That warm thrill of confusion
I was 19 years old when I started really getting into Pink Floyd: The Wall.
Oh, I remember seeing high-school kids in the early 1980s wearing black T-shirts with that screaming face image, and hearing that “We don’t need no education” chorus from “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2″ all over the place, and I remember the trippy bizarre dirty-seeming cartoon images from when the movie came out, but I wasn’t even in my teens yet, so it remained beyond my interest.
In high school, my friend Adam introduced me to Roger Waters’ Radio K.A.O.S. , and I went zonkers for it, probably in part because of its WarGames kind of sensibility, partly because I liked that there was a story here, and partly because there are songs there that still give me that excellent gut-thrum can’t-help-but-sing-along-badly buzz. Adam also got me listening to Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason, which I did like an awful lot (we went to see that tour’s stop at the old Richfield Coliseum in August 1988), but it never led me to Waters-era Floyd music.
Then I spent July of 1990 in Germany, when Waters put on his famous The Wall: Live in Berlin show. I had known the concert was going to happen during my visit, but I also remembered that my host at the time hadn’t much cared for the Momentary Lapse tape I had in my car when we had dated the previous year, so I didn’t even consider asking whether she would get us tickets. Of course, I vividly remember seeing news footage on a DJH television while we were on a bike trip, and she mentioned that some friends were at the concert, and if I had said something beforehand, of course she would have loved to have gone, not necessarily for the music, but because of the symbolic ending of the East-West divide.
When I went back to Bowling Green that fall, things were made strange for starters because I had a randomly-assigned roommate, with whom I didn’t get along too well. We just had very different personalities and priorities. Couple that with the fact that circumstances of all sorts had some of my closest friends leaving my everyday life, and I felt more than a little out-of-alignment from time to time.
Feeling particularly withdrawn one day, I walked a mile-and-three-quarters to the local K-Mart and bought myself a CD-playing boom box, and lugged the thing in its bulky, awkward cardboard box a mile-and-three-quarters back to our dorm. Then I walked down to the music store we frequented and bought two albums: Alphaville’s Forever Young and Pink Floyd: The Wall. (Yes, yes: See clearly the tormented young writer, hunched at his Brother WP-55, the yellow type on its tiny black screen reflected in his sweating brow, a half-empty bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill at his elbow.) And as with K.A.O.S., I focused particularly on the writing and the story of the album as much as the music itself.
(Funny thing: A few days later, my parents asked me if I’d want a stereo with a CD player for Christmas, so I wound up returning my boom box to K-Mart. I think I got someone to give me a ride this time.)
Second semester, January 1990, I moved into a single room by luck of the draw, whereupon I did this:
I’m still kind of proud of the effort and the results: It’s black electrical tape on the room’s white wall, and what I used to fill the Empty Spaces was white sheets of art paper cut to fit and rubbed with blue crayon. Adam gave me the movie art poster before he moved, and maybe the “Live in Berlin” Rolling Stone magazine ad, too – I can’t remember. I do know, however, that they are strategically placed to cover a large patch of semi-peeling paint which I was hesitant to stick the tape to for fear I would make it worse when the time came for its removal. The brick at left center is another sheet of art paper on which I invited friends to scrawl graffiti, and where I’d write down quotes I liked, too. And the giant green Radio K.A.O.S. subway poster filled out the wall perfectly.
(Yes, those ARE “rabbit ears” on my black-and-white TV, and yes THAT IS a stuffed Bill the Cat. Ack, pththththbbbt.)
One Friday or Saturday night that semester, my friend Ivan and I had rented This Is Spinal Tap, which neither of us had seen. That same night, the old movie theatre downtown – the Cla-Zel -was hosting a one night showing of The Wall – and we hadn’t seen that, either, so we figured on a cool double-feature.
We got through about half of Spinal Tap when we realized we had to leave to catch The Wall, so we figured we’d come back and watch the ending later, no big deal.
So we go see The Wall and it just flattens us. Just depresses the hell out of everything because, well, it’s not the happiest of movies, folks, and though I still think it’s powerful stuff, it’s not the sort of film you build a Happy Fun Time Night around. Neither one of us felt much like watching the end of Spinal Tap that night.
For a long time, I wouldn’t watch The Wall on television, simply because that experience had been so mind-numbing on the big screen, in the dark, with the booming, echoing sound and everything. I finally did watch it recently on a VH-1 airing, and not only did the commercial interruptions screw up the slow descent into madness, they utterly butchered some pretty key segments of the movie.
Toward the end of the year, of course, I deconstructed my dorm project in the only appropriate way: I took the phone off the hook, cranked my stereo system, and listened to The Wall straight through. Through the first CD, I removed the “empty space” papers and the posters and used more electrical tape to “complete” the wall on my wall. And naturally, at the end, I grabbed that tape in handfuls and ripped it all down. It was fun.
My infatuation with The Wall probably started to fade not long after that school year ended, and it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve had the desire to listen to the album all the way through. If I want to play pop-psych on myself, I’d say that enough genuinely unpleasant stuff started happening in my life that putting myself through a music-induced wringer wasn’t something I needed or wanted anymore.
And though I was initially excited to hear about Waters’ announcement that he’s taking the whole concept/concert on the road again this year, I’m now kind of ambivalent about it for a couple reasons. For starters, I’m sure ticket prices will be jacked beyond belief; and as for the whole “Here’s my chance to finally see that show I missed” thrill, I already did that a couple years ago with The Police.
More than that, though, I’m just not in a place anymore where The Wall connects with me the way it used to, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
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