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The Wall and Pink Floyd: The Wall: 43 & 40 Years Later

The Wall and Pink Floyd: The Wall: 43 & 40 Years Later

A Record, Review, and Retrospective

By Jack LeJeune

            Forty-three years ago today, Pink Floyd’s album, The Wall, was released. Two years, nine months and ten days later, and forty years, two months and twenty days ago today, Pink Floyd: The Wall premiered in theaters. The album, considered by many to be the band’s most significant, has sold over 30 million copies to date, and the movie, considered a cult classic, is often cited as a “must-see” for fans of the band. Since I missed the 40-year anniversary date for the movie by a couple months and missed the 40-year anniversary date for the album by a couple years, I figured I’d talk about them together in one combined article: detailing the history of both, their contents and my thoughts on both.

“Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1” (Inspiration of the album and its production)

            Our story begins in 1944, but it also begins in 1977. In 1944, Eric Fletcher Waters, member of the British Army’s Royal Fusiliers, was killed in action defending the Anzio bridgehead. Leaving his wife, Mary, to raise their son, Roger, on her own. This, naturally, had a significant role to play in Roger’s life, and was a major influence on The Wall. The other major influence came during the last stop of Pink Floyd’s In the Flesh tour, at the Montreal Olympic Stadium on July 6, 1977. Throughout the tour, Waters expressed frustration about how tours were becoming “a social event, rather than a more controlled and ordinary relationship between musicians and an artist.” During the final concert, one group of fans near the front of the stage became so rowdy that Waters spat on one of them out of frustration. Later, Roger would state that he felt a wall growing between himself and the audience. These events would serve to outline two major themes of the album.

The Olympic Stadium in Montreal, where the final In the Flesh concert was held

            The band would meet at their studio in July 1978 to discuss what their next album would be. Gilmour, Wright and Mason would all admit to focusing on solo projects at the time, and thus did not have much to contribute to the new album. Waters, meanwhile, had been mulling over his experiences during the In the Flesh tour, and came up with a concept for the album: how abandonment and isolation destroy a person, and the separation between performers and fans. These themes were symbolized by, naturally, a wall.

Pink Floyd, circa 1979. From left to right: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright

            The band set to work, as they were deep in debt after entrusting their band’s finances to shady venture capital companies. When Waters delivered the outline of the album to the band, and a “table read” was conducted, Bob Ezrin, a collaborator Waters hired to help with the album, said “…their eyes all twinkled, because they could see the album.” As Waters had come up with the concept for the album, he was the driving force behind the songs, authoring each song solo — save for sharing “Comfortably Numb,” “Run Like Hell” and “Young Lust” with Gilmour, and “The Trial” with Ezrin. Tensions flared during the production of the album, with Waters eventually forcing Wright out of the band, which has often been credited due to Wright’s lack of contribution to the album. For the tour, Wright was hired as a session musician, and did not return to the band until the reformation under Gilmour in 1987.

The album’s cover, with the text printed on a sticker that could be removed

“Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” (The movie’s production and release)

            According to Waters, before the album was even released, it was intended to be made into a movie. I would consist of footage of the live performances and animator Gerard Scarfe’s animated segments that were included with the tour, with Roger Waters as the lead role, Pink. However, it was determined that the footage was mostly unusable, and the project was pivoted to being an adaptation of the album instead. Alan Parker, a Pink Floyd fan, was picked to direct, and musician Bob Geldof was cast in the lead role. Waters wrote the script and Scarfe was the lead animator for the project.

Bob Geldof as Pink

            The production of the film was considered by the creative leads to be a disaster. Waters, Geldof and Parker clashed frequently, with Parker having described the filming as “one of the most miserable experiences of my life.” However, despite the hostility, the film was finished and the final product was shown at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival in July. Later, it was released to around 600 theaters on September 10, grossing roughly $22 million before its closure in early 1983, reaching third place in box office rankings at its peak.

The poster for Pink Floyd: The Wall

“In the Flesh?” (The Wall’s premise)

            The Wall is a concept album. This means that it is not just a collection of songs, but it also tells a story. Pink Floyd was no stranger to thematic albums, as each their “big” albums (Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall) worked best when played cover-to-cover, but The Wall tells a story more directly. The album is about a rock musician, named Pink, and tells the story of his life, from childhood to his success as a rock star. His life is not idyllic, and the people around him abuse him, leading him to build an emotional “wall” around himself. The album (and movie) can be split into three roughly equal portions, each representing a different era of Pink’s life. (Keep in mind that this article will list the songs in order of appearance on the album, not the movie, and that much of the music was changed or re-arranged for the movie, including the addition of a few songs.)

