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Pink Pigs and Scarred Psyches

One man's triumphant journey through Pink Floyd obsession

Teenage males, not surprisingly, were the hardest hit. The little girls never did understand. Floyd was ugly, for one thing, and to a young woman who not only did not envy a penis but most certainly had no desire to be strapped to an oversized wooden one with six strings that she could yank around all day, Floyd's songs probably sounded like one long public yank session with less-than-savory overtones.

But undeterred by ugliness, and kinda hip to the idea of jerking off all the day long, the boys tuned in. How could we resist? Floyd possessed all the elements of classic cult appeal for pimply-faced (or pock-brained) youth. First of all, they were guys with long hair and without real jobs who complained about their overbearing mothers and their dead daddies and how everybody's an ass-licking leech when you're rich and, oh yeah, school sucks, kids. The music itself -- too artsy to call rock, really, but free of the fey classical pretensions of art-rockers like Yes -- created a tight, claustrophobic inner space where an impressionable kid could come to find a way out. We could relate. We definitely hated school, everybody bummed on their mother now and then, we all had a few dinnertime fantasies about dad's demise, and if these cats could resolve all that with long hair and guitar solos and in the meantime be paid alienating millions by people they then turned to and told to bug the hell off, then damn straight, boy, I'm with that program.

And if a close mental empathy with the indulgently morbid aspects of early teen angst secured the Floyd a place in the dark heart of every maladjusted boy in the land, the band's eminent collectibility made sure that the passion could be followed through into a long and fruitful search for band trivia, rumor and innuendo. Like Steely Dan, the Floyd presented itself as an enigma -- the rock band as onion -- offering layer after layer of information and conversational tidbits. Photos were rare, and so of infinitely greater interest. The band's legend contained in Syd Barrett that juiciest of all obsessional nuggets -- a rock genius driven insane by too much acid and his own sudden ascent to pop godhood. To those stricken, Johnny Rotten's widely reported scrawling of "I Hate" at the top of his Pink Floyd T-shirt wasn't a musical manifesto or the bellwether of punk, but just one more thing to know about the Floyd. There was a multitude of solo albums to be tracked down and catalogued, obscure films to be rented for the moody Floydian soundtracks, and plenty of trippy Hipgnosis cover art to absorb as you de-seeded your quarter bag in the gatefold. You could sink as deep into the Floyd as you wanted.

I've seen a few sink a little too far. Not everyone left the Floyd behind after high school, and that overwrought tonic for overwrought sensibilities has combined, more than a few times, with college and bad acid for memorably unpleasant trips. To put your head in the vice grip of a tab of vitamin A and delve into Waters' grotesque caricatures of vicious women and conspiratorial men was enough to drive any poorly formed psyche into a downward spiral of ugly vibes. And yet for many, the inner-space sonics of the Floyd fairly mandated chemically manipulated listening. There's a scene in the rockumentary Live at Pompeii video wherein the interviewer questions Gilmour about the band's allegiance and musical debt to drug use. Gilmour, stringy-haired and slumping, wildly dilated pupils in a face glowing with that unmistakably oily acid-eater shine, responds: "A lot of people think we're a drug band. We're not. Really." Long pause... "You can trust me." He's lying.

But whatever fan attrition rate can be ascribed to psychic growing pains never had a significant effect on the band's zombie army of followers. And while it was an army swollen by teenage males, it wasn't confined to their ranks. Audiophile and would-be audiophiles from the world of suburban fatherdom latched on to the Floyd's quadraphonic sound experiments, and by the time I was turned on to the Floyd, a dad with a listening chair, hi-fi headphones and a copy of Animals in its freshly-minted CD format wasn't so much unusually hip as standard issue. According to my recollection, the two objects a kid could reliably expect to find among the possessions of any suburban household harboring an adult male were a copy of William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and Dark Side of the Moon.

I don't see either quite so often these days (though, come to think of it, I've got those two objects stashed on shelves somewhere), and I think that's probably for the better. The music doesn't stand the test of time as anything more than a vast body of extreme indulgence, and it's almost painful now to hear the opening notes of "Wish You Were Here" beamed into the dash radio. I, like many of us, have moved on to more satisfying forms of indulgence in the post-teen trajectory, and unlike the bracing splash I still get from Never Mind the Bollocks or New Day Rising or The Clash or any of the other of dozens of records that carried me to this point, a revisit to Meddle or The Wall or Umma Gumma provides only distaste. Been there, done that, get me the hell out of here.

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