On “Howl,” an electronic composition by Mark Snyder created from the audio track of the ModPo ’12 lecture video on Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” Every sound in the piece is from the video; nothing has been added to the sound.
Note: Some readers may find the contents of this post offensive or disturbing.
I am just a new boy
A stranger in this town
Where are all the good times?
Who’s going to show this stranger around?
Oooh, I need a dirty woman
Oooh, I need a dirty girl
Will some woman in this desert land
Make me feel like a real man?
Take this rock and roll refugee
Oooh, baby, set me free
Oooh, I need a dirty woman
Oooh, I need a dirty girl
Musically, the song is a disco song (a parody or caricature of disco, actually). It begins with a pentatonic riff in E on lead guitar, repeated four times before the lyrics band joins in. The verses follow the same pattern, each phrase ending with two beats of A5 power chords. The chorus consists of a continued disco beat in A, ending each phrase in E (mirroring the verses). After two repetitions of the verse-chorus structure, the structure continues to repeat with a guitar solo replacing the vocals. As the song fades out, we hear Pink calling his wife, a man answering and hanging up, and an operator telling Pink she doesn’t understand what’s happening.
Each verse uses a different rhyme scheme (X-A-X-A in the first verse, A-B-A-B in the second). There’s no significant internal rhyme. Each verse line contains four beats, consistent with the higher-frequency song’s disco form.
As mentioned above, the song is a parody or caricature of the raw sexuality found in the disco music that was at the top of the charts at the time. For example, compare this song with “More, More, More” by the Andrea True Connection or “Get Down Tonight” by KC and the Sunshine Band – neither or which were parodies. All three songs are direct expressions of sexual libido, but the Pink Floyd version is exaggerated and not in keeping with their usual style. It is so well done, however, that it may not immediately be recognized as parody.
Pink is now firmly entrenched behind his Wall, with only a few metaphorical empty spaces. Yet here we see an expression of sexual desire- but a disconnected one. Pink is not interested in real human connection. He feels inadequate, not a “real man,” and daydreams of finding a “dirty woman” (in rebellion against his mother, who wouldn’t “let anyone dirty get through”). The lyrics are misogynistic and objectifying of women, simply because Pink (as he becomes increasingly isolated and disturbed) isn’t interested in human contact- he’s grasping at straws after discovering that hiding behind his wall has only made things harder, not easier- he is isolated and safe from being hurt by others, but his isolation has only intensified his self-loathing. I note as well that he says he “needs a dirty woman,” but he is caught in the quandary that he cannot reach out to others, so his “need” will remain unmet, and his self-loathing will continue to worsen.
“Empty Spaces” (album version)
What shall we use
To fill the empty spaces
Where we used to talk?
How shall I fill the final places?
How shall I complete the Wall?
“What Shall We Do Now?”
What shall we use
To fill the empty spaces
Where waves of hunger gnaw
Shall we set out
Across this sea of faces
In search of more and more applause?
Shall we buy a new guitar?
Shall we drive a more powerful car?
Shall we work straight through the night?
Shall we get into fights?
Leave the lights on?
Do tours of the East?
Break up homes?
Send flowers by phone?
Take to drink?
Go to shrinks?
Give up meat?
Keep people as pets?
Fill the attic with cash?
Store up leisure?
But never relax at all
With our backs to the wall
My personal feeling is that the latter version, which occurs in the film and live performances, was meant to be the definitive version as it more directly relates to Pink’s story (and to Roger Waters’s experience). The song was cut down due to the time limitations imposed by the vinyl album format.
The song begins with a lead guitarriff playing another variation of the Wall motif (described in earlier posts) over a white noise ostinato Waters sings the “Empty Spaces” lines in each version with the Wall motif as a melody. On the album the song ends abruptly, transitioning into the next track. The film and live versions transition into “Where Shall We Go Now?” which begins with sets of three eight note power chords in the Wall motif (E-E-E- F#-F#-F#-G-G-G-F#-F#-F). The rest of the song is played over alternating A and E power chords.
Both versions of the song use rhyme to impart structure. The “Empty Spaces” rhyme alternating lines (spaces/places; talk/Wall; spaces/faces; gnaw/applause).
“What Shall We Do Now?” is a collapsing series of questions, rhyming generally in pairs (guitar/car; night/fight/lights; on/bombs; East/diseases; bones/homes/phone; drink/shrinks; meat/sleep; pets/rats/cash; treasure/leisure; all/Wall). The structure of a series of questions has been compared to Allen Ginsburg’s diatribe on Moloch in “Howl.” (Waters also used this technique to powerful effect at the end of “Dogs” from the Animals album.)
