Tag Archive: solipsism


Worms

Worms: just the very word sounds gross, doesn’t it? The first image I conjure up when I hear it is the earthworm, then Earthworm Jim, then the parasites that dogs and cats sometimes get. After that, I think of the Pink Floyd song “Waiting For the Worms.” In The Wall, worms are a metaphor for what happens when we close ourselves off to human emotions and descend into singularity and isolation.

On a smaller, tighter scale, worms also represent Pink finishing his transformation into a Hitler/Mussolini figure, carrying out his plan to elevate himself over all of humanity. Nazi imagery is very strong in the language of “queens and the coons and the reds and Jews.” Many people think the Holocaust as an exclusively Jewish thing, but it wasn’t. Nazi Germany didn’t just hate Jews, but all people who weren’t Aryans, weren’t of the “Master Race.” Hitler was an equal-opportunity discriminator.

Back in “Hey You” at the beginning of the second disc, the narrator sings in the bridge, “No matter how he tried, he could not break free / And the worms ate into his brain.” And in “Waiting For the Worms,” much is made of “follow[ing] the worms.” Those worms have taken up residence in your brain, and are now controlling your actions. And where does following them lead? To a perfect land where the weaklings and degenerates have been expunged in the showers and the ovens, where “our colored cousins” have been sent back home, where “Britannia rule[s] again.”

Wait a second… Britannia? I thought this was supposed to be a totalitarian control state! I thought this was the Third Reich! Surely the United Kingdom is as distant ideologically from Nazi Germany as the night from the day! Axis and Allies, man! Different sides! Britain would never!

Sense the sarcasm, people. Roger Waters is indeed saying that his beloved homeland has the potential to become everything that WWII was fought specifically to stamp out. Britain could descend into government-sponsored racism, and according to Waters, it wouldn’t even be that hard.

When Pink is at his absolute worst, riding through the streets with a megaphone and his goons marching before him, he has a sudden and jarring halt. The crowd is shouting, Pink is delivering his megaphone diatribe, and the David Gilmour is playing that harsh, minor key refrain that appears in “Another Brick In the Wall” and “Hey You” that binds the album together, and all of the craziness that The Wall has been building towards is at a fever pitch. Then Pink suddenly shouts “STOP!”

With that, the song “Stop!” starts with its 30 seconds of piano interlude. This is the moment where Pink breaks out of his isolation and attempts to deal with what he has done. And once again, he retreats into his own mind and creates a cast of characters who put him on trial.

“The Trial” is the lynchpin and climax of the story, and as such, it’s actually very hammy and unintentionally comical. It sounds very much like a piece from a Broadway musical where the rest of the album does not, even though The Wall has a cinematic feel and scope rarely seen. Pink is put on “trial” for the crime of “showing feelings of an almost human nature.” The schoolmaster from the first act, Pink’s wife, and his mother are brought in to testify, and then “Worm, Your Honor” (the judge or arbiter) pronounces Pink’s sentencing.

The figure of Worm, Your Honor, given the symbolism present previously on The Wall, must be the epitome of solipsism, and the pinnacle of cutting yourself off. In light of that, it’s pretty ironic that the “sentence” that Worm, Your Honor imposes on Pink is what ultimately saves him from complete isolation. “The Trial” ends with the repeated chanting of “Tear down the wall!” followed by a the sound of a single, gargantuan blast, echoing through the vast nothingness that separates Pink’s solipsistic world from reality.

In my opinion, all the characters in “The Trial” (the Crown lawyer, the judge, the mother, the schoolmaster, the wife, even the chorus who sings about how crazy Pink is) are creations of his own mind. After all, he lives in a world where the only occupant of even the tiniest consequence is himself. He’s reached a point where even he is not willing to go, and there has to be a breaking point. Creating a scenario where he’s put on trial is the perfect way to point out his own colossal, self-inflicted guilt for all the atrocities he’s done to both the people most important to him and the world at large.

There’s one more track, and it passes in little more than a whisper. You may think “Outside the Wall” will be a summing up of the entire 90 minutes and 2 discs-worth of material on The Wall, but you’d be wrong. Instead, “Outside the Wall” finishes the album looking at things from a slightly different angle.

The narrator is probably Pink himself, but since he’s addressing the listener specifically, it hardly matters. He talks of your own loved ones, “all alone or in two’s;” because even though you may have descended into a world where only you seem to exist, you still leave behind a lot of people who care about you. In fact, that’s the whole point of The Wall; Pink thought he was leaving behind the people who made him build the Wall, but he wasn’t. They came back to convict him in “The Trial.” And if God forbid you start to go down the same path as Pink (the same path as “me,” says Roger Waters), remember there might be people who want you back, people who love you.

