Roger Waters The Wall: Fresh perspective, new insight, and relevant classic
What can be said about Pink Floyd’s The Wall that has not already been asserted? Providing more than its share of character development that is coupled by intricate musical composition, its content has been poured over by both musical scholar and hallucinogen enthusiast alike. Within the incarceration of The Wall, many have explored their own personal prison to the point of eventual liberation through the storytelling that is as prolific as that of any renowned novelist or profound poet…and comes with each RPM.
To say it is an album would be like saying that Michael Jordan was a basketball player, they are both far too great. They are classics. But the question truly is what defines The Wall as a classic on par or above any other? Roger Waters would methodically answer this question in Philips arena on a crisp November evening when he brought his loosely-based biographical masterpiece to Atlanta.
The human mind at birth is a tabula rasa. – John Locke
Upon one’s “blank slate,” life experiences are written. Cataclysmic events are as a wreck would be on a long road trip; something memorable about a journey otherwise filled with dashed lines, road reflectors, and an iPod shuffling. It is within Locke’s thesis that Roger Waters developed his Oedipus complex that came as a result of a portrayed overbearing mother and the royally rubberstamped death of his father in WWII.
As most know, the story of The Wall is one of intensely drawn parallels between a boy and his older self, an aging seemingly psychotic resentful rock star with a bad case of pathological egotism. Aptly named Pink, the isolated boy and eventual man’s tale of self-loathing is also one of an arrogant and judgmental bully with an overwhelming desire to control and be heard. It is a narrative filled with juxtaposed irony in which many can identify. It is lyrical mastery and psychedelic splendor. It is self examination and public trial within one’s own mind that culminates in a decision to “tear down the wall.”
To provide a preface, this isn’t a concert review. The show was a triumphant hit on almost all accords. The songs shredded when they were supposed to shred and lulled when the lullaby was due. There were all of the bells and whistles one would expect from a show of this magnitude, complete with a plane that soared through the air before smashing into the 36 foot high wall that is erected onstage at each tour stop. There were blinding pyrotechnics, piercing light-emitting diodes, gigantic LCD projections with politically under and over toned scrolls, and faultless sound. It was a perfect production and it was beautiful.
Certainly there were drawbacks, the most notable of which was the steep ticket price that kept many at bay and promoted a largely white collar crowd that was, at times, lackluster and lacked depth in its response to the chaotic bliss that is The Wall; evidenced by many keeping their seats during the anthem “Bring the Boys Back Home.” Other than this, the only element worthy of critique was Robbie Wyckoff’s lack of range or loss of stage monitor during “The Show Must Go On,” the only time throughout the evening that one would not have sworn on everything he holds dear that David Gilmour was not on stage.
It was as though Waters was trying to somehow make up to his audience for what many missed the last time that The Wall was played in its entirety, on a four city money pit run in 1980 that spawned mega shows like U2′s Zoo TV. His mission on this night in Atlanta was a success and he knew it, if the smile that both rebuked stereotype and adorned his face was any indicator.
But this is not about review; this is about a classic album and its translation into the present and into the live setting.
If taken on face value, many may find absolutely no identifiable similarities between their life and that of the chronicle told in The Wall. These folks also have the insight of The Scarecrow before the Wizard bestowed him with a brain. The Wall is not a tale for this type of futile mind. Rather, it is one for the discerning provocateur, a mind wherein one can equate “mother” with “big brother” and sexist sentiment with satirical sarcasm. This was not about a disdain for education. This was a protest song about a resistance to thought control.
We are currently living in a time wherein we are battling over basic human rights to health care and fighting a war that knows no bounds and that no one wants to fight but disallows known homosexuals from signing up. We are doing so all while accepting and volunteering for infringement upon our civil liberties out of desire to see other parts of the country or world, while George W. Bush pokes fun at Mark Zuckerberg. It is no wonder many are seeking and even finding comfort in their own personal Truman Show while thumbing through magazines filled with gutless and morally challenged images from paparazzi. Perhaps pictures of Lindsay Lohan smoking cigarettes outside of her latest sober living facility prove that life outside the wall isn’t that great anyway.
With that said, one would think that this masterpiece’s only focus is one of pure negativity. Wrong. Through the theatrics of the night at Philips, a literal and figurative wall was both built and torn down.
“How did that happen?” one might ask.
It happened through definition of problem, honesty in response, self-trial, and self-conviction. It came down by compelling one to consider where he is wrong rather than focusing on where he is right, illustrated by:
1) As children from Atlanta Music Project paraded about the stage with shirts that read “FEAR BUILDS WALLS,” a thorough self examination was made to be in order.
2) Threats to shoot all of the “riffraff” Jewish joint smoking crowd came from the fascist dictatorial character (played by a Tommy gun-toting Waters) who scoffed at the notion of individualism, and was born out of the bricks of Pink’s nearly completed “wall”– a derivation from his troubled, isolated, and drug induced numbness filled life. It caused a fear based respectful hate to resonate. Hence, I caught myself hating to fight hate which makes as much sense as fucking for virginity.
3) A video projection of a young girl being surprised by her soldier daddy’s unannounced presentation to her classroom after returning from Iraq during “Vera” made tearful emotion surface. Repetitive homage to fallen soldiers that began with Waters’ father and was oblivious to scope challenged one to see past the end of his own nose.
It was these and other elemental factors that move The Wall from concept album to stroke of genius that requires immaculate theatrics in order to execute pristine live translation on a topsy-turvy emotional roller coaster.
Through what was perhaps the greatest show of grandiosity on any stage, humility was force fed. In a city that is home to Martin Luther King Jr.’s pastoral home, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and a deep history of proverbial walls, the paradox of The Wall was as oxygenated and alive as it ever was, and we were all obliged to examine what has been written on our own slates. New personal and societal walls are being formed on a daily basis. Factions are rising up against each other in heated and sometimes violent debate. It was no mistake that Waters brought back his tour de force this year. The time was obviously now for The Wall to make its exultant return. So it did.
Click the thumbnail to view David Shehi’s Shots from The November 18, 2010 Atlanta Performance of Roger Waters: The Wall