Pink Floyd:
The Wall
part 1part 2part 3part 4

....we came in.

One of the albums that played a very important role during my own teenage years was a double album by Pink Floyd called The Wall. I could really relate to the overall feeling and even the content of some specific songs. A black T-shirt with the marching hammers was my first ever rock-related shirt. My girlfriend (now my wife) gave me a big poster with the same visual as a present once and at one time I even spent a whole weekend drawing bricks of 30 x 15 cm on the wallpaper of my bedroom and the round crossed-hammers logo on the back of my jacket. Yep, I was fascinated (if not obsessed) with the whole thing.
Before discovering and getting involved with IQ, Pink Floyd was definitely the band on which I spent most of my time; collecting bootlegs, fanzines, books, etc. When fellow DPRP team member Remco asked the team if somebody could take over his task of writing an article on The Wall for Counting Out Time, it only took me a split-second to volunteer.

Several evenings later the thing had already started to turn into a monster. Digging up any piece of information from the respectable Floydian collection in my attic, the piece had grown out of proportions. In the end I have decided to present it in four chapters, over the course of one week. The chapters are:

1 - The Origin of the Concept & The Story (this page)
2 - The Album
3 - The Concerts
4 - The Movie & Epilogue

All chapters feature snippets of articles and interviews with relevant people. I'm sure the four chapters will reveal some secrets to even the most fanatic Floyd fans.

The Origin of the Concept

After the release of Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd toured and played the complete piece in '73, '74 and '75. During the '75 concerts the band played a couple of new songs which would end up on the next albums; Raving & Drooling and You Gotta Be Crazy (which became Sheep and Dogs on 'Animals') and Shine on You Crazy Diamond and Have a Cigar which ended up on 'Wish You Were Here'. During this tour Pink Floyd played in big stadiums in the US for the first time. Especially bass player/vocalist Roger Waters disliked this enormously. He felt like he was losing all the contact with the audience. Thus, the first seeds were sown for a concept which would come to full bloom 4 years later.

After the release of Wish You Were Here in September 1975 the band did not tour. It was only after the release of the Animals album in January 1977 that the band embarked on another World tour.
The immense success of the three aforementioned albums had a big influence on the Floyd's audience. Whereas people had always quietly listened to their music prior to Dark Side of the Moon, the success of this album changed the audience into a noisy bunch, screaming for their favorite song 'Money'. The popularity also resulted in the band playing much bigger venues, especially in the USA the band ended up in huge football stadiums, playing to people eating hamburgers, drinking beer and lighting fireworks (as if the band didn't bring enough themselves).
Roger: 'The only reason for doing it is money; the defense for doing really big gigs like that, where nobody can really see or hear anything is, "Oh, gosh, well we are so popular and so many people want to come and see us that we have to do these very large venues" and all this sort of common ache, which is a nice gentle outlook. Whereas the real reason we all do it is for the bucks; and don't ever let any rock and roller tell you any different, 'cause it ain't true.'

Especially Roger Waters got enormously frustrated by this change. At the last 80.000 spectators gig of the tour in Montreal, Canada on July 6th, 1977 something finally snapped. Roger had been asking the noisy audience several times to keep quiet during the quiet songs but it didn't help; they kept on yelling and screaming and letting off fireworks. He eventually focussed all of his anger on one guy in the public and at one point in the show he got so disgusted that he spit that person right in the face.
Roger: 'A very fascistic thing to do. It frightened me. But I'd known for a while during that tour - which I hated - that there was something very wrong. I didn't feel in contact with the audience. They were no longer people; they had become 'it' - a beast. I felt this enormous barrier between them and what I was trying to do. And it had become almost impossible to clamber over it.'
The show ended with session guitarist Snowy White playing a long and sad blues as an extra encore to calm the berserk crowd down. Dave Gilmour had already left the stage. Although nobody could know it back then, it would be the last real tour of Pink Floyd in this line-up.

