The Colour of Floyd
Interview Magazine, July 1994, p.20-21,101
(Illustration p.21: DG, NM, and RW drawn in the kitschy style of
a romantic schoolgirl doodling on a spiral-bound notebook cover.)
Pink Floyd have seldom courted intimacy. Remote figures onstage,
they have traditionally augmented their chilling Orwellian rock
with everything from bubbling psychedelic slides -- pioneered in
multimedia shows at London's Marquee and UFO clubs in 1966 -- to
laser and film extravaganzas, with the odd Spitfire or pig dirigible
flying overhead. In the '70s, the decade of classic Floyd, their
music evolved from the gleaming edifices of "Atom Heart Mother,"
"Meddle," "Dark Side of the Moon," and "Wish You Were Here" to the
shrill, misanthropic "Animals" and "The Wall." When they performed
the latter, a wall of cardboard bricks was constructed between the
band and its audience -- a statement of unalloyed cynicism. Aliena-
tion, and the despair it engenders, was always a pet Floyd theme.
Even a technocratic rock group is not a machine, however, and
the Floydian trip has been as turbulent, as tortured, as any. The
departure in 1968 of co-founder Syd Barrett, an acid casualty whose
mercurial genius invested early Floyd with a wit unsurpassed in
British music, has haunted their subsequent career. Replaced in the
band by his friend David Gilmour, Barrett inspired "Shine On You
Crazy Diamond," a pinnacle moment, and perhaps "Poles Apart" --
"Why did we tell you then / You were always the golden boy" -- on
the new Floyd album, "The Division Bell."
Yet there's a stronger case to be made that "Poles Apart" is
addressed to Roger Waters, Floyd's erstwhile bassist and lyricist.
By the early '80s, Waters's cheerless aesthetic and cold grip on the
band were undercutting the transcendant beauty of their music.
Keyboardist Rick Wright left before the dismal "The Final Cut" was
recorded in 1983, and in December 1985 Waters abandoned ship. When
Gilmour, whose tumultuous guitar lines identify the Floyd sound as
much as Wright's mellifluous electronics, drummer Nick Mason, and
Wright decided to record again as Pink Floyd, Waters's threats of
legal action showed just how deep the crack in the Floyd wall had
If the resulting album, "A Momentary Lapse of Reason", was a grim
affair, "The Division Bell" is Floyd's most accessible record since
"Dark Side of the Moon". Chiefly composed and sung by Gilmour,
whose girlfriend, Polly Samson, contributed lyrics, its eleven
numbers comprise a melodic -- at times tender -- lament for breached
relationships, although "Coming Back to Life" and Wright's soulful
"Wearing the Inside Out" are songs about resurrection. From the
ashes of the "old" Floyd? The saturnine Gilmour wasn't about to
admit that when he phoned me before the band played Tampa during
their current American tour, but he did talk affably about their
past, present, and future.
GRAHAM FULLER: I hear you've dusted off "Astronomy Domine" for the
DAVID GILMOUR: Yes, and it needed a bit of dusting, I can tell you!
I don't think we'd played it since 1968.
GF: Why did you take seven years to make a new album?
DG: Because I'm forty-eight now and I don't want to be in the studio
making Pink Floyd records all my life. There are a lot of people in
this business who are workaholics, and I'm not one of them. But I'm
not quite ready for retirement. I tried it for a year, and it's
harder work than working.
GF: Having left Pink Floyd, Rick Wright is now an equal partner
again. At what point did he rejoin?
DG: The technicalities of what you call "rejoining" are lost on me.
Rick asked to be a part of "A Momentary Lapse of Reason," and we
talked and argued and negotiated again, and this time he's on a
percentage of everything, not just the record. Last time Nick and
myself had put up all the money and taken all the risks on everything,
including the lawsuits with Roger. If you take all the risks, you
expect to get more of the profits, quite simply. This is a wonderful
artistic endeavor we've spent all our adult lives working on, but
reality comes into it as well.
GF: How were the lawsuits settled, and what's the status of your
relationship with Roger now?
DG: (laughs) The status of my relationship with Roger is that I
don't have one. I see his signature on bundles of royalty checks
that are wheeled through my office from his office, and I sign my
name next to his. That's about as close as we've got. I haven't
actually seen or spoken to him since December '87, when we finally
agreed to and signed the settlement deal.
GF: So everything's resolved?
DG: Yes. The lawsuits were more like threats and prelitigation
stuff. It never got to court. There's been a little bit of
posturing since but nothing serious.
GF: The title "The Division Bell," the graphics on the album
sleeve, and the lyrics seem to address the division between Roger
and the rest of Pink Floyd. To any Floyd aficianado, the lyric
"On the day the wall came down / The ship of fools had finally run
aground" in "A Great Day for Freedom" is patently not about the
Berlin Wall, but about that other wall.
DG: Oh, is it?
GF: The album could easily be interpreted as an allegory about
the split with Roger.
DG: I don't think that it is. There are a couple of hinted
mentions that could or could not have something to do with him.
