1996 By M. Kriteman
Interviewed: Richard Wright – Rick:
In early ’74, less than a year after the release of `The Dark Side Of The Moon’, the album also reached Planet Hoolon. Those were the twilight days of Golda and post-war Israel. The most psychedelic thing around, other than Begin’s speeches at the Knesset and Moti Ashkenazy’s demonstrations, were the jam sessions that Saul Grossberg formed in Bet-Lessin with Haim Krio as Eric Clapton.
After school I used to get back home, a junior, tired of Arthur Miller’s `All My Sons’ and school uniform. Near my house, to elegantly avoid the scary clues of Miri Schwartz, a fellow school student who was more developed than I was, I’d usually remember, just before entering the building, that I forgot to buy `Ma’ariv,’ pretend to turn back, and after she disappeared past the curve, hurry back to be alone, unbothered, with the real thing.
In a ritual that repeated itself every day like Miri Schwartz, I’d set the clumsy needle to the last track on the opening side. I never bothered to read the little letters to know what the track was called. The sounds and painful moans, which rose from the instrumental part, would hit me straight between the eyes. The sound that later entered written history as “the most tempting track ever written about death,” was also the most poetic, releasing and sedative. After four minutes of high decibels, even Hadassah, the Roumanian teacher for depressing French, became Lucy in the sky with diamonds.
Before the interview with Rick Wright I passed through the album, to check which tracks exactly he was also responsible for. From the moans track, which appeared on the cover under the name “The Gig In The Sky,” flashed the name Rick Wright. I later learned that the vocals were improvised by a singer named Clare Torry, who delivered a pleasing performance that made her salary double to 30 pounds, but was later greatly compensated, when the track became Floyd’s first to back-up a sedatives advertising campaign.
Wright, keyboard player and writer of many of the band’s songs, is putting out his own solo album. Technically, it is a third solo album. But if you consider what Wright says about `Wet Dream,’ his first (“an experimental mistake”), his second (“at least I tried a new technology), and what he’s gone through, personally, to get to the third – it is worth to treat this great album, Broken China, as the first complete album to come out of the studio of this gifted musician. And that is not only because Sinead O’Connor performs two of the songs, and Sting’s guitarist, Dominique Miller, was so good, that Wright used his playing instead of a solo part David Gilmour contributed to one of the tracks performed by O’Connor.
The Pink Floyd was founded in ’65 by Wright (keyboards and vocals), Nick Mason (drums) and Roger Waters (bass and vocals) – all architecture students in London’s `Polytechnic’, joined by Roger `Syd’ Barrett, an art student from Cambridge and an admired neighbor of Waters. Barrett (nicknamed `Syd’ due to his use of LSD) was the person who named the band, by merging his two admired blues heroes, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. He was also the one who provided the band with the inspiration to its psychedelic musical line. But Barrett ceased functioning after less than two years from too much LSD in his brain.
After two successful singles (`Arnold Layne’ and especially `See Emily Play’), their debut album, `The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn,’ was released in 1967. Waters, who thought, at that part, that some of Barrett can still be saved, invited David Gilmour (guitars) to join the band. Gilmour, another neighbor from Waters’ apartment in Cambridge, and the one who taught Barrett to play guitar, was supposed to take care of him and save the band.
But the mission failed, and when the band’s second LP, `A Saucerful Of Secrets,’ was released, Barrett sank into the depths of Cambridge, where he is stuck until this very day in his mother’s house: fat, bald, lonely and lost, with a glazed look, ever staring in his TV screen, except for a few breaks he took for his solo albums and surprising visits to Pink Floyd’s studio (the last in ’75). But, due to his great influence on his bandmates, Barrett is considered until today one of the most influential musicians in history, even though he’s not playing with them ever since the ’60s.
Some of the Pink Floyd’s songs were written `in his memory,’ for example, `Shine On You Crazy Diamond,’ which was written as a tribute to a “painter, piper, prisoner and martyr.” The bandmates make sure even today to occasionally check if the TV in his room is still working and if royalties were transferred to him.
In March ’73, `The Dark Side Of The Moon’ was released to the world, the big bang that made psychedelic music popular. Wright had part in writing five out of the ten tracks on the album, including `Us And Them’ that was originally composed, before Waters added lyrics, for the soundtrack of Antonioni’s `Zabriskie Point.’
