Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Shine on you, witty Mason!

Though I picked up Nick Mason's Pink Floyd reminiscence book, Inside Out - A personal history of Pink Floyd, (for the uninitiated, Mason has been PF's drummer through the band's chequered history) nearly 3 months ago, I never got around to reading it - for one, because I had a backlog of fiction to read through and second, because I'm not really a huge fan of memoirs. As a rule, most books in the genre either tend to be hagiographic or bitchy, the latter especially if they are about aging rock bands with a messy past. Inside Out was approached, therefore, with much trepidation and the knowledge that if the first 20 pages were either extremely h. or b., the book would be banished from sight immediately. Such was my cynicism that I put down the quote from the Guardian on the blurb - "Mason could probably have plied a successful trade as a writer... a dry, original wit"- to a publicity rush.

The first page gave me an inkling that I might enjoy this book after all. Sample this - Mason talks about how Waters spoke to him for the first time:

"The star-crossed paths of Virgo and Aquarius had dictated our destiny, and were compelling Roger to seek a way to unite our minds in a creative adventure.
No,no,no. I'm trying to keep the invention to a minimum. The only reason Roger had bothered to approach me was that he wanted to borrow my car.
The vehicle in question was a 1930 Austin Seven 'Chummy' which I'd picked up for twenty quid... Roger must have been desperate even to want me to lend it to him. The Austin's cruising speed was so sluggish that I'd once had to give a hitch-hiker a lift out of sheer embarassment because I was going so slowly he thought I was actually stopping to offer him a ride."

The book is peppered with similarly self-deprecating and drily witty passages that evoke chuckles in places and a wry smile in others. The book starts off in a light vein with the creation of the band at an architectural school, and gets heavier as the band begins its journey towards fame and trouble- Syd Barrett's leaving the band and his personal battle with alcohol, the battle for control between Waters and Gilmour resulting in their going their separate paths, the legal battles between Waters and Pink Floyd and their getting together at Live 8 last year. In the midst of these events, Mason writes about the creation of each album, and the most famous shows that they did - the songs, the stage props, the album covers - in meticulous detail. There's a whole lot of technical jargon in this (technical details about tapes and mixers can be tiring to the untrained reader (a la me)), but if you can turn a glazed eye to the technical part and focus on his writing and the events, it's quite an enjoyable read.

Mason is Boswell to Floyd's Samuel Johnson - the chronicler of the band, the team player contributing his bit, but never playing the lead role. This plays to his advantage, since he's almost never the protagonist, but always the observer. His writing is objective and honest (read his descriptions of the war of attrition between Waters and Gilmour before Floyd's second split or how Syd Barrett was treated by the group). He also shows the human side of the band - their indiscretions with groupies (Mason's own, included), their egos and the need for credit within the band, the jockeying for power between Gilmour and Waters, the crazy schedules and last-minute changes in their live shows. And how they manage to have fun in the midst of all this turmoil.

Enough said - there's a lot of trivial details that you'd like to read through when you get to the book. If you're a die-hard PF fan, there's no reason why you wouldn't read this book, it's an absolute treasure trove. If you aren't a fan, read it anyways - it's a witty introduction to rock'n'roll life in the 60's and 70's.

P.S.: Two bits of trivia: there's a photo of Syd Barrett when he visits the studios in the 70s post his leaving (or being thrown out of, rather) PF - it's quite sad what unharnessed talent can become. And there's a picture of Naomi Watts in her diapers! Naomi's the daughter of Peter Watts, who was a sound engineer for PF in the early 70's. The world's a small place...


Blogger Mr. D said...

hmm, that's nice. also, i learnt a word today :)

10:04 PM  
Blogger The Invizible Man said...

what word, mr.d?

3:53 PM  

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