Understanding The Wall

A deep look into Pink Floyd's most ambitous album.

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Introduction

Pink Floyd's most ambitious album tends to go unnoticed, or at least disregarded outside the wide circle of fans. Released in 1979, and later made into a movie in 1982, the double-album was of such length and controversy that critics only saw it as an feeble attempt to reconstruct the fame and appreciation of Wish You Were Here. Needless to say it is more, much more. Even though Syd Barret's early departure from the band due to paranoia has largely affected the outcome on both albums, The Wall is of a completely different concept. Where Wish you were here is by all means a traditional Floyd album, The Wall is a web of hidden meanings, stories and elusive thinking.

Scratching The Surface

In the movie it becomes evident that the album follows a very specific storyline. The main character is (a bit too conveniently) named Pink Floyd, a musician who is adored by his fans but eaten inside by his past. The album begins by the construction of The Wall, an imaginary hideout for the artist where he can avoid all the bad sides of life. On several occasions he sings of all the tragedies of his past being only another brick in the wall. From the very beginning it is clear who have contributed to the wall: Mother's gonna put all of her fears into you - Of course mother's gonna help you build the wall and Hey teachers leave those kids alone - All in all you're just another brick in the wall. On the end of the first cd retreating completely behind his wall Pink cries: There's nothing you can say to change my mind - Goodbye!

The mood changes completely on the second half of the album. Instead of gladly living inside the wall Pink longs outside, wanting to see his father who died in WW2 and to rid himself of the image of his mother. Between shows he locks himself in his hotel room refusing to come out and on his supposedly last show he loses control completely and shouts at the crowd: Are there any queers in the theatre tonight - get them up against the wallIf I'd have my way - I'd have all of you shot. As a sad climax to his sad story he imagines himself being prosecuted by all of those who helped to build the wall demanding: Tear down the wall.

Syd Barret's Contribution

Syd Barret's retreat from Pink Floyd in early 1968 was considered as a great loss in the band. Barret suffered (and still suffers) from paranoia that by legend was caused by too much LSD and other similar drugs. As I mentioned before, Wish you were here is largely a tribute to Barret and his works. He is said to have visited the studio before the albums release and listened to the tracks while the other members sat by sadly noticing that Barret had no clue that the Miner for truth and delusion was in fact himself.

Pink Floyd (the character) is generally considered to be yet another reference to the famous founding member of the band. As its model, Floyd retreats from stardom only to find that he is running away from his own shadow. Instead of being a description of the daily fears of a rock star's life, The Wall is a melancholy story of how the weight of the past can drive anyone over the edge.

Other Contributors

The idea for The Wall is said to have developed during the In the flesh-tour when Roger Waters spat on a disrespectful fan and had the sudden revelation of building a large wall on stage to separate the crowd from the fans. This idea evolved into what became album. The concept of a rock star's hideout from reality was vaguely familiar so Waters decided to sum up his experiences into one album.

Also the death of Waters' father in WW2 has had a clear influence on making the album. Again the connection between reality and album is evident because Mr. Floyd's father suffered the same fate. On the album Floyd longs for his father partly because he lacks a role model, partly because his mother is tyrant. The war-theme continues throughout the album in various ways: Mother do you think they'll drop the bomb? Referring to the cold war and the threat of a soviet nuclear bomb and Did you see the frightened ones? - Did you see the falling bombs? describing the bombings of London in WW2.

Social Criticism

The Wall is not just an imaginary hideout for paranoid Floyd but also a symbol for everything that had affected the British public at the time of the release: The wall between classes, the wall between races, the wall between teachers and students, the wall between two armies and of course the wall between socialism and capitalism (heightened at the Berlin wall). In all of the above a peaceful solution isn't possible because the gap (or the wall, if you wish) between the parties has grown so large.

Instead of straightforward criticism, Roger Waters uses irony and sarcasm to make his point. Even though he is mad Floyd is a remarkably human character and easy to relate to. It is very easy to understand his agony and fear with such a remarkable amount of bricks in the wall. In the end Floyd imagines himself prosecuted by the very people who helped to build the wall in the first place. Not having a clue why it is there the teachers, girlfriends and his wife demand that the wall would be torn down so Floyd could be punished for what he has done. Oh, the irony.

Conclusion

The almost oedipal relationship with his mother and the broken love for his wife seem to be the most crucial factors in Pink Floyd's lonesome life leaving only the material world for him to live in. Got thirteen channels of shit on the T.V to choose from Looking back the most important point made on the whole album may just about be the material rule over the developed world since it has evolved into a much larger issue than war or public schools. Roger Waters' masterpiece is still as much a wonder of storytelling and thought, not to mention its musical highs, that it has lived through 3 decades without losing its glow.

