Rewind: Andy Burns On The Personal Legacy Of Pink Floyd’s The Wall

How much of the music you listened to as a teenager have you carried with you as you’ve gotten older? Depending on what your tastes were, I bet there’s quite a lot that still gets shuffled on your iPod. Me, I was a classic rock kid before rock was classic. Coming of age in the 90’s meant that both Led Zeppelin and John Lennon had already been gone for 10 years when I entered high school. Talking Heads had broken up unofficially. Oasis and Blur hadn’t yet brought Brit-Pop to the masses and U2 were still in the midst of dreaming it all up again. It was also 3 years out of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, Pink Floyd’s first album without their former lyricist and conceptualist, Roger Waters, with whom David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright were embroiled in one of the nastiest falling outs in music history. The venom was mainly between Waters and Floyd guitarist/leader Gilmour, who took every chance they had to snipe at one another in the press. The notion that the four musicians would ever be on speaking terms, let alone play together again, was seemingly impossible. The wall between them was just too high. Of course, hell froze over in 2005 at Live 8, but that was 15 years away.


It was in the midst of these battles, the fall of 1990, that I heard Pink Floyd’s classic 1979 double album The Wall for the first time. I was in Grade 9 and a classmate had given me her brother’s cassette tape to listen. I don’t mind tell you that on first listen I didn’t get it at all. I was 13 years old and the whole concept album notion was completely foreign to me. I knew “Another Brick In The Wall Part 2” and that was it (and really, everybody knows that song – I bet some of our grandparents can still sing along to the chorus). But even though the album didn’t resonate with me at first, I made a dub of it and listened to it again. And then again. And then…well, you get the point.

Somewhere along the way, The Wall started to make sense, even if not everything about it was clear to my teenage self (and even my 30-something self can’t always make heads or tails of the story of rock star Pink’s descent into drug fuelled apathy). The Wall is just that kind of album. A sprawling 90-minute opus that touches on universal themes that most of us can relate to in some way – the absentee parent, the jilted lover, the feeling that sometimes we just want to shut ourselves off from the world around us. Even if so much of the album is Roger Waters story, it’s also everybody’s in certain places. Maybe that’s why it’s sold so many millions of copies since it’s release some 30 years ago.

Watching Roger Waters perform The Wall live last Wednesday night on the first stop of his year long tour, the music resonated with me in ways that my teenage self would never have felt. I didn’t remember “Vera Lynn” when I first heard the song, but having learned about the way the singer resonated with British soldiers during the war, I found my heart just a little heavier than I expected. The same goes for the stirring rendition of “Bring The Boys Back Home”, a song more poignant now given the world that we’re living in.

As a show, The Wall’s latest incarnation is absolutely brilliant. Technology has caught up to Roger Waters’ ambition (even though the Pink Floyd shows in support of the album back in 1980 and 1981 were visually stunning for the time) – Gerald Scarfe’s films look brilliant shows across the large stage set; the over the top, large puppets of the Mother, The Wife and the Teacher are grand and there’s fireworks galore. But no matter how much money is put into a concert, if the songs aren’t solid none of it matters. And The Wall is considered by many fans of Pink Floyd as their masterpiece thanks to those brilliant musical moments.

When it comes to the music I listen to, I don’t feel like an old classic rocker. I don’t feel particularly old generally, even with a baby and a mortgage and an unwillingness to use the term “sick” for anything other than in referring to illness. But I do realize that the music that resonates the most with me is what I discovered during a ten year period – 1990-2000, or the ages 13-23. That’s when I heard prog rock for the first time. When Television and the Beach Boys became bands that mattered to me. When I first tried to make out what Bob Dylan was saying in concert. But before those artists found their way into my life, my cd collection and eventually my iPod,  I was banging my head against some mad bugger’s wall.

20 years on, I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

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