This tour, which was titled 'Pink Floyd - In The Flesh', was one of the major inspirations for Water to write the next Floyd album. Flying back to England he was pondering for ways to 'teach the audience a lesson' when suddenly a brilliant idea came to him. 'Let's build a wall right between us and the crowd .... !'

Roger: 'The starting point for this whole project was me feeling bad about being on stage in a large stadium. There was an enormous wall between me and the audience - albeit an invisible one - but one that I felt was there on the basis of the people I could see in the first 50 or 60 rows; swaying heads - it looked to me as if they were experiencing it as well. It's like when you're singing a very quiet song on an acoustic guitar on stage and about ten thousand people are shouting and screaming and whistling, which happened a lot on the 'Animals' tour. There were at least 20 people that I could see whistling and going berserk and screaming. They were trying to 'be with me', if you like, but it doesn't help, you know; "Whooa-wow-get down", you know, and I'm trying to sing this quiet little song.
Obviously they [don't understand what I am doing] - the ones who are making the noise. The problem is that you know there are thousands of other people who do, and they want to listen to it. If they were all like that, then OK, you could say, 'Mindless pigs, let's just take the money and run', but you know that there are people out there who do want to listen to it and they do understand. The starting point of this project was me thinking, 'wouldn't it be good theatrically to do a show and to physically construct this wall between me and them during the show and just cut ourselves off, really antagonise the audience and let them find out for themselves, how they feel about that. So in the show we do that - but we don't leave it at that. In terms of structure of the piece the wall gets finished at the end of side 2 or, in terms of the show, about half way through.'

While Rick Wright (vocals and keyboards) and David Gilmour (vocals and guitars) worked on solo albums and Nick Mason (drums) produced an album for The Damned in 1978, Waters (vocals and bass) went to his tax-haven in Switzerland to work on his new idea.
The first rumours of the new project appeared in the music press at the end of 1978. In November press told its readers that the new album would be called 'Walls' (the working title had previously been 'Bricks' and would later be changed to 'The Wall') and would involve a travelling concert hall. This giant inflatable concert hall would be similar to an indoor tennis court in design. The name of this beast was 'The Slug', mainly because it resembled a giant slug shaped worm. The idea was to get the massive Wall show to as many fans as possible and at the time it seemed like a good idea. The hall would have measured 350 feet long and 82 feet high with seats for 3000 folks, inside there was more than 40.000 square feet divided between the main auditorium and backstage. The idea never got off the ground, as we will see later on.
In December 1978 Rick Wright revealed in an interview that the project would include an album, a theatrical show with a wall being build between band and audience and a movie. The title: The Wall.

The Story

'A psychiatrist's dream'
Bob Ezrin (producer of The Wall) on Roger Waters

Before looking at the album, show and movie specifically, let's first have a look at what the whole thing is about. What is the story behind 'The Wall'?
The Wall is another concept album. The story is about a person called Pink who has so many traumatic experiences that he slowly starts to isolate himself from the world around him. This is symbolised by a wall he builds around himself.
The story is largely an autobiography of Roger Waters. Lots of the things which happen to Pink have happened to Roger, or early Floyd frontman Syd Barrett. 'The Wall' basically is a list of things (read: bricks) which almost drove him into isolation, just like Barrett.

Below you will find a brief synopsis of the story, as it was written by Waters and Scarfe for the story-board of the movie. Added to this summary, you'll find additional comments about the various tracks by the person who knows best what it's all about; Roger Waters himself.

Our hero is a war baby. His father was killed in action before they met. His mother devoted herself to him in a suffocating way. He attends a school that subjugates the children rather than educating them. His response to these alienating experiences is to start to build a defensive wall around his feelings to shelter them from further hurt.

The title of the opening piece, In The Flesh? refers to the World Tour during which the idea of The Wall was conceived. The track itself is sort of a prelude to what is going to happen. The songs that follow are basically a flashback, until we arrive at In The Flesh on side 4 of the album. Roger: 'The piece, on its simplest level, is about the situation of a rock concert, and feeling alienated from the audience from the point of view of being on stage; which is the point of view that the character is expressing in that song. When we get to the end of that first tune, everything else is then flashback.'

