Psychedelic Faeryland

In a previous posting I looked at the influence of British folklore and myths on musician Marc Bolan, as well as mentioning his personal devotion to the Great God Pan. Here I offer another brief glimpse of mythology and legend at work in contemporary rock.

The first album released by Pink Floyd in August 1967 was Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The title is taken from chapter seven of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, a strange, slightly hallucinogenic episode in which Ratty and Mole meet the Great God Pan on an island, isolated at the end of a side branch of the river where they live. It’s dawn and they are drawn inexorably into his presence, struck dumb with awe and reverence.

As late as July that year, the intended title of the album was Projection, but frontman Syd Barrett decided instead to borrow the name from one of his favourite books. Moreover, Barrett claimed to have had a dream, or vision, in which he met Pan (and other characters from the book) and the Great God had disclosed to him the secrets of the workings of Nature. To some extent, even, he believed that this encounter had resulted in him being an earthly embodiment of the deity.

The album tracks themselves didn’t refer to Pan, but there were still mythological references. The song Matilda Mother describes a child being read to in bed and the impact the fairy stories and their imagery have on his/ her imagination:

“Wandering and dreaming
The words have different meaning
Yes they did

For all the time spent in that room
The doll’s house, darkness, old perfume
And fairy stories held me high on
Clouds of sunlight floating by
Oh mother, tell me more
Tell me more”

Secondly, we have Barrett’s song The Gnome, apparently drawing upon Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the work of J R R Tolkien, but full of traditional faery images and conventions. It concerns:

“A gnome named Grimble Gromble
And little gnomes stay in their homes
Eating, sleeping
Drinking their wine
He wore a scarlet tunic
A blue green hood, it looked quite good
He had a big adventure
Amidst the grass, fresh air at last
Wining, dining
Biding his time…”

As is well known, Barrett succumbed to drug use and was ejected from Pink Floyd before becoming a virtual recluse. Reading the lyrics, this may not entirely surprise us, but the songs also confirm the persistent and powerful influence of Pan and Faery in the British imagination, especially during the late 1960s and early ’70s.

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