Tag Archive: Gollum


Slinker and Stinker

Gollum, Syd and Pink had something in common – they all had less hair as they went on

The specter of Syd Barrett, amazingly, was still hanging over Pink Floyd more than 11 years after he had left the band. In particular, Syd was still a part of the thought processes of Roger Waters. And since Waters was the primary songwriter and musical demagogue of Pink Floyd, Syd of course shows up in The Wall.

Waters and Barrett have always shared a bit of their ethos, and I think Waters is strangely akin to Barrett mentally. In fact, the character of Pink, in addition to being a twisted reflection of Waters himself, is also an archetype for the self-obsessed, insecure and unstable rock star. Waters’ experience with all those things (other himself, of course) and comes directly from Syd Barrett.

The starkest example of this is in the song “Nobody Home.” Pink, having now retreated completely behind his wall, muses about his own state of mind and body. He looks at the things that immediately surround him – his clothes, the TV, the hotel room – and then examines his own feelings and perceptions – his paranoia, his pessimism. He’s part Howard Hughes, part Holden Caufield, and indeed part Syd Barrett. He’s now resigned to his feelings of isolation and disconnection.

One track earlier, in “Is There Anybody Out There?” Pink gets on the other side of his wall, looks around and finds he’s all alone. The sense you get from the music in “Is There Anybody Out There?” is a vast, inky nothingness, like being lost in space without any planets or stars in a 300 light year radius. Everything just echoes, returning back on itself with nothing added. Instantly, Pink starts feeling for the edges of the wall, trying to get back over to the other side, the human side, to no avail.

And one track before that, we have a little summary of the first half of The Wall with a preview of the second half in “Hey You.” This song is an easy single and music video, and it became one in 1982 with the release of Pink Floyd – The Wall, the feature film. “Hey You” was the only song from The Wall that was not included in the movie, but a music video was made for it culling all the footage from the 1982 film.

In “Hey You” and “Nobody Home,” there is a Bowie-like splitting of the self, but rather than creating two distinct personalities, Pink talks to himself and responds to himself, perhaps more like Gollum’s Slinker and Stinker. Gollum has arguments with himself because for a long time, there’s no one else around with whom to have arguments. Once Frodo and Sam enter his life, the habit continues. It’s exactly the same with Pink. The only person to keep him company in this solipsistic world is himself, but for Pink, he even lets himself down. You only need listen to the first chorus of “Nobody Home” to realize that.

When I try to get through / on the telephone to you / there’ll be nobody home.

And still, there’s Syd. The “obligatory Hendrix perm” line from “Nobody Home” is a direct nod to Syd, and as many parallels as I pick out between Pink and Gollum, the reality of this character is based on Syd. There have been all sorts of theories about what was wrong with him, so I won’t go into that, but a pretty consistent symptom of mental illness is talking to oneself. Who knows? Syd might have had conversations with himself like his very own personal Slinker and Stinker.

Next: “I know we’ll meet again some sunny day…”

Mystique

Led Zeppelin had mystique. They rarely gave interviews, released no radio singles, and had almost no direct media presence. The way it goes today, famous people need to get out in front of an issue to spin it the way they want it spun, before someone spins it for them. Led Zeppelin didn’t do any of that. People were (and are) fascinated with them because they weren’t told how to think about them. While that allowed people to think about them in whatever way they wanted (as they will anyhow), it also forced them to say that they didn’t really know.

There were stories, though. When concrete information on a band is so scant, the public is bound to fill in the holes themselves. Most often, this will constitute just making stuff up. The stories about Led Zep, true or not, have been around long enough that they’re now legend, like Santa Claus. Some said they were Satanists. Some claim there are hidden back-masked messages in their songs. There is even a hotel tale about an incident in Florida involving a groupie, chocolate syrup, and a giant marlin (hint: they didn’t cook and eat it).

The one I want to focus on is their preoccupation with J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord of the Rings. While this is mostly in their later albums (“Battle of Evermore” is said to have at least 6 references to the book in its lyrics), the only time it’s completely confirmed is in the song “Ramble On” from II.

For the most part, “Ramble On” walks a well-travelled path of a guy who loves his woman but loves the road more. He inevitably leaves one lover for another, reveling in the glory of going from place to place.

Then the third verse. What’s this talk of “the darkest depths of Mordor,” and “Gollum?” It appears that a blues band is combining a very common, people-oriented form of music with scholarly and erudite literature.

You might think it’s not so scholarly; who doesn’t know about Return of the King and the boatload of Oscars it won? But the fact is II was released in 1969, which is 32 years before the Peter Jackson-directed epic movies first started coming out. Led Zeppelin thought it was cool waaaay before everyone and their brother in this generation liked it. We in our American temporality often forget this, but Lord of the Rings was popular long before digital filming even existed. Indeed, they were a hit on first being published. J.R.R. Tolkien, despite that he was a stuffy Oxford professor, was kind of a rock star.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Led Zep’s combining of those two apparent opposites (high literature and fantasy with down-and-out blues music) creates something new. They brought an English sensibility to an American form of music, also creating something new. The presence of Middle-earth language signals that delta blues and Oxford higher learning are opposites only in our own minds, and the rift between them is smaller than imagined.