The Thin Ice. Roger: 'It's supposed to be about how I think parents start inducing - or almost injecting - their own fears into their children from a very early age. Particularly in my case where they've just been through a world war or something like that. We all go through devastating experiences and we tend to pass them onto our children when they're very young, I suspect.'

Another Brick in the Wall (part 1). Roger: 'It's not meant to be a simple story about somebody getting killed in the war and growing up and going to school, but about being left more generally. (...) It's meant to be about any family where either parent goes away for whatever reason; whether it's to go and fight someone or to go work somewhere. In a way it's about artists leaving home for a long time to go on tour - leaving their families behind - and maybe coming home dead, or more dead than alive. This has happened to some.'

The Happiest Days of Our Lives/Another Brick in the Wall (part 2). Roger: 'It's obviously not all teachers, but there were a few of them at the school I was that were really very much like that. They were so fucked up that that was all they really had to offer: their own bitterness and cynicism. We actually had one guy ... I would fantasise that his wife would beat him. Certainly she treated him like shit and he was a crushed person. He handed as much of that pain onto us as he could and he did quite a good job at it. It's funny how, when you get those guys at school, they will always pick on the weakest kid. So the same kids who are susceptible to bullying by other kids are also susceptible to bullying by the teachers. It's like smelling blood. They home in on it - the fear - and start hacking away, particularly with younger children.'
'There are two schools of thought in England about education ... and of course it's always very dangerous to generalise about these things. Having said that, there is one school of thought - lead by a man called Rhodes Boyson, who is a junior minister in the Thatcher administration. He believes that children should be made to sit down and shut up and pay attention and learn and be turned into nice, docile productive members of society. He believes that is far more important than that they should be allowed to express themselves or think or anything. My secondary school days were at a boys' grammar school where the Rhodes Boyson method pertained to a very large extend; where we weren't expected to express an opinion about anything, unless it fell nicely into the areas that we discussed or were being involved in.'

Mother. Roger: 'I expect that some mothers neglect their children but I think an awful lot more overprotect their children and go on trying to mother you for too long. I think that parents tend to indoctrinate their children with their own beliefs too strongly. It's very difficult for parents to say to their children 'Well, this is what I believe but it might well be wrong', because they don't feel that they're wrong. They've sorted it out and they think they're right.
I think you can waste an awful lot of your life if you just adopt your parents' view of the world or if you reject it completely. If you use their view either positively or negatively to the exclusion of thinking it out for yourself, you can waste ten to fifteen years just like that.'
'It isn't specific to me and my mum. It's and idea that I've got from somewhere else: a general thing about mothers and education - that kind of fear of sex.
I've got a couple of kids of my own and it's so easy to get over-anxious about them and also, if you're worried about something, to transfer the fear of whatever it might be to them ... and let them live with it.'

Goodbye Blue Sky. Roger: 'I think that the best way to describe his is a recap, if you like, of side one. It's remembering one's childhood and then getting ready to set off into the rest of one's life. (...) "Okay, we've dealt with that, the roots and the War and the baby and the relationship with the mother and everything - where do we go from here ?"'

He leaves school already feeling isolated from other people and joins a rock band. being in a band gives him a feeling of power which he equates with invulnerability.
As he is a fatherless child he needs a woman to vest him with authority so he marries his childhood sweetheart because she is conveniently available. He devotes himself to rock and roll, attracted by 'the money and fame' which insulate him against his nagging feelings of separation, not only from his wife and friends, but also from himself.
This is a life of diminishing return. Like an addict with his junk, Pink needs bigger and bigger fixes of applause. As the band's success grows, the tours get longer and Pink is at home less and less.