The idea of writing songs with themes of madness, growing old, work and death, rose in a meeting the four had in Mason’s kitchen. Statistically, there is no given moment, including now, that this album isn’t played somewhere on Earth. The album went from place to place on the Top 200 best-selling Records Chart in the USA for 800 weeks, more than 15 years, a record that might never be broken. The sound, produced in the Beatles’ Abbey Road, was so amazing, that all electronics dealers immediately adopted it when it was out, to use it to demonstrate stereo systems to their clients.
After `The Dark Side’ Pink Floyd had three additional albums: `Wish You Were Here’ (1975), `Animals’ (1977) and `The Wall’ (1979). That last one was a double album that summed up the seventies of the Pink Floyd, and, actually, all the rock music in that decade. It included the band’s biggest hit, `Another Brick In The Wall,’ but also represented the end of a period in the band, whose bandmates’ troubled relationships, and especially Waters’ attempt to dictate its way, lead to the brink of a split-up. Without Rick Wright, the band recorded one more album (`The Final Cut’, 1983) and split up.
Wright is 51. In ’89 he met an American model aged 28, from Georgia, with high cheekbones, named Milly. After five years they married – the third time for Wright. This love story, that began in a sail between the Caribbean Islands on Wright’s yacht, almost ended in a disaster, when Milly suffered a nervous breakdown while swimming in the pool, was hospitalized in a sanitarium for several months and went up and down, not sure if she wants to live or die. This story, that began bad but ended well with a chubby baby named Benjamin, born in April, is also the theme story for Wright’s new 13-tracks album. Wright and Anthony Moore, his record partner who wrote the lyrics, sit in one of the giant rooms in Wright’s mostly-an-office-a-bit-of-a-house in Holland Park, the celebrities quarter (Elton John and Sami Shimon) of London. On the walls, around the the black table with the 12 chairs, are framed selected posters of the Pink Floyd and gold and platinum records. Wright, with wavy grey hair reaching his shoulders, looks like an art teacher. The visual side in the Pink Floyd’s shows was just as complex as their music, but he swears that he never meant to study architecture, and that only because the interviewer in Polytechnic couldn’t understand what he was murmuring, he decided for him that he will study architecture with Waters and Mason.
“If the band wouldn’t have made it, I probably would’ve been a photographer. Being an architect never interested me.”
Their last tour, which began two years ago, is considered the biggest in history. 105 shows and 5.5 million sold-out tickets. An average of more than 50 thousand per show. Wright says that in that tour the band was offered to play in Israel, but, unfortunately, it didn’t work out. To describe to him how the Pink Floyd’s name is famous nevertheless, I proudly report to him that here, just a couple of months ago, when the tension between the religious and the secular got hot, one well-known singer, that got famous worldwide after standing next to Rabin before he was murdered (“What a horrible way to become famous,” Anthony Moore can’t stop from commenting), stated that, as far as he’s concerned, one Pink Floyd track is more important to him than the Western Wall. To my anxiety, Wright and Moore take it hard. Instead of wondering if the poet was referring to, say, `Shine On You Crazy Diamond,’ that Wright wrote with Waters and Gilmour, he takes a long, serious look at Anthony Moore and thoughtfully wrinkles his brow. “Wow, that’s really a dangerous statement,” he eventually says, “but, the truth is, I don’t really know much about Israeli politics.”
Wright admits he’s shy about singing, and that’s why he felt well alone in his studio. “I wrote the tunes and sang only nonsense words. Then came Moore and dressed them with the lyrics.” Wright is responsible for many of the sound effects, that made the Pink Floyd what it is. He tells that before writing songs he draws them, like a movie’s storyboard, and then composes them by improvisation. The special sounds – those of everyday life, like ringing clocks and a match being lit, that pass from speaker to speaker – he processes using a digital recording computer.
“We worked very hard to make the lyrics suit the music. I can’t, like Elton John, for example, compose by lyrics. Elton has a great talent for that. Whatever you give him, including your questions, he composes in half an hour and makes a great song out of it.”
Q: The psychedelic music, the Pink Floyd’s and also in your album, was always connected to drugs. What came first in your case?
Rick: Factually, we started during the late ’60s with the psychedelic music, a period that was known as experimental as far as drugs were concerned. The Pink Floyd were in the middle of that culture, so everyone naturally assumed that we were also doing drugs. But that wasn’t the case. In Syd Barrett’s case it was, but not in our case. I think that music was our drug. Of course, we all did drugs here and there in social events, but I’ve tried only once in my life, and it was marijuana, before a show. We went onstage, I think it was in Paris in ’68, and I couldn’t play a single note. Actually, I did manage to play one note. It’s a mistake thinking that drugs supplied Pink Floyd with the inspiration. The ones who took drugs were the ones who came to see the shows.
