by Colin Marshall, Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2012/04/pink_floyd_live_in_pompeii.html
Tourism and historical research aside, most ruins aren’t particularly useful, least of all for their original purposes.
Yet Pink Floyd
fans know of one instance when a ruin made a comeback, if a brief and
specialized one, that could make you forget all about the ash and pumice
that buried it nearly 2000 years before.
In October 1971, the band set
up their gear in the middle of the Ampitheatre of Pompeii
and blasted three songs out into the antiquity surrounding them:
“Echoes,” “A Saucerful of Secrets,” and “One of These Days.”
not to a live audience, but to an array of studio-quality recording
equipment designed to faithfully capture every layer of their sound for
You can see and hear all the
then-highest-of-the-high-tech musical equipment used to produce
then-thoroughly modern rock music in this nearly alien-looking geometric
setting of time-worn stone and encroaching grass in Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, now free to watch on YouTube.
Pink Floyd’s chosen venue, the oldest standing Roman ampitheatre of
them all, suits their project sonically as well as aesthetically. Had
the band invited an audience, the old place probably could, with a touch
of restoration, have handled it with aplomb.
An article from CSO Security and Risk
cites its bathroom design and placement, its queue separation, its
anxiety-reducing openness, its simple stairway scheme, its lack of
corners and bottleneck points, and the wide road leading to it as
qualities from which today’s stadium designers can still learn.
last May, the surviving members of Pink Floyd happened to get back
together on stage; should they launch a reunion tour, they might
consider starting at the ampitheatre they introduced to so many young
fans before history teachers could.
You’ll find embedded above the 2003 director’s cut of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii,
the latest of several versions of the film.
It includes not just the
band’s Pompeii performance, but additional songs shot in Paris,
recording and interviewing sessions at Abbey Road, and a number of clips
of exploding volcanoes and Earth from space.
The non-concert material
further explores themes naturally raised by placing music from 1971 into
a venue from 70 BC.
Considering any creation’s place in history and
the danger of fetishizing the man-made, the band members talk about how
to avoid becoming “slaves to all our equipment,” how not to one day find
themselves “a relic of the past,” and whether or not rock would survive
a vast societal collapse.
Some of this feels like a more intelligent
version of the rock-documentary sensibility that This is Spinal Tap
would so thoroughly lambast almost a decade later.
We all had a good
laugh when that film’s hapless fictional rock group ordered up an
all-too-miniature replica of Stonehenge for their live show. You may
also chuckle at the grandness of Pink Floyd’s use of the Ampitheatre of
Pompeii, but it also presents you with questions worth thinking about.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.