Monday, September 15, 2008

Rick Wright, 1943-2008

The BBC reported this morning that Rick Wright, founding member of Pink Floyd and that band's distinctive keyboardist, has died following a battle with cancer. He was 65. As is well known, Wright was an essential member of the early Pink Floyd, contributing his highly distinctive, psychedelic textures to the first Floyd albums. Although Wright most often sang background vocals, he occasionally sang lead vocals (“Time,” “Astronomy Domine”), while as a composer, his most well-known compositions were both from The Dark Side of the Moon: “The Great Gig in the Sky” and “Us and Them.” He briefly left the band in the early 80s as a result of irreparable tensions he and Roger Waters were then experiencing, but re-joined the band following Waters' departure.

I am saddened by this news because it may well have been because of Rick Wright that I became a Pink Floyd fan in the first place. By the time I became seriously interested in Pink Floyd, around September 1973, I was in my second year of college, and The Dark Side of the Moon had been released to great fanfare earlier that year, and was topping the album charts. That album very quickly became a staple of FM radio, and because I was an impecunious college student, I was in no hurry to buy it. However, that fall I did, in fact, purchase my first Pink Floyd album, not Dark Side of the Moon, but Ummagumma (1969); it had, by the time I first heard it, been in release for about four years. I bought it used from a fellow boarder in the rooming house where I was living at the time; he happened to have just cued up "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" when I stopped by his room to say hello. I was immediately hooked, particularly by the eerie, slightly sinister sounds being made the keyboards; it was as if I was listening to the soundtrack of an unnamed horror movie. He, on the other hand, wasn't all that crazy about the album, and I subsequently bought it from him for $2 (or more precisely, several quarters, a few dimes and nickels), a fair price in those days for a used record (or, in this case, two records). I played "Astronomy Domine," "Careful With That Axe...," and "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun" over and over on the old J.C. Penney stereo system I then owned, and by the time Christmas rolled around later that year, I received Dark Side of the Moon, which I'd asked for, as a Christmas present.

Moments after I read of Rick Wright's death, I was prompted, in remembrance, to play Ummagumma, which I now also own on CD. But I couldn't do it, and probably won't, for a long time. Nor am I inclined to listen to any Pink Floyd, although I'm sure the FM airwaves will be filled with the band's music as a tribute to this great, innovative musician. Moreover, it will be long time before I'm prompted to watch, say, Live at Pompeii again--too much of a museum piece now, reminding me of a time when bands such as Pink Floyd defined rock music's avant-garde. Syd Barrett's death a couple of years ago marked the end of the original line-up of Pink Floyd, but with Rick Wright's death, Pink Floyd is no more, now a part of rock history--now it "belongs to the ages."

There are any number of fan sites dedicated to Rick Wright. One might well begin here, and follow the links from that point.

1 comment:

Tim Lucas said...

A good way to remember Richard Wright is to listen to one of his more recent recordings, like David Gilmour's lovely ON AN ISLAND. The title track may be Gilmour's loveliest recorded work since "Echoes." I, too, was especially fond of Wright's contribution to the PF sound. Before I heard any of their albums, I saw PF on a PBS broadcast of a 1970 San Francisco performance, and the cameras paid special attention to what his fluttering keyboards contributed to the band's mysterioso qualities. I've also always been particularly fond of Wright's song "Summer '68" from ATOM HEART MOTHER.