500 Miles High, by Chick Corea. Performed by Mark Snyder on acoustic bass guitar with accompaniment provided by Gary Burton.
Completed for Assignment #3 for the Introduction to Improvisation course at Coursera.org.
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!
All in all it was just a brick in the wall
All in all it was just a brick in the wall
This iconic song is likely familiar to most readers, having been a #1 single in both the US and UK. Long before I ever heard the album, I heard part if not all of the song as a confused but curious 8-year-old.
The song flows directly from “The Happiest Days Of Our Lives,” with the same form as in Part 1. This time, however, rather than a quiet building of tension as in Part 1, we hear a grim disco march with an ostinato bass (D-C-D) and rhythm guitar playing syncopated Dm7 chords. The harmony doesn’t change until the fifth line (“Hey! Teachers!”), when the rhythm guitar changes to G major (the IV chord), then resolving back to D minor7 at the end of the line (“alone!”). The verse ends with two repetitions of a III-VII-i cadence (F-C-Dm7). After two measures of a simple drum pattern (offbeats), the verse repeats, this time sung by the children of the Islington Green school affecting an exaggerated accent. After this repetition, the verse structure is maintained with David Gilmour playing a funk guitar solo- an interesting contrast given the grim march over which he’s soloing. The piece ends on the album with the sound of children shouting and playing while the schoolmaster (introduced in the previous piece) berates a child (“How can you have some pudding if you don’t eat your meat? Stand still, laddie!”). The last hound heard is a loud pursed-lip exhale, as if expressing relief.
There is no significant use of rhyme. The only possible rhyme is a (very) approximate rhyme at the end of lines 2 and 4 (control/alone). This appears to be coincidence rather an a deliberate use of rhyme, as it doesn’t seem to add significantly to the structure of the song. The lyrics use deliberate grammatical errors (“we don’t need no education;” “leave them kids alone”) to emphasize the (imagined) rebellion against the teachers.
In the last piece, the audience was introduced to the schoolmaster and shown by Pink looking back (as an unreliable narrator) the unpleasant recollection of his school days. (It is not presumed that his presentation of his distorted recollection bears any resemblance at all to what the experience was really like). At the end of “The Happiest Days Of Our Lives” we see the young Pink engaging in a revenge fantasy (a passive one- as a child Pink was in a powerless position, but he could imagine someone else punishing his tormentor for him). Here the rebellion is more active- Pink imagines himself and the other children standing up in defiance, refusing to give in to “thought control” and the “dark sarcasm” of the classroom. Pink doesn’t make clear what he saw as thought control or sarcasm; the only indication of the schoolmaster’s behavior seems quite appropriate, if harsh in tone (“How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”), yet the children rebel in his imagination. It’s clear this rebellion is only imagined, as at the end of the song nothing has changed, the schoolmaster is still in control, and the kids are still noisily carrying on as always.
The lyrics end with the clear statement that Pink looks back on his school experiences as contributing to his isolation (but again, we don’t see what’s happened in school that was all that traumatic).
Note: some readers may find some contents of this post offensive or disturbing.
When we grew up and went to school
there were certain teachers
who would hurt the children in any way they could
by pouring their derision on anything we did
exposing every weakness
no matter how carefully hidden by the kids
but in the town it was well known when they got home at night
their fat and psychopathic wives would thrash them
within inches of their lives
The song begins with the sound of a helicopter and children’s voices, then the sound of a man (Roger Waters) with an affected thick Scottish accent, shouting “Hey! What’s this? Guards, get on with it!”
Immediately thereafter we get a heavy downbeat of D on guitar, bass, and drums. The guitar resumes the D ostinato rhythm from the previous track. After four bars, the bass descends in a G minor scalar pattern to establish a temporary tonality of G (probably G minor). Two bars later the tonality is transposed to A minor, with the same ostinato rhythm. The lyrics are chanted over this ostinato with transpositions up a third or down a fifth at the end of a phrase. The “but it was well known” portion is accompanied by the same G minor downward scale heard earlier. Once the lyrics complete, a chorus (originally scheduled to be the Beach Boys) sings alternating F and Bb chords, settling on a C chord (C7), which wants to resolve to F major. This tension is left hanging at the end of the track.
