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A Review of Comfortably Numb

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 21, 2015

Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink FloydComfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! After reading this book, I’ve come to the conclusion that Roger Waters was one of the biggest assholes who has ever lived. He was/is a freakin’ monster! A bully. A grouch. Never happy. Always has to be right. Always has to win. Always has to have the last word. Confrontational. Critical as hell. A royal dick. To everyone. Especially to David Gilmour. And Richard Wright. He generally spared Nick Mason.

This is one of the most comprehensive rock bios I’ve ever read, starting out with the group’s boyhoods in Cambridge in the 1950s to their forming the band in the mid-60s. Of course, Syd Barret was the singer and guitar player and was charisma personified. This book probably is probably one fourth about Syd, which irritated the hell out of me and nearly knocked it down a star. I’ve never understood the writer’s, fan’s, and band’s obsession of and love for Syd Barret. Floyd’s classic album Wish You Were Here was made as a tribute to Barret and just about every album they produced had songs that were tributes to him. Yet he was only with the band for one fucking album!!! The first one. The band has been in existence for 50 years and he was with the band for about two, so get the fuck over him people. Damn! He wasn’t even that good. And six months into their first album’s existence, he went insane. Too many drugs, mostly pot and LSD. Lots and lots of acid, daily. He burned himself out. He went from being a fun, eccentric, vibrant young man with lots of promise to a basic corpse on stage who couldn’t/wouldn’t sing and just let his guitar hand around his neck without playing it. So the band hired their friend David Gilmour to come in and back Barret up, to play the guitar for him and even sing the songs, all the while pretending it was Syd. But that didn’t last very long. After about six months of that, one night the band decided not to pick Syd up for a show. And then they didn’t the next night. And after that, he was gone.

Pink Floyd got their start playing at the UFO, a psychedelic club in London where they were the house band and everyone was tripping. When their first album came out, it generally got decent reviews and made them minor stars. They were doing what was called acid rock or space rock, take your pick. After Syd left, they had to find a new songwriter, so Roger took that role on his shoulders and became the band’s de facto leader. He wrote the songs, with minor contributions from the others and Gilmour sang. Gilmour was apparently an excellent guitar player, while Waters was a mediocre bassist, but he was an ideas man and felt good about that.

Their next few albums got decent reviews, but weren’t huge sellers and their record company was begging them for a hit single. Finally, they produced the all time classic, Dark Side of the Moon, which stayed on the charts for an amazing 14 straight years. That changed everything. It went to number one in many countries, made them superstars, and made them rich. And they went on tours. Big tours. Expensive tours. Tours that Waters became dictator of in regards to everything in every detail.

Wish You Were Here and Animals came out over the next few years and sold well. Everyone seemed to know the first one was the band’s tribute to Syd, who by this time was quite ill. But Gilmour was watching out for him, making sure he was getting his royalties and being taken care of. Around this time, Waters had had enough of Wright, who he thought wasn’t contributing enough, so he got the band to fire him, which was stunning. Wright’s keyboards played in integral role on virtually every Floyd song there was and he had even written some songs, so it was just a crazy power play. This didn’t sit well with Gilmour, who by this time was having a hard time even conversing cordially with Waters.

Meanwhile, Waters had a vision. He wanted to do a themed album, a brutal album about a rock star who goes crazy, gets power hungry, but is then redeemed at the end. In other words, himself. And Syd. He wrote the songs for The Wall and the band put it all together for a year and a half. The band hired Wright back, but not as a full member, rather as an hourly player with no credits. Somehow Wright agreed to this. When The Wall came out, it was a huge hit and Waters was flush with pride. And then they made it into a movie, starring Bob Geldoff as the main character. Waters hated Geldoff, but couldn’t do anything about the casting. The band went on a huge tour with some 200 roadies, all around the world, and made a killing, but Waters pissed everyone off so much, that a lot of people refused to ever speak to him again. Gilmour, by this time, hardly spoke to Waters, himself. He had had it with him. And Waters had had it with Gilmour. So he quit Pink Floyd and tried to dissolve the band. But Gilmour and Mason had other ideas. They wanted to keep the band going, with Wright, and still put out albums under the Pink Floyd name. Waters was incensed and sued them to stop it. He lost. Hah! Serves him right. He went on to do solo albums, none of which made a dent in the charts. He toured to crowds of 6,000 people, but claimed it didn’t bother him. Meanwhile, the remaining members of Pink Floyd gradually decided to do another album, after Gilmour put out his own solo album, which also didn’t sell. A Momentary Lapse of Reason was produced with Gilmour writing most of the songs, with the help of his then journalist girlfriend, later his wife. The album shot to number one everywhere and the band went out on huge stadium tours playing to 80,000 people at a time. Gilmour must have felt vindicated, but Waters couldn’t let it go, bitching that Gilmour could only do it with the help of his wife, that he didn’t have the talent to do it on his own. He also said the album sucked.

Fast forward a few years. There are more solo albums, by everyone. None sold well. The members of Pink Floyd decide to do another album and spend a good bit of time producing it. It hit number one on the charts too and they went on another big tour. During this tour, they played new stuff, very old stuff, including stuff from the first album, and the entire Dark Side of the Moon album. Recordings of the concert were later released as Pulse. Of course, Waters was immensely critical.

And that’s about it. Waters produced an opera that was mildly successful and allegedly mellowed in his 60s. The band reunited for Liveaid 8 around 2005 and there was speculation they’d get together again. Waters even indicated he’d be willing to, but Gilmour wouldn’t hear of it. He hated Waters too much. He turned down a $250,000,000 offer. The book ends with a new solo Gilmour album that becomes the band’s first solo album to sell successfully and with Gilmour finally finding some peace. And with Syd’s death in 2006. He lived very frugally, but to everyone’s surprise, was quite rich when he died. He left his money to his brothers and sisters. None of the band members attended the funeral. Syd was quite insane for most of his life. A pity.

One of the cool things about this book is the detailed descriptions of the covers and how they came about. How they were conceived and shot or drawn. You don’t usually get that in rock bios and I was glad to see that. You also get commentary on most songs on the albums. Pink Floyd is one of the most enduring and successful bands in rock history. This book does them justice and is definitely recommended for fans and anyone else.

View all my reviews

5 Responses to “A Review of Comfortably Numb”

  1. dweezer19 said

    Bigtime Pink fans here, Scott. Hubby took me to their Division Bell concert in San Antonio in the early 90’s. It was great. He would love this book.

    Like

  2. I love Pink Floyd! Thanks for reviewing this, Scott! Now I’d really like to read this book!
    One of the things I’ve always been interested in is just HOW groups/or whoever decide what the album covers would be. I saved all my albums from high school and college. I now use some of the covers to decorate my office! 🙂
    And I’m always curious about why an artist wrote a certain song. We don’t often get to hear those stories.
    HUGS for you and SweetG!!! 🙂

    Like

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