Sound Check

The tape is cued and ready to roll at the beginning of the beginning. The volume is set. The transmitter is online, and all the radios are tuned in, waiting to receive the story.

Hello, and welcome to the broadcast.

Listen to me, friends: music is made of time. It can be wound forward and backward, played again and again as a favored song. It is an incarnate spirit that calls us to heed the miracle of consciousness. When we listen closely it releases the rhythm that never stops pulsing, the harmony that sings in multiple voices, and the melody that liberates energy and divinity. The elements of music wend their way through our timelines: the events, the life changes, the losses and gains, the love, and the forks in the road.

Back when these reels of tape were recorded, the music demanded to be heard in a time of change and eruption—of love and death. It was our accompaniment as we traveled on an endless river while the sun rose and fell, and the moonlight lapped the bottomless water. We stood on deck while the wheels of the steamboat churned the stream. Our vinyl records rotated on turntables, revealing the music that was embedded in the grooves on Side A and Side B. The songs have never stopped. They still loop perpetually.

They are echoes in the time stream, sailor’s tales of travel without words, dancing spirits of Maya, faded visions of love, shows that never ended. Our hair stood on end as we walked through psychic fire, our path lit by a trimmed and burning lamp. A man from the stars landed amid the young dudes, while something behind the door waited. There were silver trimmed rose petals and diamond nights, a silent death, oak trees, a breeze through parched grass in the lingering summer, and guardian blue eyes watching carefully. Would we ever learn? We were babes in Toyland. During amazing journeys, we could see the city lights and the darkness at the edge of town merging with the fog, waiting patiently for dawn.

All of it, every note, every guitar lick, every screaming voice of joy and epiphany, every drum, organ, piano, synthesizer or saxophone solo, flourished at the corner of Post and Steiner, in the City by the Bay, after the stars of psychedelic alteration rained down and soaked into the fertile ground of a new season. The streets were no longer filled with flowers. The hippies had headed to the hills. There were shadows in the alleys and suffering in the streets, but we believed those seeds would sprout someday and burst with redemption. They blossomed then. They still bloom today. They always will. The music never ceases. It is the song, the concord, and the heartbeat of the cosmos. We are breath. We are thought. Music is the spirit of the depths.  

Post and Steiner

Fred explains that the building had originally been an ice rink. Above the back entrance a large advertisement is permanently painted touting a performance of the Ice Follies with a picture of Snoopy, the dog from the Peanuts cartoon, dancing in ecstasy. The paint is faded and festooned with cracks. Winterland was constructed in 1928, and over the years falls out of use until Bill Graham, the San Francisco music impresario, begins producing concerts there in the late sixties. In 1971 he converts the structure to a concert auditorium and weekly performances take the place of the music presented at the Fillmore West because of Winterland’s larger capacity.

When we arrive, there are about fifty people in line outside. The wind is brisk and cool, typically uncomfortable San Francisco weather. The folks in line are talking quietly and passing joints around. Fred breaks out his hash pipe. That makes me nervous and a bit paranoid. What if a cop sees us? There is a steady stream of traffic at the intersection. I notice the marquee, one of those old-fashioned types that requires someone to get on a ladder and insert black plastic letters into grooves that are backlit by translucent white light. PINK FLOYD is all that is listed. I expect a more sophisticated place, and that surprise continues when the doors open at 7 o’clock, and we enter. Security guards pat us down, looking for alcohol in bottles. They don’t seem to care about anyone carrying in pipes or joints. We pass through a set of open double doors and reach the main arena.

Fred leads us to the stage, and we sit on the floor twenty feet from the edge where we can get a clear view. I can see that Winterland isn’t designed for intimate musical performances—it’s cavernous. The stage is at the far end of the narrow side of the open floor. There are rows of seats surrounding the floor on the main level, and even more in the balcony—wooden seats that look uncomfortable. The band equipment is set up—a large drum kit with two bass drums, one painted with the word PINK and the other FLOYD, three slender microphone stands, an organ and electric piano to the right of the stage, and small guitar amplifiers on either side of the drum kit. A white screen hangs backstage and large public address speakers are stacked to the right and left sides of the stage. Music is playing—the Rolling Stones album, Sticky Fingers, released last April. The high ceiling is mottled with cracking plaster and a few dirty windows are illuminated by the fading, evening light.