The lyrics are a prose poem. I found it difficult to determine where lines break- ultimately, I think the only natural break happens as marked here (“kids/but”). The lyrics are more spoken (or hollered) than sung, though there remains a vestige of tonality to them. Before the line break the lyrics are spoken in a soft but sinister voice. After the break they are shouted. There are some notable approximate rhymes (school/could; night/wives/lives) but it’s difficult to tell if these rhymes were intentional or were meant to create a structure. In the terminology of Pat Pattinson, the rhyme scheme adds to an already tremendously unstable song.
The story told here is straightforward. The title is sarcasm; Pink recalls his school days (we’re clearly in past tense now) and recalls unpleasant and hurtful teachers, represented here by the character of the schoolmaster. He also remembers feeling powerless except for the revenge fantasy that his tormenter is also suffering.
Early drafts of The Wall apparently developed the character of the schoolmaster, seen here as a hostile caricature. He appears on The Final Cut album (“The Hero’s Return”) as a disillusioned World War II veteran who can’t relate to the children he teaches or to others, not even his wife:
Sweetheart, sweetheart, are you fast asleep? Good.
That’s the only time that I can really speak to you.
There is something that I’ve locked away
A memory that is too painful to withstand the light of day
When we came back from the war
the banners and flags hung on everyone’s door
we danced and we sang in the street and the church bells rang
But the burning in my heart
the memory smolders on
of the gunner’s dying words
on the intercom…
We don’t see this human face, with whom we could empathize, of the schoolmaster in the final version of The Wall. Here he is a caricaturized puppet (in the live shows) who metes out abuse to the children he teaches by day, and who in young Pink’s imagination receives the same treatment at night.
We don’t really know what Pink’s teachers were like. They may indeed have been stern and abusive. We know, however, that Pink is telling the story in hindsight, and we know that he is not only an unstable narrator as an adult, but was full of angst and anxiety as a child, which likely distorted his perceptions of others, including his teachers and headmasters. Likely the truth is somewhere in the middle. As a work of fiction, there is no truth to be known on this matter, really. The only issue is how Pink’s perception of his treatment at the hands of his teachers affected the development of his character- which will be addressed in the next song.
The primary purpose of this piece is to introduce the schoolmaster and set the listener up for the next piece- “Another Brick In The Wall- Part 2.” The two pieces are so closely tied that they were released together as a hit single; casual listeners probably don’t realize the two are separate pieces.
In the live versions of this show (both the 1980 Pink Floyd tour and the Roger Waters shows), technicians begin stacking “bricks” in front of the band, gradually building a wall between the band and the audience.
You stand frozen
made in Taiwan
and war paint
ready for the beat
I feel the sweat
from the spotlights
on your forehead
as you spin headlong
I feel each fiber
in your extended leg.
I didn’t raise you
to be this, a
but as you dance
I couldn’t be
a prouder father.
Al Filreis, Another Brick In The Wall, Anzio, Axis, Battle of Britain, criticism, Eric Fletcher Waters, Kelly Writers House, Luftwaffe, music, Nazi Germany, Pink Floyd, RAF, Roger Waters, Royal Fusiliers, The Wall, World War II
Daddy’s flown across the ocean
Leaving just a memory
A snapshot in the family album
What else did you leave for me?
Daddy, what’d you leave behind for me?
All in all, it was just a brick in the wall
All in all, it was all just bricks in the wall
This song is in a moderate 4/4, about 80 beats/minute- a shift from the previous two songs. A strong D tonal center (probably D Dorian) is established by a simple pedal D guitar ostinato (eighth-sixthteenth-sixteenth-eigth-sixteenth-sixteenth), up a fourth from the tonality of the previous songs, contributing to tension buildup. The guitar has heavy delay effects applied to it, creating a sense of three-dimensional space. The melody is a clear statement of the “Wall” motif, first introduced subtly in “In The Flesh?”, transposed down a whole step to D Dorian. The rhyme scheme is XAXAA, with a repetition of the final line.
World War II began in Europe on September 1, 1939 when the Wehrmacht invaded Poland. In short order most of continental Europe came under control of the Nazis and their allies. France was the last to fall in 1940.
Following the capitulation of France, in the summer of 1940, Hitler set his sights on Britain. The Luftwaffe began air attacks over England in an attempt to gain air superiority in preparation for invasion. German bombs rained down over England with terribly destructive and traumatic fury. (John Lennon was said to have been born under a German air raid). Americans were shocked listening to the rooftop radio reporting of Edward R. Murrow, but America would not enter the war until the following year, after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Roger Waters’s father, Eric Fletcher Waters, was in the British Army as a member of the Royal Fusiliers and was sent to Italy, where he was killed in action at Anzio in 1943. His body was never found.
Here we don’t directly learn how Pink’s father died- just that he “flew across the ocean, leaving just a memory.” Later (“Bring The Boys Back Home”) we get a clearer implication that Pink’s father was killed in action.
We see perhaps Pink as a boy with his mother and a photo album, her showing him a picture of his father and explaining in a child-sensitive way why he’s not there. We feel the pain of his longing for a father- “what’d you leave for me?”, then commenting in hindsight that he started to close himself off from others and perhaps from his own feelings (using the metaphor of bricks and walls) because of the loss of his father (and-now we know- the guilt Waters felt believing he was responsible for his father’s death).
The piece ends with a long coda of Dorian blues-infused guitar solo over a bass ostinato (eighth-sixthteenth-sixteenth-eigth-sixteenth-sixteenth) (D-C-D, D-D-G-C-D), when we begin to hear children’s voices and a helicopter, transitioning into the next piece.
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.
So you thought you might like to go to the show
To feel the warm thrill of confusion, that space cadet glow
Tell me, is something eluding you, Sunshine?
Is this not what you expected to see?
If you want to find out what’s behind these cold eyes
You’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise
I had planned to include Youtube clips from the album versions of each song, but they have been pulled from Youtube because of copyright. Instead, video footage from the Earl’s Court concert from 8/9/80 is available on Youtube, so I’ll include that instead. In some ways, that’s fortunate as I tend to prefer the live performance, as this piece was conceived as and always intended to be (it appears to me, anyway) a rock opera performed live.
One quick note on the concert footage- it’s hard to tell with the grainy footage, but careful inspection will reveal that in this video it is not the members of Pink Floyd performing this song! It is the backing band wearing rubber masks made up to look like the band. The man singing this song is not Roger Waters- if you look closely you can see he is wearing a mask- but it it Waters’ voice. The real band was raised on a platform onto the stage after the first song. The use of the “surrogate band” is foreshadowing, as we’ll see later.
The album begins very quietly with a minor-key accordion melody, and Waters’ voice is heard saying “I came in?” Later we’ll see the significance of this. The Earl’s Court concert begins with a fake announcement interrupted by the beginning of the song- an effect that is quite startling on the album as well.
The song is in 12/8 time in the key of A minor, and begins with a doubling of lead guitar and bass introducing the first of several key motifs in the piece, which starts in the tonic, jumps up a fifth, then progresses downward in a scalar pattern, repeating and modulating a few times until it arrives at the dominant chord (E), leading into the beginning of the song itself.
Two bars before the lyrics begin, we are introduced to the “Wall” motif, here presented as a doubling of guitar and bass playing E-F#-G-F in dotted half notes. This motif is woven throughout the album, transpised into a number of keys and with variations of rhythm, serving to tie the work together. It’s a subtle introduction to the motif but it is clearly present.
The lyrics are accompanied by a simple I-IV-I-IV-I-iii-IV-V7 rock progression. The rhyme scheme is AAXXBB. Each line takes two measures of music, and the rhythm of each line is mostly simple even eighth notes with occasional syncopation. The melody is simple and repetitive, except for a leap spotlighting the word “feel” and a quick E-F#-G#-A cadence to end the song (the same cadence used after the Wall motif was introduced, and note that the cadence itself is a small variation of the Wall motif).
As I said in the previous post, the idea for The Wall came from the frustration the band felt during the 1977 “In The Flesh” tour- the title of the song being an obvious reference. Waters had the fantasy of the band playing behind a wall to separate the band from the audience. I see this song, beginning the show, as a reenactment of those 1977 concerts. This time Waters startles the audience and grabs their attention. “Hey!” he seems to be saying. “Is this not what you expected to see? You want to hear our usual psychedelic stuff, pharmaceutically enhanced [a space-cadet glow]? Not this time. Wake up! I want to show you who I am. If you want to find out what’s behind these cold eyes [they certainly do look cold behind the masks], you’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise.”
The piece ends with a repeat of the “In The Flesh” motif, as Waters begins the show, shouting “Lights! Roll the sound effects! Camera! Action!!”, thus formally beginning the show, and we hear (and see) a plane diving and possibly crashing. It’s not explicitly stated, but the plane evokes to me World War II, particularly the Battle of Britain and Waters’s father’s combat, important themes to be explored later.
This song functions as a prelude. Pink, the fictional character whose story this is, has not yet been introduced. To me this is Waters playing emcee and inviting us into the story.
Introduction to Improvisation
Lesson 1 Analysis: “What Is This Thing Called Love?”
The presented improvisation on “What Is This Thing Called Love?” is a 32-bar improvisation in jazz style performed on a piano. The piece is in the key of C major, in 4/4 time at a rapid tempo, approximately 190 beats/minute. As a jazz piece, all eighth notes are swing eighths (played similar to a dotted eighth and sixteenth rather than two straight eighth notes).
The first eight bars are the exposition of the theme of this solo. The chord progression underlying the theme is v(mi7b5)- I7b9- IVmi- ii7b5-V7-I. The last three chords in the progression (ii-V-I) is a common progression used to resolve to the tonic chord at the end of a phrase. Melodically, the melody consists primarily of chromatic scales- downward in the first bar from the flat five of the v chord, then turning upward in the second bar (with accidental sharp 4 of the scale- which could also be expressed enharmonically as flat 5- flat 6, and flat 7), then down again in the third bar (with an accidental flat 5 and flat 4). In bar 5 we begin the turn toward resolving the phrase with another mostly-chromatic scale going upward(with accidental flat 5, flat 6, and sharp 7- C#, from the harmonic minor scale). Bar 6 begins with a quarter note 5 of the V7 chord, followed by a triplet figure that clearly sets us up for the final chromatic run downward to resolution with the tonic chord in bar 7.
The second eight bars are a variation on the theme presented in the first eight bars. We see two distinct variations in the first four bars of this improvisation. First, the dominant rhythm has changed from swung eighth notes to triplets alternating with eighth notes, with the second eighth tied to the first triplet eighth in the next measure, adding syncopation to the rhythm. The melody still remains primarily chromatic, but the eighth note features downward intervals of a diminished fifth or tritone (Bb to E, G to Db) in the first bar. The eighth notes in the second bar jump upward a perfect fifth (D natural to G), then down a whole step (Bb to Ab). In the third bar we drop a perfect fifth (C to G), then down a whole step- the same figure as the previous measure (Bb to Ab). The four bar phrase ends with a quarter note F, the tonic of the chord in that measure but the subdominant of the key of the piece (thus leading us into the next four bars). The final four bars of this section return us to scalar patterns rhythmically similar to the last four bars in the exposition, though the scales use more whole-steps than half-steps and are thus less chromatic, aside from the prominent Ab and Eb accidentals and the accidental D# and F# (sharp 2 and sharp 4) in Bar 7. Bar 8 ends the phrase with a quarter note tonic and three beats of rest.
The third eight bars (the bridge) changes the local tonality to C minor (the relative minor of the key of the piece). No key change is indicated, but the chord selections and the consistent accidentals of Eb and Ab are consistent with this change. The progression here is i(mi7), IV7b9, VII, VI, V7, the final chord being the relative major of the chord that begins the final four bars, facilitating the transition. Rhythmically we now have syncopation via eighth notes paired with quarter notes (bars 1 and 3) with intervals of a tritone (Eb to G) in bar 1 and a perfect sixth (D to F, C to Eb, Bb to D) in bar 3. The phrase ends with a whole note (tied to an eighth). The second four measures begin with the same syncopated eighth-quarter rhythm with intervals of a major sixth (Ab to F, Gb to Eb) in bar 5, then a chromatic eighth pattern in bar 6 reminiscent of the rhythm of the main theme. In bar 7 we recapitulate the end of the phrase in bars 3-4 of the bridge, then end with a syncopated eighth-dotted quarter figure that jumps a perfect fifth to the G (the root of the chord), thus resolving the bridge.
The final eight bars are a recapitulation of the the main theme, with chromatic scales similar to the exposition, with the subtle addition of a syncopated eighth-quarter figure in bar 2 that reminds the listener of the bridge. The piece resolves in bars 7-8 with a simple C major scale to end on the tonic.
Here is my improvisation on the same piece on bass guitar.
The Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania is holding a 10-day e-mail discussion on Pink Floyd’s album The Wall later this month (Modpo people, you probably go the same e-mail from Al that I did). I could not resist signing up to participate, and I thought it would be a good idea to blog on the discussion, as well as my own understanding and appreciation of this work. Pink Floyd’s work, and this album has had a significant impact on me as a musician, at least when I am playing or writing rock music or popular music.
I originally planned to hold off on writing these posts until the discussion started, but I’ve decided to start early, primarily because I fear that I won’t have time to do the work justice if I wait until then. It’s better to start now and take my time.
What I’d like to do is go through the work, piece by piece, and explore it with you. My aim in doing so is to expand my understanding of the work, to develop as a critical writer, and to have some fun. I’d love to get discussion going here, so please do jump in.
Please note that I am not trying to do a thorough academic work. Frankly, while that would be fun to do, I simply don’t have the time for that. As such, one of the concessions I will make is that I will share bits of background history and apocrypha I’ve picked up over the years that contribute to my understanding of the piece- but I don’t intend to cite references. I have no intent at plagiarizing anyone- I simply don’t remember which interview I read on which website I got such-and-such from, and if I take the time to go back and cite references this effort will never get done. Instead, I will acknowledge up front: if you see something in these posts that you wrote- yes, I may well have learned it from you, and you deserve to be cited. Tell me and I’ll cite you. I also acknowledge up front that some of what I write may simply be wrong- perhaps because my recall is wrong. If you need an academic level of certainty on anything I write here, I encourage you to do your own fact-checking. I’d love to see what you’ve got- and to be shown I’m wrong. I’m always up to learn something new.
Before I begin, I would like to alert those readers who aren’t familiar with this work- this is definitely R-rated stuff. There is a great deal in this work that can be (and is) offensive: misogyny, violence, racism, Nazism. I obviously do not know Roger Waters personally, but I am under the impression that he is an ardent pacifist and is passionately against each of these. I am as well. I don’t believe for a moment that Roger Waters intends to condone these traits or behaviors, and to be clear, I certainly do not. To me, Waters uses them in a way that is artistically coherent and relevant- indeed, integral- to the development of the character whose story he is presenting. This is certainly not Waters being a provocateur for its own sake. I believe he intends to portray these in a very negative light. For the sake of those who are not familiar with this work, when blogging on a song with (my estimation of what appears to be) offensive material, I will warn you ahead of time. Please be assured that it is not my intent to offend anyone. If I have done this job well, you will see how these offensive representations contribute to the whole of this work.
I first heard The Wall in 1987, when I was 16. I’m almost 100% sure I heard Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon first. To a kid that was fairly naive, growing up in a household where you only heard the “oldies” (which in those days meant the ’50’s) or easy listening, Dark Side of the Moon was a revelation, and The Wall was even more so. Somehow I wandered over to 105.9 FM in Chicago, which back in those days on Sunday nights they would play through several classic albums. I made it a habit to be there taping. I had a huge collection of tapes that way, which I finally got rid of a couple of years ago when they were finally too degraded to play.
I was a shy, awkward kid and like many that age, I didn’t grow up easy. The Wall was like nothing I had ever heard, or even imagined. I didn’t understand it at that age, but I had the sense that whoever wrote this thing, *here* was a guy who gets it to be me. I can still remember the intensity of hearing it that first time. It felt like I had tasted forbidden fruit. This was serious stuff here, and I never looked back.
