“where we came in….”
Pink Floyd’s iconic record, The Wall, is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its 1979 release. The concept album follows Pink, a character created by Roger Waters based on partially on himself and his former bandmate, Syd Barrett, who spiraled into self-destruction and isolation. The Wall has become a highly regarded album and a staple in music history for its production and dramatic themes. The intimacy of The Wall and the ability to connect the listener to Pink’s inner turmoil makes this album differ from others in Pink Floyd’s discography. Unlike any album before, we are given an in depth look into a character whose life has become an abyss of loss and loneliness, something that most can relate to. We all build our own walls around us and this album explores the outcomes of personal and social seclusion.The album’s overarching themes of isolation, disillusionment and existentialism brings together listeners who understand what it is like to build a barrier between ourselves and those around us, and is what has helped establish the legacy of The Wall.
The Wall follows the story of Pink, a man who has become consumed by hatred due to the trauma he faced as a child. His emotional unrest is constructed from infancy when his father is killed fighting in World War II, creating the first brick in his wall. We understand Pink’s disturbance from the beginning of the album with, “In the Flesh?” as Pink erratically addresses with, “if you want to find out what’s behind these cold eyes, you’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise!” This distress is further perpetuated by an overbearing and overprotective mother who wants to shelter Pink from the devastation of life, understood in the lyrics from “Mother,” “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.” The English school system that stifles Pink’s individuality in order to create another faceless cog in the “ideal” society also takes a large role in his disillusioned childhood, “when we grew up and went to school there were certain teachers who would hurt the children anyway they could.” Pink’s wall is created with every emotionally painful incident in his life and follows him into adulthood.
Pink, now a dysfunctional rockstar, has become disenchanted with this lifestyle and his own estranged marriage. He begins to self-medicate with drugs so that he can further build up his wall, protecting him from acknowledging his hopelessness, heard through Water’s echoing vocals in “Is There Anybody Out There?” This construction of his wall eventually drives him to the brink of insanity. Realizing what he has become, Pink puts himself on a mental trial, heard in the song, “The Trial,” in which it is demanded that he tears down his wall that has hurt so many people. “Since, my friend, you have revealed your deepest fear, I sentence you to be exposed before your peers.Tear down the wall! Tear down the wall!” As Pink tears down the wall, we come full circle, concluding the album with the, almost missable lyrics, “isn’t this where..” and led back to the intro of the album with, “we came in?” This return to the beginning of the album and the final destruction of Pink’s wall can either symbolize a rebirth or his own self-destruction, depending on how cynical you are. The Wall reinforces the idea that we all become individuals overwhelmed by our own trauma and create barriers that help create the toxic world we live in because all in all we are all just bricks in the wall.
Pink Floyd concedes that life is futile; we are all just cogs in a machine that has robbed us of identity and created a society of complacency and hostility, in which there is no exit. “The wall was too high, as you can see. No matter how he tried, he could not break free. And the worms ate into his brain,” once we build our walls, we feel there is no escape. The wars we wage are because of the personal and social walls we have built around us. However, we must become responsible for what we have become and realize that there really is a way out. When we hold ourselves accountable for the person we are, we can destroy and rebuild. “The ones who really love you walk up and down outside the wall,” begging that we recognize them.The recurring symbol of the hammer throughout The Wall represents just that. Although the hammer is intended to represent those who build us and establish who we are, only to break us down, the hammers can be seen in a more positive light. The same hammer that builds the home has the power to tear it down, just as we have the power to tear down our own walls.
The Wall has become the poster child of what a concept album can be. After its debut in 1979, The Wall went on to top the Billboard charts for 15 weeks, with “Another Brick in the Wall (pt 2)” hitting number one in both the UK and U.S. charts. Critical reception at the time was mixed.Rolling Stone called the album “stunning” yet deemed the music to be “stretched a bit thin,” and Melody Maker was indecisive to say “whether it’s brilliant or terrible, but I find it utterly compelling.” Since then, The Wall has become Pink Floyd’s second best selling album, right after Dark Side of the Moon and an inspiration for the ages. The inspiration of The Wall can be heard in songs such as Def Leppard’s, “Hysteria”, and their use of the same guitar riff from “Goodbye Blue Sky”. The Wall also inspired one of the biggest albums of the early 2000s, My Chemical Romance’s, The Black Parade. Not only does MCR’s opening song, “The End” reflect Floyd’s, “In the Flesh?”, The Black Parade has become this century’s The Wall, with its extraordinary production and over the top visuals. The Wall has had a substantial impact on the music industry and will continue to inspire future artists to come.
What has made The Wall become such an influential album is the emotional depth and intimacy that Pink Floyd shares with listeners. The Wall’s existential themes force the audience to reflect upon the person that they are and take personal responsibility for the constraints we have created as a society. The walls we have built around us has created a world of hatred and toxicity. Those who have shaped us have also destroyed us. We become so consumed by our hatred of others, that we start to hate who we are as well. We build these walls to try and protect ourselves from a cruel world who’s only intent is to use us up for what they can then disposes of us when we have nothing left. Although The Wall primarily focuses on the futility of life, it also implores us to take personal responsibility for who we are. Pink’s decision to finally tear down his own wall can be seen as a resolution and a possible new beginning or rebirth. Eventually we can decide to tear down our walls and destroy ourselves from within, or relieve ourselves of who we’ve become.
“Isn’t this where…”