So said Johnny Rotten's T-shirt as he was asked to join the Sex Pistols, way back in 1975. I hate Pink Floyd. To be sure, the shirt is dated, harking back to a time when Pink Floyd ruled the 'progressive rock' genre, creating the album that would sell more than any other in history, and that genre ruled the more sophisticatedly audiences of rock 'n roll . While that dominance has faded, more than a few young people today still revel in 'Dark Side of the Moon' and 'The Wall,' and more than a few will understand how striking such a statement is. More than an statement of taste, the T-shirt it is deliberately shocking to the world of the mid-70's, offensive, even. The two questions I want to ask are: What is there to hate in Pink Floyd? and Is there virtue in being offensive?
I will address the second one later. What is (was) there to hate in Pink Floyd? Well, first, let us address the obvious. Pink Floyd was a brilliant band, full of excellent creativity and musical talent. Lyrics were thought provoking, sometimes even radical. While being technically advanced, the music was catchy enough to still provoke a groove in the heart of today's 11 year olds, no small task. And like all advanced art, the music repays closer attention. They more you look, the more you find.
But by the mid 70's, Pink Floyd and the other rock stars of the era were towering figures, separated from their audience. They were no longer people like you and me, nor did they live like it. Unapproachable. And you could not really dream of being like them, as their musical talent so far out stripped yours or anyone you know that becoming part of the scene was beyond contemplation. Sure, you could pay 10 bucks (50 today) and see distant ants playing the music, but that would be about as close as you can get.
And behind that is both power and powerlessness. The rock stars have a monopoly on cool, and all you can do is imitate it, and pathetically at that. They choose everything, from how to dress, how to live, how to party... and they rope in by the thousands the sheep which follow, and pay to follow. On the other end of the spectrum are the working class dolts of England in the 70's. Theirs is a world of powerlessness. No money. No education. No future. A culture facing extremely high unemployment, slow or no economic growth, remembering the days of old when England was the center of the world. A culture which looks at its peasant class and dismisses it, giving up on it. And if you realize they are giving up on you, giving up on your future early on, with the crappy education they give you, walking away from your misery, you might get pissed.
And behind that power was the music industry, promoting and dominating culture, too. They didnt care about the music, no, that is part of what makes it an industry. They chose which bands got radio play, which bands became icons, etc. They put the fluff out there, and the good stuff, too. And as much as Pink Floyd poked sarcasm at that world, and even hatred ('have a cigar, you're gonna go far, by the way, which one's Pink?'), they were a part of it, the whole of it, they were it. PF made the industry what it is, and made the industry look for more bands like PF.
But the powerless do have one recourse. When denied power, the powerless seek power any way they can. Johnny Rotten's way was to offend. To use an extremely sharp wit and contempt to shock. He would make you pay attention to him. And if you hate it, good. He already hates those who don't get it, the powerful, the people gave up on him. Being offensive is a power, and he used it. And the people who loved him (is that the right word? Probably not. The people who admired him, the people who were amused by him, the people who understood) were just the same, people who were outcasts, and so had no love of the world order, who were dying to ridicule, even through the clothes they wore, or the hair styles they had, the mores of contemporary society. They are like the people who hate frats, cast out of even the possibility of being in the in crowd, turn on it with glee, and insist, I hate everything about you. True, part of that person might have wanted to be in the in-crowd. Indeed, the pain of being excluded is part of the rage. But now having been excluded from day one, and seeing the kinds of crap the in crowd is in to, one is free to turn on it with a vengeance, mock and destroy.
I think Pink Floyd hated Pink Floyd, too.