Rock & Roll Summer Reading
Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floydby Mark Blake
Thunder's Mouth Press, 418 pp., $26
Mark Blake's impeccable Pink Floyd tome was alternately titled When Pigs Fly for its European release, and rightfully so. Bookended by the group's historic reunion at Live 8 in 2005, a mere four days before the death of original frontman Syd Barrett, Comfortably Numb traces the evolution of the UK space rock pioneers and ultimately proves just how extraordinary that occasion truly was. Mirroring the fluidity and attention to detail of conceptual masterpieces like Wish You Were Here, Blake examines the dynamics of Pink Floyd from all possible angles, including interviews with its core members – Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Rick Wright, and Nick Mason – and nearly 100 of their associates, ranging from LP cover-art guru Storm Thorgerson and producer Bob Ezrin to contemporaries Pete Townshend and Robert Wyatt. The contradictions surrounding Barrett's estrangement from society only magnify the allure of 1967 debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and his lasting impression on Floyd's collective psyche, but the author pointedly demystifies the romanticized notion of Barrett as a hermetic recluse. Likewise, Blake emphasizes the importance of Wright's dissipating organ in shaping the band's early conceits and cements 1973's Dark Side of the Moon as Floyd's creative peak, due primarily to its incorporation of ideas from the largely forgotten Zabriskie Point and The Body film soundtracks, as well as the experience and insight gained from touring the album before its recording and the input of engineer Alan Parsons. Waters' tyrannical rise to dictatorship runs parallel with the construction of the largely autobiographical epic The Wall in 1979, resulting in a well-documented two-decade-long chess game of one-upmanship with Gilmour that implodes in Berlin in 1990, though Blake gives credence to 1994's underrated The Division Bell as an apropos swan song. The most complete, insightful, and current account of Pink Floyd to date, Comfortably Numb is nearly as essential as the music itself.