September 18, 2008

Shine On, You Crazy Diamond

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I’ve never really understood people who get reduced to tears over celebrities. Those frenzied adolescents of yore who stood in the front row at Beatles concerts shrieking and shaking and bawling their eyes out have always kind of freaked me out. Likewise, years ago when I saw footage of R&B singer Aaliyah’s funeral and the masses of weeping fans, I wondered how they could be so emotional over someone they didn’t even know personally.
But when my mother called on Monday to inform me that Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright had passed away, I actually cried a little. While she continued our conversation unheeded, I sat outside of CTB, eyes welling up, feeling a little awkward/abashed/uncomfortable since I’ve never really been one for extraneous emotional outpourings.
Public humiliation aside, I could finally kind of relate to those plaid shirt-sporting low self-esteemers who gathered by candlelight in Seattle to mourn the Godfather of Grunge or those fervent Elvis fans who lined the streets leading from Graceland just to get a glimpse of the dead King’s Cadil­lac motorcade.
Floyd members Richard Wright and Nick Mason are to Roger Waters and David Gilmour what Adam and Larry are to Bono and The Edge; lesser known, but no less integral to the band as a whole. Though Wright was not one of the group’s primary songwriters, his ethereal piano arrangements, breathy background vocals and odd sound effects contributed greatly to Floyd’s signature art-rock sound.
In fact, most sources agree that the band found its musical direction post-Barrett with the 23-minute opus “Echoes,” off of 1971’s Meddle, the success of which, I feel, is due to Wright’s haunting and persistent piano arpeggios. What followed Meddle was the incontrovertible classic Dark Side of the Moon.
At the center of this masterwork is the Wright-composed “Great Gig in the Sky,” an arresting instrumental piece with drawling female vocals.
Listening to “Echoes” or “Great Gig in the Sky,” I get why I had such a visceral reaction to Wright’s passing. These are songs that I know and love and have probably listened to on roughly a biweekly basis since I became an avid Floyd fan.
So yes, I had never met Rick Wright in person, but when I hear those singular piano tings that seize you from the very outset of “Echoes,” I have endless appreciation for him and his craft.
Wright’s drifting and expansive chordal sequences are part and parcel of what makes Pink Floyd’s music so remarkable. And as for his contribution to a band that has had an inexplicable influence on my life, I think I can offer a few tears of gratitude.