Huh; I guess “Outside the Wall” does a pretty good job of summing up after all.

Incredibly geeky note: “Outside the Wall” – and thus The Wall as a whole – ends with someone saying, “Isn’t this where-“. At the very beginning of the album, in the first few seconds before “In the Flesh?” kicks off, the same person can be heard saying “-we came in?” There ya go – useless information of the day!

The Wall is a monument to madness, pulling together so many experiences and influences from Roger Waters’ life, but that’s not the reason it’s great. It has some of the best and most well-known songs in Pink Floyd’s entire career, but that’s not why, either. It’s great because it captures a moment in time, a sliver of being in which Roger Waters, and indeed Pink Floyd itself are on a precipice. It marks a decision to not go down the road it details, and to instead come into the light.

Pink Floyd at Live 8 in 2005

Pink Floyd at Live 8 in 2005

Soon after, Roger Waters would release his swan song The Final Cut and angrily part ways from Gilmour and the rest. He would even try, unsuccessfully, to sue the other three Floyds for use of the Pink Floyd name. Pink Floyd’s final album The Division Bell, released without Waters in 1994, is a treatise on communication and what happens when we stop talking to each other. Gilmour was offering an olive branch to Waters with The Division Bell, and in 2005, the finally got back together… for one performance. Live 8 saw the first time Pink Floyd had performed as a four-piece in 24 years – and the last time the world ever saw them in that form again. Sigh…

Lonely ≠ Alone

Very Lynn

Vera Lynn

The solipsism of “Is There Anybody Out There?” (the implied answer would be “no”) and “Nobody Home” is suddenly broken when Pink starts singing about a girl named Vera Lynn. “Vera” is a startlingly sparse but affecting song, being little more than Roger Waters’ voice and some light orchestral touches. Pink, now clinging to the wall because there’s just a vast empty space away from it, is going as far back into his memory as he can. What he finds is Vera.

Vera Lynn was commonly referred to as “The Forces’ Sweetheart,” owing to the fact that she was the most popular singer among the British Army in WWII. She visited the troops in Egypt, India and Burma, and her songs “We’ll Meet Again” and “The White Cliffs of Dover” were emblems of national identity to British soldiers all over the world. And in particular, “We’ll Meet Again” lent hope to not only the soldiers but everyone they left at home. She became a symbol of the United Kingdom during that time, and was made a Dame Commander in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1975.

The invocation of her name by Pink is an acknowledgement of his father and the gap he left in Pink’s life. Vera sang that all those brave men who went to war would be reunited with their loved ones “some sunny day.” And the song “Vera” is Pink’s lament that her words didn’t come true, that her promise was in vain – Pink’s father never came home, and the two of them never even met for a first time, never mind “again.” Vera might have been talking about the hereafter as well as on Earth, but that was missed by a good percentage of her audience, Waters included.

But Waters has much more delicacy that to make “Vera” a simple accusation leveled at the Forces’ Sweetheart. Instead, “Vera” is not directed at anything or anyone, but is a whimper of anguish, a very small vocalization of the despair Pink feels at this. Despite that it’s beatless, not very long and doesn’t follow any pop conventions that I know of, I can’t help but feel the tiniest lump in my throat whenever I hear it.

“Vera” leads right into a further musing on war, loved ones and being lost, “Bring the Boys Back Home.” It starts off with a snare drum war march growing louder, like an approaching army. Then it explodes in epic and operatic singing, led by Waters. It sounds like it could be an actual WWII-era hit song, perhaps sung by Vera Lynn herself. The lyrics are very simple – just the title twice, then a tag, then the title once again. But the real crux of the song is the delivery. Roger Waters is joined by the New York Opera, as well as 35 New York drummers all playing the snare and the New York Orchestra on strings. It’s arguably not a Pink Floyd song, but it packs a powerful emotional punch.

It’s followed by one of the most famous and greatest Pink Floyd songs to ever grace our ears, “Comfortably Numb.” In the storyline of The Wall, it represents the moment when Pink is as far gone as he can get and has retreated completely from human emotions; he’s a true sociopath. In the movie version of The Wall, it’s shown as Pink’s manager, tour crew and doctor breaking down the door of his hotel room, reviving him with drugs, and carrying him out to the limo that will take him to the show for tonight. As he’s carried down the corridor, his skin starts melting and growing cancerous bulges and oozing sores. His fingers elongate, his limbs become trunks and his facial features become almost unrecognizable. Finally, in the limo, he rips off his own skin to reveal Pink as we knew him before (crew cut and eyebrow-less), but dressed in a military-style dress uniform, black and red with a leather strap across the chest. The intended Nazi reference is quite clear.

