[Today: Lost in space…]
Pink Floyd was a band I couldn’t get enough of during college. Long, spacey jams like ‘Echoes’, ‘Welcome To The Machine’ (parts 1-100) and ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ were staples of that era for me and my friends. The Floyd created the perfect soundtrack for the kind of jabber-til-dawn-about-the-world conversations we were engaged in. But listening to those songs now, none of them sound exactly like party music, particularly ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’.
This song might be chalked up as just another psychedelic nugget, except for the curious case of Syd Barrett, who once commanded the good ship Pink before consuming waaaay too much LSD, climbing in his spacecraft, and flying away, never again to return to earth. At any rate, ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ now sounds to me like a scary blues – one of Roger Waters’ first and best efforts at getting inside the mind of madness. It’s peaceful enough in there, what with a little marimba, but you’ll end up orbiting and orbiting, caught in a never-ending cycle of lunacy.
Speaking of cycles, Spiritualized frontman Jason Pierce captures something of the insane, hypnotic death-spiral of heroin addiction in ‘Cop Shoot Cop…’, from the 1997 album Ladies And Gentleman We Are Floating In Space. Pierce’s epic, apocalyptic vision of addiction goes from a whispered lullaby that quotes John Prine’s stark smack song ‘Sam Stone’, into a squalling storm of guitar feedback that is finally joined by Mariachi horns, before settling back into the tranquil serenity of a high. It’s 16 minutes and 14 seconds of seductive hell, and Pierce sings throughout like a man on his last frayed nerve.
‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ and Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space both use outer space as a metaphor for the isolation chamber of drug abuse. For Pink Floyd the metaphor was used to denote a celestial traveler, out exploring the far reaches of the cosmos for the benefit of all. ‘Cop Shoot Cop…’ journeys from the Milky Way to grimy flophouses and back out to the stars again, but what you’re left with is a glimpse of the empty inner space of someone who is nodding off and drifting away. And the blues don’t get any blacker than that…
Listen: Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun [Pink Floyd]
Listen: Cop Shoot Cop… [Spiritualized]