Pink Floyd’s 1979 album “The Wall” has made a huge impact on the music industry: it sold over 33 million copies worldwide (thus being the most successful double-LP ever), it was turned into a movie in 1982 and Rolling Stone Magazine has ranked it at number 87 in their chart “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.
“The Wall” is dark, nihilistic rock opera which spans 81 minutes and tackles themes such as personal isolation, childhood trauma, depression and inner struggle. The ideas of this concept album derive from an incident Roger Waters was involved in during Pink Floyd’s 1977 tour, when he spat in the face of an agitated fan. At that point, he imagined building a wall between himself as a performer and the audience.
Throughout the year he developed the ideas and took some of Syd Barrett’s (the original front man of Pink Floyd who allegedly developed mental illness after years of drug abuse) and his personal experiences in order to create what would soon become a masterpiece that “shines like a crazy diamond” on the sky of rock music history.
How Is “The Wall” Still Relevant in 2013?
In a nutshell, “The Wall” tells the story of a character named Pink (inspired by the experiences of Waters and Barrett) who builds a metaphysical wall around himself and becomes completely isolated from society. The three major architects of the wall are Pink’s widowed mother (in reality, Roger Waters’ father died in 1944 in Anzio, Italy), his very critical and old-fashioned school teacher, and his unfaithful lover. They represent over-protectiveness, the tendency of conformity in the education system, and the promiscuity of contemporary relationships respectively.
But are these themes the bricks for a show that is socially, politically and economically relevant?
This is where Roger Waters’ creativeness kicks in: he took these elements and projected them on a picture that will touch upon viewers of all cultures and religions. The concept of “The Wall” has been expanded to an extent in which it criticizes all the political regimes that cause the oppression of the individual (liberal democracy, communism, and national socialism), the major abusive religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islamism) and capitalism – which to some is a religion by itself (depicted by dollar signs, and the Shell and Mercedes-Benz logos).
The character Pink is no longer traumatized just by the former 3 architects, as the whole society becomes a factor of oppression. Roger Waters has successfully turned his show to 180 degrees and created a timeless masterpiece that stands out from every political act in music. It is definitely less aggressive than the likes of Rage Against The Machine and System of a Down, but more cynical, more structured and more appealing to the masses. Even though the lyrics of the live act are the same as those from the 1979 album, the vivid video projections are those that send a message that is reminiscent to the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau: the individual is happier when he is away from the oppressive state apparatus, when he is completely free.
Moreover, a metamorphosis occurs with the 3 characters that influence Pink through the imagery depicted:
The mother also symbolizes the state – During the song “Mother”, an animation of a surveillance camera appears behind Roger Waters. To strengthen the idea, the school teacher becomes a symbol of the nation state’s propaganda. He is simply the state’s tool (who also happens to transform into a hammer) that fills the minds of the youth with the ideology and agenda of the government. Thus the viewers are invited to reflect upon their origins and realize how they are part of a larger picture – bricks of a wall. This broad perspective is intended to raise awareness on the common issues that individuals face and the influence of the political regime on them.
Pink’s lover, while still portraying promiscuity and unfaithfulness, symbolizes the individual’s failed struggle to escape from the “traditional” environment in which he had to follow orders. He could not become dominant and impose his will or ideas in any way, therefore encloses himself into the wall and projects his hate towards the audience as a rock star (as a member of the society who has only faced oppression, Pink tries to project the same hateful treatment towards his audience).
Probably the most Rousseau-nian of the songs is “Run Like Hell”, which during the ongoing tour was turned into a message of liberation – the individual has to escape from all the brainwashing and the more or less legitimate use of force of the political regime.
Another aspect that is worth mentioning is the Flying Pig that makes an appearance during the song “In the Flesh” – when Pink is depicted as a dictator who discriminates and uses violence against the members of the audience. The pig is a reference to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and has political messages written on each side:
On the right there are logos depicting religions and corporations with the messages “Everything will be ok. Just keep consuming”, “What’s Wrong With People?”, “You Better Run” and “Them”, whilst the left side has the hammer and sickle sign and, ironically, the dollar sign (suggesting corruption), with the messages “Trust Us”, “My idea. Right or Wrong”, “Them Not Us” and “Drink Kalashnikov Vodka”. This imagery strengthens the nihilistic dimension of “The Wall” and creates an environment where every individual from the audience will reflect his social, political and religious beliefs.
As a criticism of contemporary consumerism, corporate control over the will of the masses and governmental propaganda, Roger Waters has used pictures of sheep and politicians who listen to music on their earphones (obviously a witty fusion between the Apple products and George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”).
The show is divided in two major parts which are separated by an intermission. This is the time when projections of social and political activists, wartime heroes and normal citizens who had their lives taken away by political abuses or injustice are shown The late former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, Eric Fletcher Waters (Roger Waters’ late father) and Mahatma Gandhi are just three of the commemorated individuals.
The Trial: A Personal Conclusion
Overall, in a very dark and nihilistic manner, “The Wall” sends a message of peace and suggests a return to the human values that were either lost or perverted by the government/religion/globalized economic system. At no point should the depiction of the wall be taken literally: it symbolizes all the distances that people progressively establish between their family, friends and loved ones respectively. It also draws the line between those who govern and those who are governed by pointing out the different abuses and inequalities political regimes can create. Ultimately, the wall stands for the complete isolation of the individual – a very utopian view on the status-quo, as in the contemporary society there is no return to a Rousseau-nian state of nature.
Roger Waters has managed to revive a 34 year-old concept album and adapt it to the issues that mankind is facing in our times. Whilst this attempt can be interpreted as a brilliant marketing gimmick that triggers people of all categories, I personally regard it as a messianic mission: Waters was cursed to grow up without a father, be persecuted and bullied in school and face a series of unfortunate events that led to his isolation in 1977. He’s managed to break his own wall and now, at almost 70 years old, he tours in order to open minds and raise awareness. Waters encourages people to avoid the depression, anxiety and isolation that are related to building walls and turn their heads to the people who really care and matter. As the lyrics of the closing song of the act, “Outside the Wall”, say:
“All alone, or in two’s,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down outside the wall.”