David Gilmour: Touching the Sun

David Gilmour: Photo Credit Kathy Dickson

David Gilmour kicked off the North American leg of his Rattle That Lock tour a year ago, this month, the first outing for the Pink Floyd guitarist since his On An Island tour in 2006. Of the 11 U.S. dates Gilmour played last spring, I was fortunate enough to have attended four of them: one in Toronto and three consecutive, magical nights in New York City. Prior to this solo run of dates, I’d not heard Gilmour play live since The Division Bell tour back in 1994, which, sadly, turned out to be the band’s last hurrah.

I have been a fan (some would say fanatic) of Floyd’s for what seems nearly my whole life now. “Echoes,” from the band’s 1971 release ‘Meddle,’ served as my progressive rock awakening. I was 13 when I first heard Gilmour’s ethereal, atmospheric tone. Those deep, deep bends, those languid slides into oblivion and philosophical lyrics blew my young, impressionable mind. “And I am you and what I see is me.” Yeah, I was hooked.

I caught every Floyd tour from ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ on, both here in Pittsburgh and in nearby Cleveland. Despite the passage of decades, those Pink Floyd shows are crystallized in memory: the inflatable pig, the ever-present floating orb that projected mesmerizing images above the stage, the mirror ball that opened into a lotus flower during Gilmour’s “Comfortably Numb” solo. Classic Floyd music under the stars. The elegance of Gilmour’s unmistakable guitar playing, the signature sound so many guitarists lust after. A sound that, after 22 long years and counting, I’d all but given up on ever hearing live again.

Then in summer 2015 came word of a short North American tour in support of Gilmour’s latest release, ‘Rattle That Lock,’ his first solo album in nearly a decade. There was celebration in my house, and when tickets went up shortly thereafter, I had amassed a panel of family members to strategically work Ticketmaster. My kitchen had turned into a war room, each of us manning various laptops and tablets, shouting out sections and seat numbers and cities as they popped up. In the scramble for the prized tickets, I came out with four.

What a fortuitous coincidence that Gilmour’s wife, Polly Samson—an English novelist, short-story writer, journalist and lyricist on ‘The Division Bell,’ ‘On an Island, ‘The Endless River’ and ‘Rattle That Lock’—released her fourth book, “The Kindness,” the same year her husband released ‘Rattle That Lock’ She joined Gilmour on tour to promote the book in select cities. This, I discovered a couple days prior to hitting the road for Toronto, while aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed. I came upon a post which mentioned Samson had given a reading the previous evening in Los Angeles. The post also divulged this little nugget: Joining Samson for the Q&A portion of the reading that evening was none other than the man himself—her husband, my guitar hero, David Gilmour.

When I arrived in Toronto a few days later for the show, I ditched my bags at the hotel, freshened up, and hotfooted it to Ben McNally Books, where, after a little digging, I’d discovered Ms. Samson would be giving a reading the night before the concert. By the time, I hit the bookstore, it was standing room only. I headed stage right, some 12 feet from where Mr. Gilmour would join his wife, graciously fielding questions from an audience utterly gob smacked to be in his presence.

The soft-spoken Gilmour is a man of few words, Samson shared. He prefers to speak through his music, she said as her gallant husband kept steering the audience back to the reason for the gathering—his wife’s latest novel—and away from questions about his former band. Samson seemed unfazed by all the fuss over Floyd. After all, she has collaborated with Gilmour on some of Floyd’s most beloved hits, including “High Hopes” from ‘The Division Bell.’

After the reading, we got in line for the book signing. Meeting David Gilmour was never on the map, until it suddenly was. He was seated at the table next to his wife, signing promotional postcards for ‘Rattle That Lock’ while she signed copies of her book. Now, when it comes to meeting one’s heroes, most of us have played the “What If” game. What would you say if? How would you act if? Would you lose your shit and get all fangirl if? You like to imagine you’d be eloquent, composed, together, cool. That you’d get the words out and they’d be compelling and impactful. When presented the rare chance to look a dream in the eye, I felt elation and sheer terror in equal measure. I didn’t know to jump for joy or run like hell, no pun intended. I approached the table as nonchalantly as I could, under the circumstances.

Polly Samson was as gracious as her husband. She was warm and radiated an easy familiarity that makes you feel you are longtime friends. As she signed my book, I asked if she would be giving a reading the following month during the band’s stay in New York City. Yes, she would be, she said, but it was a sold-out event. Not open to the public, I’m afraid, she added with a smile. I thanked her and slid left. I was standing smack in front of the sublime Mr. Gilmour.

What I managed that evening in Toronto was a genuine if shaky “thank you” as David wrote “To Kathy,” and then signed his name to the card. They were two of the most genuine words I’d ever spoken. What I neglected to say was, “Thank you for the music. It has meant everything to me in this life.” Gilmour looked up at me and smiled, handed me the signed card, and before I could utter another syllable, I was ushered off by one of the bookstore handlers.

Outside in the cold Toronto night, I headed for the nearest Irish pub, and over a couple pints of Guinness, I hatched a plan.

The event was a sold-out reading at Damian Barr’s Literary Salon inside the Ace Hotel in New York City. After much back and forth via email trying everything I could think of to find a way into the upcoming reading, my name was finally put on a waiting list. It was a start.

I checked back with Damian (we were on a first-name basis by now) several times in the weeks leading up to the New York shows. Nothing. When I arrived in New York City for the tour, I checked in person at the Literary Salon at precisely noon the day of the reading for any unclaimed tickets, as Damien had suggested. No go. Checked the Salon again in another hour. And again, in another hour. Not a ticket to be had.

It was getting late in the afternoon. The reading was only a few hours off. After one last desperate email to Damian, after one last no, I received a text message: Check your email. And there it was. A ticket. I would have my do-over.

The soiree was held in the basement of the Ace Hotel. The room was candlelit. There were hors d’oeuvres and drinks, a stylish, globetrotting, literary crowd. The Gilmour’s were there with their friends and family. This time I got a seat, front and center. This time Gilmour signed my timeworn copy of ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ original first pressing from the 1970s. This time I told David Gilmour what I came to say. I said it eloquently, genuinely, convincingly. And this time, he smiled and extended his hand to me. It was like touching the sun. I have wanted for nothing since.

Back in the day David Gilmour ended his Pink Floyd shows by promising to return one day—and he did, tour after tour, until the great Floyd was no more. As Gilmour waved goodbye to a sold-out Garden that final night in New York City, I waited. Listened for it. And there it was. “See you again,” he said, waving to the adoring crowd with both hands, then added, “one of these bright days.” I sincerely hope the British translation of “bright days” is a year or two.

Happy Birthday, David. We’re holding you to your promise.

1 comment

  1. Keith Maunder

    I have been a fan of Kathy’s writing for a long time and i am always pleased to come across one of her articles. As a big Pink Floyd fan myself Kathy does not disappoint with this latest article. I look forward to seeing more of her work.

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