Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rebuilding The Wall

As most of you know, music is an integral part of my life. I take great pleasure in discovering new music and introducing that music to others. If I discover another music buff (audiophile?) at work, I will quickly try to find out what their tastes are and what we have in common. Often it can bond me to a person for life.

Quick side story: There was a hot, 20 something working with me a few years back. We were cordial to each other, but never overtly friendly. One day we happened to get in the elevator on our way into the office. She was obviously hung over so – as I tend to do – decided to add to her misery.

‘Tough night?’

‘Went to a concert last night. Not feeling so well today?’

‘Oh, yeah? Who did you see?’

She looks at me derisively (something she was extremely skilled at) and replies ‘You wouldn’t know them.’

‘Try me,’ I answer.

Big sigh…’Kings of Leon’.

This was just after they released their debut album, but I had indeed heard of them. My answer: ‘Oh, I have their cd if you need a copy. You should check out the ’22-20s’, as well. They’re really good’.

She was so taken back by this she stood straight up, gave me a long, reassessing look and said ‘The 22-20s opened for them last night. You’re right…they are really good.’

We’re still friends and, every now and then, a burned cd will arrive in the mail with various music on it. Just her way of saying hi. She’s the one that introduced The Futureheads into my world and I am eternally grateful for that. To pay her back, I introduced her to liquid lunches for which she is eternally grateful. Even trade off.

This isn’t a new trend. Back in grammar school I was trying to get other kids involved in music; often loaning friends my Boston (yes, Boston! They rocked once upon a time) or AC/DC albums to get them as hooked as I was. Life long bonds were formed back then. Friends I still see or chat with weekly all share concert memories or cruising around town with Van Halen polluting the summer air. Same with girls; certain songs will always be connected to certain lovely ladies.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Music, in a very real sense, will always be entwined with my memories. One often invoking the other, sort of like a certain scent or taste will always remind me of a place or person.

Sorry, completely off topic.

Last week I was cleaning up the clutter known as my stereo cabinet when I found a CD of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. While this is still one of the top five most influential albums of my lifetime, I hadn’t listened to it in years. Maybe more than a decade. I quickly brought the cds to my laptop, uploaded it to iTunes and synced it to my iPod. I have been listening and reintroducing it to my central nervous system and brain all weekend.

During this time I have had several thoughts:

- It stands up incredibly well. Not only is it still better than most of the so called ‘music’ that is released these days, but it sounds like it was recorded yesterday. Granted, the cd is a version that has been digitally remastered from the original recordings, but still. It sounds fantastic.

- It could be the single most ambitious album in our lifetimes. And, yes, I’m including all you young ones who have probably never even listened to it all the way through. Imagine a band today announcing they are working on an album of drug addiction, social anxiety, depression and suicide. And, oh yeah, it will be a double album.

In that same thought

- You can’t listen to this on shuffle. It’s the ONLY album I can think that demands listening from beginning to end to fully appreciate. Songs flow from one to the other, explaining to the listener how someone can bocame entirely fucked up.

Disk one lays the foundation for his personal dysfunction with the second disk picking up after an attempted suicide and subsequent rehabilitation. More on this in a bit.

- There is a subtle, dark humor hidden here. While asking how he should complete his own personal wall started by his parents, the album immediately launches into ‘Young Lust’ (another personal all time fav) which choruses with ‘I need a dirty woman!’

There is also the hilariously disturbing ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’ which includes the lines ‘Don’t leave me now/when you know how I need you…/to beat to a pulp on Saturday night, oh babe!’

- It’s a perfect match of music and lyrics. Even how the lyrics are sung is perfectly suited for the mood. Angry, lonely, sad or defiant depending on what the song is trying to convey.

- Between ‘The Wall’, ‘Animals’, and ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, Pink Floyd not only perfected intelligent, challenging, psychedelic rock and roll, they may have inadvertently invented the tag ‘Alternative’. Let’s face it this shit is strange and dark. There are conversations intermingled between songs that progress the story or introduce an idea that is expanded upon. Just listen to ‘Is There Anybody Out There’ and the subsequent songs that are all incorporated into the theme of rehab, therapy and fighting for some form of normalcy and tell me what current band could successfully pull that off.

