It was a beautiful day at the end of July, a perfect combination of blue skies and subtle heat. Definitely an uncommon event for Iowa during the summer as July usually proves to be oppressively sweltering.
Instead of enjoying this rare afternoon of tolerable sunshine, I was down in the musty darkness of my parent’s basement, rummaging through Dad’s toolbox. Before long, I located the item I was looking for: a box of Red Devil single-edge razor blades that he used for scraping paint. I brought one blade up to my bedroom, but not for any wood restoration. On this wonderful summer day, I was going to use the blade to cut my wrists.
The reasons why are not important; suicide is a selfish act and, since I’m writing this, I obviously didn’t go through with it. What is curious is the soundtrack that I chose to end my own life to: Pink Floyd‘s The Final Cut.
You may think that there was something metaphoric between my selection in both the music and method of killing myself. The reality is that Pink Floyd was my favorite band at the time and The Final Cut was my favorite album. It wasn’t just my “Favorite Album by Pink Floyd,” it was my “Favorite Album Ever by Anyone.” I know, it should have been have been something better, and even the band’s own Dark Side of the Moon or The Piper at the Gates of Dawn would have been a better critical choice. But during my time of hopelessness, I considered The Final Cut to be the rock music’s crowning achievement.
I was sixteen years old when The Final Cut came out, twenty-five years ago this week.
I have heard the arguments on how this album is actually a Roger Waters solo album and, indeed, the back cover attributes the record as “by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd.” The record’s entire songwriting credit is also to Waters and his vocals constitute 11 of the 12 tracks on the album.
Regardless of who was primarily responsible for it its origins or if it is indeed a collaborative effort, I felt the record completely overshadowed the band’s glorified past. I felt that it was a work of art that seemed to transcend rock itself. The sheer scope of the subject matter and the intricate orchestration of the Michael Kamen-aided arrangement floored me. While the idea of a “Michael Kamen-aided arrangement” seems perfectly ridiculous now, particularly when speaking about an album by Pink Floyd, my cynicism at the time was not as vast as it is today. I took the album as an “end of the journey” political declaration, a sobering effort that seemed miles away from their lysergic-fueled debut. Not only did it sound like the perfect way to end Pink Floyd’s career, it seemed like the perfect album to end my life with.
Youthfully overlooking the album’s pacifist themes, I instead identified with the album’s general feelings of pessimism towards the future. If Waters, a man several years my senior, delivered a record of experienced distrust towards our fellow man, it seemed logical that I wouldn’t be missing much by checking out a little early.
I cut my teeth on The Final Cut with a fellow Floydian from my high school class. He actually managed to move out of his parents’ house during his senior year and rent a trailer in the mobile home park near the municipal airport.
There were several nights I spent with him that single-wide, sitting on Salvation Army furniture with the lights out, drunkenly slurring the words to Pink Floyd records. We saved spinning The Final Cut until after everyone else had left because, as you haven’t guessed by now, it ain’t much of a party record.
During the 25 years since the album’s release, I’ve changed my opinions on other Floyd albums (Piper and Animals in particular have found greater resonance with me) while, for obvious reasons, distancing myself from The Final Cut. It was, ironically, the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war that had me reconsidering it again and, surprisingly, I found it to hold up pretty well.
Aside from the amazing fact that I remembered nearly every lyric even after nearly twenty years of not listening to it, I was struck at how fantastic The Final Cut sounded. I was working with the original Sony pressing, not the remastered version from a few years back (the one that includes “When The Tigers Broke Free”). I was impressed at how nothing’s been lost in terms of sound and fidelity; it doesn’t sound dated like many of the titles from the same period.
The record utilized an updated version of binaural recording process called “holophonics” that created three-dimensional sound images within the mix. The strategy enabled the band’s love of sound effects to work without the need of rear speakers; airplane fly-bys, voices, and ambient sounds seem to come from behind you, instead of the traditional left-right stereo shenanigans of Floyd albums from the past.
It’s also a record of organic instruments and remarkable dynamics. This is another reason why I’m reluctant to replace my original pressing with the remastered version; why risk getting a new product that the record company has merely tweaked to sound louder when my original copy sounds warm and vital despite its age?
And lyrically, this is Roger Waters’ own version of Janov’s primal scream therapy. He attempts at reconciling the death of his father with amazing bitterness and, building on a theme originally hinted at in The Wall, the complete distrust of authority.
While Syd Barrett lyrically hid behind whimsical folly and wordplay, Waters bears every ounce of primordial emotion for everyone to examine. It takes balls to consider doing something like that, unlike cowardly using the results as a backdrop to slicing an artery or two in your childhood bedroom of your parents’ house.
Was it this, a sudden realization of how pathetically unimaginative my song selection was, that ultimately stopped me from going through with it?
The honest truth is that I spent such an inordinate amount of time working on drafts of the obligatory suicide letter that, by the time I actually sat down to end my life, my father arrived home from work and came looking for me.
Now this in itself was unusual as my father never bothered to “check in” on me after getting home. But to point to some kind of higher power pointing him to investigate my well-being is not accurate. I had returned to my parent’s house the night before from a weeklong bike excursion called RAGBRAI and hadn’t seen him or my mother in over a week. He was merely coming up to my room to see how the trip had gone.
Perhaps thinking that I wouldn’t hear his knock on the door over the volume of the music, he opened the door and came into the room.
Immediately, it was apparent that my demeanor was awry and instead of asking how the bike tour had gone, he asked what I was doing with the razor blade that was tightly gripped between the thumb and forefinger in my right hand.
It was a question that I had difficulty answering.
He quickly grabbed the razor out of my hand and angrily threw it across my bedroom. I finally acknowledged the crisis that had prompted me to consider killing myself and, in typical fatherly fashion, he began formulating a series of steps that we needed to do in order to address the issue.
“The first thing is,” he opined, “to get a lawyer.”
Even though his plan was clear and expertly formulated, particularly considering the speed in which he arrived at it, I could sense the disappointment in his tone with each bullet point of his off-the-cuff action plan. It clearly bothered him that I had chosen suicide over merely asking him for the one thing he always had no problem in providing: advice.
At that moment, The Final Cut‘s most rock oriented song, “Not Now John,” started blaring over my loudspeakers. With the same forcefulness that he used to pitch my killing tool, he hit the stop button on my cd player as David Gilmour sang “Fuck all that! / We gotta get on with these!” effectively putting the kibosh on any suicide attempts that afternoon.
Until a few weeks ago, that was the last time I had played The Final Cut.
The drama that led to this, like all of life’s dramas, eventually passed. The obvious moral is how nothing is worth killing yourself for, but there was another moral that I learned while revisiting The Final Cut. I had given up on the album, placing it alongside the dark corners of an event that is still tough to think about now. The difficulty is not in remembering the events leading up to the decision to snuff it, but for the things that I would have missed if I had actually gone through with it.
To quote from the album: “I was just a child then / Now I’m only a man.”
The other lesson is how one can actually take back a record, a song, whatever, that had previously been deemed too attached with a bad memory to be recovered. I’ve got plenty of other records that fall into this category (I’m looking at you, Sea Change), but as I’ve learned with The Final Cut, I know that it is possible to recapture music you once considered to be lost.