Now feels like a good time to revisit Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It has always been Floyd’s bleakest and most challenging record, and the accompanying film, well, it has always made my skin crawl. However, it needs to be seen again, because it has become relevant in ways its makers did not intend. It was, I think, intended as an inward-looking project, an attempt by its creators to come to terms with a chunk of history they were born on the tail-end of. Roger Waters was writing as a member of a post-war generation whose early life was imprinted by horrors they couldn’t remember or understand, who grew up dealing with the trauma and guilt of atrocities they had no part in. The Wall was supposed to be a generational reckoning, but it was dismissed in its own time as a rock star vanity project, then later as fodder for dorm room stoners who think they’re, like, deep, man. Today, unfortunately, it’s come to reflect reality, and it needs to be reevaluated as a work of art that has something to teach us. For one thing, it effectively illustrates the radicalization of a disaffected young man, a social problem that we’re grappling with and seeing the real-world effects of. Although it was made years before the technological leaps that have made radicalization so insidious and easy, it’s a story ripped from the headlines. A young man who is unloved, socially unsupported, mentally ill and at loose ends in his life quickly finds himself marching in lockstep just because it gives him a momentary sense of purpose and an illusion of control. It shows that self-destruction, violence and hate are, for many people, a natural reaction to feeling dehumanized themselves. A society that devalues humans and treats them as dispensable cogs creates people who want to burn down society and destroy themselves and each other. We are seeing it happen, in real time.
Let Pink Floyd set you up for an afternoon of childhood nostalgia. If your childhood nostalgia actually involves listening to Pink Floyd, all the better. Even if not, it’s the perfect mood piece for reminiscing, or daydreaming, or just dozing. It’s just great mood music. If you have drugs, good. If you have a mimosa, good. If you have a nice cup of tea, good. If you don’t have any of those things, maybe think about going back to bed.
Late sixties Pink Floyd is my favorite kind. They were so playful then! This one was written and performed by Rick Wright, who was never the dominant personality of the band and thus often has his contributions overlooked. I think it’s a very charming song, with barbershop echoes in the vocal crescendos. It was a B-side to a single nobody remembers, and can be found on the Relics compilation. It also goes to show that scraps and B-sides can often outshine more well-known material, and compilations of such can be as strong as a ‘regular’ album, if not better. Obviously, as a fan, going around scraping such gems together is unrealistic, so you have to rely on the artists’ being their own best curators. I find that no matter how good I am at being a fan, there’s still songs I’ve never heard, or even heard of, that pop up, even from the most long-dead and/or overly documented groups. So, if you’re a musician, start organizing your archive now; if you don’t, someone else is going to have to do it for you, after your death.
I’m still waiting for the day when I drop acid and watch Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii. That seems like a very necessary thing to do in life. In the meantime, it’s still a film worth watching again and again. It’s Pink Floyd at the height of their powers, and that’s enough to make for a fascinating document. I like all the footage of ancient artifacts and arid landscapes, but that’s not really the point. You could say that the act of playing, without an audience, in the middle of a ruined city represents something about the band and their spirit of innovation, as in, you know, they’re just playing just for the sake of pure artistry, man. Or you could be cynical and say it’s just a visual gimmick. I’m leaning towards the former; you rarely see so much joy in pure innovation and creativity and just playing for the sake of it. You also didn’t see much of it again either, not after the big hits started coming. Maybe success didn’t curtail Pink Floyd’s innovative ambitions, but it definitely put a damper on their sense of joy and their unity as a group.
If you didn’t know this was Pink Floyd, you would never guess that this is Pink Floyd. Clearly, they had a unwalked road ahead of them as an excellent heavy metal band, but they chose to leave it unwalked. The musical landscape would have been markedly different if they’d followed this particular muse, though. Heavy metal would be a genre known for its intellectual clout and cutting-edge experimentation. Psychedelic and prog rock would be the domain of hairy morons who scream about pussy. And maybe if the single had been a hit, that’s what would have happened. But in 1969 Pink Floyd were still a few years out from having any hits, so they didn’t feel especially tied to any formula that might serve them. This remains a tantalizing one-off.
Too famous not to know, too famous to pay attention to. File it under ‘classic songs you no longer appreciate thanks to overexposure’. But hold back the urge to dismiss something catchy and popular as just that. In this case, take a minute to absorb just how dripping dark and cynical this is (in typical Pink Floyd fashion, of course.) Now obviously, this diatribe against the evils of the capitalist system was written by people with more than a handful of coins to rub together, so there’s an element of hypocrisy at play. I doubt the irony was lost on Floyd when they recorded it, and was even less lost when it became one of their biggest hits. Neither is pointing at money as the root of all evil exactly a novel concept. It’s a bit of a cheap shot for a group who’ve had deeper insights. I would guess that Waters and Gilmour (et al.) were having a bit of angst regarding their own burgeoning success. It’s been noted that people who go from not having a buttload of money to having it don’t become lovelier people, and many who’ve made that journey find that the happiness they’ve bought themselves is less healthy and satisfying that they’d been led to expect, which may lead to stress, paranoia, self-doubt and guilt feelings. And writing angsty songs about how much the system you’re personally benefiting from is inherently rotten.
I love it when artists celebrate their pets. Because I love pets, obviously, and because it makes the artist seem more human. Especially when it’s a very serious artist known for their angst. Pink Floyd is a group best known for angsty grandeur, but we can place this track squarely on the shoulders of Syd Barrett, who, mental illness aside, was not all that angsty of a fellow and liked to write songs about gnomes and bicycles. And his cat, a Siamese named Sam, now immortalized for all eternity. The pantheon of pet muses is not very large; the best known pet muse is probably Paul McCartney’s sheepdog Martha. Martha is distinguished because she was so frequently photographed being adorable with her master. Many beloved pets live out their lives and pass away without ever having a song written in their honor. So Sam the Siamese cat is in a very exclusive and refined category.