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Pink Pigs and Scarred Psyches

One man's triumphant journey through Pink Floyd obsession

It started, as do so many of life's guilty pleasures, in junior high school. My more prescient friends were busy mail-ordering indie punk singles by the crate, documenting the New Wave blow by blow on their parents' crappy turntables. Although I finally, almost by accident, brought home the Sex Pistols' debut album and had my relationship to music (and to my father) changed dramatically, at this larval emotional stage I was still hooked deep on Pink Floyd.

I owned every album. I looked forward to repeated viewings of the Live at Pompeii concert. I had a friend mail me a Saudi Arabian bootleg of The Final Cut. I pored over both extant solo albums by founding and long-absent pop mastermind Syd Barrett, and cherished the legend that the homebound madman himself had been seen stalking the grounds of the Abbey Road studios while the surviving band recorded Wish You Were Here, allegedly dedicated to Barrett. I joined the rest of the 16-year-old world in getting stoned out of my gourd and trekking to midnight matinees of The Wall. I could tell you that the calligraphic lyric sheet from Animals was drawn by drummer Nick Mason. Stupid shit. I was a real Floyd geek.

It carried over from my bedroom, where the stereo was, to the rest of my life. When my friends and I went to the mall, which was the only place to find a record store in Clear Lake, I debated the merits of limited-issue singles versus cheapo Mexican greatest-hits compilations on a budget too small to afford both. While my debate class spent the afternoon in the UH library researching briefs and precedents, I was planted in front of the microfiche, indexing old Floyd references and xeroxing pictures. At one point I saw a billboard advertising the services of a private detective firm -- We Find Anyone for $150 -- and toyed with the idea of somehow raising the money to dig up Barrett. Didn't know what I'd do if I found him -- maybe ask what it felt like to absorb so much acid through your scalp that your brain turned to chorizo.

Sitting here now, recalling what surely sounds like an obsession, trying to recall the mood of the times with a home-dubbed cassette of Wish You Were Here, all I can think is that I should have been collecting the SST catalog and Leather Nun imports, which would at least have some dollar value at Sound Exchange. As it is, all I've got left of my adolescent fascination is a few homemade tapes and a lingering hangover of embarrassed disdain.

It's a sense, almost an attitude, that I bring full-bore to the news of Pink Floyd's imminent arrival in Houston -- my first convenient chance to see a band I fairly worshipped but never had the opportunity to experience live. Roger Waters' first solo tour at the Summit, which I attended with a joint and a bottle of peppermint Schnapps, was as close as I got, and much of the magic was already lost. Now, not only is Syd Barrett long gone -- a sense of loss from the moment I first listened to the band -- but also bassist and chief songwriter Waters, the band's grumpy, misogynist post-Barrett navigator.

Perhaps most important, gone is the fascination I felt as a child. I've heard the post-Waters Floyd albums, at least as far as they get played on classic-rock radio, and I think they suck. I've seen the new tour's promotional blimp, and I think Fuji did a better job with the same resources. I've glanced at recent record company promo pictures, and remaining Floydians David Gilmour (guitar), Nick Mason (drums) and Rick Wright (keyboards) look like they've had their heads beaten into fleshy cubes by the two-by-four of the last ten years. The Rice Stadium gig, billed as "the most advanced rock performance ever staged," will almost certainly be a bloated, jaundiced, arena-sized cloud that will darken fond adolescent nostalgia, but I'll be damned if I won't be there to take my seat. There's a sense of duty involved. The duty to bring a long-waning obsession full circle, to finally, at least, see the damned band that wasted so much of my youth and gave so little of lasting value in return. I expect also that the kill-the-father syndrome that leads so many of us critics into idol-toppling crusades may have something to do with my desire to see the lame ducks of art rock tumble and fall, to witness as the final nail sinks into the heart of an ugly fetish. I expect to be in a pissy mood after the show -- that's why I'm getting this out of the way now.

But since we're getting it out of the way, and since there will hopefully be no excuses to consider the matter after the fact, let's consider whence this Floydian fascination springs. I'm not the only one who's been plagued. Pink Floyd was the first, and perhaps remains the only mass-audience cult band, and the sales statistics on Dark Side of the Moon alone bear testament to the Floyd's infiltration of the brains of countless millions.

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