The Wall

I found this in the used bin at Magnolia Thunderpussy for $7.99 on the same frustrating Record Store Day trip that I picked up Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” (ironic, eh?) and I held off listening to it until about two weeks ago (I think the cracks in the case add to the aesthetic of the cover).  Having glanced at the back cover, I knew the big 3 singles: “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II”, “Hey You” (there is an amazing scene in the movie The Squid and the Whale in which a not-yet-famous Jesse Eisenberg performs and pretends to have written this song at a high school talent show), and “Comfortably Numb”.  And I thought I had a general idea of what “The Wall” was about (I was actually kind of off on that), but I had never listened to the album before.  So I finally gave this a spin…and I didn’t get it.  I was even reading along with the lyrics on the liner notes, but the plot just seemed to jump around too much.  And some of the songs just seemed like incomplete fragments.  I was lost.

The Wall DVD

So then I decided to watch the movie they made of this, Pink Floyd The Wall, which was actually written by Roger Waters (who wrote most of the music as well).  And it made a little more sense, but not much.  I was still pretty much lost.  The visuals in the movie are really cool, especially the animated parts, and they do help to interpret many of the songs (why the hell hasn’t this movie seen a blu ray release yet?).  But again, the overarching plot sort of escaped me.  Like, why does the rock star (I hate to call him Pink just because that name seems to have been corrupted by that angry pop rock chick…maybe I’ll call him Pinkerton as a Weezer reference…or maybe I’ll just call him the rock star…) become a Neo-Nazi?  Especially if he is upset that his father was killed by the Nazis?  So I watched the movie again with the Roger Waters commentary on and then it all finally started to fall into place (except that Neo-Nazi stuff…even Waters couldn’t really explain that).  It’s about an alienated rock star who goes crazy.  Brilliant.  Ok, moving on.

I’m not saying I didn’t like it.  It just took me awhile to figure it out.  See, having heard “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” a million times, I had interpreted that song as being about forcing kids into careers they don’t want.  You know, a working class hero rages against the machine kind of thing.  From the perspective, the kids become the bricks in the wall of society (Ice Cube and I actually had the same interpretation).  But from Waters’ point of view, it’s the abuse from the teachers in his youth that cause the rock star to eventually add bricks to his wall of alienation.  Other bricks then include the death of his father, an overprotective mother, separation from his wife, etc.  All of this leads to madness, and eventually he becomes a Neo-Nazi and beats up his fans.  It’s pretty much the blueprint for every successful rock band in the early nineties (minus the Neo-Nazi crap).

Anyway, the music is pretty good.  Again, some of the songs seem too short, almost like fragments of ideas, but apparently Pink Floyd was constrained at the time to about 80 minutes (the maximum length of a double vinyl LP).  There is actually a double CD live version, officially titled Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980-1981 that extends almost all of the songs to fuller versions.  It even adds a couple of extra songs that were cut from the original album.  Overall it’s about 25 minutes longer than the original album, and it just feels more complete.  There is some debate over whether this is a concept album or a rock opera.  I tend to lean on the side of concept album, although I have to admit it is a very theatrical record.  The main reason though is that almost the entire story is told through a third-person narrator.  It’s missing things that rock operas, musicals, operettas, etc. tend to have, such as first-person soliloquy style arias and character dialog through recitative.  So yeah, in my mind it’s a concept album, not a rock opera.  But I do like the way the musical themes from “In the Flesh” and all three “Another Brick in the Wall”s are referenced throughout the whole album.

Is There Anybody Out There

So, as a teacher, I feel I need to put in my two cents on the “we don’t need no education” thing.  Other artists have referenced similar themes so far on this list, most notably John Lennon on “Working Class Hero” (“When they’ve tortured and scared you for 20 odd years, then they expect you to pick a career”) and Bruce Springsteen on “No Surrender” (“We busted out of class to get away from those fools, we learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school”).  And I get it…at it’s worst school can be a virtual prison for children. A factory forcing kids to do things they don’t want to do.  A tool of the aristocracy used to maintain the status quo.  But at it’s best, education is an opportunity to explore, to learn, to develop one’s interests and skill.  A vehicle for social mobility in a democratic society.  Is education at it’s best all the time?  Definitely not.  But is it at it’s worst either?  I don’t think so.  There has been enough education reform over the years, and enough of us have entered the system with the desire to change the system that old prison/factory model doesn’t apply in most schools anymore.  Just sayin’.  Fight the powers that be!  I’m out.

Other lists: “Comfortably Numb” is #321 and “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” is #384 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  See the entry for The Dark Side of the Moon (#43) for Pink Floyd’s other RS accolades.

Ch-ch-changes: Somehow, we are back on track and this album was #87 on the original list as well.

My favourite track: “Comfortably Numb”

Honourable mention: “Hey You”

Quote: “We don’t need no education.  We don’t need no thought control.”