Mama loves her baby, and daddy loves you too
And the sea may look warm to you, and the sky may look blue
But ooh, ooh babe
Ooh, baby blue
If you should go skating on the thin ice of modern life
Dragging behind you the silent reproach of a million tear-stained eyes
Don’t be surprised when a crack in the ice appears under your feet
Just slip out of your depth, and out of your mind
With your fear flowing out behind you, as you claw the thin ice
This song begins with the sound of a crying baby, then continues in 12/8 time, connecting it to “In The Flesh?” Now we see why “In The Flesh?” was in 12/8, given the connection: The verses of “The Thin Ice” are in the classic form of early rock and roll (I-vi-IV-V). I see this as a setting device- We have begun the story of Pink, and have gone back to his early childhood, and the choice of a musical form from the early 50’s works well enough for that purpose – but if one examines too closely, there seems to be an anachronism at work here. Roger Waters was born in 1943, so the rock and roll of the early 50’s works would have been the popular music of his preteen years, not his early childhood. Pink may be a little older than Waters, as he may have a living memory of the Battle of Britain (“Goodbye Blue Sky”), creating more of an anachronism. The choice of a form from the 50’s may be a compromise with the fact that Pink Floyd is, after all, a rock band, and had they tried to go much earlier they would have had to play big band swing! (It’s hard to imagine Pink Floyd playing “Take the ‘A’ Train.”)
The contrast in timbres between David Gilmour’s voice and Roger Waters’ is highlighted here and used for effect. Gilmour’s voice is soft and smooth, well suited to playing the role of Pink’s mother singing a gentle lullaby. The lullaby is comforting- Mommy and Daddy love you, the sea is warm and inviting, as is the blue sky (which we will see later isn’t so welcoming)…
We see that Pink is not a securely attached child. He is not an intrepid explorer; he looks at a frozen pond, and instead of seeing a place to skate or play hockey- a fun, inviting place like a blue sky or a warm sea- he sees a deathtrap. He imagines himself falling through the ice, dramatized sonically with a repeat of the the E-D-F#-E-A theme that was, in Gilmour’s soothing voice, a gentle lullaby. Now, the theme played by Gilmour on lead guitar (again doubled on bass) is an imagined fight for survival, punctuated with Gilmour’s desperate A’s- almost the highest note on the guitar fingerboard- at the end of the phrase (I can hear little Pink screaming for help as he clutches at the ice).
I suspect, based on the way the plot is presented in the next few songs, that this is actually the adult Pink looking back telling this story, even though it’s written in present tense. Looking at it this way, one can see the little boy trying to reach out and explore, but being taught that the world is dangerous and unsafe (which might seem neurotic, but one must remember the context. The Battle of Britain was happening. German bombs could fall on you anytime, anywhere, without warning.).
In contrast to Gilmour’s voice, Waters’s voice is rough, not comforting but sinister and dark- much better for expressing Pink’s fear and angst. The band will exploit the contrast in their voices several more times in this work.
The most visually arresting line to me has also been the most mysterious to me, and only recently have I begun to grasp it. What does Pink mean when he implies he is “dragging behind [me] the silent reproach of a million tear-stained eyes?” The adult Pink is clearly aware that he is carrying the unbearable guilt of an unpardonable sin, that the audience he sings to reproves him and hates him. But why? What terrible crime did he commit?
This question is not answered in “The Wall,” other than the vague accusation that he had feelings that made those around him suffer- and this came from a song written by Bob Ezrin, not Roger Waters. I believe it’s not answered here because Waters didn’t know the source of this feeling. Now we do- according to the interview I cited in the last post, Waters as a child came to the irrational, egocentric, primitive but deeply-held belief that he (not the Wehrmacht) killed his father- an insight he came to after many years of psychotherapy). The part of Waters that was still a small, scared, sad child knows that the audience knows his guilt and rejects him (even though the adult might know better). He uses the character Pink as a means of creating safe distance, allowing him to express his pain.