Oh By The Way

>> Sunday, January 06, 2008

I've been a Pink Floyd fan most of my life. Literally most of my life: I remember when my parents bought The Wall after it came out--this would have been the end of '79 or beginning of '80, when I was around eight years old. Did I understand it? No, especially since my parents had an old early '70s turntable (with built-in 8-track player) at the time with an automatic changer: for years, the sequence I heard the record in was side 1-side 3-side 2-side 4 or something like that. But it didn't matter all that much: there was this big music inside my head and this weird story that went with it. I had a new favorite band: I can even remember an AG class (it must have been fifth grade) that started with everyone telling what their favorite band was. Precocious tykes, there were several kids who went with The Beatles. I went with the Floyd. A few years later, the first album I bought with my own allowance money was The Dark Side Of The Moon.

At this point I have every Pink Floyd album in some format, except the compilation records A Collection Of Great Dance Songs, Works, and Echoes, and (if you want to count it) the weird reissue A Nice Pair, with its mauled versions of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and A Saucerful Of Secrets. Some few I only have in one format: a vinyl copy of the mediocre live album Delicate Sound Of Thunder. Other records I own in multiple formats: Piper on cassette and two separate CD releases, for instance.

All of which is a longish lead-in for the fact that I decided to buy myself the recent 40th-anniversary boxed set, Oh By The Way, which includes all fourteen of the band's studio albums. (Make that three separate CD versions of Piper.) I could call it a Christmas gift to myself or a birthday gift to myself--but the ultimate reason I decided to go for it was that I knew I'd kick myself if I didn't and I was in a position to do it. I've kicked myself for years for not buying the Shine On boxed set back in the day, and that wasn't even a particularly good box (eight studio albums and a disc of singles that had been floating around on bootlegs for awhile--oh, and it did have a big book).

I thought it would be nice to blog about the box. Not all at once, but over the course of the next few weeks: a fourteen-part series (not including this entry) to revisit the albums and my feelings and any little stories I know. I hope it won't bore anyone who drops by. (What! A self-indulgent blog! Why, I never!) But the entries will be spread out, if that helps.

A few words about the box (and why it's nifty): the fourteen albums are released in miniature versions of the original covers, with miniature sleeves and related doll-sized materials. So, the tiny version of Dark Side Of The Moon contains adorable miniature versions of the two posters that came with the vinyl disk and two tiny stickers: a helluva neat nostalgia trip for someone who spent a chunk of his youth poring over the eerie gatefold of Animals or studying the vibrant photographs on the cover and inner sleeve of Wish You Were Here. (Wish You Were Here also comes inside a black plastic envelope suggestive of the black cellophane from the original release; something my vinyl copy didn't have in the '80s.)

There's a larger poster with these: a collage of album covers and photographs captioned "Pink Floyd: Still First In Space" and two coasters sharing the cover images of the outer box. Each image depicts a wall and a mirror. The mirror in each image is flanked by Floyd-suggestive items (e.g. a plastic cow suggestive of Atom Heart Mother, a bass similar to Roger Waters' Fender) and a pair of photographs: one is flanked by black-and-white photographs of Nick Mason and Roger Waters, the other by similar portraits of Rick Wright and David Gilmour. Within each mirror we can see a recursive, slightly altered image (à la the front cover of Ummagumma) and a shadowy figure at the end of a hall who is doubtlessly meant to represent the departed Syd Barrett (who continued to haunt the band as a shadowy background figure long after the band left him behind). The fact that the portraits are from Meddle-era band photos is itself poignant: this is the Floyd, I think, as they remember themselves--when they were friends, when they were at their creative peak, just before The Dark Side Of The Moon brought them a measure of success that had eluded them for seven albums, ruining and enriching them.

It's a beautiful design--of course it is, it's Storm Thorgerson, who was responsible for a great deal of the band's graphic design over the course of their career.

That's all for now. More entries will follow when I sit down and go through the set.




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