At this point, Pink has isolated himself but not completely. He looks for whatever he can find to distract himself from his pain and loneliness- materialism, sex, workaholism, and so on.
I note that the plural “we” is used rather than the singular “I” here. I don’t have a good explanation for this. Who is “we” and why does Pink refer to himself in the plural?
I have to add that while Gerald Scarfe’s animation (seen in the video) is perhaps in keeping with Pink’s mental state, I find it distasteful and offensive due to its blatant misogyny. I don’t feel this is an edorsement of or reflection of misogyny on the part of Roger Waters- any more than The Wall endorses Nazi ideology.
Did you see the frightened ones?
Did you hear the falling bombs?
Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter
When the promise of a brave new world
Unfurled beneath the clear blue sky?
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 blue sky
The song begins with the drone of an airplane in the distance, followed by young Harry Waters saying “Look Mummy- there’s an airplane up in the sky!” We then hear a nylon-string guitar enter with an eighth note D-major pattern (D-F#-D-G-F#-D-F#) repeated, leading into an A minor chord with a scalar melody that transitions the introduction into the verses.
Lyrically, each verse is a series of three questions, each asking about memories of the Battle of Britain. There’s no formal rhyme structure, though examples of thyme are present (wonder/shelter, world/unfurled, pain/flames). Rhythmically, each line is a series of trochees- three each for the first two lines, then a longer series for the final question.
The song deals with with the memory of the Battle of Britain, the air attacks by the Luftwaffe in July-October 1940, meant to achieve air superiority over Britain in anticipation of invasion. The Luftwaffe failed, and the invasion never happened. Here in the United States Edward R. Murrow’s rooftop reports from London provided memorably frightening accounts of the fighting:
Among their tactics the Luftwaffe used terror bombing, dropping bombs on population centers. (It’s said that John Lennon was born under a German air raid).
The song doesn’t make clear who is asking the questions and who is being asked, though it’s conceivable that Pink could be either. It seems more likely to me that it is Pink asking the question, breaking the fourth wall and directly asking the audience. Clearly being a young child facing the Blitz would be a terrifying experience and would contribute to a sensed need for a wall of protection.
It should be noted, however, that Waters, being born in 1943, couldn’t have a living memory of the Blitz. It is possible he has tapped into a communal memory, hearing stories from those around him. (I have memories of a killer tornado that struck my hometown in 1967, even though I was not yet born. I have seen so many pictures and heard so many stories it’s as if I was there.)
Mother, do you think they’ll drop the Bomb?
Mother, do you think they’ll like this song?
Mother, do you think they’ll try to break my balls?
Mother, should I build a wall?
Mother, should I run for president?
Mother, should I trust the government?
Mother, will they put me in the firing line?
Is it just a waste of time?
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
Mama will keep baby cozy and warm
Of course Mama’s gonna help build the wall
Mother, do you think she’s good enough for me?
Mother, do you think she’s dangerous to me?
Mother, will she tear your little boy apart?
Mother, will she break my heart?
Hush now baby, baby don’t you cry
Mama’s gonna check out all your girlfriends for you
Mama won’t let anyone dirty get through
Mama’s gonna wait up until you get in
Mama will always find out where you’ve been
Mamma’s gonna keep baby healthy and clean
You’ll always be baby to me
Mother, did it need to be so high?
The song verses use a simple folk structure. It begins with Roger Waters singing accompanied by a single acoustic guitar, with the following standard chord structure: I-IV-I-IV-V-IV-I. Gradually other instruments are added in a pyramid fashion.
The chorus uses a simular structure, but is sung by David Gilmour, whose softer, gentler timbre (compared with Waters) helps create the illusion of a young Pink and his mother interacting.
I’ve mentioned before that I see the story being told in retrospect by a highly unstable, unreliable narrator. Pink seems to externalize his problems, pointing fingers wherever he can. This childlike behavior is to be expected from an emotionally regressed character. In that light, while Pink shows his mother as stiflingly overprotective, we don’t really know what she was like. He portrays her as being unwilling to let him grow or mature (using the metaphor of birds- “she won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing.” Pink is emotionally dependent on her, wanting her to protect him from annihilation (“Mother, do you think they’ll drop the Bomb?”) and good old Freudian castration anxiety (“Mother, do you think they’ll try to break my balls?”) As Pink portrays her, she is only too willing to foster his dependency on her, which only adds to his inability to relate to others (i.e. another brick in the Wall).
The song ends with an aborted third verse, with one line showing young Pink still has ambivalence about his impending isolation: “Mother, did it need ti be so high?”
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.
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.