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This clip of of “the Pink Floyd” from a May 14, 1967, appearance on the BBC2’s The Look of the Week program has been up on YouTube for a year. But somehow it had escaped the noticed of Snob HQ until now. And it’s extraordinary on so many counts. For one thing, it captures the band performing, rather than miming, “Astronomy Domine,” the effects-laden song that opens their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which is just now getting its lavish 40th-anniversary rerelease. For another, it captures Syd Barrett actually talking–and not just talking, but chatting thoughtfully, lucidly, and with remarkable equanimity given the hostile questions of his interviewer.

The segment’s presenter is Hans Keller, a prominent and controversial music critic and theorist of the era. In his introductory segment, he might as well be John Cleese. With his posh-Viennese accent, Murrowesque cigarette, and a pushbroom mustache that seems to have come from the prop department, he cocks his head contemptuously and asserts of the band, “Proportionately, they are a bit boring.” And then he allows, disingenuously, that “Perhaps it’s my fault that I don’t appreciate them.”

In the post-performance interview, which begins about five minutes into the clip, Keller kicks things off by asking Barrett and Roger Waters, “Why has it all got to be so terribly loud?” The two Floydians, well-brought-up boys from Cambridge, answer this and all of Keller’s questions with remarkable politeness. But Waters palpably seethes under his veneer of good manners, while Barrett remains unprovoked. (Though his occasional smiling glances at Waters hint that he finds Keller’s tone absurd.)

Keller clearly had a tin ear for rock music, but it would be reductive to say he was just some schmuck drawing-room fogey who had it in for the longhairs. A Jewish escapee from the Third Reich, he made his way to London in 1938 and established his name as something of an out-there figure himself, applying Freudian interpretation to classical compositions. He also had a silly streak and once fooled the classical-music firmament by soberly presenting a spoof documentary on BBC Radio 3 entitled The Strange Case of Piotr Zak, about an avant-garde Polish composer who didn’t actually exist.

So maybe, when he says at the end of the Floyd clip that “My verdict is that is is a little bit of a regression to childhood–but, after all, why not?,” Keller isn’t being altogether condemnatory.

September 22, 2007 More Rock Snobbery »

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