FEUD Pink Floyd’s Tawdry Soap Opera Continues
Amused pop fans dub it “As the Floyd Turns.”
They’re referring to the Pink Floyd soap opera, which has been unfolding over the last few years. And just like some of the TV soaps, this pop story is brimming with hostility, nastiness and rampaging egomania.
The stars of this tawdry little soap are singer-bassist Roger Waters and singer-guitarist David Gilmour. Then there’s drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright, who are featured players. They are--or in the case of Waters, were--veterans of this progressive-rock band that started in England in the mid-'60s.
Waters left the band in 1985 for a solo career. Now he’s on the road pushing his latest Columbia solo album, “Radio K.A.O.S.,” and performed in Los Angeles in late September. Meanwhile, Pink Floyd has just started its own tour to promote “A Momentary Lapse of Reason"--also on Columbia--the first Pink Floyd album since 1983 (which has sold more than 1 million copies in just a few weeks). Wright, who left the band in a huff in the early ‘80s, is now back.
According to Gilmour, the band has been one big happy family since the departure of Waters, or “that person” as Gilmour cattily referred to him.
“We can breathe now,” Gilmour said. “Working on an album or doing shows isn’t drudgery anymore. The difference is that you-know-who isn’t around anymore.”
One of the most intelligent and articulate of the rock stars, Gilmour, 40, has an acid wit. Lately he’s been pouring it on Waters.
But it’s been partly in retaliation for Waters’ digs, which have been flowing copiously since he started doing interviews in June when his album was released. To hear Waters talk, Pink Floyd is a sham without him.
According to Gilmour, Waters has even taken legal steps to have Pink Floyd laid to rest. “It’s a long, complicated legal issue that I don’t want to get into because it’s time-consuming and boring,” he said. “But whatever he’s tried hasn’t worked.”
Waters may have a point about this not being the real Pink Floyd. For one thing, “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” is more like a David Gilmour album. That’s because with Waters gone Gilmour is now the leader and chief composer. Moody, spacey guitar solos are Gilmour’s forte, while sinister, surrealistic lyrics are Waters’ speciality.
“I wasn’t looking for anything in particular in terms of style or formula when we did this album,” said Gilmour, who’s had a fairly successful solo career on the side while remaining in the band. “It would be a bit different from my solo records. It would be simply Pink Floyd music, reflecting where the band is now.”
Pink Floyd is still playing music for space cadets--fans who like soaring, avant-garde, late-'60s-style pieces that have a minimum of musical moorings. Even without Waters the pieces are much more provocative than the average pop fare and have that surrealistic feel that’s a Pink Floyd trademark. But they’re decidedly more down-to-earth and less cynical than they were in the Waters era.
When Gilmour began the “Reason” album, which was recorded in about eight months on a boat in England that’s been turned into a floating studio, he was working with Mason and producer Bob Ezrin. Keyboardist Wright joined after the album was about half finished.
“He had left the band about six or seven years ago,” Gilmour said. “After the ‘Wall’ album and tour he was pushed out of the band by Roger. I see Rick sometimes, and I said we were recording again and he might be interested in playing with us again. He said he was interested, now that you-know-who was gone.”
It’s no secret that the internal problems in Pink Floyd were primarily due to Waters, who came to consider it his band and the vehicle for his vision. Talk to some people in the business, and they’ll tell you he’s a nice guy. But apparently when he was working on a Pink Floyd project he was quite different. Waters has been described a musical genius with the temperament of a tyrant.
“Roger likes to do things his own way,” Gilmour said. “He thought his way was the only way. There was no compromise. It’s hard to work under those circumstances. Tension is one thing. A lot of bands can work well in an atmosphere of tension. But you need compromise and Roger wouldn’t compromise.”
According to his publicist, Waters wasn’t interested in being interviewed to defend himself. Anyway, he’s already said his piece. When his album, “Radio K.A.O.S.,” came out, he was telling the media that Pink Floyd should be retired. He didn’t want those guys making music under the Pink Floyd banner without him.
Whatever was going on in Pink Floyd, Waters hasn’t done well since escaping it. His album, while imaginatively structured, is ultimately meandering and low on interesting ideas. You expect more from someone with his talents. So far it hasn’t been a big hit, languishing in the bottom half of the Billboard magazine Top 100 chart.
The title of the band’s last album, 1983’s “The Final Cut,” was prophetic--for the Waters edition of Pink Floyd anyway. “He wrote the record company in December of 1985 that he was out of the group,” Gilmour said. “But before that he told us he wouldn’t work with any of us again.”
“The Final Cut” was rambling and unsatisfying--possibly the worst album of the band’s career. It seemed that Waters’ creative well had run dry. Gilmour has often said the album is a stinker. But he probably doesn’t mind saying that because he didn’t have much to do with it.
“I got pushed out of contributing,” he said. “It was Roger’s album. He simply made an album that’s not very good. When it was being made we knew it wasn’t very good.”
Fans knew it, too.
“Worldwide it didn’t even sell 3 million,” Gilmour said. “For this band that’s not very good. We’ve had albums with incredible sales--like ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ (10 million in the U.S.) and ‘The Wall’ (4 million in the U.S.). ‘Final Cut’ did real damage to the band. We’re having to fight back from it now.”
Touring might have helped album sales but there was too much friction among the members. “Roger made us all crazy,” Gilmour said. “We couldn’t go on the road under those conditions. It would have been disastrous. It was a bleak time for all of us. We weren’t having much fun. We knew we couldn’t go through this again in making an album. Something had to change.”
That’s when Waters bowed out of the band.
This is the first extended Pink Floyd tour since 1977. In 1980 the group did a handful of dates--two American and two European cities--playing “The Wall” album. The current tour, which includes Los Angeles Sports Arena shows Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, will continue through July.
In the past, the band’s touring aspirations were apparently hampered by Waters’ reluctance to go on the road for long periods of time: “Roger didn’t want to tour very long,” Gilmour pointed out. “Now we’re freer to tour more extensively.”
As described by Gilmour, the show sounds like quite an extravaganza: “It’s a big, flashy show with lots of fancy effects, with film and special lighting. It’s as fancy as anything we’ve ever done. The first half is mostly the new album and the second half is mostly old songs.”
You’d think that fans would miss Waters and complain about his absence. But Gilmour denied this: “They’re aware that Roger is gone, but they don’t seem to give a damn.”