'Empty Spaces is the first time he recognises that the wall's there - that it's already happening.'
'Everything that happens to [Pink] isolates him even more. His difficulty is constantly compounded because at no point is he able to take a side-take on himself ... It's very difficult for any of us to slide sideways and say 'Hold on, what's really happening here is ....'. Like most of us, Pink is on his particular set of tracks and can't get off because he doesn't even know he's on them.'

Young Lust. Roger: 'This is were it gets hooked into Rock n' Roll specifically. Occasionally, throughout our career, we've done tunes that are a pastiche of something and this is one of them. It's meant to be a pastiche of a 'Rock Band'.
About the phone-call scene: 'I've been in that situation, you see. My first wife got involved with another man while I was on tour several years ago. The operator says "I have a collect call from Mr. Floyd to Mrs. Floyd; will you accept the charges?" and it's a guy answering. That's the point.'
The phone-call scene on the album was real. Waters set it up in such a way that the operator would have a natural reaction, which you heard in the intro of One of My Turns'.

The shit hits the fan when, with Pink away in his zillionth tour of the USA, his wife falls in love with another man. Stripped of his authority, Pink cracks up and incarcerates himself in a hotel room with pills and a groupie. In a rage, he smashes the room and frightens the girl away.

'One of My Turns' is supposed to be his response to a lot of aggravation in his life and not really ever having got anything together. He's just splitting up with his wife and in response he takes another girl back to his hotel room ... he's a bit dippy now.'
'He's obviously upset and he takes this girl - just anybody, a groupie - back to his hotel room. The picture is that he's gone - he's just slumped. She keeps talking to him and he doesn't want to be annoyed. Then he feels one of those turns coming on and he starts getting violent about the whole thing.'

Don't Leave Me Now. 'He's talking to his 'old lady', really. 'Don't Leave Me Now' is a very general song about men and women, or some man and some women. The song of the surprised male who wonders why they finally leave, after they've been treating each other very badly for a long period of time.'
'A lot of man and women do get involved with each other for lots of wrong reasons and they do get aggressive towards each other and do each other a lot of damage. This is obviously an extremely cynical song ... (laughs) Yes, it is very depressing - I love it, I really like it.'

Alone now, drugged and with only the TV for company, he starts to see himself as an unfeeling demagogue, for whom all that is left is the exercise of power.

Another Brick in the Wall (part 3). 'Well, you can say - on the simplest level - when something bad happens, he isolates himself a little bit more, i.e. symbolically, he adds another brick to his wall. Just to protect himself from anything or everything. Not specifically that thing. But each thing isolates him a little further.'

Goodbye Cruel World. Roger: 'That's [Pink] going catatonic, if you like. He's going back, he's curling up and he's not going to move. That's it. He had enough. That's the end.' 'He's walled off symbolically but he's also shut himself in this room - in a specific room somewhere in America.'

Hey You. Roger: 'Pink's behind the wall a) symbolically and b) he's locked in a hotel room with a broken window that looks out onto a freeway. It's a cry to the rest of the world saying 'Hey, this isn't how it should be !'.' The song also includes the first reference to 'the worms'. Roger: 'Worms have a lot less to do with the piece than they did; they were my symbolic representation of decay, because the basic idea behind the wall thing is that you isolate yourself, you decay.'
'The lyrics work quite well and as a piece of narrative it works quite well because it's him from a very isolated position, pulling himself together and trying to re-establish contact, but only in his own mind really. And then the middle of the song is sung by a third person who narrates the fact that he can't actually make contact - "The Wall was too high as you can see" - he then becomes susceptible to the worms. The worms are symbols of negative forces within us, but the worms can only get at us because there isn't any light in our lives, symbolically speaking.'

Roger: 'Is there Anybody Out There ? is really just a mood piece.'

