Reading Log: John Cavanagh’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn (A 33 1/3 Book)


Yup, more rock journalism. I’m not tired of it yet.

Cavanagh sights in perfectly here, focusing on the album itself and only touching on the tumultuous events that followed (the mental illness and loss of frontman Syd Barrett). He introduces us to a massive cast of characters, and while I was never able to draw a round picture of anyone in particular, the movement and the era were captured perfectly, an uncorrupted glimpse into an incredibly interesting time and place.

Cavanagh isn’t the most sophisticated writer, but any shortcomings in his prose are offset by his boundless enthusiasm for all things Pink Floyd (focused on Piper, of course). It’s infectious, and his liberal use of exclamation marks -a practice that normally sets my teeth on edge- is endearing. This isn’t literary fiction. It’s a guy who’s madly in love with a piece of art, talking to all the people involved in making it and distilling the result into something accessible enough for the casual fans/passers-by and involved enough for the fanatics.

It’s a great story, it’s a great album. A book like this can go wrong so easily; veering off into inside baseball and the exclusionary, referential language of rock-geekdom, obsession over the dramatic tabloid celebrity or even sinking into saccharine nostalgia. This book is none of those things. It’s exactly what it claims to be; the celebration of a great moment in musical history, supported by an exhaustive body of interviews with the people who made it happen.

Recommendation: Read if you like Pink Floyd, counterculture, or good stories about weird shit. Pass if you hate exclamation marks or genuine enthusiasm.


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