2009 was a pretty sobering year for me in terms of great idols and icons of my life greeting that great gettin’ up morning. While my Grandfather-in-law Johnny Davis was alive (and I never thought of him as anything less than my Grandfather) my maternal grandmother had a sort of an appreciation day for him. Her reasoning, she told all of us (who were more than slightly uncomfortable) was that people often wait until someone is no longer around to really detail their appreciation for them. My grandfather, like all of my grandparents, was an incredible person. So we warmed up to the event and ended up, I hope, making him feel fantastic about how much he was loved and how much of an impact he had on all our lives.
I always liked that day.
About a year ago I had the idea that there should be something like that for Geeks to remember and document things that meant a lot to them, long before they are actually gone forever. I was reminded of it tonight when, on a whim, I popped in the Pink Floyd concert DVD for their Pulse tour in the 90’s. It was the only time I ever saw Pink Floyd live, and….well, do I have to make the wormhole sound for you?
It’s April 28th, 1994. I’ve been working at Microsoft in a temp position for a whole eight days. It’s been a weird two weeks. I’m still not 100% I can actually do the job. I’m about half way through my training but it’s a lot of information, and a lot of pressure since the job is a temp job. My stepfather Ted and my brother Scott and I snagged tickets to the Pink Floyd concert, and I just barely made it in time for the beginning of the show. I’m stressed, excited, freaked out. I’m going to see Pink Floyd. LIVE. The show hasn’t begun but it’s clear our seats are nosebleed ones on the high left hand side of the stage. I could care less. There was little to no way this wasn’t going to be a capstone to meld my nervousness and uncertainty into focus itself. I was working at Microsoft, and seeing Pink Floyd live. Nerd excitement trumped everything else.
I’m at a sleepover at the age of 11. Being raised Southern Baptist, my exposure to Rock was limited to being told earnestly by my father that I was forever going to hell for having made my first cassette purchase Queen’s “The Game”. Pretty sure he was a fool, yet still in that 11 year old mode of thinking maybe he might be right, I quivered with a sense of the forbidden when the birthday boy pulled out a white brick covered vinyl album. This might be Rock, I thought. This might…might…be AWESOME.
“I want to listen to my *favorite* song” he said triumphantly, as he put needle to sweet blasphemous and iniquitous dark molded disc. “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” reached its loving embrace around us and a half a dozen fifth graders bawdily shouted “No Dukes of Hazzard, in the Classroom, TEACHERS, LEAVE THOSE KIDS ALONE”
Who would write such a thing? I mean the Dukes of Hazzard* was awesome already but to punch teachers right where they lived by telling them flat out to leave us alone? This was the GREATEST SONG EVER. Adults obviously wrote this, no child could get away with such a revolutionary statement. But who were these adults? Clearly they were worthy of support and loyalty. I studied the cover where Ralph Steadman’s work etched itself into my brain. Pink. Floyd. I had to keep this a secret from my parents. I had to.
I am jack’s seething mid teen angst. My family has moved for a year to Little Rock, Arkansas. My high school friend trajectory, such that is was, had been interrupted. My deep need to fit in led to essentially a year long resentment campaign against everyone. I locked myself into my Emerson Sony Walkman knock off. I was mostly a mid 80’s new wave kid. But just before we moved back to my home town of Dallas I got a chance to have a summer internship through my high school at John Brown University in northern Arkansas for three weeks.
There, I meet a guy named Russell. Russell not only is wickedly funny and has my independent hacker streak, he reintroduces me to Pink Floyd. He has a portable CD player. This alone makes him the Greatest Living Human in the dark ages of 1988. But more importantly, he has the new album A Momentary Lapse of Reason. And thus do I spend three weeks with Russell making trouble in a strictly uptight and religious environment making ball sack jokes, but delving deeply in the music. He had brought along tapes, and suddenly we were immersed in not just the entirety of The Wall, but Animals and Dark Side of the Moon. I feel like an entire musical world has been opened to me. I’d forgotten the initial Pink Floyd experience I’d had as a child and had become way too much of an 80’s music snob. If it wasn’t new wave, it was lame. Worse, since my initial exposure, grownups around me had dissed Pink Floyd as slacker lamer drug music, adding to my disdain.
Russell eases me into the subversion and perfection of Pink Floyd. He points out the blues aspects of “Money” and the incredible sax line in “Us and Them”. He shows how cool the acoustic backdrop was to “Wish you were Here” and how the entirety of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” can more or less be considered an entire orchestral piece.
I would never again talk to Russell after we left that summer camp and went our separate ways. But I am deeply grateful.
It’s 1989 and I have my own car, a gift from my father. I now have my own portable CD player and in it resides, almost permanently, Pink Floyd’s live CD “The Delicate Sound of Thunder”. I’m sweating in the Tyler, Texas heat and waiting to pick up my father from his workplace. I’m up for a rare visit and have entered that worst of teen years, right or wrong, the seething anger against all the screw ups your parents did.
My father split the family when I was 12 for his hot blonde secretary, wife two of what would become three. Being the oldest at the time, and just enough for me to understand what was going on, it was easy for me to divine sleazy behavior from the excuses he gave. It didn’t help that in my life he’s the only person I know who has spent the most time in jail.
He hadn’t though given up his strictly Southern Baptist conservative viewpoint, despite his behavioral hypocrisy. Me? I’d like to say I was mature and played it cool. But I was a late teen prick.