“Mother” (The first third of the album)

            The first third of The Wall is about Pink’s life from birth to adolescence. “In the Flesh?” establishes that current day Pink is flashing back to his early years. “The Thin Ice” has him recalling his birth, with a loving mother and father. “Another Brick Pt. 1” describes how that father was “flown across the ocean” to fight in World War Two and perished, leaving a hole in young Pink’s life. In the film, another song, “When the Tigers Broke Free,” was added (which was later included in The Final Cut) describing in further detail how Pink’s father fought at the battle of Anzio. “The Happiest Days of our Lives” and “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” transition to Pink’s years in public primary schools, detailing the abuse he received at the hands of his teachers, who sought to beat the individuality out of him and make him “just another brick in the wall.” “Mother” describes Pink’s complicated relationship with his mother. She’s the only parental figure in his life, so he looks up to her for everything. She comforts him when he’s sick, but she also is clearly overbearing, stating she “won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing,” among other lyrics describing the suffocation of overprotectiveness. It’s important to note that the song says, “Of course mother’s going to help build the wall,” the start of the recurring wall symbol in the album. “Goodbye Blue Sky” has Pink recall his time living under the terror of the London Blitz during the war and ends this section of the album.

Children in masks line up to be thrown into the meat grinder

            The main theme of this first part of The Wall is about the influences adults have in the lives of children around them, and how they shape them as human beings. For the most part, the adults in young Pink’s life did not treat him well. His father was killed early on, his only memory “just a snapshot in the family album,” leaving young Pink’s mother to raise him on her own. This was a challenge for her, naturally. She became overprotective of her young son, to the point of suffocating his growth as a human being. The mother is portrayed more sympathetically in the movie, showing how Pink would seek her comfort when he was sick, but her influence proved to do more harm than good. She promised to “put all her fears into [Pink]” and “not let anyone dirty get through,” a clear representation of how parents mold their children into versions of themselves, and in this case, the mold is not good for Pink. Molding children continues to be relevant, because there is also a clear attitude of contempt for the British public school system. The schools of that time served to transform a young individual into an obedient worker drone through the suppression and punishment of any form of creative expression. The movie is very direct on this, showing how Pink is humiliated among his peers for writing poetry and is punished corporeally for disobeying his teacher. The point is soon after driven home, with the school system turned into a literal slaughterhouse, chopping children up into ground meat. Additionally, the theme of molding people around us is expanded beyond Pink, by implying that the teacher is abusive to his students because his wife is abusive to him, showcasing cycles of violence and abuse in society. All this abuse, intentional or not, serves to lay the first bricks of the title object (The Wall) around Pink. The wall metaphor deserves its own section, but for now, let’s return to telling the album’s story.

“Don’t Leave Me Now” (The second third of the album)

            As “Goodbye Blue Sky” ends, we transition from the memories of childhood to the memories of a Pink that is an adult, but not quite the present-day one. The movie makes the transition more natural, showing Pink grow up, meet a girl and get married to her. Their relationship is depicted as one-sided, as Pink, despite his earlier affections for her, is constantly distracted and distant from his wife. He does not respond to her at all while sitting at the piano, and later, when she tries to get his attention in bed by stripping, he deliberately ignores her advances, adjusting himself to look around her and keep his attention on the TV. By the time of “Empty Spaces,” Pink is on tour in America, and calls home to his wife. When the phone is answered, it is by a man, and the answerer rejects the collect call, even after Pink asks the operator to redial. Saddened by his wife’s infidelity, Pink seeks to satisfy his primal urges, his “Young Lust,” with a groupie of his. He brings her back to his room in “One of My Turns,” his lust completely evaporated, and sits disinterestedly in front of the TV as the fan explores his hotel room. Something sets him off, be it something the groupie said or his rage at his wife finally boiling over, as he trashes the room, destroying most of his possessions and making the groupie run screaming from his room. He regrets this decision immediately, begging her, “Don’t Leave Me Now,” before swearing off the comforts of life forever in “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 3” (“I don’t need no arms around me, and I don’t need no drugs to calm me…Don’t think I need anything at all”). With this, the wall around himself is complete, and he says farewell (“Goodbye Cruel World”). This ends the first half of the album. When it begins its second side, Pink regrets his decision, desperately searching for someone to connect to in “Hey You.” No one around him can see his struggles, so he resigns himself to forlornly calling out, asking “Is There Anybody Out There?” With no response, he opts to dissociate from reality entirely, focusing on his few possessions as he fades away in “Nobody Home.” This serves to end the second third of the album.

