Book Review: Inside Out

“Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd” by Nick Mason

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. “Inside Out” is a personal look at the evolution of Pink Floyd by drummer Nick Mason. Not only is it interesting and educational, but the writing was flawlessly succinct. (I could really write this on how well edited the book was, and how easy it was to read.)

I have always imagined Pink Floyd using psychedelics to perfect their psychedelic sound. It made sense to conclude that. Listening to them certainly seemed to channel another realm of human experience.

But the musicians in Pink Floyd weren't acid-dropping star gazers, an image I couldn't relate to in the first place because I'm not a drug user. They were hardworking, their music growing out of their constant experiments rather than a fog of chemicals, their ambition and consistency grounded in their middle-class background and college education.

Though none of them actually finished college (Mason, Wright, and Waters had met in architecture school), they used what they learned, mixing technical expertise with free expression: the freedom to create a sound unhindered by technique, with the order of design.

They were self-taught musicians who felt comfortable wandering away from known paths. Mason remarks late in the book that they eventually stopped playing the song “Echoes” live because the younger musicians they played with in the late 80s were too accurate, too inhibited by their professional training.

Though they certainly partook in drugs occasionally—Alcohol mostly, some marijuana, and Richard Wright's cocaine addiction—no one died. No one overdosed. No one was so high that they couldn't perform.

It was refreshing (and ironic) to find that the band most thought of as psychedelic didn't divine their sound from psychedelics, but from a mix of hard work and play.

I appreciated this fact deeply. Pink Floyd was no fluke or accident. A lot of hard work and careful planning—with a heavy dose of free spirit—went into the albums they made. Their songs were borne from consistent effort to find perfection rather than from listless tinkering. Because I am not a drug user, I could not relate to the false image I had of the band, even though I enjoyed their music. But knowing the truth, I now realize that their process is repeatable. I personally can strive for what they strove for. We are on the same field.

Like all bands, fame didn't come easy and keeping it together at the top was more difficult. Their “best musician” as Nick Mason called their first lead guitarist left the band before they really got started, and their second lead guitarist and singer went crazy partly as a consequence of their growing fame, but also as a result of getting caught in the drug culture the others avoided.

They cut their teeth in the mid-60s in London clubs and Freak Outs, but while their fans watched on in starry-eyed wonder, tripping on drugs, high on the music and the light show, Pink Floyd was, according to Mason, too ambitious to pay attention to the lifestyle around them (except for Syd Barrett). They were working class, they were dedicated to making it as musicians, motivated by what they played and the reaction they got from those listening.

Syd Barrett unfortunately and inevitably succumbed to the lifestyle of the people around the band. Once they lost their lead singer and guitarist, they had to regroup, take on a new guitarist (David Gilmour) and point themselves in another direction, slightly away from the psychedelic scene and more toward an instrumental focus. Perhaps into the heart of the sun, as they would, within ten years, find themselves at the top of the world.

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