The seminal effect of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” is largely due to its mastermind Roger Waters who turns 64 today

A musical outburst of a “soul in torment” or a grand theatrical experience – inspire you as it may, Pink Floyd’s landmark 1979 release, “The Wall” continues to grow in stature. With hit singles like “Hey You”, “Comfortably Numb”, “Young Lust” and the anthemic “Another Brick in the Wall (II)”, it continues to rake in millions (both in terms of money and audience numbers) all over the globe. This tremendous outreach of “The Wall”, is largely due to its mastermind, George Roger Waters, who turns 64 today.

“‘The Wall’ has come to be a mouthpiece for several generations,” asserts Soumitro Mukherjee, guitarist of the Sarjapur Blues Band and faculty at the Bangalore School of Music. “It is infinite in scope and concept, and immense in execution.”

Timeless story

Bret Urick, a veteran Floydian from the U.S., and author of one of the most visited websites on “The Wall”: www.thewallanalysis.com says via email: “ ‘The Wall’ is timeless simply because it tells a timeless story: man’s journey to find himself.” In his account, it is about as universal as a story can get. One can relate with the fictional Pink in terms of alienation from friends, loved ones, authority and even society as a whole.

One of the definitive features of the album, that comes to one’s notice, is the open-endedness to Waters’s work, or as Bret puts it, “his absolute love for all things cyclical” to the extent that it actually prevents one from criticising the subject. Writer Anand S. says, “‘The Wall’ is really more about discovery and finding out, rather than of breaking out. Stemming from profound cultural changes in England in the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s, Anand says, “‘The Wall”, far from being an opinion, is, in fact, a poignant representation of British life as a result of these changes.”

This ability of “The Wall” as a concept album to manage such philosophical insights is path-breaking in its own right, says Bret. “In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, although the idea of the concept album was shaping up with albums such as ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ (The Beatles), ‘Tommy’ and ‘Quadrophenia’ (The Who), ‘The Wall’ marked a shift from such rock operas and concept albums (both before and since its release),” he says. “Its subject matter is more contemplative and grim, more universal and epic.”

Soumitro, who shares a similar opinion, says that the album in itself does not have any distinct divisions. “It is really not a song album despite all the hit singles. It’s an idea that segues from one song into another.” If Waters’s magnum opus acts as a perfect soundtrack to the angst of a rock starthen his collaboration with director Alan Parker in the movie version of “The Wall” (1982) is an explosive visual depiction of this anti-hero (played by Bob Geldof).

Although not a commercial hit like the album, it is Gerald Scarfe’s brilliant animation that makes the movie the timeless cult classic that it is. The marching hammers and the flower and bird sequences, for instance, exemplify his ability to boil down complex ideas and themes into exquisite animation.

Bret remarks: “ ‘The Wall’s live-action shots are like the story’s exterior – the skin, the eyes, the hair, the physical qualities of the action – while Scarfe’s animation is like the mental landscape, revealing an often sordid look into what’s making this character tick.”

Whatever it is that “The Wall” holds for us, it is best seen today as how our collective cultural psyche remains hooked on to the one defining line in the album, with its catchy melody and simple lyrics that speak of rebellion: “We don’t need no education”. Soumitro aptly observes, “Pink Floyd has tapped into one of the most fundamental human responses, irrespective of the milieu – that of angst. “The Wall” shall be remembered as a classic forever.”

BHARADWAJ M.V.

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