Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: 33 1/3 The Piper At The Gates of Dawn

"To those who have grown up in the era of the CD and the easy availability of just about any sort of music from the back catalogue, I should explain something about 1975."


I'm not sure why I picked this one up. I like The Floyd, but this has always been a problematic album for me. It's a fairly cartoony representation of it's time. As with most rock albums, the sound of it is more important than the actual performance. All the guys have terrible nasally voices, which makes Interstellar Overdrive the best song by virtue of being an instrumental. Many of the tracks (like Scarecrow or Bike) have a brilliant song structure, but suffer from the naive worship of country and innocence typical of British fantasy.

"I sometimes think that as Britain declines, dreaming of a sweeter past, entertaining few hopes for a finer future, her middle-classes turn increasingly to the fantasy of rural life and talking animals, the safety of the woods that are the pattern of the paper on the nursery room wall. Old hippies, housewives, civil servants, share in this wistful trance; eating nothing as dangerous or exotic as the lotus, but chewing instead on a form of mildly anaesthetic British cabbage.
--Michael Moorcock, "Epic Pooh," 1989

I think I pick these type of books up because they fall into the auto-biographical realm more than that of actual criticism. When discussing popular music, authors rarely mention the technical elements and instead focus on cultural or personal impact. Here, we have someone who fell in love with the album after the 1967 momentum had disappeared. So, it's more about his personal journey to learn about what affected his childhood tastes.
"It was an event, a discovery. One moment I was looking at distant constellations, the next I was hearing a voice, like the sound of Apollo astronauts hailing the president from the moon, but more remote..."
There are some new interviews here with the recording personnel, which serves to balance out Rogers Waters later rants about being treated as a singles band (despite his obvious willingness to be a rock star). Overall, though, if you've read Nicholas Schaffer's Saucerful of Secrets, you won't find any new history here. This is mostly a nice afternoon read, a revisting of that younger time when certain albums were still new and fresh.
"Piper has served as a form of musical escapism for many people across time, and an escape from 1975 was most welcome to me"

Personally, I find escapism to be a ridiculous thing; one can't really avoid reality. The best works of art give us new maps to help find our way through it. But, everyone has to start somewhere. This particular author started in outer space and ended at a pair of gates where a strange piper played a strange melody.

"So beautiful and strange and new! Since it was to end so soon, I almost wish I had never heard of it. For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it for ever..."
-- Kenneth Graham, The Wind in the Willows, 1908 (as quoted by the author)

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