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Friday, April 2, 2010

Echoes of Pink Floyd

Book Review

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The platinum success of Dark Side of the Moon turned Pink Floyd into the standard bearer for ‘70s album rock and a lumbering bullseye for the nascent punk movement. It was a strange journey for a band whose members were virtually anonymous and could have passed unnoticed on most any street, an odd trip for a resolutely underground band that suddenly became the best selling musical act in the world.

Glen Povey is short on explanation or interpretation but full of facts in Echoes:The Complete History of Pink Floyd (published by Chicago Review Press). Obsessive fans, concerned with the date of every live radio broadcast and the set list from every concert, will pour over every page. “Any normal, sane person would have given up long ago,” admits Povey, describing his extensive research. But then, the author was founder and editor of the Pink Floyd fanzine Brain Damage, which implies that his grip on waking reality might have been loosened by listening to Dark Side too many times under the headphones.

Fortunately, Povey’s chronicle is neither mindlessly nave nor uncritical. He relies on press accounts and interviews from every stage of Pink Floyd’s career rather than the present-day ruminations of its members. The author concedes that they have sometimes “invented convenient memories to suit their own version of events.” But Echoes is stubbornly a chronicle with little to say to anyone seeking Floyd’s place in cultural history—in other words, the meaning of their remarkable achievements in the recording studio and the investment market. By 1980, the platinum card rock act was close to bankruptcy from ill-advised financial schemes.

For those of us who began to wonder about Pink Floyd’s direction around the time of those inflatable pigs that hovered like barrage balloons above their stadium concerts, the first chapters of Echoes will be the most informative. Povey does diligent work unearthing the comings and goings of Syd Barret and Floyd’s other members among a shifting cast of bluesy R&B bands in mid-‘60s Cambridge. He clears up common misconceptions (there never was a band called the Architectural Abdads) and identifies the band’s name as a tribute to a pair of obscure American bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd “Dipper Boy” Council. However, the vital transformation from standard issue blues band to flagship for ‘70s prog rock, traveled via the rainbow bridge of psychedelia, is never really explored. In Echoes, things just happen and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions.

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