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.
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.
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.
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.