But all that I read from people working out what they think it's
about has been either fairly or wildly inaccurate. I enjoy that.
I'm quite happy for people to interpret it any way they like. But
maybe a note of caution should be sounded because you can read too
much into it. "A Great Day for Freedom," for example, has got
nothing to do with Roger or his "wall." It just doesn't. What
else can I say?
GF: In "High Hopes," the lyric suggests that the seeds of division
were planted in Floyd's early days.
DG: I think it's more about my early days and leaving my hometown
behind. There is an enormous amount of stuff about communication
or lack of communication on the whole album. But that's accidental.
We started finding there were one or two songs like that, and other
songs emerged that had it within them. It seemed to take over the
album at some point and dominate the thinking.
GF: Why do you think Pink Floyd's music has had such an existential
tone over the years, bordering on bitter or depressive at times?
DG: The sadder emotions tend to be the more powerful ones, and
people who sing about bleak moments can strike a sympathetic chord
with people who are going through those things and hopefully make
them feel a bit better. I don't know why you're singling us out
(laughs) because it's general throughout rock music, isn't it?
Most people who are writing about relationships are writing about
broken ones. If you look at the work of most reasonably good lyric
writers, there're not an awful lot of happy songs, although John
Denver tried his best. I certainly wouldn't say that the tone of
"The Division Bell" is bitter or depressive.
GF: In "What Do You Want from Me," you return to the theme of
alienation from your audience that you'd explored in "The Wall."
Is that something that you genuinely feel?
DG: It didn't start out from there at all. It actually had more
to do with personal relationships but drifted into wider territory.
No, I don't really feel a great sense of alienation from the
audience. I never agreed with Roger on his dramatic treatise in
the lyrics of "The Wall," but it was a very good idea. Obviously
there's a gulf in some ways because we're up there performing.
I've been doing it for a long time, I've become wealthy from it and
sort of revered -- all the things that create a gulf between you
and your audience. Given that, I feel we have great communication
with people who come to see us and I enjoy performing for them.
GF: After "The Final Cut," did you feel you had something to prove
DG: What we had to prove -- maybe to Roger and maybe to other people
as well -- was that the sound and the music didn't, in the majority,
come from Roger. The lyrics came from Roger -- as did a lot of the
motivation and a lot of great stuff. I wouldn't for a minute try to
play down Roger's importance in our career, 'cause that would be un-
fair. But it would be just as unfair to play down the importance of
all the other elements that make up Pink Floyd: myself and Rick and
Nick and all the things that one person learns and the others learn
from him. We've spent all those years feeding and teaching each
other, and all our musical vocabulary became available to Roger --
just as all his lyrical vocabulary came under my microscope, if you
like, enabling me to examine the way he did things. Euphemistically,
you assimilate and regurgitate other people's stuff to lesser or
greater degrees, as Michael Bolton recently found out to his grief.
GF: "The Division Bell" is much more melodic, much less harsh than
"A Momentary Lapse of Reason."
DG: I think that's just my current mood. In the aftermath of Roger
leaving and the whole rift bullshit, we felt a boisterous, up sort
of record was appropriate. This time I didn't really care if there
was an up song or not. I just wanted to make it a more reflective
album. I read some crits that said it's a bit soporific -- so be
it, that's the choice we made.
GF: Do you feel that Pink Floyd expresses a specifically English
state of mind?
DG: I think so. We are very English, and I wouldn't dream of
living anywhere other than England. Also, the early Pink Floyd,
under Syd's tutelage, was quintessentially English, in the same way
that Ray Davies is. It wasn't your usual rock'n'roll, R&B stuff,
which is very American-oriented. And all the stuff that Roger and
I sang through the '70s had an English accent.
GF: Do you ever hear what's happening with Syd?
DG: Not really. I'm in second-hand contact with his relatives in
Cambridge, who give me reports on how he's doing from time to time.
GF: Is he OK?
DG: He's not mentally OK, but he gets by. He manages, he lives,
he takes his clothes to the laundromat to get them cleaned. I'm
actually very tempted to visit him. He was a wonderful talent
GF: Will Pink Floyd go on indefinitely?
DG: God, who knows? When Pete Townshend said he hoped he'd die
before he got old, that was in the infancy of rock'n'roll, although
that statement wasn't purely to do with music. But the general
feeling in those early years was that it was a young man's business
because it was a young business. Now, to me, it's a there-are-no-
rules type of business, so I guess I'd have to say that we'll carry
on until we don't feel like carrying on any longer.
GF: Why has Pink Floyd survived so long?
DG: Some people express surprise that we've managed to last so
long. But I'm prejudiced -- I'm not surprised by it, 'cause I
think we are damn good. We have always put quality first and tried
to avoid cutting corners purely for money, not that we're averse to
GF: Well, it's exciting to me that, after all this time, you're
back with such a powerful, emotional record.
DG: I really like "The Division Bell" myself, although I wouldn't
say it's an immediate album. You have to put a bit of work in to
get out of it the riches that are there.