Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tear Down The Wall

'I know people who got into The Wall and didn't come out for five years, they just locked themselves into this frame of mind of whatever they were getting out of that album. Most of it seemed to be positive but during those five years they became very distant from everybody..very alienated' -Axl Rose, 1990

That's right. I'm starting this entry off with a quote by Axl Rose. Do you know Axl? He's the guy who started a full-scale riot by fighting with a member of the audience. The front-man who took his previously 'dangerous' band in strange new directions by producing extravagant short films as music videos. The singer who took 14 years to make an album whilst losing all of his original band-mates. The diva who won't go onstage until he feels he is absolutely ready to deliver his explosive performances. Performances which regularly include stopping concerts because of things being thrown on-stage or because someone in the first few rows, for unknown reasons, is annoying him. As the enigmatic leader of Guns N'Roses, Axl's bizarre behaviour has left him few friends. Occasionally though, he communicates some things that make me sit up and say 'Yeah! Axl gets it!'. His above reference to Pink Floyd's 1979 album, The Wall, is an appropriate example.
I had first heard of Pink Floyd when, whilst on holiday in France, my brother cursed as 'Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2' played in the bar we were hanging around in. 'We don't need no education, We don't need no thought control'. Aged 14, I looked at Brendan inquisitively and asked 'Who's that?'. 'Pink Floyd' he said, with a drag in his voice. Brendan was a follower of Kurt Cobain, who had deemed Pink Floyd undesirable. As Kurt was an idol of my own, I decided to follow my brother's lead on avoiding our dead leader's hated bands. Indeed, this contempt from all things Punk-Rock for the perceived self indulgence of 'Progressive Rock' was something that held me back from listening to Pink Floyd until much later on. Until then, there was still the important practice of scribbling anarchy symbols over my schoolbooks and sticking anti-McDonalds signs to lamp posts.
Eventually, the hostile a nature of punk music started to wear thin. I got tired of blaming the Government and multi-national corporations for all my problems. Slowly, I started to open my ear to other types of music. Like heavy metal. But although blistering guitar solos and double-pedal bass drums seemed brilliant at first, I got a little tired of evaluating bands on how technically sound they were. Looking for something more, I stumbled into more multi dimensional places. Sifting through the pantheons of older bands, I eventually started listening to Pink Floyd. Before long, their ambient moods, thought provoking lyrical concepts and elaborate stage shows had captured my imagination like nothing before. I dove head first into the Pink Floyd experience, immersing myself in everything there was to about 'the floyd'. One might say I became a little obsessed.
I often wonder why so many people allow themselves to be taken over by a band, or a certain type of music. Like my brother before me, I had a track record of smothering myself with various bands to the point that my knowledge of them became almost weird and unhealthy. When I think of my various love affairs with bands now, I find myself wincing as certain names come into my head. Limp Bizkit represents an obvious low-point. How I related to such a horrible representation of white American male urban angst, in which merit is defined to how many times the word fuck could be used in one song, mystifies me. Such unfortunate tangents now seem like the pitfalls of searching for some kind of identity in the convenience store of popular culture. In the youthful act of rebelling against the life being prescribed to us, we inevitably make some dismal choices in adapting other, equally prescribed, personas. Sometimes though, we embark on some interesting journeys.

The intense relationship I had with the music of Pink Floyd represents the last time I made such a journey. And what a journey it was. As a Pink Floyd obsessive, I sometimes felt that I was experiencing something totally unique. Acting like I was on the verge of some new state of consciousness, I ritualistically listened to Echoes and The Dark Side Of The Moon in near trance, letting the beautiful yet unsettling sound take me where ever it would. The multi layered composition of their whole presentation seemed so well thought out that something bigger, something important was behind it. This arcane factor that Pink Floyd fans display is something which annoys people the world over. I must have been as annoying as any of them. Nothing lent itself more to this 'quality' than my fascination with The Wall. A rock opera which tells the story of a reclusive rock-star who's life falls to pieces after his childhood experiences of abandonment resurface, The Wall came to signify one of the most profound pieces of art I had ever been exposed to. I still think of it as a remarkably palpable expression of human emotion. But it's not to everyone's liking. Lots of my musical friends have expressed contempt for The Wall, calling it one of Pink Floyd's worst albums. They consider it bloated, over-considered and musically subordinate. Some people don't have time for the rounded analysis that the album requires, not just as a piece of music but as statement of abject nihilism.

To me though, the album offered unavoidable intensity- something I embraced with open arms. The sheer density of the album was perfect for someone, as I was, trying to fill some kind of void. It's a bit like the way everyone thought Johnny Cash was singing about them when he sang Hurt. Or how we nod in despairing unison to Mad World whilst welling up at the end of Donnie Darko. The Wall takes this process of identification to new levels. The melancholic, terrifying and nightmarish feel of the piece sums up some of the worst fears one might have about where they are headed in life. As a result, I was looking through the lens of the despair that the album so poignantly presents. Needless to say, the whole endeavour became a little frightening.
Eventually, although with less brevity than previous affairs, the majesty of Pink Floyd started to wane. My mandatory investigation into the lifespan of the band revealed a bitter split that, in itself, became an integral part of the Pink Floyd story. Many will be familiar with the schism between Roger Waters and the rest of the band after the former's artistic vision collided with that of his bandmates. The sheer nastiness of the whole affair made the English quartet seem less mystical and more predictably human. After Waters left the band in 1985 and embarked on a speculative solo career, it became clear that his concepts were lesser without his former friends. Indeed, Pink Floyd themselves, now led by David Gilmour, seemed a little tame without their fiery bassist. In the end, it was the wall between the band themselves that proved that they were not as esoteric as I once thought.
In retrospect, the most striking thing about my interest in music was the attempt to find some sort of meaning in it all. Much more than the simple enjoyment of it's sonic base, it was, ultimately, some kind of profound connection that I sought in music. The parallel with a dogmatic's search for fulfilment in scripture, even though this was something that I had wholeheartedly rejected as illogical, is now abundantly clear. It was probably simple naivety that blinded me to the intellectual inconsistency that I was partaking in. In the end, it is the home truth that satisfaction is something not present in idolisation that prevails most. Whatever about the dangers it incurs, mutuality is something essential to the search for the satisfaction of our tendency to like, love and adore. Looking for this in the auspices of impersonal culture rather than the people around us is null and void. In our diversions away from such a sentiment, we may find ourselves in dark places indeed.

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