Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Wall

"So ya
thought ya
might like to
go to the show..."

So Thursday night I went with Sigmund, Kim, and a few of their friends to see a performance of The Wall, live at the Erwin Center with Roger Waters.
The Wall, for those who don't already know, is a rock album by Pink Floyd that came out in 1979.  It's a concept album, loosely based on the life of Roger Waters (who wrote a lot of the lyrics for Pink Floyd), and it follows a fictional protagonist named Pink throughout his life as he experiences various events that lead to an increasing sense of isolation, alienation, and numbness.  Pink suffers various occurrences of emotional trauma, beginning with the childhood death of his father, including life with an overprotective mother, school with abusive teachers, relationships with exploitative women, and a music career filled with drugs, alcohol, and debauchery.  In addition to all of these things, he looks out upon a broader world and finds it replete with materialism, warfare, sexual objectification, and suffering.  All of these things take a toll on Pink.  One by one they become bricks in a wall that he wall that he builds to protect the more innocent, suffering part of his soul.
In the end, Pink descends into madness and reimagines himself as some sort of bigoted, fascist, hate-spewing figurehead.  Apparently unable to deal with the injury to his psyche, he takes a "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" tack, and casts himself as one of the people causing harm to others so that he might suffer less of it himself.  He takes to the stage as a quasi-Nazi type of figure and encourages his own fans to turn on each other for reasons ranging from differences in race to religion to sexual orientation.
In the end, though, unable to deal with the person he has become, Pink puts himself on trial.  He ultimately find his own conduct deplorable (in his madness, his tendency to show human feeling is found to be one of his greatest crimes), and sentences himself to have his protective wall torn down as an appropriate sentence for his crimes.  The end of the show finds The Wall destroyed and toppled, Pink exposed to the world once again.  The final music is quiet, soothing, and a bit hopeful- seeming to signal some sort of new beginning.

The show was really good.  Better than I was expecting, really.  I first listened to the album of The Wall on a band trip when I was a freshman in high school.  We were riding from Austin to Lake Charles, Louisiana, for a competition, and I listened to it on cassette on my walkman.  I still remember that we had dark skies and rain for the entire trip.  I sat with my head up against the bus window, watching the gray countryside roll by and listening to The Wall.  When I was done, I flipped the tape over and started again.
I was floored by the whole thing.  Up to that point I had never listened to an album that took me on such an emotional journey, and I'm not sure that I ever have since. 
People can criticize the Wall for a number of reasons.  It's depressing, it can be a little cheesy at times, and it's about as subtle as a hammer over the head.
On the other hand, few albums have ever been written that managed to carry off a theme and convey a story as effectively as Pink Floyd did with The Wall.  The record manages to convey the story of one person's inner life in a way that few other art forms (let alone rock operas) have ever done.  With The Wall, a story about a rock star who struggles with madness, the musical medium actually becomes part of the message, and the songs are just perfectly calibrated to carry the listener along on the emotional journey that Pink is undertaking.
As you can tell, I'm a genuinely huge fan.

And the show Thursday night went far beyond the typical sort of Rock nostalgia concert that you might expect on a tour from an album released in 1979.  To be honest, going into the concert I had The Wall mentally pegged within a certain time period. 
The album was written from the standpoint of a narrator whose father was killed in World War II.  It was almost undoubtedly influenced by the experiences of a songwriter who had lived through the era of the Vietnam War.  The film of The Wall has some concert footage and art that seems to haven been gathered in the 70's and possibly the 60's. 
At the show last night, though, more recent images from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were repeatedly displayed upon the giant wall that was slowly erected during the course of the performance.  The names of dead American and British service members were displayed  along with deceased Iraqis and Afghanistani civilians.  Various corporate logos ranging from Shell Oil to Apple were incoprporated in the imagery.  In short, Waters and crew did a great job of reinforcing the timelessness of the themes and the universality of the message.  The original events that inspired The Wall might have included the death of a World War II veteran and carpet bombing in Vietnam, but the images of dead Gulf War vets and modern day drone strikes reinforced the notion that contemporary life is no less damaging to the psyche that were the events of the 20th century.  In fact, images of various people plugged into iPods and other electronic devices hinted at the idea that modern living may in some ways lead to an even greater sense of alienation than was experienced by previous generations.

At any rate, the messages in The Wall are undoubtedly still relevant, and absent some kind of huge societal shifts, they're likely to remain relevant for a long time to come.  The music was really good (G.E. Smith on guitar!), and the special effects and stage production were pretty amazing.
A good night.
Definitely worth catching.

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