Onyx reviews: Inside Out by
Beyond avid fans, most people probably associate the rock group Pink Floyd
with Roger Waters and David Gilmour. However, from the time of its inception in
the 1960s, Pink Floyd was a four-man band, including keyboard player Rick Wright
and drummer Nick Mason. In the early years, Syd Barrett filled out the quartet;
Gilmour came later, after Barrett’s drug-induced psychological meltdown.
Mason is the only band member continuously with the group from its formation
to the present, so it makes sense that he would write the band’s memoir. He
admits that he wasn’t present for every creative or decisive moment in the
band’s history, that his recollections are probably colored by his personal
feelings, and that he prefers recalling the good times instead of the bad.
However, he likely has the fewest axes to grind. Waters and Gilmour were
involved in acrimonious legal battles over ownership of the band’s name in the
1980s, and Waters fired Wright during production of The Wall.
The four young friends who formed The Pink Floyd Sound had little musical
talent. None had any formal training and most chose their respective instruments
randomly rather than because of any natural affinity. What they had were
boundless enthusiasm, a knack for improvisation and an ahead-of-its-time light
system that appealed to the acid culture that carried psychedelic music along as
the next wave. Darlings of the London underground, they paid their dues when
they played their first concerts in venues where they didn’t already have a
core fan audience, crisscrossing England on a tour schedule that looked like it
had been designed by throwing darts at a map of the country.
For the most part, the band members missed out on the drug culture because
they were too busy trying to become successful. The exception was Syd Barrett,
who reportedly dropped acid several times a day. Even the drinking water at his
apartment was deemed unsafe to consume. When Barrett grew unreliable, the band
”forgot” to pick him up on the way to a gig and he was ousted from Pink
Floyd almost by default.
Mason recounts the group’s history in a self-effacing manner, and with a
dryly-British sense of humor. He concludes a description of early recordings by
saying “Regrettably these tapes still exist.” He describes early tours in
unroadworthy vehicles and their battles to get paid and avoid fights with unruly
fans. He also details their thrill at discovering new recording techniques and
emerging technology. Only an insider could explain how seminal moments in
recording history were often spur-of-the-moment decisions or the results of
The Dark Side of the Moon was a turning point, and in its wake the group’s
dynamics changed. Members haggled over how much or how little each contributed.
During production of the album and film versions of The Wall, Waters emerged as
the leader of a group that had previously been a thoroughly democratic unit.
After The Final Cut, he assumed that the band would dissolve, freeing him to
pursue a solo career without it being regarded as a temporary hiatus from Pink
Floyd. He didn’t believe the band could exist without him, but Gilmour
reassembled the group and released two studio albums and several live recordings
as Pink Floyd.
Mason is perhaps the most laid-back drummer in rock history. Several times he
mentions his aversion to confrontation, and illustrates this assessment by
pointing out how insensitively they made some decisions and glossing over all
but the worst of the band’s internal struggles. He diplomatically hesitates to
assign fault after success and fame caused friction. When he does, he divides
the blame equally.
Though he describes the struggles of writing, producing, recording and
promoting albums, and the drudgery of touring and the complexities of staging
the lavish shows Pink Floyd became famous for, the book doesn’t bog down in
boring detail. He—or his editor—arrived at a balance that gives readers a
distinct flavor for what life must have been like for these young men, who were
thrust into a much brighter spotlight than they could ever have anticipated.
Some readers may come away from the book disappointed that Mason doesn’t
dish more dirt. Wright, Waters and Gilmour were all given a chance to read his
manuscript and offer their versions of how they remember things playing out.
While this may have diluted the book’s impact, Mason has delivered a fitting
tribute to a somewhat anonymous band that has jealously guarded its saucerful of
secrets over the years.
The oversized volume is profusely illustrated with photographs from the past
forty years and is, in essence, Mason’s scrapbook. The distinctive cover is by
Storm Thorgerson, who was responsible for many of Pink Floyd’s memorable album
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