Behind The Mask Of Pink Floyd - Chicago Tribune, July 09, 1991

July 09, 1991|By Reviewed by Lynn Van Matre, A Tribune writer.

Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey

By Nicholas Schaffner

Harmony, 348 pages, $20

`By the way, which one`s Pink?`` a cliche-spouting record company fat-cat casually asks members of Pink Floyd in a song on ``Wish You Were Here,`` a No. 1 album for the British rock band in 1975. Floyd fans, of course, were hip to the joke-there never was anyone called Pink or Floyd in the group, which took its name from two obscure Georgia blues singers, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.

The line was a pointed jab at what Floyd lyricist Roger Waters saw as the greed and crassness of the music industry, one of the album`s two major themes. (The other was Floyd founder Syd Barrett`s drug-induced descent into mental illness, which resulted in his ouster from the group in 1968.) But as distasteful as the realities of the record business might be, in some ways the ``which one`s Pink`` question wasn`t all that odd. For years, Pink Floyd`s hypnotically spacey sound and stunning special effects took precedence over individual star trips; group members did virtually no interviews. They deliberately maintained such low profiles, in fact, that they could walk the streets unrecognized even as their albums soared to the top of the pop charts. The enigmatic facade crumbled a good deal in the early 1980s, when musical and philosophical differences between Waters and singer-guitarist Dave Gilmour exploded into an acrimonious split that saw both men eager to tell their side of the story to the media as they went their separate ways-Waters to embark on a solo career, Gilmour to head up a highly successful post-Waters version of Pink Floyd.

But for Floyd fans still hungry for details about the band, veteran pop writer Schaffner`s ``Saucerful of Secrets`` offers an entertaining and concisely written account of the quartet`s rise from a London underground cult favorite in the mid-1960s to a hugely successful mainstream band of the 1970s and `80s. (Their 1973 album, ``Dark Side of the Moon,`` stayed on Billboard`s charts for a staggering 736 weeks and is the fourth best-selling album in history.)

Schaffner was unsuccessful in his attempts to interview Waters, whose unremittingly bleak visions of life shaped much of the band`s output; the Waters quotes in the book have been drawn from other interviews he gave over the last 25 years. No attempt was made to interview Barrett, now a virtual recluse. Other members of the band and their associates were willing to talk, however, and the results are an even-handed look at a number of events in Pink Floyd`s history.

A healthy portion of the book is devoted to Barrett, who was with the band for only three years but remains a cult figure to this day. It was his idiosyncratic musical creativity-sparked by such diverse influences as fairy tales and the I Ching-and onstage charisma that fueled the band`s initial success, but he proved ill-equipped to cope with fame. Eventually, his behavior became so destructive (locking up his girlfriend for days, refusing to open his mouth during an appearance on ``American Bandstand``) that the band was forced to replace him with Gilmour.

As for other members of the band, there are occasional, brief glimpses into their personal life-mostly pertaining to divorces-but nothing of real depth and certainly no revelations. Still, ``Saucerful of Secrets`` is by far the best book around on this enduringly popular band.
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