Coming Through In Waves

I was face down on the massage table, a masseuse’s elbow deep into my shoulder blades, when it occured to me that the tinkling, piped-in Muzak overhead was Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”

Kind of odd, I thought (between bouts of excruciating pain). Kind of sad, too. But frankly, it kind of worked.

Like many before me (and surely more after), my love affair with getting high was largely influenced by Pink Floyd. It was New Year’s Eve, 1987. After some cajoling, an elder colleague at Berwyn Video (who was later fired for trading video rentals for slices at the pizzeria across the street) rolled me a “pinner” — a thin joint — to augment my transition into 1988. Back home, my best friend Sibby and I took a few drags, then wandered off to our respective interests. He planted himself in front of a Flyers game. I planted myself between the speakers of my stereo, slid “Wish You Were Here” into the CD player, and leaned in.

The albums opening track, “Shine On You Crazy Diamonds,” opens with a delicate, patient, and spacy wash of keyboards, before exploding into a full-on, thirteen minute rock opera (later followed by “Shine On You Crazy Diamonds Parts 6-12”). My mind was blown. I closed my eyes, and imagined myself on stage between two Marshall amp stacks that stretched into the clouds. An endless audience stretched out before me.

And so it began: the rock ‘n roll dream.

“Wish You Were Here,” you’ll recall, begins with the distant strains of a muted television show, and then strumming of a highly-compressed, very AM radio-sounding acoustic guitar, before a fully-present slide guitar opens the song up to its full-on stereo greatness (a technique I later ripped off for Almost Home’s “Radio”). Which is about when my skull cracked wide open.

And so it began: the out-of-your-head dream.

The band, and its music, continued to have that affect (for better or worse). Sure, I discovered REM’s “Reckoning” and The Replacements “Please To Meet Me” and Husker Du’s “Candy Apple Gray,” but those were decidely Lo-Fi. Pink Floyd was Hi-Fi. High-Fi.

And for a while there, that was my agenda. I craved the comfort of an audience’s adoration, but numbness from intimacy. I still feel more at ease in front of a crowd than I am in one.

Fast forward, then, to a swank spa on Central Park West. The sinister edge with which Roger Waters delivers “Comfortably Numb” has dulled. The band has broken up, and re-formed again. I am twenty years older. Still, it moves me. And I think back to the lyrics, and what they meant. And instead of the sinister, I choose to examine the plaintive. Instead of the obvious drug references, I am drawn to the sense of loss.

The child is grown.

The dream is gone.

But instead of feeling sad, I find myself feeling… ok with it.

The child has grown.

The dream has… changed.

And for the first time in my life, that’s fine with me.

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