Friday, January 21, 2011


At the end of 1979, Pink Floyd released their monumental double album The Wall. I was in middle school at the time and there was much excitement over this release. I was no stranger to Pink Floyd, of course. My brother had Dark Side of the Moon and I was intimately familiar with it. Also, I had taken the rock music route through school, with dashes of punk thrown in, instead of the usual pop/dance music even though everyone associated rock/metal with stoners.

I was at my best friend's cousin's house and her older brother had just bought The Wall that day. It was still shrink wrapped in plastic. Without asking permission I removed the wrapper, pulled out the first record, and put it on the turntable. The first strains of In the Flesh? came through the speakers and I had to sit on the floor because my legs almost buckled. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I didn't notice my best friend or her cousin protesting that I was playing this record that didn't belong to me and had turned up the volume really loud. I barely noticed when the older brother showed up with his friends. They asked us what the hell we were doing. By that time, my best friend and I were pouring over the album and reviewing the lyrics. I was a precocious kid and had taken to explaining the story to my best friend and her cousin while offering psychological analysis about the album's protagonist/anti-hero, Pink, so they might understand what was going on. This wasn't difficult to do since everything is laid out in the song lyrics. After a while, even my best friend's cousin left us alone as did the adults and we sat there, she and I, listening to the entire album in one go. While we listened to it I silently claimed the album as mine, as a product of this time, my time. Other albums might be better and others might be more favored but no other album spoke to me at such a seminal time in my life as this one did.

I was fairly humming after that and recall sitting in the car on the way home while my best friend's dad teased me. I think it was the only time I ever ignored him. It didn't take me long to buy my own album. I still have it at my parents' house. I should take it out and see what kind of shape it's in. It was the last album I bought until after I got out of high school. By the time I bought it Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 had been released as a single and we had our own anthem:
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 Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
When you're a kid you hear about anthems and such, something that people can rally behind. We'd claimed this one for ourselves and the song, with its distinctive baseline and disco beat, seemed to be flooding the school hallways. One afternoon on the bus ride home, the driver cranked up the song and we were all screaming the song lyrics as we rode down the street. It was beautiful.

Later, Run Like Hell, Young Lust, Hey You, and that stoner staple, Comfortably Numb got plenty of airplay on the radio. All of them are wonderful songs.

Most of my peers had either never heard the album in its entirety or only listened to it when they were stoned so they didn't seem to know the album was about isolation and alienation, about a man who must build a wall around himself to keep everyone else away because it's his only defense against pain. A man who torments himself so much that he puts himself on trial and ends up destroying his wall, leaving himself exposed and naked to a cold, cruel existence. I was amazed and moved by the story and its wrenching honesty. I couldn't believe that Roger Waters, who conceived the album and wrote most of the lyrics, would expose himself that much.

I went against conventional wisdom by declaring that my favorite songs were In the Flesh?, One of My Turns, Run Like Hell, and Mother. I told everyone that Mother was the best song on the album and defied everyone at the height of The Wall's popularity by telling them this was my favorite album but Dark Side of the Moon was better. Mother was and still is horrifically creepy. One of My Turns is funny even if it shows Pink as the mentally unstable rock star. Run Like Hell is exhilarating though my friends didn't like David Gilmour's "run, run, run, run" vocals in the song. My favorite song is In the Flesh? which clocks in at 3:19. While I love all the songs on the album none of them have the same visceral affect on me as In the Flesh? I would listen to the song and revel in the short lyrics:
So ya thought ya might like to
Go to the show
To feel the thrill of confusion
That space cadet glow

Tell me is something eluding you, sunshine?
Is this not what you expected to see?
If you wanna find out what's behind these cold eyes
You'll just have to claw your way through this disguise!

Lights! Roll the sound effects! Action!
Drop it...on em!
Drop it on 'emmmmmmm....!!
(sound of airplane flying, then a baby crying)
I'd crank the volume on this song and scream that last Drop it on 'emmmmmm...!! The song felt and still feels like the grand howl, the terrible shriek of that otherwise quiet, goody-two-shoes kid who yelled in fury to the shock of everyone who knew me. Someday, I hope, I'll see The Wall performed live and I'll be able to scream out this line, adding my voice to the roar of the crowd.

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