The building looks as if it’s about to collapse. Acoustically it’s also a ruin, though I don’t know that yet. Over the next few months, I learn where the best seats for decent sound are located if the live mix is performed by an engineer who has not yet lost his hearing. During some performances I hear the music bounce off the back of the hall when the stage was set up at the far end—the decay is both physical and auditory. In some later concerts the stage is located on the right-hand side, parallel to the long side of the arena, and the first rows of the balcony provide a clear view and excellent sound. In other areas it’s like listening to the music in an enormous tin can, especially when bands are appropriately deafening, even when the place is packed. That night it is uniquely empty.

There are only about five hundred people in the auditorium. Some folks have brought blankets and soft rugs to sit on, and for some reason everyone is speaking in lowered voices. I chat with the folks sitting next to me and when they learn that I know nothing about Pink Floyd they smile and inform me that I am in for a “real trip.” I recognize the evidence that indicates that some members of the audience have taken LSD—dilated pupils. I feel calm. Fred’s hashish is having a placid effect.

The concert is scheduled to start at 8 o’clock, but the hour passes by, and no one appears. A half hour later a roadie comes onstage and apologizes for the late start and says that a film will be presented in the meantime. I’m grateful for this because the Rolling Stones are repeating endlessly, and I am weary of hearing “Brown Sugar.”

The house lights go down, and the film starts—Woody Allen’s debut, What’s Up Tiger Lily? I’ve never seen it before and it’s hilarious because he overdubbed new dialogue on a second-rate Japanese spy film so that the plot is a mystery search for the world’s best egg salad recipe.


The setlist continues with “Atom Heart Mother,” “Embryo,” “One of these Days,” and “Cymbaline,” complex pieces that range through a variety of expressions and moods. I wonder where this journey will end. I am exhausted and I’ve lost track of time.

Gilmour creates a plaintive melodic tension that trembles in the air. The electric piano generates notes that sound like sonar pings from a submarine deep under the surface of the sea. I feel as if I am standing on the shore of the deep—a pacific and thoughtful space where I am preparing to swim in the sea of my own imagination, illuminated by color and light, guided by the music as a lantern and mentor. A benign place, despite its otherworldly quality. I am a wanderer. The light is within me and outside of me and wants the best for my journey. I hear the lyric— “the echo of a distant tide comes willowing across the sand / and everything is green and submarine.”

At the end of each verse there is a chromatic rise and fall, augmented by the metallic timbre of the Stratocaster until it cuts loose with a keening solo. The band begins rocking once more in a definitive blues. The solo breaks off—replaced by screaming phrases sliding through the backbeat. I look around me—the audience is swaying in time.

The music changes again—we slip deeper into the submarine sea. While the keyboards create a backdrop of soft whispers and moans, the guitar mimics the sound of crying seagulls gliding on a canvas of air. The cries cease, and for a few moments we are suspended, as if we are in a roller coaster that has climbed to the top of a peak, anticipating the proper moment to race down the other side. The music keeps us in suspense at that moment of hesitation as a chromatic chord pattern began in a repetitive loop, not resolving, holding the ride in stasis. Then the guitar rings out like a brass fanfare, and we slid down the steep side of where we had been poised. at the bottom we rest and a solemn guitar solo guides the music to a lingering, slow fade.

The audience is silent. We are unable to immediately break the enchantment that has been cast upon us. Within moments loud cheers and applause break out. “That was ‘Echoes’ which is on our new album, Meddle. Thank you and goodnight.” The house lights come on and I blink in the incandescence of what seems like unexpected daylight. The audience cheers and demands an encore—I amble closer to the center of the stage.