- The music is stellar. It’s the entire reason we listen anyway, right? Alternately there are hard rock songs, beautiful open letters to a lost lover, an acoustic give and take between son and mother, angry rebuffs of society in general, mocking odes to teachers nobody ever liked and variations on the same tune. Only all of it is accessible to the average listener. Hell, they even managed to garner some hit songs off this album which, in hindsight, is nothing short of miraculous.

Which brings me to my final, somewhat depressing thought: We will never see another album like this again.

In an age of playlists, single song purchasing and having your computer or iPod randomly select songs for you, nobody ever sits down and listens to an entire album anymore. ‘The Wall’ wouldn’t survive in an environment like 2010.

This is a release that details the descent of a man into his own personal hell. Each song on the first disk sets the stage for his drug abuse and mental instability. ‘Another Brick in the Wall – Part 1, 2, and 3’, ‘Mother’, ‘Young Lust’, ‘Empty Spaces’, ‘One of My Turns’ and ‘Happiest Days of Our Lives’ lays the foundation for his suicide attempt in ‘Goodbye Cruel World’.

Disk two revolves around his full fledged drug addiction (‘Comfortably Numb’, ‘The Show Must Go On’, and ‘Hey, You’ could be the most effective anti drug songs ever written) before climaxing with an internal trial in the head of the narrator.

‘Just five minutes, Worm, Your Honor. Him and me alone…’

There is a glimmer of hope when ‘The Wall’ finally comes down, but this is a quick, quiet ditty about what his actions have cost him and how the remaining people have been irrevocably damaged.

Upbeat this is not.

What it could be is the most intelligent and literary album ever. It’s been more than thirty years since ‘The Wall’ was first released and I’m still trying to interpret what ‘the worms’ are. They are mentioned throughout the songs and are either A: The norms and laws of society, B: the damaging ideas put into young people’s heads from an early age, or C: both.

I get that the bricks in the wall are individual pieces of mental damage; each piling on top of the other to create a barrier of dysfunction, but the worms have baffled me. I thought I had it figured out when I was in college and a light went off in my head, but I was also high as a fucking kite and had forgotten my epiphany by the time I woke up the next morning. I called my friend who was part of the conversation, but all he said was ‘Oh, man, I don’t remember the details but I do remember it blew my mind’.

My guess (after years of intense study) is the worms are both society’s rules AND agents of destruction. That creativity and original thinking are not encouraged by standard rules and laws, but those same norms help keep most people sane and safe. That if you reject all of the rules you risk becoming damaged goods; stuck behind your own isolated ‘wall’ looking for a way out.

Or something.

Personally, I believe that is the greatest aspect of ‘The Wall’; that it’s subject to multiple interpretations and, even after repeated listening, you can still discover something new.

In short, it’s a stunning, timeless work of art and you should listen to it as soon as possible. Maybe I should have just left it at that.

Today’s distraction: Supposedly a Pink Floyd reunion is not in the works. One of the understated effects ‘The Wall’ was on the band itself. They released the subpar ‘The Final Cut’ a few years later before Roger Waters left the band. There was then a legal fight over the rights to the Pink Floyd name and nasty words exchanged between Waters and Dave Gilmour and things just went south from there.

Maybe writing and creating something as epic ‘The Wall’ took the steam out of them. Pity.


A Tribute: deer a train and basketball said...

I'm really not a huge Pink Floyd fan, but without question that is a great album. I remember smoking a lot of weed to it, so I guess my memory of it is a bit hazy.

BeachBum said...

I argue it's greatness is enhanced by the aid of marijuana. I'm sure it was written on some sort of substance.

Rob said...

Roger Waters is playing The Wall at TD Bank Garden on 9/30 and 10/1. Tickets went on sale today (Monday) and the only decent seats are running $250.

BeachBum said...

I'm thinking $250 is a lot for watching one fourth of Floyd. Besides, isn't he over 60 now?