Friday, January 20, 2012

"Fearless" - Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd around the time of "Fearless"/Meddle (1971)
This obscure but beloved Pink Floyd number, from perhaps their first fully-realized record, also possesses one of the most gorgeous gossamer melodies in the Floyd canon -- up there with "Wish You Were Here" and "Hey You". As sensitively sung and strummed by lead guitarist David Gilmour (second from left above), it's not an obvious anthem in the way of "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2" (which I exclude from this list, because I'm not sure the message of "we don't need no education" has much progressive potential). On closer examination, though, the lyrics of "Fearless" -- apart from being exquisitely crafted -- contain considerable athemic potential:

You say the hill's too steep to climb,
Chiding!
You say you'd like to see me try,
Climbing!
You pick the place and I'll choose the time
And I'll climb
The hill in my own way
Just wait a while, for the right day
And as I rise above the treeline and the clouds
I look down hear the sound of the things you said today.


Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd, smiling
Merciless, the magistrate turns 'round, frowning
And who's the fool who wears the crown?
Go down in your own way
And everyday is the right day
And as you rise above the fearlines in his frown
You look down
Hear the sound of the faces in the crowd.

Unlike later, more aggressive Floyd cuts from the Roger Waters-dominated period (notably on the albums Animals and The Wall), authority figures are here personified (in the form of the "merciless" magistrate -- can't you just see the "fearlines in his frown"?), rather than (brilliantly) caricatured, à la the lawyer and judge in Waters's "The Trial".

The idiot/fool makes a perfect counterpoint to the magistrate -- when "fearlessly [he] face[s] the crowd, smiling," it's hard not to smile with him. He reminds us of the Foolish spirit that has imbued so much sociocultural transformation and progressive activism, from the surrealists and situationists, through the Beats, to Johnny Rotten and the Guerilla Girls. The subversive unmasking of power -- "And who's the fool who wears the crown?" -- is a final, delightful conceit.


Like other songs on our list, "Fearless" charts an upward and uplifting trajectory (see "Rise Up", "Things Can Only Get Better", "Uprising"). Here, though, the lyrics take us to the summit and beyond, offering a bird's-eye view that somehow celebrates humanity as it lightly mocks its foibles and figureheads.

Here's the original recording of "Fearless," from the 1971 album Meddle (also known as "the one before Dark Side of the Moon"). The delirious crowd singalong and chanting at the end ("You'll Never Walk Alone," recorded live at Liverpool FC's football stadium) bolsters the anthemic feel:


I know of no live performance or recording of the song by Pink Floyd.

Other Resources

Available on Pink Floyd, Meddle (1971), track 3.












A Wikipedia stub for "Fearless".

A reggified remix by The Orb/DJ Fish:


A live cover version by The Black Crowes (2010):


When I think of the Fool figure in contemporary society and culture, I can't help thinking of Greil Marcus's  Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century -- one of that century's essential works of cultural criticism. Its exploration of the situationist/surrealist strand, and its deployment of Johnny Rotten/John Lydon as a central "character," is quite revelatory.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please be constructive in your comments.