Popular music discussion blog Rock Town Hall has awarded one of its very own Townspeople, andyr, its second annual Rock Badge of Courage for his live vocal performance of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” at a recent show by the Narberth, Pennsylvania–based cover band extraordinaire Narband.
You may recall our initial Rock Badge of Courage recipient, Bruce Springsteen, for his performance of “Born in the USA.” The Rock Badge of Courage is the highest artistic decoration awarded by Rock Town Hall, even higher than induction in the Hall’s Foyer of Fame. It is bestowed on musicians who distinguish themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her artistic cred above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against The Man, apathetic bandmates, or any other enemy of The Power & Glory of Rock.” Springsteen’s award required little explanation, but andyr’s may require some context.
I’ve counted andyr as a “close personal friend” for 40 years. Not once, in all those years and countless musical discussions and experiences has he ever expressed even the slightest admiration for anything related to Pink Floyd. Trust me, he’s a cool guy and typically has great taste in music, but he doesn’t even care for the Syd Barrett stuff or the song “Wish You Were Here.” He even finds the good in stuff a lot of us might think is crap, provided it has cool drum and bass parts, but he may be the only music lover I know who hasn’t at least acknowledged that “Floyd has some cool album covers.” Even E. Pluribus Gergely would grant the band a cool album cover or two. The man has been steadfast in his refusal to enjoy a single thing about Pink Floyd.
Then, no more than 2 months ago, a musical mission was hatched that would test andyr’s rock courage like no test before. He and Townsman Sethro, another one of my longtime bandmates and close personal friends, were asked to join Narband, led by another Townsman, ace guitarist Buddy Whelan and a mutual friend of Whelan and our Rock Badge of Courage recipient who lacks, as far as I know, an RTH handle. Andyr was a little anxious but excited to cram for 2 sets’ worth of mostly Classic Rock and early ’80s new wave hits—especially with his trusty drummer buddy at his back—but one song on the proposed set list caused beads of sweat to form on his brow even as he discussed it with us at rehearsal one night: Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”
For additional context, our band, an original band of little note that andyr, Sethro, chickenfrank, and I (along with some others who choose not to soil their reputation in these hallowed halls) is chock full of once-teenage Floyd haters, especially chickenfrank, whose distaste for Floyd matches that of andyr’s yet who, in his single days it is suspected, would have tolerated a Pink Floyd album side for the prospect of sex.
When andyr told us about this one song that was troubling him we bombarded him with wise-ass questions about whether he’d have to sing the echoed lines, who would do the scream, who would launch the pig, etc. He took it in good humor, but we could tell he was concerned. Sethro was a little concerned too, but mostly because he’d have to drum at such an unnaturally lumbering tempo. He’s an audiophile, so at least he’s had that angle of appreciation for Pink Floyd. I’m pretty sure he bought The Wall when it came out, and I know he was the impetus for me accompanying him to the movie in high school and gaining my first grain of respect for the band. I’ve known andyr forever, and I knew that night that this may be his toughest test as a musician, if not man, ever.
It’s hard to say which of my friends is more “true to himself,” andyr or E. Pluribus Gergely. It’s frustrating, sometimes, how inflexible they can be, how infrequently they will bend for the good of the gang or surprise me with an opinion on a record. I could fill this blog’s server space with all the instances of andyr’s refusal to do what was not true to his own sense of self. I count on these friends for their stability, however, and they are so sincerely inflexible that I inevitably see this quality as a character strength rather than flaw. They call me, in their own ways, on all the times I stretch myself a little beyond my means to keep the flow. I don’t regret my role in life, but there’s too much change in this world, too many times when we’re expected to give way for the good of society. It’s good to know there are a few people out there who won’t listen to a Pink Floyd album side even for the promise of sex.
Andyr and Sethro kept us abreast of preparations for this gig. The rest of our band’s members had no doubt they’d deliver to the high standards already set by the founding members and the songs they hand-selected for The People. Andyr and Sethro are all about delivering for The People, but chickenfrank and I weren’t going to pass up the opportunity to give our friends shit over this one hurdle. Come the big night and the final song of the first set and it’s time for Andyr to get “Comfortably Numb.” We stayed out of his direct line of sight so as not to distract him, but when he sang the opening “Hello,” chick and I couldn’t resist looking at each other and mouthing the echoed lines. Andyr soldiered on, doing his thing; Sethro kept the tempo; and Buddy Whelan got his rocks off with some primo David Gilmour riffing. The band’s final song for that set was as strong and as fun as all the songs that went down (for me) way easier before that one, including Roxy Music’s “Love Is the Drug” and Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” a song, I was reminded, in an established, aesthetically decent band’s catalog that so far outshines anything else it has ever done like no other song in no other band’s catalog of similar aesthetic merit and longevity.
Not to take anything away from his Narband-mates nor to suggest that andyr is a coward, because no fist-pumping, balls-out lead singer can ever be accused of cowardice, but andyr showed immense bravery with his performance of that most unlikely (for him) song. As I’ve tried to express, andyr’s his own man; he wears the uniform of no army or other organization. His bravery is expressed on a daily basis while clad in his own threads. I can’t remember the last time I saw my old friend go that far outside himself for the good of The People—and don’t think The People were not appreciative. When the verses were over he exited stage left and let his mates grab the song’s true Power & Glory. Courage—and grace—under fire! Congratulations, my friend.