The Heart of the Sun
“The aim is to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive.” ― Carlos Castaneda
You can’t get more of a holiday present than a gaggle of early live Pink Floyd concert recordings1. Yes, I guess you COULD get a bunch of concerts that would have a few featuring original front man Syd Barrett…but this is a second-best alternative. Sometime in the last few weeks, the Pink Floyd team quietly threw a bunch of live shows, mostly from 1971, onto the streaming platform of your choice. This is generally the Atom Heart Mother/Meddle period Pink Floyd…right before and during the Meddle album roll-out...where the dark fuzzy meditations of the early psychedelic Syd years are still present.
Post-Barrett Floyd found the band embracing the jamming-aspects of the original line-up, with long drawn-out perambulations…musical pieces that were almost tone-poems. While the records from that era were interesting, spotty with beautiful moments, the live shows were another beast entirely. As these latest releases showcase, The Pink Floyd of 1971 fully embraced (and led) the progressive movement of the era with sets dominated by improvisation, less song driven, more focused on musical interplay. Knowing now what the band would become, these sets find the quartet in a group embryo, nightly taking the stage for all to see their evolution. It is probably not a coincidence that a track that sews its way through many of the recordings is called Embryo and is a drawn-out groove of a jam… that never appears on any Pink Floyd record (it did appear in a shortened form on a compilation in later years).
These shows as a body of work are more exciting than listening to the few records that came before them: the songs are unbridled, as they were intended. Changing every night. It is not often one comes across such a talented band in the midst of such an artistic explosion that every performance is worth experiencing. The Flaming Lips of the mid-90s were such a band, the Ronald Jones era where every night the set morphed into different lands. The Velvet Underground changed their sound nightly. I think that Grateful Dead and Phish fans would say the same about their groups as would fans of Jazz legends like Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra. For those lucky to see multiple concerts, a whole new perspective is exhibited as to the bands’ artistry and vision. Suddenly lesser-known tracks like Fat Old Sun, with its Vanilla Fudgian heaviness, Careful with That Axe, Eugene and Cymbaline are incredibly important to the rhythm and tide of the set with Set The Controls to the Heart of the Sun, the only song to feature all five original Floyd members on its studio recording, becomes an evening highlight.
And when The Floyd eventually rolls into Echoes, featured as a side-long song on Meddle, something incredible happens. Echoes starts as most of the songs of these performances do: a slow murmur of a musical conversation, a bit of instrumental interplay. But suddenly the opening lines are sung:
Overhead the albatross
Hangs motionless upon the air
And deep beneath the rolling waves
In labyrinths of coral caves
The echo of a distant time
Comes willowing across the sand
And everything is green and submarine
With that verse the future of Pink Floyd rears its head and visions of Wish You Were Here and Dark Side Of The Moon are gifted to the world.
Tucked within the treasure of live shows is one from Tokyo, March 1972. While only months after the others, it features a slew of songs from the album that would be released in the following year, Dark Side of the Moon. The set has none of the songs from the previous records, and the jamming that was center stage has been left behind, with only the musical exploratory enthusiasms remaining. The Roger Waters2/John Gilmore Pink Floyd that would take over the world had arrived. A fitting ending to the story told by these newly-released concerts.
This newsletter is dedicated to my mother-n-law Barbara Bersche, whose birthday is on Christmas day.
Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion
During my freshman year at Berkeley I was given an essay by Joan Didion in an English Lit overview course. It was the first piece of serious non-fiction I studied under the guise of a college professor and it blew my mind, from both what she presented and the big opportunities that were showcased to me regarding the written word in the non-fiction sense when used by a true artist. There is much that is being said about Joan Didion, who died yesterday. But nothing speaks larger than one of her most famous essays….
So the kid whose exorcism story became a famous horror flick grew up to work at NASA helping send us into space. Or is the story REALLY how Satan found out how to leave the planet???
With Christmas day comes the birthday of the great Shane MacGowan. One of my fondest experiences working in the music industry is my time spent with Shane, a warmhearted loyal unpredictable engaging artist who also happens to be the greatest Irish songwriter of our time. With all of his recent health problems, his music career has been stymied…but his art career is another story and this new book looks great. Happy Birthday Shane!
by Jean Toomer
There is a natty kind of mind
That slicks its thoughts,
Culls its oughts,
Trims its views,
Prunes its trues,
And never suspects it is a rind.
My friend Larry Hardy said that some of these recordings were featured on boxsets of the early years of Pink Floyd
This newsletter is written with the acknowledgement that Roger Waters is as much of an asshole as he is a great artist.