Q: During that period it was popular to take LSD before the show.
Rick: (lighting another Marlboro) We didn’t even think of that. Personally, maybe because of the way I was educated I didn’t feel a need. It’s true that there are a lot of bands who do that, but it’s a myth that the Pink Floyd did drugs in shows. The most we took was half a of beer.
After four years of solo records and a legal struggle between Waters and the other three concerning the use of the name `Pink Floyd’ (Waters lost), three- quarters of the band became active again, recording and performing. Some of the fans thought that, without Waters, it’s not it anymore. But the four albums released since then, including two double live ones, the videos, and the tours which always included the hits from Waters’ days – all these had tremendous success and proved that this band, even without Roger Waters and even when the term `progressive rock’ is considered outdated, still has millions of fans.
Q: Barrett is undoubtedly the dark side of the Pink Floyd, but your quarrel with Waters is just as dark. How, actually, do two people who know each other from childhood, fight about music?
Rick: It’s a story that I’m not really happy to get into. We fought during `The Wall,’ which was an album Waters wrote, based on his family story, we clashed long before that, during the period of the Dark Side and `Wish You Were Here.’ Actually, we never got along. But it was in `The Wall’ that Roger really lost his mind. He was convinced that he is Pink Floyd and that he doesn’t need me nor Nick Mason. I wasn’t in a state to argue about that, because we were financially ruined. I made a decision and left, and then he left, and I came back. Since then, he’s mad at all of us.
Q: And you haven’t spoken since then?
Rick: We’re not speaking for 14 years. Since `The Wall.’ David Gilmour doesn’t speak to him either. We had a legal quarrel with him concerning the name Pink Floyd, and in the end we were left with the name, and he was left with the Wall. But if I see him tomorrow in the street, I think I’ll make contact with him and invite him to a drink. I’m interested in knowing how he feels and what he thinks about the band.
Q: Is there any chance that Waters might ever return to the band?
Rick: There’s always a chance. Everyone who loves Pink Floyd wants it to happen. But I don’t feel I need it, not musically and not personally. Maybe if Roger comes back as a different person (laughing), charming and nice, with really good ideas. But Roger still lives on the Wall. Until his wall falls down, I can’t see him coming back.
Q: How do you explain it that great bands from the past, like the Stones, the Who, Status Quo and you, for example, still stand on stage and don’t get out of people’s consciousness with the years?
Rick: It’s probably not because there aren’t new talents. The opposite, it’s much harder for us to succeed. The BBC radio, for example, decided that bands like Pink Floyd and Status Quo are too old for its line. Status Quo went to court for it. The fact that people still know us is, in my opinion, a result of our music and of the big money that runs the music industry today. The people who control the industry are accountants who recycle everything in new, nostalgic packages, and everything else, to make more money.
Q: How, exactly, was your contact with Sinead O’Connor created?
Rick: While I was composing the songs, I knew that two of them had to be performed by a female, and preferably one who knows what’s a nervous breakdown. Instinctively, I thought of Sinead. I didn’t think it’s going to work out, but I called her, and after she heard the songs, she came to the studio and we recorded.
Q: As a man who was never crazy about her voice, I suddenly remembered John Travolta. Until `Pulp Fiction’ we had a talented flamenco dancer, and suddenly he became an actor.
Rick: Tell her that. I agree. I heard, since we recorded, records of her, and I think she’s very happy with the result.
Q: Most of your band’s song, as well as your new album’s, deal with the depressing side of life. In your case, it seems that in the end we get out of it. The album describes a voyage from the depth of depression to the saving rope.
Rick: Roger Waters, who wrote the lyrics to most of our songs, expressed his depressions through them, the madness, the sadness and the darkness of life. Actually, I’m not like that at all, but what can I do, I’ve also been through something that had to be in this album. Because it happened, I felt that I had to write about it. But the difference is that `Broken China’ ends with hope.
Q: Is there any chance for the Pink Floyd to release a new album soon as well?
Rick: At the moment, nothing is happening. The band is now working in periods of seven years. In ’87 we released `A Momentary Lapse,’ and in ’94 `The Division Bell.’ By that pattern, the next album will be released in 2001. A very suitable date for a Pink Floyd album.