Nobody Home. Roger: 'Part of [Pink] wants help, but the part of him that's making, you know, his arms and legs and everything work doesn't want anything except to just sit there and watch TV.'
'It's really a song about him sitting alone in the room reflecting upon his life and upon the fact that he can't even make contact with his old lady.'
'['Swollen hand blues'] is a reference to another song that comes later on called 'Comfortably Numb' - it's about fever and it says in fact "my hands felt like two balloons" - it actually skips back about 10 years from the late 60's again. One line is specifically Syd Barret: the "elastic bands", that's him, he used to have elastic bands round his boots because his zips were always breaking and he couldn't get the buttons done up; and the "Hendrix perm", well, in those days - in the 60's - they all had them. I didn't of course.'

Vera. Roger: 'This is supposed to be brought on by the fact that a war movie comes on TV - which you can actually hear.'
'In the war [Vera Lynn] was the Forces' Sweetheart in England. We all have songs about the soldiers going away, in 'Nobody Home' he skips back to 1968 if you like, and now he's going all the way back to the war. The 'Vera' song finishes saying, 'Does anybody else in here feel the way I do ?", and that's the way he feels.'

By chance an old war movie comes on the TV and, in his deranged state, Pink conjures up a chorus of service man and women with whom he sings to purge himself of his guilty feelings.

Bring the Boys Back Home. 'For me, this is the central song of the whole album. It's about not letting anything become more important than friends, wives, children, other people ...'.
In this song Waters makes a symbolic comparison between soldiers and rock stars going to the front or on tour, just like he did in Another Brick in the Wall (part 1).

His manager, concerned with the forthcoming show, brings a doctor to the hotel. Pink incorporates the doctor into his hallucination. The doctor straightens him out enough to get him downstairs and into the limo which will take him to the show.

Comfortably Numb. Roger: 'The idea is that they come to get him to take him to the show, and he's in no state to go; so they get a doctor in to see if they can actually get him standing up and to wheel him out and stand him on stage.'
'Comfortably Numb is about [Pink's] confrontation with the doctor ... I mean, I've done gigs when I've been very depressed, I've done gigs when I have been extremely ill - when you wouldn't do any ordinary kind of work.'
'He is forced to go back and perform because nobody else makes money if the show doesn't go on. he's forced back on stage by a cynical doctor who injects him with an enlivening substance and from the time he leaves the hotel room and arrives on stage, he turns from Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde.'
'I had one guy once who thought I'd got food poisoning or an upset stomach. He told me I had a viral infection of the stomach or something, and he thought I had stomach cramps. He wasn't listening to me at all, I don't think. In fact, I discovered later that I had hepatitis. He gave me three tranquilisers; we were in Philadelphia, and boy, those were the longest two hours of my life, trying to do a show when you could hardly move your arm ... I thought, if he'd just left me alone, the pain I could have coped with - that was no sweat - but I could hardly lift my arms, or any of my limbs ... God knows what he gave me - but it was some very heavy muscle relaxant.'
'That's not really what it is about, though. The song is actually about the kind of living death condition that a lot of people find themselves in when live seems unreal to them and they can't work out why.
I remember having a fever when I was a child and characteristising the recurrent feeling of numbness ... it's not numbness exactly. The thing about that delerium is that you can't put your finger on it ... you cannot describe the feeling using words. It's a feeling that I think you get when you're going crazy, probably; that everything is suddenly wrong.'

The Show Must Go On. Roger:'The idea is that they're coming to get [Pink] to take him to the show because he's got to go and perform. They realise that something is wrong, but they're not interested in any of his problems. All they're interested in is the fact that there are however-many thousand people there, all the tickets have been sold and the show must go on, at any cost to anybody. You cancel a show at short notice and it's expensive.'

Pink, still hallucinating wildly, imagines himself the leader of an immense neo-fascist rally. As the rally reaches its climax, Pink suddenly realises he has become an ally to the very forces of tyranny which killed his own father. This proves too much for the core of human feeling within him and he rebels.