Pink, amongst his destroyed possessions during “Is There Anybody Out There?”

            Now that Pink is an adult, he must deal with much more severe problems. His wife’s infidelity, while not necessarily a surprise, due to his earlier actions, still shakes him to his core. Thus, he adds more bricks to the wall, sealing out the possibility of being hurt again by love. His life of touring has clearly worn him down, and when he needed her most, his wife chose another man over him. This betrayal leads him to a crisis of confidence, leading him to take in a substitute for his wife, a decision he immediately regrets. The wall is opened, briefly, when he destroys his room in a fit of rage after being completely cold to the woman he took in. Perhaps his overbearing mother left him inexperienced in processing feelings of love, or maybe his teachers ridiculed him for a childhood crush. No matter, the damage has been done and the wall has grown taller, and thicker. It is now complete, leaving him completely cut off from others emotionally. He regrets this, trying his hardest to make a connection with others, but to no avail. Now, with no one to relate to, he turns to his meager possessions to comfort him. It’s directly implied, if not said outright, that he is taking drugs to cope with his total isolation, which only leaves him more alone. The movie adaptation at one point shows him floating in a pool, naked, spread-eagled with legs together, blood leaking from one of his wrists. The Christ symbolism is apt, as he has sacrificed himself, but not for a greater good. Rather, he has sacrificed his ability to feel in the search for a way to deal with his pain, but it does not work. This sacrifice instead leads him down a dark path.

Pink, floating in his pool and his own despair

“Waiting For the Worms” (The final third)

            Pink, in a drug-fueled haze, recalls memories he does not have of World War Two, many years ago. He asks if anyone remembers “Vera,” a singer that was popular in the wartime, and bemoans his father’s passing, saying how Vera Lynn’s song, “We’ll Meet Again,” never came true for him and his father. He recalls the public outcry against the war, where a crowd chants “Bring the Boys Back Home.” Back in reality, as he sits slumped in a chair in his hotel room, his manager breaks into his room, desperate to get Pink onstage for a performance. Finding him unresponsive, he calls a doctor, who administers a drug that enables him to perform, making him “Comfortably Numb.” As the drug takes effect, Pink recalls a time in his childhood where he had felt similarly — completely disconnected from the world, but due to an illness, not drugs. He also remembers having a dream as a child, but he cannot remember it now, be it due to age or the drug haze. As the orderlies handling him drag him to his limo, he hallucinates that he’s being covered in a cocoon of fleshy sludge, before becoming completely enveloped. Inside the limo, as “The Show Must Go On” plays, he bursts from the cocoon, in a new outfit resembling a Neo-Nazi uniform.

Pink, covered in his horrific cocoon, being dragged to his limo

            During “In the Flesh,” Pink envisions himself as the leader of a Neo-Nazi group, performing the song to an audience that expected to see the rock star Pink, not the fascist one. Throughout the performance, he calls on his skinheads to put minority groups up against the wall, some real, some imagined, and declares “If I had it my way, I’d have all of you shot!” He sets off from the performance and seeks to build his platform throughout Britain, performing hit-and-run assaults against those opposing his influence in “Run Like Hell.” He holds a rally in “Waiting For the Worms,” making explicit references to the Holocaust in his quest to solidify Britain, asking his countrymen, “would you like to see Britannia rule again?” Then, in a moment of clarity with “Stop,” Pink breaks out of his fascist persona, begging to “go home, take off this uniform and leave the show.” But, now that he’s had a break, he understands that he is guilty of hurting those around him, and puts himself on trial in “The Trial.” Exaggerated versions of his mother, schoolteacher and wife all serve as witnesses against him for the crime of “showing feelings of an almost human nature.” The judge finds him guilty and sentences him to “be exposed before [his] peers,” repeatedly crying out “Tear down the wall!” with the unseen jury. An explosion is heard, the wall tumbles and Pink reflects upon his existence in “Outside the Wall,” realizing how those who truly cared about him were outside his wall the whole time, but he couldn’t notice them. Unfortunately, he is doomed to repeat his mistakes, as the end of “Outside” loops cleanly back into “In The Flesh,” indicating the cyclical nature of his life.