74 comments sorted by best / new / date

    dustafust
    Pink Floyd?s most ambitious album tends to go unnoticed
    /slaps author unnoticed? Really, last time I checked, The Wall was the third best selling album of all time, I wouldn't consider that unnoticed or disregarded. Other than that, you did well in getting the main points down, but there's waaaaay too much in the Wall for it to be summed up, at all really. Try this website, http://home.mchsi.com/~ttint/ theres a good 30 pages of information, more than enough for a weekend of insomniac reading
    Diabolic Clown
    Good article, but the point of the album was to tell the story you described, but doing your own thinking.
    slash_angus_VH
    i've always loved the wall. great article, you do a good job of pointing out the subtelties of the album for all those n00bs out there who haven't read the lyrics, or even listened to the disc(s) from beginning to end
    ultradogfromhel
    didnt read it and dont really care
    ok... so whats the point of posting... anyways good artilce. the wall is an amazing floyd album. you can listen to it a 100 times and it still keeps you thinking, which is why they are so amazing. which also explains why people like Blood_Covered dont get pink floyd. it just goes over their heads. good article, i wouldnt mind seeing more floyd artilces about there other albums as well...hint hint...
    rocknroll420
    ok yea i agree im not grading tis paper i just want to see hwo other people imterpret the wall
    new_decade
    actually he was just called pink in the album ...also apparently sid barrett appeared during recording, and when dave gilmour and roger waters realized who it was, they both broke down and cried
    washingmachine
    Great Article! Im a big pink floyd fan myself and would like to see more articles like this! Anyone want to interpret The Smashing Pumpkins' Machina/The Machines of god (another complicated concept album along the same lines)
    DaveGilmour1189
    First...kinda a different article, like if i was supposed to writ and english paper on the subject. Pretty good, but rather pointless
    MastaBassist10
    Wow, I always thought it was about the Nazi oppression of the minorities, because I thought the screaming and yelling at the end of "The Wall" tracks, was symbolizing Nazi camps.
    wanna_lick_me?
    Barret suffered (and still suffers) from paranoia
    my friend, i believe you don't quite grasp the meaning of paranoia. being paranoid means you're always worried something or someone is after you. Althought it occurs in varying degrees, it generally does not incapacitate a person to the point where they cannot live properly. Syd went completely insane, a step beyond paranoia. It is possible that he displays signs of paranoia, but that alone is not the reason that drove him away from society.
    rayIII
    actually he was just called pink in the album ...
    there was a phone call saying "there's a call for mr. floyd from mr. floyd"
    Cheese1989
    Cool article.I think that the album has alot more meaning though and many ways in wich it can be interpreted but good article anyway! I dig PINK FLOYD!!!
    Uninspired_One
    TheVeneGuy wrote: I would have to disagree with your interpretation of The Wall, however your interpretation is well defended and preserved. Good job. I believe that the wall is what society tells us is right and wrong. It is the line that divides abstract thought from literal conservativism. The whole deal with The Nazi party in the movie, has to do with how conservative thought can become hazardous. IMO, the wall is an attempt for portray how artistic and original individuals become condemned by conservatism. Thats all. Im not writing a column here
    I don't see why it can't be both. It seems that I am in the minority. I have have seen the movie and heard the album but, that is the only Pink Floyd stuff I have heard, outside of radio play. Does their other stuff not sound like that? The songs they play on the radio seem to be in the mode of the wall. Also, I believe that the wall not only represented Pink's seperation but the expectations that all these people had for him. At the end Pink "tore down the wall" and decided he would do and be who and what he wanted. That be my contribution, so there.
    Gunstar Hero
    first of all, the article was better than i expected a guest interpretation of the wall would be, but it was still slightly incorrect. second of all, theres no point in arguing about what pink floyd songs mean what, who's the real genious, so on and so forth because with a band as diverse and with as long a life span as pink floyd, and with all the idiots posting on this forum, it's really no use to try and convince anyone of anything
    okJAM
    You guys need to buy the Wall dvd and watch it and youll realise that a few of you have the wrong ideas. Nice column
    Dystiller
    [b]wanna_lick_me?[ /b] wrote: Barret suffered (and still suffers) from paranoia my friend, i believe you don't quite grasp the meaning of paranoia. being paranoid means you're always worried something or someone is after you. Althought it occurs in varying degrees, it generally does not incapacitate a person to the point where they cannot live properly. Syd went completely insane, a step beyond paranoia. It is possible that he displays signs of paranoia, but that alone is not the reason that drove him away from society.
    yes syd went insane...from paranoia...Roger said it, Dave said it, and Nick even said it in the Pink Floyd biography.
    2ndslash
    im not a great fan of pink floyd but that was quite interesting. well done.
    Gunstar Hero
    actually the tour after animals was called the "in the flesh tour", it was the last stadium tour they did with roger, and it was a tour before it was a song on the wall.
    floydhendrix91
    it was during the animals tour roger spat on the crazy fan. in the flesh is a tour he did with surrogate band in the ninetys and two thousands
    JimmyPage'sSon