In The Flesh represents Pink in a concert situation, initially as a rock star who has emerged from behind The Wall and subsequently as he becomes isolated. Roger: 'The idea is that these fascist feelings develop from isolation. This is really him having a go at the audience, or the minorities in the audience. So the obnoxiousness of 'In the Flesh' - and it is meant to be obnoxious - is the end result of that isolation and decay.'
'[During the show] the idea is that we've been changed from the lovable old Pink Floyd that we all know and love and our evil alter egos take over. This is our nasty selves coming out. We've now decayed.'
'He turns into Mr Hyde and the band become fascists. It's still us but in a different frame of mind. We have turned into fascist pigs like I turned into a fascist spitting in Montreal: the surrogate band represents me spitting on people.'

Run Like Hell. Roger: 'After 'Run Like Hell' you can hear an audience shouting 'Pink Floyd !' on the left hand side of your stereo and on the right hand side or in the middle you can hear voices going 'Hammer !'. This is the Pink Floyd audience, if you like, turning into a rally'. 'It's just supposed to be this kind of crazed rock n' roll band doing another sort of 'oom-pah' number.'
'The character starts talking about putting all the Jews and coons up against a wall and sending them back where they came from. That's when we start showing the slides of the hammers marching across the screen - it's supposed to turn into a great rally. The audience loves all that kind of stuff. They are happy to fall into a fascist rally; they can be led into doing anything the group tells them to do.'

Waiting for the Worms. Roger:'You hear a voice through a loud hailer. It starts off going 'Testing, one, two' or something, then 'We will convene at one o'clock outside Brixton Town Hall'. It's describing a march towards some kind of National Front [the NF are an extreme Right Wing political party - Eds] rally in Hyde Park; the NF are what we have in England, but it could be anywhere in the world. If you listen very carefully you might hear the words 'Jew boys' or 'Somewhere we may encounter some Jew boys'. It's just me ranting on.'
'The thing that's really important about 'Waiting For The Worms' is just, as you've spotted, a kind of long rambling, ranting piece of nonsense. It's beginning to wear off, whatever it is that the doctor has given him, and he's hopping backwards and forwards here from ranting to saying, you know, he starts of sitting in a bunker and then he turns into the other persona - this kind of raving fascist persona that he's adopted. I could explain one thing and that's all that chatter with the loud hailer is actually describing a march from a place in South London that's a very heavily black populated area of London where the National Front is particularly active; and it describes a march from a place called Brixton - "Brixton Town Hall". Brixton is just an area in London and it describes the roads and things and which bridge they cross over and where they're going - towards Hyde Park Corner to have a rally in Hyde Park. And at the end of it they're saying "Hammer" in the background, so that was another thing on side four - the audience starts off singing 'The Show Must Go On', and in 'In The Flesh' you can hear them chanting 'Pink Floyd', and then slowly that gets taken over by 'Hammer'. So the idea was for a rock and roll show to turn into a rally.'

Stop. Roger: 'The rally is supposed to reach a crescendo, but he rebels. We rebel. That's when he sings 'I want to go home and take off the uniform'. But they don't let him. He is dragged of to a bunker where he waits for the worms; waits to be put on trial. The verdict is to be judged by his peers.'

The internal self-trail which follows, provides the climax to the story. The judgement is that he must 'tear down the wall' before his isolation leads him into the moral decay of his recent vision.

The Trial. Roger: 'So he decides that he has, or we have, with these big stadium gigs, that the worst thing that could happen to him is that he should expose himself and his fears and his feelings to everybody, to make himself vulnerable. And in fact its the best thing that can happen to him.'
'This is him hallucinating - this is him breaking down.'

Outside the Wall. Roger: 'The final song is saying 'Right, well, that was it. You've seen it now. that's the best we can do.' That was us performing a piece of theatre about alienation. That is us making a little bit of human contact at the end of the show: 'We do like you really'.'

If you want to know more about The Wall Project, check out the other chapters in this special:

2 - The Album
3 - The Concerts
4 - The Movie & Epilogue

Written by Ed Sander

Sources for the articles will be published at the end of chapter 4.

part 1part 2part 3part 4

© 1999 - 2016 : Dutch Progressive Rock Page