Higher Once Upon A Time – The 40th Anniversary Of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

The Piper At The Gates Of DawnKris pulled her 1978 Firebird up to the stoplight on Main Street and idled next to my car in the other lane. I reached over to roll down my window and talk to her, ultimately agreeing to her suggestion that I ditch my ’68 Plymouth Fury at the parents’ house and ride with her. Besides, my Mopar only had a factory AM radio in it, whereas her Firebird was equipped with a kickass Pioneer cassette deck that I helped install earlier that summer.

Looking back on our relationship now, Kris was what would be described as today as a “fuck buddy.” She was generous with her ride, her drugs, and her vagina. The fact that I maintained steady relationships outside of the late night encounters with her never seemed to bother Kris. Years later, of course, I learned that this wasn’t the case; the fact that I essentially used Kris during those high school years wasn’t lost on her. After I left my hometown for college, the time apart provided her with perspective to consider the dynamics of our relationship and realize that I was pretty much a complete dickhead.

But before her realization, I could count on Kris to provide things without much reciprocation.

On one particular summer night, we made a spontaneous plan to drive around in her Firebird, smoke pot, drink beer, and eventually make our way to a rural hideaway to lay down a blanket and fuck.

Such teenage activities are deserving of an appropriate soundtrack, and Kris had a double-sided cassette briefcase full of stoner rock to pick from. Her taste in music ran towards the darker areas of hard rock. While other girls were content with the commercial appeal of Def Leppard and other MTV favorites, Kris leaned towards Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd. And once she honed in on a band that she liked, she worked hard to complete the band’s entire catalog.

On this particular evening, I noticed that she had acquired a new Pink Floyd cassette. Not “new” in the sense of the word (by then they had released The Final Cut and pretty much called it a day), but new as in purchased the next piece in Floyd’s lofty history. I pointed out the copy of her latest purchase under the glow of the Pontiac’s dome light (aka “dope” light, because we were so fucking clever), managing to ask for a critical analysis while holding in a fresh breath of potsmoke.

“It’s not what you think.” She advised. “It’s not like the other Pink Floyd albums.”

“Well, is it any good?” I asked, wanting additional clarification.

“Yeah, it’s good. But it’s just…different.” She offered.

I should note two things at this point: that Kris had recently begun to experiment with hallucinogens and that she was absolutely correct in her assessment of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.

She allowed me to borrow the cassette and I circulated it among other friends before eventually giving it back to her a few months later.

I immediately noticed the night and day difference between Syd Barrett led Floyd and the more recognized Floyd of A.O.R. radio and laser light shows. This was not Pink Floyd as produced by Bob Ezrin, arranged by Michael Kamen, or meticulously engineered by Alan Parsons. It was Floyd at the hands of a man who seemed unhinged yet somewhat certain of the madness he was corralling. Piper created a schizophrenic landscape where lush woodlands, gnomes and Siamese cats lived harmonically together. It took more than one listen to fully appreciate, and as The Piper At The Gates of Dawn reaches its fortieth anniversary, I’m sure there’s still a lot more within the album’s whimsy that I’m not fully appreciating.

It was not an album that the majority of classic rock stoners were drawn to, but by circulating the cassette among a select few open-minded listeners, and by retelling the story of how it was created by a drug-addled lunatic, I was able to create a minor rift in the buying patterns of our small town record store.

Suddenly, the Disc Jockey found themselves special ordering (and eventually stocking) The Madcap Laughs and Barrett along with other Floydian oddities like the Roger Waters/Ron Geesin medical documentary soundtrack album, Music From The Body. The assistant manager of the store eventually asked me why so many people were now hip to Syd Barrett and I did my part in explaining how it was my efforts that led to an increase in the examination of early Floyd.

The reality was: it happened to be a product of my opportunistic relationship with Kris. And while her generosity has gone overlooked for far too long, perhaps the fortieth anniversary of the release of The Piper Of The Gates Of Dawn is the best time to publicly acknowledge Kris and how the act of borrowing a cassette led me to discover other acid casualties like Julian Cope and Skip Spence and to eventually open up to other artists like Robyn Hitchcock and Jeff Mangum.

When I listen to Piper today, I don’t find myself fatigued by it like I occasionally am with Sgt. Pepper, an album created during the same time and in the same recording studios. Of course, a lot of that has to do with how underplayed Piper is; even today, the lyrics and arrangements seem completely out of place of linear theories.

Unlike other class of ’67 alumni, Piper isn’t an album that seems particularly dated to that year; it hints to several points in history when whimsical tales were the preferred medium while occasionally referencing futuristic topics. It’s the work of a genius (Barrett) who had the good sense to avoid being confined by traditional themes or song structures. I’ll leave the reasons why he was able to do this up to those who enjoy discussing his mental prognosis and extra-curricular drug use. Regardless of its origin, the end product of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn is just as ahead of its time today as it was forty years ago.

Pink Floyd – “Astronomy Domine” on the BBC

Pink Floyd – “Interstellar Overdrive”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *