In my high school guitarist days, I had a book of guitar tabs with famous riffs and solos. I can’t play solos like David Gilmour’s breathtaking run on Comfortably Numb worth squat anymore, but I gained an appreciation for the brilliance behind them.
My six-string noodling and convenient timing — Pink Floyd’s first tour sans Roger Waters passed through the Triangle twice while I was in school — gave me a bit of a bias toward Gilmour’s side in the dispute over all things Floyd. I usually viewed Waters as an egotist who simply sought to bend the rest of the band to his will.
The truth is more complex, of course, and I’ve gained a great appreciation for the yin-yang pulls that are behind some terrific music.
Before reading this piece, I hadn’t thought of Comfortably Numb as the last great meeting point of Gilmour’s melodic sensibilities and Waters’ twisted but heartfelt worldview. But it’s absolutely right.
As a whole, The Wall doesn’t quite stand up as strongly to me — I think it owes a lot of its longevity to another bit of convenient timing, the fall of a real-life Wall in Germany upon which Waters’ metaphor can barely be stretched. The themes are interesting, but Waters had gained too much of the upper hand in his arguments with Gilmour, who was struggling to be heard.
Comfortably Numb, though, is still a standout track. You may hear Another Brick in the Wall more often on rock radio, but it has less to offer beyond a couple of good lyrical and melodic hooks.
This Popdose piece offers several new ways to look at the creative process, from demos before the song’s recording to live versions afterwards. And it shows how Waters and Gilmour have remained united by this brilliant work, to the point of putting aside decades of conflict to perform it together on a couple of occasions.
(I thought the cellist in the 2002 performance looked a bit like Ellie Kemper of The Office. Turns out she’s Caroline Dale, who has had quite a bit of success in both the pop and classical worlds.)
The Life and Times of “Comfortably Numb” | Popdose.