations, doing interviews in which he urged fans to shun the “bogus Floyd.” Mr. Waters lost both the lawsuit and the war for the fans’ loyalty.

Trouble is, Pink Floyd was always a rather faceless band. Few fans really knew who wrote or sang what songs. With Mr. Gilmour having supplied the band’s best vocals and his superb lead guitar providing the band’s signature sound, fans were more than willing to embrace Pink Floyd 3.0.

They bought 1987’s good “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” and 1994’s excellent “Division Bell” albums in massive numbers and packed stadiums worldwide for the tours that accompanied each record. Mr. Waters’ solo efforts, meanwhile, barely dented the charts. The biggest problem is his vocals, which are fine in small doses but wear thin over the course of an album.

In retrospect, it seems there was a great deal of truth in Mr. Gilmour’s claims that it was his musical sense that often whipped Mr. Waters’ brilliant ideas into shape.

Pink Floyd is slated to play a four-song set as part of Bob Geldof’s Live-8 all-star concert. Three of the four numbers will reportedly be from “Dark Side of the Moon.” Most sources indicate that despite rumors to the contrary, this will be a one-off event, not the start of a new tour or a new album.

But why now? Mr. Waters has been outspoken on many political issues, including leveling criticism at Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over the security wall being constructed along some Palestinian communities. Perhaps the hypocrisy of preaching reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis when he couldn’t even get back together with his old band mates finally became clear to Mr. Waters. Hopefully, so will the realization that good rock bands — like good nations — are democracies, not dictatorships.

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