As my family ate dinner on a quiet Sunday night, the psychedelic sounds of Pink Floyd circa 1968 wafted into the dining from from the living room, evoking some puzzled glances from my wife and daughter. Quite by accident, I had loaded the Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets into our CD player, which isn’t what anyone would expect to complement chicken and potato salad on a warm September evening. Everyone went along with the moment, though, even the self-conscious “freak out” parts of the title track.
Eighteen hours later, a good friend notified me of the news that Richard Wright of the Floyd had just died of cancer.
If you grew up believing in rock — in its power to influence your life, not just provide a passing moment of entertainment on your MP3 player — then I don’t mean to explain why the loss of someone like Richard Wright saddens us. Through his songwriting and keyboard playing, he contributed to some of the most powerful artistic expressions in the Floyd canon, including the songs “The Great Gig in the Sky” and “Us and Them,” the centerpiece of the epic The Dark Side of the Moon.
My older brother introduced me to the Floyd in the 1970s (seems like everyone I know learned about the Floyd from their older brother). I never stopped listening. Today the band’s music, especially from the period 1968-1979, feels more potent on repeated playing. The song “Time” by its nature becomes more personal as I grow older (“Every year is getting shorter/never seem to find the time”). “Wish You Were Here” resonates as we begin to experience the loss and grief that middle age visits upon us.
Richard Wright was to Pink Floyd what George Harrison was to the Beatles: not the principal songwriter by any means, but an essential contributor who helped define its sound. To really understand the Floyd, you need to listen to its music the way the band meant it:on albums all the way through from start to finish. Try Meddle, Dark Side, WIsh You Were Here, Animals, or The Wall for starters, and then dig deeper.
Go ahead. Any color you like.