Pink Floyd - 'The Wall'
Pink Floyd's "The Wall" is one of the most influential and symbolic albums in the entire history of music. It tells the story of the adolescence of Pink Floyd, who loses his father in World War II and is raised by an overprotective mother. The album was written in 1979 and the movie by the same name was recorded in 1982. The writer, Roger Waters, has probably expressed many of his feelings in connection to the loss of his own father during the war, in this album. At the same time the adult life of Pink is in all likelihood based upon that of the lead singer, Syd Barett, who experienced a mental breakdown as a result of his drug abuse.
The main scenes are a hotel room, a concert hall and the depths of Pink's psyche. The album chronicles his tortured life as a rock star beginning with his birth and his father's death at the Anzio bridgehead.
The movie strikingly begins with an old song by Vera Lynn called "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot". We see the adult Pink sitting in his room (notice that his Mickey Mouse-watch is upside down!). The maid knocks on his door, but it's locked, and we see short glimpses of a crowd of people trying to break through a blocked gate. As the maid opens the door the gate bursts open, and the crowd rush out like in a riot. If you look at these people as sperm cells during fertilization you clearly see that it symbolizes the conception of a child. The revolting youngsters are violently stopped by the police, mixed with scenes from World War II, and the cruelty of modern civilization is underlined. The title, "In the Flesh?", also reminds us about conception. The lyrics of the song seem to be written to an unborn child. "The show" symbolizes the warm and gratifying life the child so much wants. But the singer rhetorically asks, "Is this not what you expected to see?", life is really nothing to look forward to, the world is not a good place to be.
The music gets more and more intense, like a woman in labour, and we hear the screaming sound of a Stuka-bomber dropping the very bomb that kills Pink's father. There is no bang, only the cry of a newborn baby.
Since the action of the film is not chronological, another interpretation of the song is that this is at the end of the movie and Pink is sitting there reflecting on his miserable and disappointing life.
"When the Tigers Broke Free" was especially written for the movie, and is therefore unfortunately not in the album. It has got strong emotional overtones, and is set "one miserable morning in black '44". The Tigers referred to are the German tanks capturing the Anzio bridgehead in Italy. We see Pink's father preparing for attack, maybe he knows that he is facing the certain death out there, but as the lyrics say, they are told to sit tight against the superior German force. "A few hundred ordinary lives", among them Pink's father, are then thoughtlessly erased by the Tigers.
Those of us who know British and European history of literature are familiar with the period called the Romanticism. One important British Romantic poet was William Blake. Blake wrote, among other things, "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of Experience", where we respectively find the poems "the Lamb" and "the Tyger". "The Tyger" here represents all that is evil in life (experience), while "the Lamb" represents all that is good (innocence). The German tanks, mean and deadly creations, are thus a symbol of experience in the song. As there is a sudden shift from the dead father to the newborn Pink, the contrast between experience and innocence is emphasized. So, perhaps the two basic forces of 'good' and 'evil' really are to be found inside ourselves? and our society?
The childish innocence is quickly lost as Pink goes "skating on the thin ice of modern life". We see Pink lying in a swimmingpool. Suddenly we hear electric guitars and a strict voice, the true tune of life, as he cracks through "the Thin Ice" and literally finds himself whirling and splashing in a pool full of blood. He has reached the so-called "moment of truth" as he realises that the world is mean, and his innocence is lost (ref. Hemingway). We also find the symbolism of the colour of "blue" in this song; "Baby Blue" represents the baby's innocence, fresh from the ideal world as he is, while also foreshadowing the coming misery and depression he will experience later on. The song also considers the many "forgotten" victims of war, the ones who lose their beloved ones.
It is interesting to see how Pink Floyd presents the school system. The authoritarian and pedantic teacher "catches" Pink writing a poem, which is strictly forbidden. He ridicules him by reading it aloud to the entire class. Notice that the poem is an extract from "the Dark Side of the Moon", an earlier Pink Floyd album. "Absolute rubbish laddy, get on with your work", he says and the class goes on cramming mathematic formulas. These negative sanctions he gets from his surroundings are the most efficient way of destroying someone's pride and creativity. Pink is visibly deeply hurt. The teacher tries to make the pupils obey him blindly. He imagines the school system as a giant factory where the young pupils march in step wearing masks, and values like creativity, individuality and imagination are negative qualities, which should be crushed. The pupils are whirled together into a monotonous mass in a meat grinder. The superior idea of the school is to make each individual predictable and thereby controllable in society, where they also must accept being commanded by their superiors. Each student is hammered into shape and thereafter sent out into society as "Another Brick in the Wall". At the end of the song there is uproar against this system, and the school, including teachers, is burned down. Unfortunately, we know that it is only a chimera created by Pink.