    Yes, this does seem like a shallow understanding of the wall, Syd Barret was prety much out of the minds of Roger Waters, and Gilmour was behind the scenes playing his guitar solos by this point: the band was Roger Waters. like a few others said, read Inside out, it is a wonderful book, for an inside story on the subject.
    (sic)kid
    I liked the way you described the album, it was very basic and easy to understand. It may even incite some readers to hear the album themselves - who knows? Anyhow, very good article. But, one last thing: His name was Syd Barrett, not Barret.
    Wankmasterwak
    ok, I have some myths to dispell As a Floyd fan, I love all of their albums but the Wall is not their greatest album nor achievement THe things it explores are mental and physical developments and relationships, more importantly Roger Waters himself. I must admit, he himself is overblown as a genious, all he does is write about his own experiences in paraphrased format. The real thing that made me conclude the mediocrity of his writing is the fact that a giant ass appeared to represent the judicial system. Clearly, he has a trouble for description and can get away with genious because he remarks on things he probably doesn't understand. The band is great, the music is fantastic but I just had to let that out
    You didn't dispell anything. All you said is that Roger Waters isn't a songwriting genius, which is infact an ignorant thing to say. Merely because he portrays the the judicial system as a large ass does not mean that he is not a genius. Just because it is a complex idea expressed simply is no reason to say he is "medioce." And so what if he only writes about his own experiences? That is what most good writers do. Ever heard of Henry Thoreau? All he did was write about his personal experiences, and is now regarded as Americas greatest trancendentalist writer. Onve you get over your superficial veiw on writing listen to some Pink Floyd, you might just be able to apreciate it.
    nitzky
    this isnt deep at all. this is basically 'the wall for dummies' cmon dude, if you cant give the album the honor it deserves dont write anything about it. this is disgusting for any true pink floyd fan. Also, this album is almost impossible to interperet any one way. There are so many different ways to take it. eg. you said at the end, it is a 'sad climax'/ A lot of people think that perhaps Pink tearing down his wall was a good thing, and he can begin to return to being normal. Also, Pink isnt Syd. Pink is Roger. Roger stated numerous times the album is autobiographal to a large extent.
    eevilspawn
    Very sloppy and very short you didnt do the CD justice. I like the movie in and of itself but its like the CD for dummies. AKA if you dont get the CD go rent the movie. The wall is my favourite Pink Floyd CD because of all of its ways of interpretation and near cryptic symbolism. However I find that the charachter of Pink is more closely related to Roger Waters' life. (losing his father, his personal experiences in "Comfortably Numb", Isolating himself from soceity, and anger at his fans that have lifted him up on an indestructible pedestal, his sickness in his childhood, etc.) But thats what i like about this album is that it can be interpreted so many different ways.
    Tool_46n2
    Well, we all know, the only REAL way to understand the movie is to be stoned/drunk/tripping when you watch it.
    Komon
    Regardless of the nit-pickers in here, I thought that it was a well written article. Killer job!
    BrainDamage
    Decent article. Some of the things on the second CD can be viewed a little differently,
    The idea for The Wall is said to have developed during the In the flesh-tour when Roger Waters spat on a disrespectful fan and had the sudden revelation of building a large wall on stage to separate the crowd from the fans. This idea evolved into what became album
    well, Waters spat in the fan's face (to be specific, on 7-6-77 hehe) and immediately regretted what he did. He later came up with the album, I'm not sure if he suddenly invisioned the idea of a Wall between the audience and stage.
    dimebag7
    i agree throw him agaisnt the way and i thoguh it was a good arctie and is there a point of course you just cant see it DaveGilmour1189:
    Apokryphos
    Wow, that's a great article...Maybe do Anti-Christ superstar or something next . ~Casey~
    glowsun02
    Well, thats pretty close to what I interpreted it to be, altough a bit different.But alas there is usally two types of fans... The ones who listen to Floyd and then get drunk/high and have Roger Waters spit on them, or the ones who actually understand that good songs have an actual meaning and can figure it out! As for the first group, get them up against the wall, and that one looks jewish, and that ones a cool who let all this riff raff into the room? theres one smoking a joint, and another with spots, if I had my way, I'd have all of ya shot.
    acadaca
    man when i first saw that movie (about 11) it scared the jeebies out of me.
    copter_dr
    Yes one of the greatest albums ever. Very good article. I saw the "Australian Pink Floyd Show" (twice last week, If you're a Floyd fan, You definitely HAVE to see them....Totally Awesome.
    ozzisgod
    new_decade wrote: actually he was just called pink in the album ...also apparently sid barrett appeared during recording, and when dave gilmour and roger waters realized who it was, they both broke down and cried
    wasn't that during wish you were here?
    Towlie
    would have been nice to have some more stuff about the live performances of the wall... mainly because they rocked... not a bad article tho.
    YarlA
    Did the critics really say that... i thought the wall sold millions n' critics loved it. Least i do n' so does many ppl on this site, i c.
    TwistedLogic
    Alright interpretation. I always thought that it was about the isolatoin and alienation that people in society must endure, but the more personalized Sid Barret / Roger Waters angle makes sense. Most artist face or at least reveal their personal demons through their work. Nice work.