Pink Floyd's retrogressive progression

PASADENA, Calif. - Ask the trio of graying British gentlemen in Pink Floyd why their music clicks with zillions of teens, and you'll get three answers:

"I have no explanation."
"Can't say, really."
"I don't have a theory."

Even young fans, usually loathe to adopt the musical tastes of parents, are bewildered. "I like Pink Floyd more than Pearl Jam," Hal Ballard, 20, says sheepishly at a recent Rose Bowl show, eighth on a U.S. tour that ends in July. "It's one thing my folks and I agree on. Kinda creepy, huh?"

Chris Suterro, 16, learned about Floyd from aunts and uncles who "are a little younger than my parents, so I listened."

Paul Duffin, 17, a longtime devotee (since age 12), says the British supergroup "ranks up there with the Who. The new bands just aren't as deep as Pink Floyd."

The Division Bell, the band's first studio album since 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason, is Pink Floyd's fourth No. 1 album. They've sold 140 million albums worldwide, including 23 million of 1973's The Dark Side of the Moon, which sells 1 million copies annually and is the fourth biggest selling album in U.S. history. It stayed on Billboard's top 200 chart a record 741 weeks and is now No. 1 on the catalog chart, a notch above The Wall, their double album that's sold 20 million-plus copies worldwide.

"It's hard to tell how they attract a younger demographic," says Billboard columnist Geoff Mayfield, theorizing that Dark Side's long chart ride created an irresistible mystique for fans accustomed to disposable pop. While Neil Young may appeal to kids because he's the godfather of grunge, Floyd has no such connection to '90s music.

The new Bell "sounds like an older Pink Floyd album. I can't think of an act that has caught younger consumers' favor that would lead them to Pink Floyd. This is a unique situation."

Baby boomers and slackers alike have scooped up 1 million tickets to the first 22 shows of the tour, which is 80% sold out.

"I thought coming here would be like a high school reunion," says Don Crawford, 43, an early Floyd disciple surveying the crowd. "It is - class of 1990."

"It's a lovely thing to see a new generation in our audience, the kids of people who used to see us," singer/guitarist David Gilmour, 48, says backstage. "There are people who say we should make room for younger bands. That's not the way it works. They can make their own room."

Gilmour pays little mind to new acts, instead following the careers of Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and "dreary old people I find uplifting." And he is not driven to stay ahead of trends du jour.

"I can't say that my greatest desire is to be innovative or break new frontiers. I just hope to make music that moves people a little bit and makes them think. We don't claim to have solutions to life's great problems."

"We are the teen-agers who won't let go!" jokes drummer Nick Mason, 50, adding with scholarly gravity, "A large number of preconceptions about rock 'n' roll were invented by managers and agents and the press at a time when no one knew anything about it. We started with the idea that it's a teen-age thing you grow out of, when in fact it's expanded to become the major musical force. Yet we still pretend it's something to do with four lovable mop tops."

"I'm amazed that people who weren't born when we started making records know all our old stuff," says keyboardist Rick Wright, 48. But the band resists riding a nostalgia wave. Known for lavish productions, Floyd strives to top itself with each tour. "That pressure is why we've come up with this show. It's a big jump visually from the last one."

The 700-ton set, one of three hopscotching the country in 49 trucks, makes Floyd's outing, its first since 1988, the most ambitious since U2's Zoo TV Tour. The crew of 200 (requiring 1,200 tea bags a day) includes scores of technicians.

"It is daunting and intimidating to get this beast on the road again," Gilmour says. "An awful lot of care and hard work goes into it. We don't skimp or cut corners."

As Floyd sees it, the colossal productions expand creative options, embrace the audience and compensate for motionless players. "We're not and never have been onstage personalities," Gilmour says.

Named after Georgia bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, the band made its debut in 1967 with Arnold Layne, a single about a transvestite. After countless LSD flights, guiding light Syd Barrett drifted into a psychological void and was replaced by Gilmour in 1968. Wright, feuding with songwriter Roger Waters, left in 1984, only to return after Waters quit in 1985.

Acrimony lingered between the remaining members and Waters, who in 1986 attempted to legally prevent his former bandmates from continuing as Pink Floyd.

"It's settled," says Gilmour, admitting the uncertainty of their claim to the name was stressful during the last album and tour. "He doesn't seem to want to bug us anymore."

Chances of a reunion? "I don't foresee it."

Mason regrets the split's rancor. "It's a shame we didn't manage it better. If my children behaved like that, I'd be very cross.

Genesis is a better example of how it should be done. Peter Gabriel left. No one was thrilled, but at least they behaved in a grown-up way.

"With Roger, it seemed like a contact sport. It shouldn't matter who sells more records or tickets, as long as you make the living you want to. This isn't the Super Bowl."

Nor is it a fraternity. Outside of touring and recording, the three seldom socialize, leading cozy lives in London with wives and children.

"The musical compatibility is what counts," Gilmour says. "Our styles suit each other. I feel comfortable with those guys."

The lack of personal chemistry "doesn't matter a damn," says Mason, citing key elements of a band's success: "A good songwriter, a certain amount of musicianship and enormous drive."

The band is only slightly annoyed at a recent rash of negative reviews. After all, Dark Side was trashed initially and now enjoys status as a masterpiece, though Gilmour disagrees with its rep as rock's most depressing song cycle.

"I don't find it bleak or despairing," he says. "Good music allied with depressing sentiments can be very uplifting. The darker emotions are the more powerful ones. Love songs, the ones that work, are about lost love."

Though pleased that young fans probe Floyd's songs for enlightenment, Gilmour's puzzled by worshipful followers who regard the band as oracles.

"They attach far too much importance to us," he says. "Some obsessives think we're in control of something they don't understand or we have some telephone line to the powers that be. We make music to stimulate and entertain. We make it as deep and meaningful as we can, but it's only pop music."

Copyright 1994, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.