For a band that has always prided itself on anonymity, Pink Floyd have been well documented in print over the years. Among the good, bad and mediocre books that have been written on the band, the late Nicholas Schaffner's Saucerful of Secrets has been rightly regarded as the finest tome on the Floyd's long and illustrious career; that is until the recent arrival of Inside Out. Written by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, the reader gets a unique perspective on one of the most famous rock groups of the last four decades.
Let's begin with the layout of the book, which is just magnificent: the book cover is designed by Storm Thorgerson, longtime friend and associate of Pink Floyd who designed so many of their classic album covers. Thorgerson has clearly not lost his touch as the jacket for Inside Out looks very much like a Pink Floyd album cover.
I usually take a few minutes to glimpse through the illustrations before beginning a book, but with Inside Out I literally spent a few hours leafing through the hundreds of rare photos and scanning the captions. This is indeed a massive tome to savor even before starting to read the text proper. Ever want to see a picture of Syd Barrett when he visited the band during the making of Wish You Were Here? Look to the haunting photograph on page 211 and you may begin to understand how he became such a catalyst for that album. Want to get an idea of what the giant inflatable octopus looked like that rose out of the water at the infamous Crystal Palace Garden Party in May 1971? Or do you just want to get a feel for what the band's grandiose stage designs looked like the throughout the years? It's all here as well as more personal portraits of family members, friends and even a touching photograph of Roger Waters and Nick Mason warmly embracing shortly after their reconciliation in 2002.
As for the text itself, Nick Mason's prose is always sharp, witty and to the point. He does not get bogged down in biographical data nor does he try to cover every noteworthy anecdote that you may have read about cult hero Syd Barrett. The reader won't get a telltale rock bio in all its lurid glory. There are no stories of groupies and sexual conquests; nor is there much talk of drug use. But the reader can expect an honest account into the professional lives of one of rock music's most notoriously ego driven bands. Whether Mason discusses the rocky period when Roger Waters became the dominating creative force in the band or the bitter court litigations that ensued throughout the 1980s, he is always frank and matter of fact. But he also admits that Waters is a misunderstood individual and not at all the dictator the media portrays him to be.
Inside Out is quite possibly the best rock biography I've ever read. I've spent time with other more sensationalist books on Pink Floyd that exploit the tragic drug excesses of Syd Barrett or celebrate the indulgence of the band's stadium tours, but never have I come away feeling like I understand the individuals, however fleetingly, as I do here. It is without question the most handsome volume dedicated to Pink Floyd yet. For the devotees, this is an outright masterpiece.
Published by Chronicle Books (360 pages)