The lot outside the Palm Harbor Mobile Home lot where he worked was hot and dusty. I was up to visit my dad with my brothers for the weekend, the very last vestiges of “visitation rights”. The car, which had previously belonged to his now third wife was, as I mentioned, a gift to me from the both of them and was my first car. I actually liked it quite a bit, but having it move from him to me I felt a particular possessiveness about it. Like my own life and who I had become, I felt like everything about the car itself was mine now, not anyone else’s. But to the memory at hand:
My father exits the work trailer and heads over to my car for the ride back home. I crank the car up and the portable CD player via cassette adapter starts up through the stereo to play “learning to fly”
He enters the car and folds himself into the passenger’s seat.
“Hey buddy,” he goes. “Let’s head home.”
“Sure,” I say. But my father pauses, looking at the tape rig to the CD player and cocking his head to listen to the music for a second.
“What’s this? You got a CD player?”
“Yeah saved up for it from my job” I say as I put the stick in reverse and roll over the gravel and dust lot before shoving it into first to hit into the main road.
“What’s this song?” he asks, as he reaches down to pick up the CD player from its floorboard spot. He pauses a moment as he reads the case next to the player…
“Pink Floyd? This is drug music? When did you start listening to drug music?”
“I dunno dad, guess about the time you left”
I didn’t need to say that. He didn’t need to hear it. But it feels good to say it, in my late teen prick mode. He stays silent for a moment while I drive.
“It’s drug music. You’re better than that.”
I leave that one go.
After a few more moments he says “I don’t have to listen to this.”
He’s not wrong, he doesn’t have to. He gave me the car as a gift. I keep the music playing. It isn’t fair to him, but I do it. After a moment we’re closer to the house and he says again,
“This is drug music”
It’s unfair, but nothing he could have said would bring me closer to Pink Floyd’s music than that. It’s just the way it is.
It is the last time my father and I are in a car together, some 20 years ago.
It’s Fall, 1990. I’ve never actually seen the film I have listened to for so long. I’m at college, and we have a weekly film viewing run by two people I would learn a lot from in my short time in college, Jason and Rick. I was familiar with Ralph Steadman’s art from the CD and Album artwork, but to see the animation and to experience the narrative of the album is a revelation. Over the next two days I consume a shitload of booze and watch the film two more times. I’m blown away. And by far my favorite tune is “Comfortably Numb”. I spend many bohemian hours playing it while thoughtfully smoking and pretending I’m all artistic and stuff. No really, the cigarettes were clove cigarettes.
During alcohol fueled late night debates on the greatest albums ever made I am exposed to “The Final Cut” which has become very near my favorite Pink Floyd album because I think it’s Roger Waters’ most powerful work, as it is also his last with the band.
It’s 2004. Our first puppy, Hennessy, has died of cancer in May. Around August Rochelle and I decide we want a new puppy. We research rescues only to find out Golden Retriever rescue in the Pacific Northwest had a 8 month wait. We visit an amazing breeder in British Columbia who has exactly the line we want. The breeder finds our perfect puppy, now aged five as of this writing. We name her Adia after the Sarah McLachlan song of the same name. But the breeder requires a deeper name to distinguish her in the line for the American Kennel Club. The breeder chooses mostly names that are based on songs. Adia’s father was named Seger. His breeder name was “Against the Wind” for the Bob Seger song. Rochelle and I think long and hard about having Adia’s breeder name be a Sarah McLachlan song. I finally have the idea based on a nickname I had for her mentally, “Crazy Diamond”.
Rochelle is impatient. She likes Pink Floyd just fine but doesn’t want to have to listen to an entire song to name our new puppy. I pop in the CD. She’s in love.
Thus, Adia is Fyreglo Golden Retriever’s “Shine on you Crazy Diamond”
It’s April 28th, 1994.
I’m irritated. Pink Floyd has put on an incredible show. But they just left the stage for the first encore and there has been no “Comfortably Numb”. I’m more than a little on a contact high and the crowd is going insane. Suddenly they take the stage again and the opening of my song is playing. Thus far the entire show has been a spectacle. During The Wall and Animals songs flaming pig heads emerge from the stage. Fireworks and lasers and a circular screen highlight the best parts of Pulse and A Momentary Lapse of Reason. I am just happy they were playing “Comfortably Numb”
There is a disco ball the size of a space station emerging from the center of Texas Stadium during the guitar solo of Comfortably Numb. At the apex of the solo, lights from the floor and lasers from the stage hit the disco ball, illuminating a crowd 60,000 strong in a starfield of light. Then the disco ball begins to spin… An entire universe of light spins and rotates around the crowd during one of my favorite moments in music from a band I love deeply. I’m momentarily lost in more than a little bit of wonder and nostagia and my own sense of a history developed both in the past and in the moment.
It’s tonight and I’m watching the disco ball spin over the crowd on the DVD recorded for that concert series. I’m thinking a lot about the impact this band and its music has had on my in my life. I’m realizing I’ve missed a few band members’ passage from the planet. But I’m also thinking about that day with my grandmother’s idea to note the influence and impact of people before they go and I’m writing this as a result.
So thanks to all the members of Pink Floyd, past and modern. Thanks so very much.
*yes I know it’s “Dark Sarcasm”. We were 11. Bo and Luke jumped river beds in a supped up car. Shut up.