In January 1968, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Rick Wright — what is regarded by many as the classic lineup of Pink Floyd — were on their way to a concert.
The question was raised as to whether they should pick up Syd Barrett, who had been the band’s guiding force, writing its early hit singles and most of the band’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Someone — no one is sure who — said ‘let’s not bother.’
That fateful decision wrestled control of the band from Barrett.
Fateful in that it wouldn’t be the last time that ‘Pink Floyd’ would fight over whose band it is.
That first fight was understandable.
Barrett wasn’t well by any stretch of the imagination.
But he apparently didn’t take it well, showing up at a few concerts and staring at Gilmour.
I think I read somewhere once that Barrett said, ‘That’s my band.’
Over the next few years, Pink Floyd lurched around a bit, trying to define itself.
It was relatively democratic.
Although Waters tended to have more songs on albums like the soundtrack to More, several songs were either full band collaborations or solo works by Wright, Mason, and Gilmour.
But with Dark Side of the Moon, things started to shift, with Waters writing all of the lyrics.
By the late 70s, it was Waters writing most of the band’s songs, and Pink Floyd pretty much became his band.
There are differing stories about that evolution.
Waters has claimed the rest of the group weren’t contributing anything, particularly during The Final Cut.
But by then, the band was little more than a name, with Wright having been dismissed, or quitting, depending on which account you read, during the acrimonious recording of The Wall and other Mason mainly busying himself with the album’s sound effects.
Even Gilmour, who had been a prominent vocalist in the band, only shared lead on one track, the NSFW Not Now John.
There’s a certain irony to Waters’ complete control over the band.
After all, The Wall is not just about a musician who builds a wall between himself and his audience, and the world, but also a musician who, even more so in the film version, embraces fascism.
Although Waters clearly intended it as a cautionary tale — Pink does tear down the wall at the end of the The Wall — you could argue he didn’t necessarily heed it.
Whether you believe the other members left it to him to do the heavy lifting or that he gradually consolidate control, The Final Cut was the seeming end of the band.
Waters announced he was done with Pink Floyd.
Gilmour had other plans.
As Waters tried to have the band legally dissolved, Gilmour recruited writers and musicians to help him make a new Pink Floyd album, 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason, including Wright, although he and Mason made limited contributions, effectively making it a Gilmour project.
By the end of 1987, the legal wrangles were resolved and Gilmour and Mason had secured the rights to continue on as Pink Floyd.
Wright continued on with the band, but was not a contractual member.
Although Gilmour has demurred, the 1994 album The Division Bell, an album about the complexities of communication and co-existing, seemed to be, in part, about his contentious relationship with Waters, particularly Lost for Words, where he (and lyricist/wife Polly Samson) present himself as the aggrieved party in a dispute with a hostile person clearly not willing to let bygones be bygones.
Waters never held back on his feelings for these surrogate band albums, which likely didn’t help matters much.
All of which brings us to the current feud over ‘Pink Floyd.’
This week, Waters took to Twitter to tell fans that he would love to keep them updated on his activities through the band’s website, but Gilmour has denied him access to it.
And you have to wonder what is the point of all this anymore?
Apart from the Live 8 reunion and the release of archival material from the 1994 Division Bell sessions that paid tribute to Wright, Pink Floyd has effectively been over for years.
Sure, there is a lot of money and prestige still tied to the Floyd brand and ownership of it.
I mean the Dark Side of the Moon is still selling enough to make the Billboard charts nearly 50 years later.
And Wish You Were Here, a song of longing for some absent someone, has become an anthem for our pandemic times.
But given the band’s history and heated battles over who, or what, is Pink Floyd, it seems strangely appropriate Gilmour and Waters are just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, running over the same old ground.