Have you ever seen President Sarkozy on the telly giving a speech? He always thinks he is doing a bloody Hamlet. His performances, because that is what he thinks they are, remind me more of Louis de Funès (or for the non-Francophiles among us: Benny Hill) than Napoleon Bonaparte, another one of those short short-tempered little men with a short fuse who think they can rule the world.
This post contains a fairly well hidden review of the Pink Floyd biography Pigs Might Fly by Mark Blake.
1. Flamingoes might fly, about the very first Pink Floyd biography, written in French, by Jean-Marie Leduc.
2. Floydstuff, a rant about merchandising and tribute albums.
3. Pigs Might Fly, review of the Mark Blake biography.
4. A final word about Jean-Marie Leduc.
Flamingoes might fly
Eloquence is a French way of speech but that was not what I was thinking of when I read the following, decades ago:
Je ne sais qui doit le plus à l’autre! La France ou le Pink Floyd? Le Pink Floyd peut-être.
(translation) I don’t know who owes the other more! France or Pink Floyd? Pink Floyd perhaps.
The above is the start of a French rock biography (1977 edition), called Pink Floyd, written by Rock & Folk journalist Jean-Marie Leduc and issued by Albin Michel. Rock & Folk was an excellent French music magazine, that started in 1966, hence its name, and that wanted to inform the French public from the new trends in modern pop music. Jean-Marie Leduc hopped to London and wrote several articles about the London Underground music scene and le pouvoir des fleurs. He discovered this incredible band that would soon be the French progressive student movement’s darling, le Pink Floyd.
Although the most common language at London at that time was the language of love it would’ve helped Jean-Marie Leduc a little bit if he had actually understood some English. Which he didn’t. Probably the acid didn’t help either. That didn’t stop him to write a Pink Floyd biography that was published in October 1973, and that could still be found, a decade later, in every bookstore and self-respecting newspaper and magazine shop in France. Selling figures nearly must have achieved the same height as a regular Pink Floyd album; Leduc’s Pink Floyd was an instant classic and a steady seller.
It was also full of blunders. At page 19 Leduc wrongly mistakes the Pink Flamingo club for the band and throughout the book he will name the lads le Flamant Rose. This (wrong) translation was taken over by all French rock magazines and it would take Rock & Folk until July 1994 to officially denounce the rumour that a Pink Floyd is a Phoenicopterus Roseus. Another botch is on page 49 where Leduc claims that...
...le 2 novembre (1967) (…) un nouveau simple du groupe “Apologises / Jugband blues” est commercialisé en Angleterre’.
(translation) on the 2nd of November (1967) (...) a new single of the band is released in England: “Apologises / Jugband blues” .
This one simple sentence has made French speaking Pink Floyd fans look for this non-existent track of the band for over a decade. At the end of the book the mistake is repeated at the discography, Jean-Marie Leduc keeps on maintaining that the Floyd’s third single was Jugband blues / Apologies (please note the different orthography and running order).
Update November 2011: it was later cleared out that once again it had been Leduc's extended knowledge of the English language that made him misunderstand 'Apples and Oranges' for 'Apologies' or 'Apologises'.
Jean-Marie Leduc’s biography was probably the very first biography on the band, as Charles Beterams wrote in the Echoes, a Dutch fan club magazine, and despite the mistakes it also contains a stunning revelation about the bands first recording, forgotten by most of the biographies that would come next. Leduc interviewed Nick Mason in 1973 and asked if Astronomy Domine was the Floyd’s first composition. Mason answered (translated from French back into English):
Not true. Our first composition was titled Lucy Lee in blue tight or something similar. We recorded it on acetate but it was never commercialised.
Once again Jean-Marie Leduc’s average knowledge of the English language made him note the song as Lucy Lee, and not as Lucy Leave, although Nick Mason’s pronunciation of the song title may not have been too comprehensible as well. It would take ages for another journalist to re-discover the truth about the band’s first recording.
One bloke who does remember Lucy Leave is Mark Blake. In 2007 he wrote a Pink Floyd biography entitled Pigs Might Fly but because I am such a stingy money spender I wanted to wait until the paperback came sailplaning to me. The last couple of years it is raining Pink Floyd related books and accessories as if all kind of shady people want to have their free ride on the gravy train. It is of course a double feeling, here we are Pink Floyd fans wanting to know everything (and we mean everything) on the band but on the other hand we feel as if we are inside an orange squeezer (or to use Gerald Scarfe’s weird world of Floydian symbolism: a meat grinder). The last thing I’ve read on Pink Floyd merchandising is that Converse will bring out a range of shoes based on the cover art of three of their albums. Part of me is yelling yuck!, but another part is jumping up and down, not a pretty sight if you would catch me on my webcam.
About a decade ago, perhaps a bit longer, small record companies
suddenly discovered the tribute album. I jumped on it as a hungry louce
on a passing German shepherd dog. But when my heap of tribute records,
all made to honestly commemorate the band and not to make a quick buck,
started to become bigger than my genuine Pink Floyd collection I simply
gave up. I think that Babies
Go Pink Floyd was the last tribute album I bought, partially because
the concept attracted me. If you also feel tempted to listen to it.
Not only the record is tripe and you wouldn’t want to confront any baby with it without giving him or her a lifelong phobia for Pink Floyd music but also it doesn’t actually motivates grown-ups either to start procreating, normally a quite amusing and satisfactory pastime.
Recently I found this add from Dwell records that goes something like this:
The biggest names in hard rock and avant-garde metal have come together to pay tribute to the madcap genius of Syd Barrett. Featuring some of heavy-metals most influential players, this is a hard-rocking trip through the music world’s most idiosyncratic minds.