The new Pink addresses the crowd, calling on them to assault those among them that do not belong

            Pink’s wall and isolation have led him down a terrible path. He has no one left in his life, so he has turned to drugs to numb the pain of existence. However, they have made him unable to operate in any capacity, which, naturally, interferes with his career as a performer. After being injected with the drug that enables him to perform, it’s implied that his Neo-Nazi transformation is a hallucination. The movie makes this more explicit, where Pink slowly becomes encased in a horrific cocoon as he is dragged to his limo, before bursting out in a full fascist uniform. His increasing influence over Britain serves as a criticism of British politics at the time of its release. Margaret Thatcher, a favorite target of Waters, had just taken power, but she was never directly lampooned in The Wall (Roger left that for The Final Cut). Instead, the themes of The Wall parallel the political climate at the time. Pink, having built an emotional wall around himself, has become a sociopathic monster, which were few and far between in Britain at the time. However, he used the general public’s own emotional walls (political indifference) to build his platform, since no one seemed to care enough to stop him. This is made much more explicit in the movie: during the “Waiting for the Worms” sequence, Pink and his skinheads are seen parading through a British suburb, while in each house, the people do their best to tune him out, shutting their curtains and leaving it at that. The message here is clear: fascism and hatred cannot be ignored, or voted out, because it will hurt real people (seen in “Run Like Hell”), and must be stopped in the streets with immediate response. Luckily for this imaginary Britain, Pink suffers a mental break and stops himself before he harms himself or others further.

An amalgamation of The Trial’s animated characters: the judge on the left and Pink’s mother, wife and schoolteacher on the right, among others

            “The Trial” is rich with symbolism, perhaps the most of all the songs, more of which is added with the movie’s wonderous animations. Pink’s wall has become a prison cell that he built for himself, and is let out to stand trial. Pink putting himself on trial has many implications, but the main one I’ll focus on is that he is rigorously critiquing himself for his past behavior. The fact that he’s being tried for the crime of “showing feelings of an almost human nature” shows that, in his mind, emotions are still not positive things to be experiencing — the crack in his wall was not an escape, but a leakage. His portrayal of the “witnesses” in his trial also shows that he still blames them for his troubles and actions. The first, his schoolmaster: a puppet, dancing on the strings of his own abuser (the teacher’s wife), taking out his anger on the children. The second, his wife: a fork-tongued shapeshifter that injects him with her venom and wears him like a scarf, discarding him shortly after like trash. The third, his mother: a jet plane that comes screaming in to scoop him up and swaddle him in her arms, defending him with descriptions of her own misery, before shifting into the wall that has surrounded him his whole life. These three witnesses are all cartoonish, one-sided depictions of real people in Pink’s life that molded him. Sure, they were abusive to him in one form or another, but their over-the-top-vindictiveness towards Pink shows that he has not truly repented, and still sees himself as innocent. This is given depth by how Pink is drawn in the movie: as a fleshy, humanoid ragdoll that offers no input or defense, simply taking punishment as given to him. Perhaps he still thinks himself innocent, and takes the punishment knowing none of it applies, or perhaps he is finally realizing what he’s done to the people in his life and accepts his punishment without complaint. No matter what Pink thinks of what his witnesses have to say, the judge sentences him just the same: tear down the wall. With the sentence, Pink watches as his defense against all the horrors of the world is demolished around him, and with the closing notes of “Outside the Wall,” realizes that people did love and care for him, but he could not hear them through the wall. He has no time to enjoy this, however, because his life suddenly starts again as the album loops. He is doomed to repeat the same cycle, the same mistakes, unless he makes a change. But, unfortunately, heartbreakingly, he cannot.

“Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 3” (The wall, and what it means)

            The wall, being the name of the album, and perhaps even a character in and of itself, is important. Obviously. But what does it mean? Well, it’s been made clear that it’s an emotional wall that Pink builds around himself due to abuses he suffered throughout his life. He didn’t want to get hurt again, so he made sure no emotions, negative or positive, could get through and affect him. This, as we can see, turns him into an unfeeling husk of a human being, one that gets inhabited by a fascist dictator that wouldn’t otherwise find room without the wall containing the real Pink. In a way, we all have our own wall inside of ourselves, just not one as high or thick as Pink’s. In a society where wearing your heart on your sleeve can and will get you hurt, it only makes sense to guard our feelings in some manner. When a lover leaves, when a family member dies, when an abuse is suffered, we all build that wall a little taller, a little stronger. However, ours cannot be so high, so thick, so solid, as Pink’s, lest we let it become our own prison.

Pink, trapped inside his own wall

            It should be noted that the wall metaphor has an additional meaning, albeit one that’s more exclusive to performers. The wall between the fan and the artist was something that Roger Waters experienced as Pink Floyd grew in popularity. Back in their early days, the band performed primarily in venues with seating under five hundred, and the feeling was much more intimate. However, as their fanbase grew, so did their venues, and thus “the wall” began growing. No longer were the performers simply a group of men that were entertainers, they were becoming elevated in the eyes of the audience. They became gods among men, the type of superstar that people “go crazy” over. This creates and encourages behavior like what Roger Waters found so contemptable as to spit on. This process is unavoidable, unfortunately, much like Pink’s cyclical return to unhappiness.

