Pink Floyd have seldom courted intimacy. Remote figures on stage, they have traditionally augmented their chilling Orwellian rock with everything from bubbling psychedelic slides - pioneered in multimedia shows at London's Marquee and UFO clubs in 1966 - to laser and film extravaganzas, with the odd Spitfire or pig dirigible flying overhead. In the '70s, the decade of classic Floyd, their music evolved from the gleaming edifices of "Atom Heart Mother," "Meddle," "Dark Side of the Moon," and "Wish You Were Here" to the shrill, misanthropic "Animals" and "The Wall." When they performed the latter, a wall of cardboard bricks was constructed between the band and its audience - a statement of unalloyed cynicism. Alienation, and the despair it engenders, was always a pet Floyd theme.
Even a technocratic rock group is not a machine, however, and the Floydian trip has been as turbulent, as tortured, as any. The departure in 1968 of co-founder Syd Barrett, an acid casualty whose mercurial genius invested early Floyd with a wit unsurpassed in British music, has haunted their subsequent career. Replaced in the band by his friend David Gilmour, Barrett inspired "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," a pinnacle moment, and perhaps "Poles Apart" - "Why did we tell you then / You were always the golden boy" - on the new Floyd album, "The Division Bell."
Yet there's a stronger case to be made that "Poles Apart" is addressed to Roger Waters, Floyd's erstwhile bassist and lyricist. By the early '80s, Waters's cheerless aesthetic and cold grip on the band were undercutting the transcendent beauty of their music. Keyboardist Rick Wright left before the dismal "The Final Cut" was recorded in 1983, and in December 1985 Waters abandoned ship. When Gilmour, whose tumultuous guitar lines identify the Floyd sound as much as Wright's mellifluous electronics, drummer Nick Mason, and Wright decided to record again as Pink Floyd, Waters's threats of legal action showed just how deep the crack in the Floyd wall had become.
If the resulting album, "A Momentary Lapse of Reason", was a grim affair, "The Division Bell" is Floyd's most accessible record since "Dark Side of the Moon". Chiefly composed and sung by Gilmour, whose girlfriend, Polly Samson, contributed lyrics, its eleven numbers comprise a melodic - at times tender - lament for breached relationships, although "Coming Back to Life" and Wright's soulful "Wearing the Inside Out" are songs about resurrection. From the ashes of the "old" Floyd? The saturnine Gilmour wasn't about to admit that when he phoned me before the band played Tampa during their current American tour, but he did talk affably about their past, present, and future.
David Gilmour- DG
GF: I hear you've dusted off "Astronomy Domine" for the shows.
DG: Yes, and it needed a bit of dusting, I can tell you! I don't think we'd played it since 1968.
GF: Why did you take seven years to make a new album?
DG: Because I'm forty-eight now and I don't want to be in the studio making Pink Floyd records all my life. There are a lot of people in this business who are workaholics, and I'm not one of them. But I'm not quite ready for retirement. I tried it for a year, and it's harder work than working.
GF: Having left Pink Floyd, Rick Wright is now an equal partner again. At what point did he rejoin?
DG: The technicalities of what you call "rejoining" are lost on me. Rick asked to be a part of "A Momentary Lapse of Reason," and we talked and argued and negotiated again, and this time he's on a percentage of everything, not just the record. Last time Nick and myself had put up all the money and taken all the risks on everything, including the lawsuits with Roger. If you take all the risks, you expect to get more of the profits, quite simply. This is a wonderful artistic endeavor we've spent all our adult lives working on, but reality comes into it as well.
GF: How were the lawsuits settled, and what's the status of your relationship with Roger now?
DG: (laughs) The status of my relationship with Roger is that I don't have one. I see his signature on bundles of royalty checks that are wheeled through my office from his office, and I sign my name next to his. That's about as close as we've got. I haven't actually seen or spoken to him since December '87, when we finally agreed to and signed the settlement deal.
GF: So everything's resolved?
DG: Yes. The lawsuits were more like threats and pre litigation stuff. It never got to court. There's been a little bit of posturing since but nothing serious.
GF: The title "The Division Bell," the graphics on the album sleeve, and the lyrics seem to address the division between Roger and the rest of Pink Floyd. To any Floyd aficionado, the lyric "On the day the wall came down / The ship of fools had finally run aground" in "A Great Day for Freedom" is patently not about the Berlin Wall, but about that other wall.
DG: Oh, is it?
GF: The album could easily be interpreted as an allegory about the split with Roger.
DG: I don't think that it is. There are a couple of hinted mentions that could or could not have something to do with him. But all that I read from people working out what they think it's about has been either fairly or wildly inaccurate. I enjoy that. I'm quite happy for people to interpret it any way they like. But maybe a note of caution should be sounded because you can read too much into it. "A Great Day for Freedom," for example, has got nothing to do with Roger or his "wall." It just doesn't. What else can I say?
