One July day in 1977, Roger Waters spit on his fans. Well, they were acting too damned loud and too damned excited. And he’d never played in a stadium before. All those people! All that noise! It was too much for him.
As he wielded his axe before the wild, adoring throng, he imagined building a wall between the audience and the stage. Something that would isolate him. Forever. From people. That’s when he spit on a group of fans near the stage.
What was he becoming? An anti-social pyschopath? It gnawed at him. So he withdrew inside and reflected deeply. And from these reflections was born the inspiration for one of the biggest selling rock albums in history.
“If you wanna find out what’s behind these cold eyes,
You’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise.”*
The band Pink Floyd released their album, The Wall in 1979, and it has gone on to sell over 20 million copies. This makes it the third best-selling album in U.S. history, behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Led Zepellin’s Led Zepellin IV.
Waters wrote most of the material. The Wall is about a character named Pink. Pink is based upon the lives of Waters, and another guy familiar with walls, named Syd Barrett. Syd Barret was Pink Floyd’s original band leader, and the one who named the band. He was forced to leave his rock group in 1968, due to mental illness. A few years later he secluded himself from the public, and lived the rest of his life as a recluse.
“When we grew up and went to school,
There were certain teachers who would
Hurt the children any way they could.”
Pink has a messed up life. His problems begin in childhood when he loses his father during World War II. He also endures abuse from his schoolteachers.
“We don’t need no education.
We don’t need no thought control.
No dark sarcasm in the classroom.
Teachers leave them kids alone.
Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone.
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.”
And his mother is overprotective. And later in life his marriage falls apart. Every heartbreak he experiences at the hands of others is represented by a brick. And he uses each brick to build a metaphorical wall. A wall of self-imposed isolation from society.
“Hush now, baby, baby, don’t you cry,
Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true,
Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you,
Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing,
She won’t let you fly but she might let you sing.”
I think of Donald Trump when I listen to this album. He promises to make us great again by building a wall between us and Mexico. And he says Mexico will pay for it.
“Did you see the frightened ones?
Did you hear the falling bombs?
The flames are all long gone,
But the pain lingers on.
Goodbye blue sky, goodbye.”
I have no doubt Mexico will pay for it. As will everyone else. Don’t we all pay, in pain, for the walls that are built between us?
“What shall we use
To fill the empty spaces
Where we used to talk?
How shall I fill
The final places?
How should I complete the wall?”
Was Trump like Pink? Did he go through hardships that led to a wall-building attitude? Of course. Don’t we all?
“I don’t need no arms around me.
I don’t need no drugs to calm me.
I have seen the writing on the wall.
Don’t think I need anything at all.
No, don’t think I’ll need anything at all.
All in all you were just bricks in the wall.”
The main purpose of Pink Floyd’s album is not to condemn wall building. It’s designed to help us understand what’s behind it. And for showing a way out.
“Hey you! Out there beyond the wall,
Breaking bottles in the hall, can you help me?
Hey you! Don’t tell me there’s no hope at all.
Together we stand, divided we fall.”
People can be a real pain-in-the-ass. So sometimes we have to put up barriers between ourselves and others, just for our own protection. I think we can all relate to that. Otherwise Donald Trump wouldn’t be so popular.
But if we live in solitary confinement for too long, we start to go mad.
“There must be some mistake.
I didn’t mean to let them take
Away my soul.
Am I too old. Is it too late?”
Too much living behind a wall leads to paranoia. We imagine there’s nothing but danger out there. And everyone becomes our enemy.
“That one looks Jewish and that one’s a coon.
Who let all this riff-raff into the room?
There’s one smoking a joint and another with spots.
If I had my way I’d have all of you shot.”
Wall building is what nationalism is all about. But look where nationalism got the world during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Over 60 million people perished.
“Would you like to see Britannia
Rule again my friend?
All you have to do is follow the worms.
Would you like to send our coloured cousins
Home again my friend?
All you need to do is follow the worms.”
I think a temporary wall can be a good thing. It gives us rest. It buys us time to strategize. And it allows us to get in touch with our inner selves. But after a while, walls become dreary and oppressive. Just the same, if you’ve spent too much time behind a wall, you might want to stay there just a little bit longer, to figure out how you got there in the first place.
“I’m waiting in this cell
Because I have to know,
Have I been guilty all this time?”
Signs were waved at the Democratic National Convention that read, “Love Trumps Hate”. Hate is caused by fear. Fear can be overcome when we face our fears and understand them. And then we can learn to relax, be vulnerable, and love again.
“Since, my friend, you have revealed your deepest fears,
I sentence you to be exposed before your peers.
Tear down the wall!”
We can do this for ourselves, personally.
And we can do this as a nation, on November 8th.
“All alone, or in twos,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down outside the wall.
Some hand in hand,
Some gathering together in bands,
The bleeding hearts and the artists,
Make their stand.
And when they’ve given you their all,
Some stagger and fall.
After all it’s not easy
Banging your heart
Against some mad bugger’s wall.”
- *All quoted verses are excerpts from Pink Floyd’s album, The Wall.