Well, if Pink Floyd is fairly dark in general, The Wall is their uttermost darkest times three.
My friend Adam introduced me to the music of The Wall. Well, yeah, I had heard it, parts at least, before and kind of dug it, but Adam really opened my eyes to the sheer psychotic brain melt of the thing. Adam once got fired from his job or quit or who the fuck even knew back then and locked himself in our little studio apartment for a week, doing absolutely nothing but watching the movie version of The Wall on a continuous loop. I stayed away from him as much as possible that week.
Adam was eighteen and I was nineteen and we’d both had our share of crazy teenage angst and acid adventures. We dug that The Wall was autobiographical, or at least Roger Waters claimed. I mean, the main character of the album is a rockstar, but really more importantly, he’s an artist. I mention this only because the idea of building a wall between onself and reality is the direct result of feeling too much, being too sensitive, to the point where one opens themselves up to paradoxically overdosing on pain, pleasure, and empathy. The mind collapses into an emotional dead zone, drifting along through an abyss. This here is what’s known as being all “Comfortably Numb,” you dig? All pain gone, but also love and creativity. A numbness sets in and suddenly, “There is no pain / You are receding.”
For the main character of this rock opera, there are several factors that lead to this numbing of the psyche. Like Roger Waters’ own father, his had died in World War II. He also has a domineering mother and has to go through a conformist, soul-deadening school system. Oh yeah, also his wife leaves him. Problems for anyone, yes, but the argument here is that the artist is someone not already numbed and turned into a robotron. The artist faces his own special oblivion.
The Wall, as a complete album, is certainly a rock-n-roll masterpiece, but most of the songs are made better by their relationship to the other songs on the album. There’s really only one single track which I think is great on its own. “Comfortably Numb” describes the main character’s decent and disconnection, the final step in his complete alienation. The chorus features David Gilmour on vocals, a welcome change to Roger Waters’ quite harsh and sometimes whiny lead vocals on the rest of the album. In fact The Wall marks the first time Roger Waters took lead vocals on an album. Makes sense because of the autobiographical nature of the piece, but also because his ego was unchecked and about as big as Texas. But Gilmour has a much higher range, and his vocals lend a soaring, otherworldly quality to the chorus. A wonderful image, that, to consider the abyss as a kind of holy thing.
One of my greatest mistakes when I was a teenager was that I never really listened to the last few lines of the last song on the album. Listen to it again, if you haven’t in a while. The Wall comes down and there’s a kind of grace that is granted to the listener. A strange and powerful thing, that.