In many ways “The Wall” is a sensation, dramatization of Roger Waters life. Many of the struggles facing the narrative character Pink Floyd are real struggles that Waters faced himself. The loss of a father due to war, an over bearing mother, soul crushing educational experiences, failed marriage, drug addiction, and mixed feelings about a successful music career. How some of these I do not know if they happened to Water’s personally, like I do not know what his mother or early schooling was like, but some of these things do fit, like the untimely death of his father and his multiple divorces.
In many ways, the character Pink Floyd in “The Wall” is a personification of all the members of Pink Floyd. The drug abuse of Syd Barret, and the general unhappiness of the musician’s life from all. It is only fitting that Waters’ has the most in common with this fictional manifestation, since he was the driving force of creativity in the band.
If there is one thing “The Wall” is about, it must be madness.
For many years I have pondered the true overarching theme of the story within “The Wall” and this is the conclusion I must draw, insanity is the deepest message of Roger Water’s Magnum Opus. All the suffering discussed in the last two reviews, that is the driving force, the plot, but not the point, the end result is the madness.
Like any good musical there is a continuity in “The Wall,” a return there to, with similar styles and sounds. If “The Wall” has an overture it must be “In The Flesh(?)”
The first track on “The Wall” is “In The Flesh?” Initially the song may appear to be little more than a meta introduction to the album. A singer is addressing an audience, provoking them with assumptions and questions. To the uninitiated this introduction could be a little jarring. In the movie edition, Bob Geldof portraying Pink is dressed an awful lot like a Nazi as he greets a crowd of spectators. It is a very short song, and quickly the short unnerving speech ends with a dark invitation:
“If you want to find our what’s behind these cold eyes,
You’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise.”
How could we refuse? We must see past the disguise and learn more about Pink Floyd, both the band and the fictional avatar representing them. What we learn is summarized in the two earlier reviews, we see a man tortured by loss, disappointment and isolation. The climax of the album hits with “Comfortably Numb” and what follows is madness.
In the movie “The Wall” the dual elements of drugs abuse and disillusionment ruin and wreck the protagonist to the point where the other within begins to emerge. This is visuall represented with Geldof’s Pink’s skin melting and the character frantically tearing away at his own flesh until he rips the flesh open and is revealed underneath to be the fascist we saw in the opening track.
We are then greeted with a return to continuity, and “In The Flesh” plays. There is no longer a question mark, as the mystery is solved, we now see what was behind those cold eyes, a tortured man, now a ruined soul, a Nazi allegory.
In The Flesh:
“I've got some bad news for you, sunshine,
Pink isn't well, he stayed back at the hotel,
And they sent us along as a surrogate band,
We're going to find out where you fans really stand.
Are there any queers in the theater tonight?
Get 'em up against the wall,
Now, there's one in the spotlight,
He don't look right to me,
Then get him up against the wall (get them)
Now, that one looks Jewish,
And that one's a coon,
Who let all this riffraff into the room?
There's one smoking a joint,
And another with spots.
If I had my way, I'd have all of them shot.”
This, combined with the use of Nazi imagery in “The Wall” caused a lot of concern for some. Simple minded fools with no appreciation for context jumped to the ridiculous conclusion that Pink Floyd were supportive of Nazism. The first fundamental flaw in this thinking is failing to see that this dark transformation is used as a metaphor for insanity. After years of abuse the Pink Floyd character devolves into an evil tyrant, and possibly only a tyrant within his own mind, since the primary theme of “The Wall” is madness, and madness is a prerequisite for acceptance of something as vile as Nazism. The second enormous flaw is this simple-minded interpretation is the rather obvious fact that the visuals are brutality is equally influenced by Stalin’s Soviet Union. The marching hammers is one of the most memorable visuals in “The Wall” and this is clearly a direct refence to the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union. However, missing the first point is poetically disastrous.
The entire Wall album is about losing one’s self. Note the line “Pink isn’t well he stayed back at the hotel,” suggesting that the character who once was, is no longer present. Another mind has taken over and with it segregation and possibly genocide. This works symbolically for two major reasons, one it shows the duality of man, good and evil. The truth is, there are no monsters, just other humans. It is easy to label horrible people as monsters because it is a simple explanation that requires no depth of thought, also it is more comfortable because it aids in the separation of the reality that we share a lot in common with our fellow humans, including the one’s who disgust and horrify us. Secondly, insanity is the theme, and Pink Floyd, the character has lost his mind and become the worst thing imaginable, a Communist/Nazi allegory, the modern day demons and boogiemen of the world.
This made perfect sense to me when I was young. It takes something complicated and horrible for someone to become quantifiably evil, and insanity and losing control, the worst outcome would be to become that very evil thing.
All that is left is a rampage and a lamentation.
Then after much beautiful musical ugliness we reach the end, we reach “The Trial.”
Toys in the attic, I am crazy,
Truly gone fishing.
They must have taken my marbles away.
Crazy, toys in the attic he is crazy.”
Over the rainbow, I am crazy,
Bars in the window.
There must have been a door there in the wall,
When I came in.
Crazy, over the rainbow, he is crazy.”
And these two versions of “The Trial’s” chorus sum up the end nicely. Pink has lost his mind and been trapped within the wall for so long he has lost himself.
It is a powerful ending. It haunted my dreams for years. What if I lost my mind and all my deepest fears were revealed? Would my peers be sympathetic or would they castigate me, banish me behind a wall, separating me from everyone else, leaving me as some mad bugger beating heart against the wall? It is a natural concern, not the hyperbolic doom that is the conclusion of “The Wall” but the feelings of isolation, distrust and even fear of those around you, and having it stem entirely from self-doubt and self-loathing. Everyone, in theory can marginally at least relate to this, but “The Wall” is a such a extreme showcase of such emotions that it can frighten and intimidate and even confuse many listeners. It is an ugly truth, that underneath melting skin something ugly lays in wait, and it is inside all of us. All of us are a composition of positives and negatives, and it is a combination of strength and condition that keeps us from slipping into madness, but everyone is capable of falling into it.
There is a lot to ponder, but of course there is, there is so much emotion and phycology captured within “The Wall.” “The Wall” is all in all a very sad album, but that is par for the course with Pink Floyd. The saddest thing is the greatest rock album ever needed to be so sad. Pink Floyd, all of them, had so much sadness within them, yet they took that and made something so beautiful. That was the great inspiration for me when listening to “The Wall” so much when I was young, taking something negative and making it a positive. So much so, that when I listen to “The Wall” now, I rarely feel sad, all I feel, is inspired. Maybe that is why I consider it to be the greatest album of all time.
Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.
- Colin Kelly