"The Happiest Days of Our Lives" gives us a reason why the teacher acts the way he does to his pupils. "When they got home at night their fat and psychopathic wives would trash them..." We see how the teacher turns his anger and aggression from his wife against his poor pupils. At the same time the title is pure irony on the saying that school days are the happiest in a man's life.
One of my favourite songs is "Goodbye Blue Sky", it portrays the wickedness of war. In the movie a dove, the symbol of innocence itself, flies through the sky. It is crushed by a huge and malignant bird spreading its evil and spite across the landscape. It causes the dead to rise, and leaves huge, bleeding wounds on the face of the earth. "The flames are all long gone, but the pain lingers on" is a central line in the text, even though the war is long gone, there will still be wounds and bad memories left. The world is saying goodbye to its blue innocence as the war-bird rips it away. There is one positive aspect in this song, however. From the ruins we see the dove fly off. This means that peace and purity will rise from its ashes and once again rule.
Pink has a nervous breakdown in "One of My Tunes", and as he finds out that his wife is cheating on him the building of his "wall" is completed. It is not a concrete, physical wall, but a barrier inside Pink's head, which shuts him off from other people. The wall serves as protection and isolation from Pink's surroundings. A wall symbolises something dark, shut-off and unforeseeable. He will not show anyone his feelings ever again. "The bricks" which he uses to build up this wall are different important episodes in his life, which have had major influence on him. The loss of his father, his overprotective mother, his cruel teacher, his unfaithful wife, his stressing life as a rock star and perhaps drug abuse is all-together too much for him. He just can't process all this.
In "Comfortably Numb", one of the best Pink Floyd songs ever, Pink is found unconscious in his hotel room by a group of people trying to prepare him for one of his concerts. The greedy and capitalistic manager (played by Bob Hoskins) refuses to call off the concert and a doctor tries to wake Pink up. The question "Is there anybody in there?" is perhaps an answer to Pink's repeated cry for help from behind the wall, "Is there anybody out there?". The voice singing is most likely the doctor, he gives him "a little pinprick", a shot to "keep him going through the show". The show is the concert he is about to have, but can also be interpreted as his life.
Pink is "Comfortably Numb" to his bad memories and the cruel world as a result of drugs and his isolation from the world around him. The shot quickly works and Pink is dressed and carried to a limousine. I believe the song "In the Flesh" (no question mark!) is simply a drug hallucination. Pink experiences the show as a fascist gathering where he is the leader, a dictator. He has a vision of his many adherents as an army of marching hammers. Maybe this is Pink's way to wreak vengeance on a society that he just can't be a member of.
Pink is now absolutely bewildered. He can't separate fiction from reality and schizophrenic scenarios form inside his head. In "The Trial" at the end of the movie, Pink is charged for showing "feelings of an almost human nature". Witnesses are his teacher, his mother and his wife. Pink claims his insanity, but he is found guilty by the Judge saying: "I have newer heard of someone more deserving the full penalty of law". His punishment is to have his feelings exposed. The wall is torn down.
The main thing that makes "The Wall" different from other albums is that in order to comprehend the texts fully, you need to look at it as a whole. Just like in a poem, you can't look at each stanza separately; you need "The Big Picture".
There are many ways of interpreting it. If we look at the theme psychologically we find that it is about the conflict in a man's mind during socialization, and how being together with other people might hurt you so violently that you choose to isolate yourself from your surroundings.
Another way of understanding this masterpiece is how society alienates and mentally breaks down individuals and how capitalism and dictatorship ruins the fundamentals of each human being. Or is it how we, in our struggle to "become someone", are crushed by the increasing demands of efficiency today and fall back on drug abuse, fascism, prejudice, discrimination and so on?
Pink Floyd has managed to enlighten many essential elements of human nature itself with this album. The fall of the wall at the end indicates that there is still hope for the future. Even for the ones who don't fit in.