I saw (what was left of) Pink Floyd in 1988 at the Rosemont Horizon outside Chicago. By then Roger Waters had left the band, Rick Wright was there but not legally part of the band anymore, and that incarnation suffered from not having Waters. It was more like a weak David Gilmour solo effort. Still, for that young kid it was an incredible experience. That concert tour was documented in the live album Delicate Sound of Thunder. There was the obligatory renditions of “Run Like Hell” and “Another Brick in the Wall Part II,” but they simply didn’t work without Waters.
Last summer (July 9) I saw Roger Waters perform The Wall at the PNC Arena in Raleigh. I have some photos and video clips that I’ll share as we go along.
I have since performed a few pieces from The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon on various occasions. If memory serves, I have performed “Goodbye Blue Sky,” “Is There Anybody Out There?,” and have recorded “Mother” and “Nobody Home.” I’ve played “Hey You” for over 20 years but never had the opportunity to perform it. No self-respecting rock guitarist goes without learning the solo to “Comfortably Numb” and the riff from “Run Like Hell,” and I was no different. I had the idea at one point to cover the entire album as an exercise- but that just seems crazy now, as I’d rather work on my own stuff. I discovered writing my piece for the songwriting class that- not surprisingly, as a bassist like Roger Waters- his way seems to have creeped into my psyche. I see the final piece I did for the songwriting class as having a strong Pink Floyd influence, as if the Floyd and Neil Young got together for a jam.
A little background leading up to the creation of the wall (for those who aren’t familiar):
– In 1978, Pink Floyd were in bad straits financially. I don’t remember the details but they owed a lot of tax money. They needed to come out with a new album to pay off their tax debts. There was therefore a lot of pressure to get an album done and get it done quickly. This would have an effect on the rising tensions within the band, the end result of these tensions being the departures of Rick Wright and Roger Waters from the band.
– In 1977, Pink Floyd was on their In The Flesh tour to support their Animals album. They were playing large arenas, which is commonplace now but back then was a new thing, and the band found it a frustrating and alienating experience. (The Beatles experienced something similar, and quit playing live altogether back in 1966). One night, David Gilmour was so frustrated that he refused to perform their usual 12-bar blues encore. Roger Waters got hepatitis during the tour, and was given a shot of something (I’m not sure exactly what) to “keep you going through the show” (when he probably should have been at a hospital). This experience appears later in The Wall.
One night, Waters became so frustrated and angry at some unruly fans that he spat on them. He was shocked at what he’d done. He started to imagine building a wall between the band and the audience, playing from behind the wall, which was the kernel of the idea for the story.
– Roger Waters never knew his father. He was a baby when his father was killed at Anzio in World War II. If I’m not mistaken, he was killed by bombardment from a Stuka divebomber- but that may be more apocrypha than fact. The loss- and absence of his father- is a key point in the story.
While waiting to go into the arena to see The Wall, I found an interview Waters gave a few years ago. In this interview, he said that after years of psychotherapy he’d come to learn that he believed as a child (and carried into adulthood the unspoken belief) that he had killed his father, in the way that children egocentrically ascribe all events to themselves. Reading this helped me fit the last few pieces of my own confusion about this piece into perspective.
There are several incarnations of The Wall. There is the original 1979 album, to which most of my discussion here will be restricted. A film, directed by Alan Parker, was released in 1982. There are a few musical differences in the movie, which I’ll point out where relevant, but I won’t dwell on it since I haven’t seen the movie in probably 20 years. It’s a difficult movie to watch, but Roger Ebert includes it as one of his “Great Movies.” There is a live recording of Roger Waters and an all-star band performing it at the Berlin Wall in 1990. In 2000 a recording of Pink Floyd’s 1980 live Earl’s Court performances was released, titled “Is There Anybody Out There?” Waters has been touring The Wall live the last few years, including the show I saw last summer. It’s touring Europe now, I believe. There is also now available a box set called the “Immersion” set. I don’t know what’s in it or whether it’s worth checking out.
While the plot derives some semi-autobiographical features from Roger Waters’ life, it’s important to keep in mind that this is a work of fiction, and not meant to be in any way autobiographical. Some features are also borrowed from Syd Barrett, founder and former leader of the group who melted away into drug abuse and madness in the late 1960’s.
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