'Comfortably Numb - an inside story of Pink Floyd' - also titled as 'Pigs Might Fly' in few countries - is a book which documents the history of one of the most popular bands, the Pink Floyd. After listening to the music of Pink Floyd and delving deeper into the lyrics of their songs, I got interested in the history of the band and chose to read this book. There is one more book on Pink Floyd by one of the band members, Nick Mason but I selected this book over that as I thought it would give a neutral point of view. Of course, if one wants to get a more personal account of events related to Pink Floyd, one should read the book by Mason.

'Comfortably Numb' by Mark Blake
In the initial chapters of the book, the author describes the bringing up of the band members belonging to Cambridge - Syd Barrett, Roger Waters and David Gilmour. That upbringing, especially that of Roger Waters, who lost his father in WW2, led to the worldview that they had later on. Many lyrics support this theory of the author. The start of The Pink Floyd Sound was also interesting. In London, it was the time of so-called summer of love. Many bands and musicians started their careers in that year. The United Kingdom was witnessing a counter-culture movement led by youths. This movement along with new found fascination with LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs led to the emergence of the underground music scene where small and largely unknown bands would perform to an audience already high on drugs. One of these underground scenes - UFO - was where Pink Floyd used to perform and there they got popular.

The author also goes into the so-called Syd Barrett myth. Any fan of the Pink Floyd is interested in what happened to Syd Barrett and internet is full of many speculations. Early in his career, Syd Barrett was showing the signs of drug abuse and was frequently lost in his own senses. His behavior became more erratic as he continued the use of LSD. Another theory that the author presented in the book after talking to many associates of Syd Barrett is that he did not like the attention and commercialization. When Pink Floyd's first album 'Piper At The Gates Of The Dawn' got popular, there were many stage performances scheduled and although other members enjoyed that popularity as they wanted to become rock-stars, Syd became disenchanted. Along with that came the pressure to produce another hit single. All this led to Syd falling out with other band members. Pink Floyd had recently inducted David Gilmour and for a brief period, they were a five-member band. Later Syd Barrett released two albums but they could not climb up the charts. Syd became isolated in his house and started pursuing his interest in painting again, but he remained an attraction for the media and Pink Floyd fans.

When the album 'The Dark Side Of The Moon' was released in 1973, it became a big hit and brought major commercial success to the Pink Floyd. These were the years dominated by Roger Waters as he was the creative force behind the band after the departure of Syd Barrett. It was a concept album based on the human emotions - dark and true emotions. Roger Waters changed the course of Pink Floyd from a psychedelic band to an alternative rock band, from a band emphasizing alien and strange sounds in their songs to a band with overt political tones in their songs. They produced three more commercially successful concept albums - 'Animals', 'Wish You Were Here' and 'The Wall.' In between these albums, the author says, came the idea behind 'The Wall', in part inspired by the behavior of the audience. The author also talks about the tax problems Pink Floyd faced after their money was siphoned off in a Ponzi scheme.

During these years increasing assertiveness of Waters was making other band members uncomfortable. In fact, Waters and Wright did not get along very well right from the initial years when on a tour with Waters, Wright became a punching bag for Waters and his friend. During the late '80s, there was a bitter dispute between Waters and Gilmour over the use of name 'Pink Floyd.' Things settled only when Waters moved out of the Pink Floyd. After 1980, three band members - Waters, Wright, and Gilmour - released their solo albums. These albums did not become very popular. A reason behind this was the stress given by band members on the anonymity in their initial years and focusing on the elaborate light show on the stage. In 2005, Pink Floyd united for the last time for a 'Live 8' event and this book starts from this event. Those who have seen the bitter fallout between band members would not have expected this get-together.

The author of this book, Mark Blake, is a journalist and stories narrated in this book are based on his personal interaction with the band members. Many stories are also taken from what appeared in other tabloids. Blake gave a significant coverage to Pink Floyd's Cambridge circle who were friends of the band members and were later involved in designing the covers of albums, conceptualizing the sound show and managing the band's logistics and the stage. A small but significant part of the book is gossipy in nature talking about the personal lives of band members and their interaction with each other. Due coverage has been given to what critics had to say about the Pink Floyd albums after they were released.

Leave a Reply