GF: In "High Hopes," the lyric suggests that the seeds of division were planted in Floyd's early days.
DG: I think it's more about my early days and leaving my hometown behind. There is an enormous amount of stuff about communication or lack of communication on the whole album. But that's accidental. We started finding there were one or two songs like that, and other songs emerged that had it within them. It seemed to take over the album at some point and dominate the thinking.
GF: Why do you think Pink Floyd's music has had such an existential tone over the years, bordering on bitter or depressive at times?
DG: The sadder emotions tend to be the more powerful ones, and people who sing about bleak moments can strike a sympathetic chord with people who are going through those things and hopefully make them feel a bit better. I don't know why you're singling us out (laughs) because it's general throughout rock music, isn't it?
Most people who are writing about relationships are writing about broken ones. If you look at the work of most reasonably good lyric writers, there're not an awful lot of happy songs, although John Denver tried his best. I certainly wouldn't say that the tone of "The Division Bell" is bitter or depressive.
GF: In "What Do You Want from Me," you return to the theme of alienation from your audience that you'd explored in "The Wall." Is that something that you genuinely feel?
DG: It didn't start out from there at all. It actually had more to do with personal relationships but drifted into wider territory.
No, I don't really feel a great sense of alienation from the audience. I never agreed with Roger on his dramatic treatise in the lyrics of "The Wall," but it was a very good idea. Obviously there's a gulf in some ways because we're up there performing. I've been doing it for a long time, I've become wealthy from it and sort of revered - all the things that create a gulf between you and your audience. Given that, I feel we have great communication with people who come to see us and I enjoy performing for them.
GF: After "The Final Cut," did you feel you had something to prove to Roger?
DG: What we had to prove - maybe to Roger and maybe to other people as well - was that the sound and the music didn't, in the majority, come from Roger. The lyrics came from Roger - as did a lot of the motivation and a lot of great stuff. I wouldn't for a minute try to play down Roger's importance in our career, 'cause that would be unfair. But it would be just as unfair to play down the importance of all the other elements that make up Pink Floyd: myself and Rick and Nick and all the things that one person learns and the others learn from him. We've spent all those years feeding and teaching each other, and all our musical vocabulary became available to Roger - just as all his lyrical vocabulary came under my microscope, if you like, enabling me to examine the way he did things. Euphemistically, you assimilate and regurgitate other people's stuff to lesser or greater degrees, as Michael Bolton recently found out to his grief. (laughs)
GF: "The Division Bell" is much more melodic, much less harsh than "A Momentary Lapse of Reason."
DG: I think that's just my current mood. In the aftermath of Roger leaving and the whole rift bullshit, we felt a boisterous, up sort of record was appropriate. This time I didn't really care if there was an up song or not. I just wanted to make it a more reflective album. I read some crits that said it's a bit soporific - so be it, that's the choice we made.
GF: Do you feel that Pink Floyd expresses a specifically English state of mind?
DG: I think so. We are very English, and I wouldn't dream of living anywhere other than England. Also, the early Pink Floyd, under Syd's tutelage, was quintessentially English, in the same way that Ray Davies is. It wasn't your usual rock'n'roll, R&B stuff, which is very American-oriented. And all the stuff that Roger and I sang through the '70s had an English accent.
GF: Do you ever hear what's happening with Syd?
DG: Not really. I'm in second-hand contact with his relatives in Cambridge, who give me reports on how he's doing from time to time.
GF: Is he OK?
DG: He's not mentally OK, but he gets by. He manages, he lives, he takes his clothes to the laundromat to get them cleaned. I'm actually very tempted to visit him. He was a wonderful talent and friend.
GF: Will Pink Floyd go on indefinitely?
DG: God, who knows? When Pete Townshend said he hoped he'd die before he got old, that was in the infancy of rock'n'roll, although that statement wasn't purely to do with music. But the general feeling in those early years was that it was a young man's business because it was a young business. Now, to me, it's a there-are-no-rules type of business, so I guess I'd have to say that we'll carry on until we don't feel like carrying on any longer.
GF: Why has Pink Floyd survived so long?
DG: Some people express surprise that we've managed to last so long. But I'm prejudiced - I'm not surprised by it, 'cause I think we are damn good. We have always put quality first and tried to avoid cutting corners purely for money, not that we're averse to making money.
GF: Well, it's exciting to me that, after all this time, you're back with such a powerful, emotional record.
DG: I really like "The Division Bell" myself, although I wouldn't
say it's an immediate album. You have to put a bit of work in
to get out of it the riches that are there.