“In the Flesh” (Relationship between art and the artist)

            Astute readers may have noticed several parallels between Pink and Roger Waters, and this is no accident. While the album is not autobiographical, as Roger Waters never became the leader of a group of Neo-Nazis, the album represents a lot of his feelings about his relationships with those around him. His childhood experiences are almost direct parallels, with the missing father and abusive school system. He also experienced marital troubles throughout his life as a performer. As discussed with the wall metaphor, Roger’s experiences with fans were one-sided and para-social, a much lesser version of what Neo-Nazi Pink stirred up with his followers.

However, not all parallels in The Wall are to Roger. Pink shares several characteristics with Roger’s co-founder, Syd Barrett. The appearance of Pink is the most striking similarity, including a reference to how Syd had visited the studio in 1975. Syd, having not been seen by his former bandmates since his ousting in 1967, was completely unrecognizable with his shaved head, a clear parallel to Pink’s transformation. Syd also struggled with drug addiction, which is what ultimately led to his replacement by David Gilmour. He battled an addiction to psychedelics, slowly becoming worse and worse, until there were times where he was just “completely gone.” Similar to how Pink drugged himself into a stupor before a performance, Syd reportedly “just stood there with his guitar around his neck” during a performance on live TV with the band. The way Roger draws from Syd’s and his own experiences make Pink’s trials and tribulations all the more real.

Syd Barrett. Left: a picture of him circa 1967. Right: a picture of Syd during his surprise 1975 visit to the studio

“Hey You” (My opinions)

            Now, it may come as a surprise to some of you, but considering I wrote a four-thousand-word article on the subject of an album and its movie adaptation, it’s pretty clear that I maybe am a tiny bit of a Pink Floyd fan, and might have listened to the album once or twice. But in all seriousness, The Wall is undoubtedly in my top tier of Pink Floyd albums, and is certainly in the running for the ever-changing “favorite” spot. The album’s different “moods” allow me to put it on at different points and have three or four 20-minute sections of music with wildly varied connotations and energy. I do have a few nitpicks, however. Both “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2” and “Mother” have been so overplayed on the radio for me (read: the only Wall songs that stations regularly play) that I cannot listen to them as integrated music, but rather “those two songs your hear outside of an entire album listen.” “Another Brick Pt. 2” is more tolerable, just prompting an eye-roll, but “Mother,” especially with it’s lyric about “breaking my balls,” has become the only song I cannot get lost in, and thus tend to skip it whenever it comes up during my listen. Aside from those insignificant quibbles, the album is rock-solid (brick-solid?) and deserves your full attention throughout several listen-throughs. It’s really that good, and might even spark a change of perception about yourself, so give it five or six listens when you can.

            The movie, despite it being an adaptation of the album, is a separate entity entirely within my mind. It’s without a doubt my favorite movie of all time, and I know I will be watching it at least three times per year, every year, until I die. It’s a comfort movie for me, but instead of making me feel warm and cozy, it makes me feel depressed and alone, wanting to scream into the void at the meaninglessness of my existence! (In a good way!) Geldof’s performance is stunning, and several sequences bring a tear to my eye. The animation is timeless, and the songs, already so familiar, take on whole new meanings upon watching the movie. Surprisingly, it’s also got some good laughs thrown in, although your mileage may vary. Like, for instance, the animated phallic flower battle always gets a chuckle out of me, and when Pink throws the room service cart during “One of My Turns,” accompanied by the lyric, “Would you like something to eat?” Classic! Again, your mileage may vary. But, if you’re a fan of the album, or the band, or just want to feel depressed in a controlled environment, you need to see this film. At the time of writing, it’s not available on any streaming services, so you’ll have to snag a physical copy off of a secondhand retailer, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

            Long story short: just listen to the album and watch the movie. It’s worth your time to experience this art.

“Outside the Wall” (Closing thoughts)

            There you have it. A complete summary of The Wall, both album and movie, an analysis of their meanings, and what I think. It might seem like I rambled on a tad too long, but it just takes that many words to get all my thoughts out about this piece of art. I hope you are excitedly closing this article to go and listen to the album right now, but even if you aren’t, you at least humored me enough to get to this point. And for that, I thank you. I’m not sure when I’ll be writing another blog post, but you’re guaranteed at least one more by May 2023, so be on the lookout. This is Jack LeJeune, signing off. Keep rocking, you crazy diamonds.


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