Months later, after the fallout from the trip was clearing up, I began listening to Piper at the Gates of Dawn. My irrational fear of Pink Floyd began to fade, and I finally mustered up the courage to buy Ummagumma for myself. Leafing through the special booklet of my 25th anniversary edition, I found the end of the image, the tiny speck in the mirror where the fuzzy original image resided. I wanted to bring it to my old friend, to show him that the mirrors did eventually end, but it was too late. He had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and lived with his parents, never leaving the house, doing nothing but reading The Chronicles of Narnia and the Bhagavad-Gita over and over again.
What that little anecdote illustrates is that there's something rather intense about the Pink Floyd experience, especially when their discovery by kids coincides with the kids' first drug experiences. It does something, stretches things a bit, takes people further out of their heads, into inner space. That sounds like stoner blather, but someone's got to keep buying Dark Side of the Moon after all these years; someone's got to fill the Pink Floyd laser shows every week at the Seattle Center; someone has to keep renting The Wall (and that movie's so bad when you're sober); someone has to keep plastering posters on the walls of so many stoners.
I picked up the Pink Floyd studies where my schizophrenic friend left off. I majored in Syd Barrett (the original lead singer/guitarist of Pink Floyd who did too much acid and broke down, got fat, quit music, and moved in with his mother), the heart and soul of Pink Floyd. The discerning Pink Floyd scholar will note that the early Floyd far surpasses the later Floyd in terms of altered-state soundtracks, in favor of that sleek '70s sound which sold all those records. Syd Barrett fit in quite all right with my Arthur Rimbaud/Charles Baudelaire sell-your-soul-for-poetry myth. Unlike any of the other Floyd, Syd Barrett could actually write lyrics; Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Saucerful of Secrets are the only Pink Floyd albums which hold up as literature. For the extra intrepid listener, I recommend the unreleased songs "Vegetable Man" and "Scream Thy Last Scream" (they're on the Internet, idiot), and the box set Crazy Diamond, accurate portrayals of tripping after the laughter has ended.
Oh, but I was bad for a while this winter, doing nothing but smoking weed and listening to Pink Floyd on headphones, spacing out, adrift at the Internet sea, sailing from site to site. I went deep inside myself. I found a way to circumvent emotion, to become a passive recipient of music, totally absorbed. Then I would smoke more weed and gobble a few more mushrooms and put the headphones back on. Was this unhealthy? Ummagumma's got to be my favorite--it's one of the first electronic drug records, playing around with that all-important '90s tool, the tape loop--the most "experimental" album I've ever heard, second only to the Orb's Pomme Fritz.
I did some research for this article, and here are my findings: There are people far more obsessive than I ever was! College essays on the theme of displacement in Wish You Were Here. Hundreds of pages written on the alleged connection between Dark Side of the Moon and Wizard of Oz. Thousands of stoners inquiring about the rumor that Pink Floyd will play a millennium concert at the Great Pyramids in Egypt (they won't). Tens of thousands of bootleg songs available for download in MP3 format. Fictional stories inspired by lengthy debates on Echoes, a Pink Floyd mailing list, about whether the last line of "Several Species of Small Furry Animals" is "The wind cried Mary," or "The wind cried back."
Does the cover of Ummagumma really hold the secret of the universe? I'm not sure, so I'll defer to luminous Japanese academic Sohnosuke Imai, author of the upcoming "full-scale analysis of Ummagumma," entitled Pink Floyd: The Labyrinth Through the Fancyscope, which unfortunately probably won't be translated into English. According to Imai, "Pink Floyd music may be the product of the sixth sense."
In retrospect, the whole Pink Floyd business looks adolescent. All the profundity I gave it at the time seems transparently trivial, like it never even happened. Aside from the dead brain cells, I couldn't say if it's changed me at all. I don't trip much anymore, but when I do I prefer electronic music, because it's so much more perfect. The '90s have better drug music than ever before. I found Mercury Rev. You should too. Put down the bong, little Floydian, and go buy See You on the Other Side. I'll see you there.