The Reluctance of Pop Stars to Read Long Books Means We Have Been Deprived of the Lord of the Rings Starring the Beatles

By French, Sean | New Statesman (1996), February 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

The Reluctance of Pop Stars to Read Long Books Means We Have Been Deprived of the Lord of the Rings Starring the Beatles


French, Sean, New Statesman (1996)


I've got a trivia question for you. What were Pink Floyd planning to work on after they finished Dark Side of the Moon? The answer, I learnt from an exhaustive history in Mojo magazine, was the music for a "ballet and movie version" of Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu.

Unfortunately there was the minor problem that the band had to read the book. What ensued was like a scene out of Rob Reiner's spoof "rockumentary", This Is Spinal Tap. Dave Gilmour read about a hundred pages. Roger Waters managed a few more before deciding: "Fuck this, it goes too slowly for me."

As somebody who had a poster of Dave Gilmour on his bedroom wall for too much of his adolescence, I am not in the best position to mock Pink Floyd, but I find it difficult to see how the creator of "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" (to be found, should you want to find it, on Atom Heart Mother) or all that rubbish on Ummagumma (for some reason it feels embarrassing even to type out the title of that particular album) could accuse anybody of doing anything too slowly.

However, Waters' time was not entirely wasted. Fifteen years later he recorded an incomprehensible concept album called Radio K A O S. Almost nobody bought it. Asked to explain it in an interview, he said: "Some of us are gatherers and some of us are hunters. I'm a hunter. It's like Proust."

And he was the one in Pink Floyd who never took drugs.

Another very long book also provided a challenge for rock musicians. The most amusing revelation from a television documentary about J R R Tolkien this week was the misery that his huge fame caused him when The Lord of the Rings became a cult in the 1960s. Fans of Middle Earth would be tripping in San Francisco when they would have an inspired idea. They'd probably read that other crucial cult book, The Catcher in the Rye, where Holden Caulfield says that if you really like a book, you want to ring the author up and talk about it: "Hey, man, let's ring up that Tolkien dude and rap with him. …

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