Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday Reflection: For the Heart of the Sun

click the graphic to listen to the end of "Pigs"

Perhaps the first point we should make clear about this week's banner quote is that it's not about Bush or any other inhabitant of the presidential residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave (though it might as well be). In fact, Roger Waters was describing—or perhaps assaulting would be a more accurate term—Mary Whitehouse, a morality campaigner favored by the Margaret Thatcher government, that fish-n-chips neocon hegemony of the '80's.

Apparently, Mary was quite the tight little priss—think of her as the James Dobson/Brent Bozell of her day. Anti-gay, anti-violence, anti-sex, anti-liberal, anti-fun—anti-everything, in fact, that didn't come wrapped in moral shades of Hallmark card bland. She was, of course, quite effective in her shrill damnation of everything in the media or the arts that was sensual or at the mildest variance with her narrow view of family values. Unfortunately, her success encouraged a lot of copycat acts, right unto this day, in which we have Rush, Coulter, O'Reilly and the like stirring the most violent hatred against any movies, music, and media that offend them.

So Waters chose as one of the "three different kinds" of pigs, this Mary Whitehouse. Here's the complete verse, which closes the song:

Hey you, Whitehouse,
Ha ha charade you are.
You house proud town mouse,
Ha ha charade you are
You're trying to keep our feelings off the street.
You're nearly a real treat,
All tight lips and cold feet
And do you feel abused?

You gotta stem the evil tide,
And keep it all on the inside.
Mary you're nearly a treat,
Mary you're nearly a treat
But you're really a cry.

What follows this is one of the musical highlights of Animals: David Gilmour reminding us why they called it an "electric" guitar. "Pigs" concludes with a guitar solo of spine-tingling virtuosity. Gilmour's art illustrates a guiding principle of musicianship, which is well known among classical artists: if you'd like to be a great soloist, learn accompaniment first. Listen to Gilmour's lyrical, trickling notes during Dick Parry's saxophone solo in Shine On You Crazy Diamond, and you'll hear his eminent skill at accompaniment. Or check out the second part of Dogs, where he simply strums some brooding chords on the acoustic instrument, while the howling and barking of the dogs begins: it is one of the most simple and chilling moments in modern musical history. Unforgettable stuff from a pure artist of the guitar.

The Floyd were great not because they broke all the rules of successful music-making; but because they had learned them first. Every member of that band came to it as an accomplished artist; growing still, as all true artists always are, but whole and grounded in their technique. Thus, to write them off as an LSD-band or some electro-freak show that got by on gear and sound effects alone is to betray a very superficial understanding of their music, and of music in general. These guys were pros.

At one point during the interview segment of the Pompeii film, Waters grimly invites anyone who thinks they can do better to come on along and try: here's the gear, have a go. If you think just having the techno-goodies makes you an artist, then don't let the lack of them stop you. Perhaps it's a sarcastic point, but one that probably needed to be made.

The musicians of Pink Floyd weren't a pack of drugged-out little boys hacking at electronic toys; they were professionals who quietly worked at their art, perfected it, and in the process rewrote the history of music, leaving behind a body of work that will be heard and loved by generations still to be born.


Pink Floyd: recordings

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
A Saucerful of Secrets
Atom Heart Mother
Obscured by Clouds
The Dark Side of the Moon
The Wall
Wish You Were Here
A Collection of Great Dance Songs
The Final Cut

Pink Floyd on DVD

Live at Pompeii
The Wall

Pink Floyd: concerts

Fillmore West, April, 1970


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