Pink Floyd in Pompeii

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Bill Caraher posted on the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock and the event’s implications for landscape archaeology (see here). Thinking about the archaeology of concert locations, I was reminded of a performance that Pink Floyd filmed inside the ancient amphitheater of Pompeii in 1971, which, interestingly enough, was conceived as “an anti-Woodstock film” by director Adrian Maben. The film is not very well known, although it occasionally turns up on PBS fund drives (see YouTube excerpt here). Live at Pompeii includes psychedelic images interspersed in the final editing. One of the most memorable shots, as far as I can remember, involved laying out Pink Floyd’s equipment along a straight line. The drums, amplifiers, guitars, speakers, etc. make an interesting line of monumental material culture. It was around this time, that Pink Floyd also collaborated with Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni in Zabriskie Point (1970), filmed in Death Valley National Park, California. One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is the explosion of a middle-class home with Pink Floyd’s soundtrack on the background. Pink Floyd also performed a controversial concert in 1989, this time, afloat a barge at Saint Mark’s Square in Venice (see YouTube excerpt here, with the Doge’s palace flashing in the background).

Archaeological sites have grown to be popular venues for concerts. Only this last month (August 5, 2009), the Greek Ministry of Culture organized “Greece by Moonlight,” opening 81 sites to the general public for some romantic moon-watching. Some “Greece by Moonlight” sites featured concerts. Moon-gazing was a typical past-time on the Acropolis through the 1930s. My mother, who grew up in Plaka, once told me that the Acropolis was not only continuously open to the public but also the romantic hot spot. This became the narrative structure in George Seferis novel Six Nights on the Acropolis, published posthumously in 1974. The Athens Festival every summer fills up the Roman theater of Herodes Atticus below the Acropolis. But interestingly enough, rock concerts are rarely hosted on Greek archaeological sites. The outdoor theater of Lycabettus is where those venues are held; the unpreposessing steel structure was designed by a great architect from the 1930s, Takis Zenetos, the only Greek to study at the Bauhaus. In addition to the concert series on Lycabettus, Rock Wave has become the annual Greek Woodstock. Before the 2004 Olympics, the three-day rock festival took place at different venues, like the old velodrome. Since 2004, the festival is held outside of Athens, in Malakasa, on the 37th km of the Athens-Lamia National Highway. Much of the audience camps out in this atypically extra-urban terrain. In the future, I’m sure, it will offer a case study of landscape archaeology.

Finally, some words about Pink Floyd’s role in punk archaeology. Many rock listeners would find Pink Floyd to be anti-punk. After Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Pink Floyd became the archetypical example of classic stadium rock that caused the very punk rebellion. Toby Manning discusses this issue, “I Hate Pink Floyd: Pink Floyd and Punk,” in Pink Floyd: The Rough Guide (2006), p. 107. Most famously, John Lydon wore a Pink Floyd t-shirt with “I Hate” scrolled across it, when Malcolm McClaren first spotted him on a street in London. McClaren turned Lydon into Johnny Rotten, the lead singer of the Sex Pistols. Despite the apocryphal origins, Pink Floyd was extremely influential to the art-rock strand of punk. And amusingly in 2005, John Lydon declared that his 1975 t-shirt was a joke and that he actually loved Pink Floyd.

One Response to “Pink Floyd in Pompeii”

  1. Performing the Margins: Punk and Place « Punk Archaeology Says:

    […] the Margins: Punk and Place By Bill Caraher Even as Kostis was conjuring his posts on Pink Floyd at Pompeii and the Scorpions at Mytilene, another iconic locus of punk rock magic is reaching the end of its […]

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