Recently I could’ve had dinner with Joe Strummer — indeed, should‘ve leapt at the opportunity to eat with one of The Artists Formerly Known As ”The Only Band That Matters.“
And yet I declined. Why? Because I’m an idiot.
But I didn‘t make the scene for another reason: because Joe Strummer’s an idiot, too. Now, I‘m sure he’s nice enough, but I‘m talking about his art, which always struck me as agitprop.
Be that as it may, I was, in addition, to quote Luther in 48 Hours, ”BUSY!!“ I was preparing for my appointment on the roof of Capitol Records, where I had the privilege of squinting up into the arse of the 40-by-17-foot pink pig perched there to promote Echoes, a ”Best Of“ boondoggle from the only band that doesn’t matter, Pink Floyd.
”Isn‘t it something?“ grinned the gal from Capitol. ”I like the teeth,“ I lied, eyeing the painted-on fangs that were not visible to those viewing the porcine balloon from street level.
The pig, manufactured by Creatable Inflatables of El Monte (eight techs stitched 250 yards of material, comprising 138 patterns), wasn’t filled with hot air, at least literally. Thus it wasn‘t even floating. It was supported from within by aluminum.
In any event, the pig, which went up October 29, was unceremoniously deflated on November 16 to allow for Capitol’s annual Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony involving underprivileged children.
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Which brings us to the (other white) meat of the matter. There are two schools of thought on Pink Floyd — that of the hipster and that of the hippie. And it‘s hard to say which is worse.
On one hand there’s the hipster, who, seeing the pig hovering above Hollywood, says, ”I Hate Pink Floyd!“ (perhaps realizing that Johnny Rotten wore a modified Floyd T-shirt proclaiming just that), and almost certainly adds, to cover his ass, that the first album is okay, because it‘s the one with singer-songwriter-guitarist Syd Barrett, who is a saint by dint of his silly-goose rhymes set to flower-power pop and jokey folk that anticipated every eccentric from Skip Spence to Robyn Hitchcock and right through Beck.
On the other hand there’s the hippie, who never tires of classic-rock radio, still likes Queensryche, probably doesn‘t dig Air, Radiohead, Marilyn Manson, Wyclef Jean or any of the more remote Floyd legatees, and wishes he were there on November 6, when, to hype Echoes, Arrow 93 broadcast traffic reports under the pig and, later at Tower Records, gave away a la Cal Worthington free hot dogs courtesy of — even I can’t front on this — Pink‘s.
Actually, what’s worse than either of those stereotypes is the dope like me who argues that post-Syd Floyd is superior but tries not to be caught dead listening to it, primarily because he spent the best years of his life having its catalog encoded into his DNA. Which is why nowadays I try not to be too smug while listening only to Syd‘s solo records, disdaining both camps and shooting for some golden mean.
Which is why I was inordinately excited to hear a) that Echoes was remixed into one long song, and b) that ex-bandleaderbassist Roger Waters, who hasn’t spoken to current curatorguitarist David Gilmour since 1987, was involved. I figured if Gilmour and Waters had agreed to hash out this ”Be(a)st Of,“ maybe they‘d bury the hatchet (Careful With That Axe, You Two!), quit giving us that do-goody-good bullshit, and mount a genuine reunion with a touch of class.
Alas, engineer James Guthrie acted as liaison between the stubborn old cunts, and so . . . the songs remain the same. Since their records were originally segued via sound effects in the first place, the ”one continuous piece of music“ gimmick is pretty bogus and not the one-upping of their bastard techno offspring it might’ve been — except in ”Shine on You Crazy Diamond,“ the first seven parts of which appear in order, allowing the track to fully flex.
And while Echoes (this ”Best Of,“ not the title track, which despite a deft edit is a clunky remnant from the gestation period post-Sydpre–Dark Side) is, for the most part, fantastic, it is nonetheless a contemptible cash-in, coming as it does on the heels of two live records: Pulse (from the ‘94 tour, which I caught at the Rose Bowl, where, tripping my balls off, I avoided traffic, snuck down front, kept insisting it sounded like reggae and stayed high enough to hear the bad vibe the band’s AV swine piped through the quad PA during ”Run Like Hell,“ which is what I did) and The Wall (which I saw at the Sports Arena in 1980, where all I remember is crying for the first part of the show, then laughing throughout the second after seeing an old freak hawking T-shirts during intermission by yelling, ”Eat one, get one free!“ at a thick blue line of LAPD, who, teeth boiling, thwapped billy clubs into their palms).
But before I flash back any further, let me reiterate: Echoes is a joke, so unless Rick Wright is broke again, or Syd‘s run out of pork chops and paints, they’re no doubt laughing all the way to the bank. (Insert excerpt from ”Money,“ e.g., ”It‘s no surprise they’re giving none away“ — though FYI, an ”undisclosed contribution“ from sales of Echoes is ”committed to the Future Forests Organization.“) Not that it‘s a bad joke, for Echoes reveals that in addition to being deliciously evil, Floyd kept it fun and funny.
Obviously Barrett’s hilarity has more charm (”Arnold Layne,“ about a clothesline klepto, is a darker laugh each listen). And while Syd‘s five tracks stand out and up, Waters is hardly humorless, and his secular lyrics put fellow progmetal pens to shame. But more than that, it’s the ensemble elegance of their ‘70s staples (”Time,“ ”Comfortably Numb,“ ”One of These Days,“ ad nauseam), the spacing and pacing, the architectonic sprawl and understanding that less is not more, which sucks you in. I mean, do we really need to hear ”The Great Gig in the Sky,“ with its pensive piano and female orgasm vocal, again? That’s not our shot to call.
To be sure, Echoes commits sins of commission and omission. Certain cuts don‘t cut it, and several classics didn’t make the cut. ”The Fletcher Memorial Home“ and ”When the Tigers Broke Free“ are anguished Waters swipes at masters of war, but one such Joe Strummer–ish bummer should‘ve sufficed. Meanwhile, there are five post-Waters, watered-down Gilmour efforts, when two (the instrumental ”Marooned“ and the lovably lightweight ”Learning To Fly“) would do. This might’ve freed space for ”Interstellar Overdrive,“ ”Careful With That Axe, Eugene“ and ”On the Run“ — not to mention ”Pigs (Three Different Ones),“ the heaviest hitter on Animals and the inspiration for that creatable inflatable. And while we‘re on that subject, what’s up with the pig? What does it symbolize? Everything? Nothing? The band? Their fans?
In a sense, it can‘t help but stand for the band. I’m not talking greedy piggies (though Dark Side sells 8,000 copies a week and Echoes sold 215,000 to enter at No. 2), I‘m thinking more about Power. Personally I don’t mind, I get off on it. I never accepted the ”faceless“ gripe about Floyd, that prejudice against arena rock. The notion that performers are no better than listeners — that premise of punk is bunk. Why do we pay all that money to look up at them on a pedestal? Because they deliver the goods.
Yes, if nothing else, Echoes reminded me that I like my stars like the ones above: distant and cold. It‘s not as if I’d rather have dinner with Roger Waters than Joe Strummer. Waters is an idiot, too. But he‘s one with enough guts to confront the irony of artist turned fascist — and hopefully one with enough heart, let alone brains up in that pig head, to go out with a bang and not just a ka-ching.