Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pink Floyd's The Wall and WWII

Remember the first brick in The Wall!

Trump talks about building a Wall but Pink Floyd actually built one -- and they made the youth of the world pay for it!

Many, many of my generation are fans of the classic British rock group Pink Floyd.  Many people appreciate the album known as The Wall.  Far fewer, however, have seen the film The Wall that was released in 1979 and is available now in a 25th anniversary edition (www.amzn.com/B0006ZE7G2).

The Wall is a rock opera that tracks the life of "Pink" a rock star whose life is on the skids.  Pink is partially based on the life of Roger Waters, the bassist and lyricist for Pink Floyd.

Get Hammered by Pink Floyd!
The Wall is not a great film but it does have some brilliant moments.  Roger Waters, in the DVD commentary, even went so far as to describe it as a "humorless" film.  The Wall is by turns humorless, pretentious and and often banal.  The animation featured in the film is sometimes inspired but often seems deeply misogynistic.  But the soundtrack is amazing.

Watching the movie for the first time this past summer was a revelatory experience for me.  Having grown up with the soundtrack without seeing the film I had no idea that The Wall was so profoundly affected by one of my favorite topics -- World War II history.
Badge Royal Fusiliers
Waters was born in England in 1943.  His father, Eric Fletcher Waters (1914-1944), was killed near Anzio while serving as an officer in the Royal Fusiliers; Waters was only five months of age at the time.  Waters grew up in post-war England, raised by a single mother who was, by most accounts, over-protective and smothering.

Commander K at Commonwealth cemetery, Florence, IT
The first brick in The Wall in Pink's life was a memorial stone for his soldier-father.  Visitors to the UK today can find similar memorials erected in nearly every British town or city.  In 2014 Waters dedicated an Italian war memorial which commemorates his father and was made an honorary citizen of Anzio (http://www.wantedinrome.com/news/roger-waters-made-honorary-citizen-of-anzio/).  All roads lead to Rome.

Sicily was liberated in the summer of 1943 but bitter fighting in Italy would continue right up until on VE Day which marked the end of the war in Europe on May 8, 1945 (http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/have-americans-invaded-lake-garda.html).  The bloody Italian campaign caused far more Allied casualties than the campaign in northern Europe from D-day into Germany but it generates far less media attention (http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-nearly-forgotten-dead-of-world-war.html).  Kudos to Waters for helping us to remember this history.

Eric Waters fell in the combat against fascism.  Totalitarian conformism is a primary theme of The Wall.  The British neo-nazis depicted in the film seem far better dressed and organized than the actual skinheads of the 1970s and 1980s.

The song We Don't Need No Education reverberates in unexpected ways in the 21st century.  The African terrorist organization Boko Haram defines itself "Western Education is sinful" and Pink Floyd might seem to agree.  But clearly children DO need education, they just need the right kind of education.  Education should not be "thought control" but rather a flowering and celebration of thought.

Pink Floyd's song expresses a profound dissatisfaction with the British educational system -- a system despised and often ridiculed by Tom Brown, Winston Churchill, David Niven (http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-moon-is-balloon.html), Monty Python and many more.  Perhaps Waters reaction was simply a product of a particular moment in a particular place and time?  The English teachers who taught Roger Waters in the early 1950s had, after all, been trained and equipped to create Empire builders for which the rapidly disintegrating British empire had no use.

Pink's tiresome self-indulgence stands in startling contrast to his father's self-sacrifice.  The Greatest Generation defeated the fascist menace only to pass the torch to a self-absorbed baby boom generation whose greatest achievement seems only to lie in rendering themselves comfortably numb as they endure marital turbulence, mid-life crises and self-inflicted wounds both physical and psychic.

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Christopher Cook said...

When I was a junior in high school, my friends and I rented “The Wall” and watched it at my house. My mother and sister found it the next day and watched it, and then they sat me down and were very “concerned" about the fact that I was watching something whose protagonist was a drugged up, womanizer with obvious mommy issues, daddy issues, and other psychological problems. "We just like the music,” was my very honest response. It was obvious at the time that Waters was a mess, but we didn’t much care. Later in life was when it crystalized just how much of a mess he really is.

And yeah, his politics are awful.

Peter Werner said...

Really fun to read this thoughtful and insightful assessment!