Pink Floyd is fun. Hanging out with them and listening to their deepest secrets is more fun. When you look back at your years in college, images sweep through the mind. You think of the ivy-covered brick walls, carrying your books to class, sitting as though in communion, hearing words of knowledge from your favorite biology teacher or the popular American civilization class. You think of the football or basketball games that your college played, or the girlfriend you went out with.
I had some of those experiences. But one I will never forget is the time I hung out with the progressive rock band Pink Floyd. I was the concert chairman one year at a liberal arts university in Washington, D.C., and was responsible for spending a modest budget on music entertainment for the campus. I was 20, introverted, intense, and longing to feel accepted in a group, and by being concert chairman, I felt like I had finally arrived. I later realized no one really cared who the concert chairman was, as long as the rock bands were good.
One day a friend and I had the brilliant idea of seeing if we could book Pink Floyd, this “far out” English group that not many people had heard of at our school. “Hey, it works!” I thought. My friend had the bright idea to hire a guy who did a fire-eating act as the opener. I thought, “Yeah, you gotta do something unusual.” We lined up an act and got a contract for Pink Floyd for a negotiated fee within the budget.
“Wow, this is gonna be great,” I exclaimed. I had fantasies of students clamoring for my attention, congratulating me on this coup. That never happened. But what did go on that night was memorable regardless.
The band showed up in our small auditorium that sat 2,000 people. This was the campus site for classical chamber quartets, poetry readings, and speakers talking about serious issues, like inner-city education and U.S. relations with Russia. The year before, my friend had booked Derek and the Dominoes, Derek being Eric Clapton. I saw that concert and was blown away by his artistry and command of the guitar. I hoped I could get an equally “cool” band to come and play. I checked that off.
Pink Floyd arrived late in the afternoon and had a crew of dozens of people that in a few hours transformed this august auditorium into a mad cool house. They had speakers all over the place, wires tied in bundles, and they had set up this big engineer board.
I noticed that the band members, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright were somber and serious. I had read they attended art school in England, and they seemed like brainy grad students who played music.
And oh what music it was! The band was playing colleges and universities to promote their new Meddle album, which they passed out to those who were watching them set up.
I felt so nervous that all would go well. I was in a daze and tried not to stare at the musicians. I noticed how their road manager and the band nodded to each other, seeming to communicate telegraphically. I feared I might trip on the stage. I tried to prepare an introduction, forgot my lines, and in frustration, made something up on the spot. “Hi, glad you came. Please welcome four guys from England,” alluding to The Beatles, as a younger Ed Sullivan who majored in history. Hey, I thought big.
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Pink Floyd played for almost two hours. They did some early hits, which I wasn’t familiar with, and then went into “Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun.”
It was stunning to hear in person how they had the sound effects, tapes, and beats all lined up ready to play. It felt like we were at the site of a NASA space launch. Their live version of “Echoes,” from their Meddle album was hypnotic. The keyboard melody at the end of the song stuck with me for many years.
The audience was strangely quiet. There wasn’t the usual cheering going on, like at a Rolling Stones concert. People became rhapsodized by the sounds and the intensity of Floyd’s unique approach to rock. I felt in awe of what I was hearing and I think others did too.
Finally, the concert ended, and I drifted out into the lobby hoping to be patted on the back for a job well done. I saw students with a satisfied glow on their faces and felt happy and really tired. Months later, I received a phone call from a concert promoter and was asked if I could help spread the word around nearby colleges about an upcoming Pink Floyd show. I thought, “If this is show business, I like it!” I would have a backstage pass at the prestigious JFK Center for the Performing Arts, where the band would be highlighting their new album Dark Side of the Moon.
That album reached the stratosphere and would be charted on Billboard for years to come. By the time the concert date had arrived, they were on the verge of stardom. I couldn’t believe that I would be seeing them up close and personal!
The band appeared backstage and I felt like they were my long lost friends. So did many others, no doubt. They were meticulous in crafting their show, so the starting time was delayed. The crowd grew restless. I said to someone involved in the concert, “Someone needs to make an announcement to the crowd.” “Will you do it?” I was asked. This was an OMG moment. “Yeah, I’ll do it.”
I drifted out to center stage and tapped into the lead microphone, and in my best FM DJ voice said something like,”Hey, hold on for a few moments and we will start the concert soon. Thanks.” I floated back to the edge of the stage and somebody said, “That was good.”
I was almost hyperventilating. It was time for this gig to start. Somebody nodded to me to go back out and introduce the band. I walked back out and said something simple, and the band came on stage. I saw a concertgoer throwing a green frisbee in the packed crowd. The concert was an aural feast. Again, I felt this great feeling of awe and privilege to be so close to the performers. Those are special memories. By the way, I graduated school a few years later.