I got a headache from reading Mark Blake’s Comfortably Numb:The Inside Story of Pink Floyd. Not because the book is bad, but because I was caught in the hebetude, malaise and bitterness of the legendary band as a whole and as individuals. It’s like walking into emotional quicksand: a vicarious experience.You really do feel as if you’re being sucked into the drama.That’s a testament to Blake doing his job. Nothing in these pages is pretty, and the collective story doesn’t seem to be so much about rock stars as about human beings going through the trajectory of life: being young and having a dream, moving toward the realization of that dream, achieving success and then dealing with the emotional and psychological fallout.
The book talks about Pink Floyd’s music, but concentrates on the lives of David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright during their years together as well as those post-Waters, when Wright was sidelined.
The most surprising thing I came away with is that these guys were just plain bored most of the time. There they were, riding high on the success of Dark Side of the Moon; but they didn’t seem to care. And it wasn’t a punk attitude they were sporting—they weren’t flipping the bird to all the riches coming their way. Why would they? All that money bought houses in the countryside, fast cars and whatever else they wanted.Where would they go from there? Alright, so the band caught a case of ennui.
But its members did soldier on.The funniest moments in the book—and it’s not meant to be a comedic read—are spent detailing the excesses of Floyd’s road shows, which turned into theatrical extravaganzas bordering on the ridiculous. This Is Spinal Tap has got to be playing off some of this stuff.The road crew grew exponentially to accommodate the increase in special effects.They went crazy with the light shows.They planted explosives and forgot about them, only to have them blow up in strange places at the wrong time. And— here’s where I laughed out loud—they lost control of a giant inflatable pig on the one day that they decided not to have a marksman present to shoot it down in case it did escape.The damn thing flew away in the middle of a show, disturbing air traffic control and terrifying a field of cows as it landed somewhere in Kent. Why did they allow themselves such excess? They must have known they were bound to lose control, not to mention lots of money, on these elaborate set-ups. Blake writes that “there was a tacit understanding among all four that, in the absence of a sex-symbol frontman, such as Robert Plant or Mick Jagger, they’d better find other ways to hold an audience’s visual attention.”They may have overcompensated, but they sure did bring on the entertainment.
The Wall was no exception to the extravagant caravan tours, but it was definitely darker and drearier in content. To this day, I still can’t bring myself to sit through the entire film because it’s just so bleak. Waters actually thought it should’ve been bleaker: “Every minute was trying to be full of action. I found it a bit difficult to watch in a sitting. I’ve become kind of numbed by it.” That pretty much sums up the general state of Pink Floyd post-Dark Side of the Moon: comfortably numb. But the book isn’t meant to be upbeat. It’s a journalistic take on the band, and it reads like a history book. It’s respectful and revealing, but not in a scandalous way. Blake certainly brings the band’s imperfections to light, but he does so as a good reporter would. Those who aren’t too familiar with Pink Floyd will gain insight into Mason, Wright and Syd Barrett’s roles. Big fans will get a peek into the various dynamics among the band members.You’ll learn why, after all these years, they haven’t been able to bring themselves to reunite on more solid ground.
Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd
By Mark Blake (Da Capo Press), 432 pages