Some of the bands present on the record are the following: Dreg, Giant Squid, Jarboe, Kylesa and my favourite Stinking Lizaveta. Except in some distant Norwegian fjordic regions where these bands are probably world famous amongst the local satanic black metal scene these bands don’t really merit the eptitheton ‘biggest name in hard rock’ to begin with. I would have written the add for this album a little bit less triumphant:
Several virtually unknown hard rock and avant-garde metal bands that are constantly struggling to have a record contract have come together to rip off the musical heritage of Syd Barrett. Featuring some of heavy-metals obscurest players, this is a fruitless hard-rocking trip trying to get a fan-base that exceeds the dozen.
Now that is what I call a more realistic description of the project. You can listen to the songs at MySpace and I have to confess they don’t all sound like rubbish to me.
But all the above was merely a long, way too long, way to say that I quit buying Pink Floyd tribute records a while ago as most were, are and will be… full of crap. I had the same compulsive buying disorder when it came to Pink Floyd related music magazines and books. Despite the fact that I can’t play guitar I have dozens of guitar magazines that promise you the tablature of the third guitar solo in Comfortably Numb and a brand new exclusive Pink Floyd interview that was in fact already published in another guitar magazine from three years before that I already had in my scrapbook.
I define myself more than the average Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett fan, but less than an anorak, fanorak suits me fine.. Anoraks have the tendency to start flame wars because someone has told that Syd Barrett was wearing green socks on the 7th of August 1967 while every aficionado knows he was wearing brown socks that day. (To avoid death threats: I’ve just made this whole sock-thing up, but the 7th of August 1967 was of course an important day in Floydian history, about the importance of green socks, just check David Gilmour’s inside sleeve of his About Face album and shiver.)
So I quit buying Pink Floyd books as well, more or less… the last I bought was The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd that can now be found at local lo-price bookshops for the third of the price I bought it for. That is a very nice Pink Floyd biography by the way, and if you are in search for one, well don’t hesitate and get it. It’s cheap and cheerful.
Pigs Might Fly
But this post was originally intended as a review of Pigs Might Fly, a Pink Floyd biography by Mark Blake and all I did until now is take the piss out of:
a) the very first Pink Floyd biography by Jean-Marie Leduc;
b) the various tribute cds that do exist;
c) the growing pile of Pink Floyd biographies…
So I had given up buying Pink Floyd biographies but when I wrote on the Late Night forum that nobody had ever tried to locate Syd’s girlfriend we know as Iggy Mark Blake promptly replied that he certainly had. I more or less apologised and answered that I would read his biography.
So I did.
Who am I to post a review about a book that Record Collector choose as book of the year, that Q magazine described as a ‘detailed, orderly, first-rate read’, while Mojo praised its ‘heroic research’. It’s excellent, well written, full of anecdotes and it seems to please the casual and the more ardent fan of the band, although it still forgets to mention the colour of socks Syd Barrett was wearing on the 7th of August 1967. Anoraks will always find something to grumble about. I did. I found a mistake from microscopical importance about the Publius affair but only people daft enough to look for the Enigma mystery will probably realise that.
A while ago I started a side-project called the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit. In it I am looking for the whereabouts of the girl who appeared on the cover of the Syd Barrett album The Madcap Laughs. It is rather amazing how many bits and pieces can be found after all these years, but apparently Iggy was quite a character in those flowery powery days. The time was ripe as other people suddenly started to reveal their Iggy memories, amongst them Anthony Stern who made a four-minute movie about her in the Sixties that was premiered this year.
I wrote some things about Iggy that I thought were revolutionary but apparently Mark Blake had unravelled these before in his biography, only he didn’t need as many space to write these things down than I did and if this review goes on like this it might be longer than the book itself.
On page 140 Mark Blake writes about how Iggy performed The Bend (Church article: Bend It!), on the next page he reveals the existence of the Anthony Stern movie (before it became an item on YouTube) and how she used to go dancing at The Orchid in Purley (Church article: Shaken not stirred). And all this a year before the Church was started and something of an Iggy hype was created. Hats off to Mark Blake.
Mark Blake is not only an accurate but also a beautiful writer (I’m not speaking about his physical appearance here), reading the bit about the Live 8 reunion gave me tears in my eyes although I normally only weep when I read sweet little things about dying puppies. That more or less sums it up really; Pigs Might Fly moved me and I thank Mark Blake a lot for that.
(In America the book has been published under the alternative title Comfortably Numb, this was the working title of the book but as the cover has a snapshot from Battersea Power Station, including flying pig balloon, this was changed for the European market.)
A final word about Jean-Marie Leduc
One of the funnier parts of the very first Pink Floyd biography are the translated song texts. The Floyd’s first album is called Le joueur de flûte aux grilles de l’aube, but my favourite still is a song that is called Bonbons et pain aux raisins. And what to think about the following, I let you guess what song this has been taken from:
De tortueux signes voltigent.
Lueur. Lueur. Lueur.
Fla. Pom. Pom.
Escaliers d’épouvante et lois de mort…
And a final word for collectors
If you are looking for a copy of the Pink Floyd book by Jean-Marie Leduc be sure to buy the Albin Michel / Rock & Folk versions (several editions from 1973 till 1983). In 1987 another book by Jean-Marie Leduc, also called Pink Floyd, and in the same mini format, was presented to the public by Le Club Des Stars / Seghers. Although based upon the previous versions this book has been completely rewritten and most of the errors have been edited out.
If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Fasten
(The lyrics above are Leduc's French translation of Astronomy Domine.)