On Friday night I sat down with my nephew to watch a documentary on the making of Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd way back in 1975.
My nephew I suspected wanted to watch something else, but I got to the remote ahead of him. He’s only 16, and not a great music lover in any case. A band like Pink Floyd must have seemed like ancient history to him, I figured. We chatted on that though as the program began, and he told me likes the older music, and none of the current stuff. He’s a thoughtful kid, and I sensed watched the program with as much fascination as I did.
Pink Floyd is one of my favourite bands. I’ve had a reverence for Roger Waters particularly ever since I got a handle on the band. Somehow I respected his stubborn intensity – perhaps understanding of it in some personal way; and his lyrics are provocative and intelligent.
Since Pink Floyd split off into factions fans have tended to one camp or the other. There was Roger Waters, then there were the rest of them. In truth every member of Pink Floyd were talented artists, and each had their moment. The counterpart to Waters was Dave Gilmour. For me it was natural to incline towards Waters because it was his view of the world that seemed the spiritual heart of the band. Against that was Gilmour’s immensely influential guitar playing, and the iconic guitar licks he wrote and played. The reality is probably as it seems: together they did wonderful things, apart they are mediocre. Waters continues with his intelligent, occasionally coruscating songwriting, but without the musical inspiration of Gilmour and the others; and Pink Floyd has lost focus and bite without the passion of Waters.
These are arguments that Pink Floyd lovers could carry on for hours in pubs all over the world. On Friday night we were locked into a moment of time, before the split and any of that meant anything, in 1975 when they wrestled with the creation to the follow-up to Dark Side of the Moon.
I seem to recall watching a doco about that a few years ago, and writing about it here. That was an iconic album of genius. Wish You Were Here would rival that, but it’s creation was much more difficult. Watching scenes recorded back then interspersed with Waters, Gilmour, etc today reflecting on it all was fascinating.
I was aware of my nephew sitting beside me for several reasons. For his father, who died earlier this year, Pink Floyd was his second favourite band after the Beatles. He was an obsessive music fan, to a degree that it makes almost shocking to find his children have only a cursory interest in it (which, however, seems consistent with the times – my generation were much more connected to the music of the day than this generation). I told my nephew how in 1988 I went with his father to see Pink Floyd in concert at the tennis centre. It remains the best concert I’ve been too.
At the same time I sensed my nephew was absorbed in the cultural history we were being served up with. My nephew loves history, has a fascination for things that have gone before. He mentioned he had done a quiz that told him the sixties was his era. Here on screen was a time 40 years past, a different era, though recognisable. The fashions were different, people wore their hair differently, and yes, the music was different too. But there were names that any half smart person should recognise, as he did.
I lived through that era, though I was young, and my memories of it sketchy and scattered. I was glad to have lived then. It seemed a freer time, a time both more impulsive and more innocent. I reflected how lucky I was to have lived through such an interesting passage of time. I often think these days – and others agree – that I grew up in the right time. It was better being a child when I was than it is now.
For my nephew it’s not nostalgia he feels, but history he absorbs. If he could go back he would, I’m sure. He can’t, all he can do is read about it, can watch programs as we did the other night, and otherwise tap into those of us who were there. For once I felt that responsibility, but was glad of it. These are our lives, his, mine, his father’s, the journey we share and pass on.