David Gilmour

David Gilmour

“Comfortably Numb” has a switch in it; David Gilmour sings Pink’s parts, and Roger Waters is performing the part of the doctor. And in addition, Gilmour has hands down his best guitar solo, not just on The Wall, but ever. The Wall features a great many fantastic solos from Gilmour – “Young Lust,” “Comfortably Numb,” “The Thin Ice,””One of My Turns,” and the first two parts of “Another Brick In the Wall.” Gilmour has previously shown he’s no slouch with the six-string. “Time” falls into the category of Blazingly Awesome, and a lot of Animals has outstanding guitar work. But he would go on to more bombastic, voluminous and self-indulgent solos after Roger Waters flies the coop. Once Gilmour is in charge on A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell, the floodgates opened for guitar greatness. Just listen to a live version of “Sorrow” to see what I’m talking about. The solo goes on for 5+ minutes.

There are subtle drug references and hints of clinical depression in the lyrics of “Comfortably Numb,” but what it’s really about is disconnection. The song sums up the whole of The Wall quite beautifully. To the narrator, nothing gets through. Things hit him from all angles, but none of it means a thing. That’s the loneliest place a human being can wander into, but not because you’re alone; “alone” and “lonely” are not exactly the same thing. There are other faces all around you, but it’s like they’re all wearing masks. And once you’re in that place where nobody matters, there are no limits to the brutality and evil you can exhibit.

Next: “Are there any QUEERS in the theater tonight?”

Slinker and Stinker

Gollum, Syd and Pink had something in common – they all had less hair as they went on

The specter of Syd Barrett, amazingly, was still hanging over Pink Floyd more than 11 years after he had left the band. In particular, Syd was still a part of the thought processes of Roger Waters. And since Waters was the primary songwriter and musical demagogue of Pink Floyd, Syd of course shows up in The Wall.

Waters and Barrett have always shared a bit of their ethos, and I think Waters is strangely akin to Barrett mentally. In fact, the character of Pink, in addition to being a twisted reflection of Waters himself, is also an archetype for the self-obsessed, insecure and unstable rock star. Waters’ experience with all those things (other himself, of course) and comes directly from Syd Barrett.

The starkest example of this is in the song “Nobody Home.” Pink, having now retreated completely behind his wall, muses about his own state of mind and body. He looks at the things that immediately surround him – his clothes, the TV, the hotel room – and then examines his own feelings and perceptions – his paranoia, his pessimism. He’s part Howard Hughes, part Holden Caufield, and indeed part Syd Barrett. He’s now resigned to his feelings of isolation and disconnection.

One track earlier, in “Is There Anybody Out There?” Pink gets on the other side of his wall, looks around and finds he’s all alone. The sense you get from the music in “Is There Anybody Out There?” is a vast, inky nothingness, like being lost in space without any planets or stars in a 300 light year radius. Everything just echoes, returning back on itself with nothing added. Instantly, Pink starts feeling for the edges of the wall, trying to get back over to the other side, the human side, to no avail.

And one track before that, we have a little summary of the first half of The Wall with a preview of the second half in “Hey You.” This song is an easy single and music video, and it became one in 1982 with the release of Pink Floyd – The Wall, the feature film. “Hey You” was the only song from The Wall that was not included in the movie, but a music video was made for it culling all the footage from the 1982 film.

In “Hey You” and “Nobody Home,” there is a Bowie-like splitting of the self, but rather than creating two distinct personalities, Pink talks to himself and responds to himself, perhaps more like Gollum’s Slinker and Stinker. Gollum has arguments with himself because for a long time, there’s no one else around with whom to have arguments. Once Frodo and Sam enter his life, the habit continues. It’s exactly the same with Pink. The only person to keep him company in this solipsistic world is himself, but for Pink, he even lets himself down. You only need listen to the first chorus of “Nobody Home” to realize that.

When I try to get through / on the telephone to you / there’ll be nobody home.

And still, there’s Syd. The “obligatory Hendrix perm” line from “Nobody Home” is a direct nod to Syd, and as many parallels as I pick out between Pink and Gollum, the reality of this character is based on Syd. There have been all sorts of theories about what was wrong with him, so I won’t go into that, but a pretty consistent symptom of mental illness is talking to oneself. Who knows? Syd might have had conversations with himself like his very own personal Slinker and Stinker.

Next: “I know we’ll meet again some sunny day…”