The Story of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” Part 1: Outside the Wall
The Story of Pink Floyd’s The Wall
By Francisco Diaz
The Wall is one of Pink Floyd’s best albums. It revolves around the unsettling life of Roger Waters— singer, songwriter, and bassist for Pink Floyd— who is portrayed as a man named Pink. Pink spends his life with growing disgust towards society to the point where he builds a psychological wall to block himself from this harmful world he lives in. He ultimately regrets his decision but has to live with this psychological toil. The album covers his entire life with his looming mental issues.
In the Flesh?
The first song, “In the Flesh?”, is a preamble to the album. A future version of Pink is speaking directly to the audience at the beginning of one of his shows, asking them if they think they want to see the show (utilizing the word ‘think’ to convey a mysterious nature towards the show). He then goes on to say that it may not be exactly what they expected to see, it is much darker and scarier than all the shows the audience may have heard before. As the song moves to the instrumental part, we hear Pink prepare for ‘the show’ by screaming “lights, turn on the sound effects, action!” This introduces the opening act: The Childhood and Family of Pink.
The Childhood of Pink
(The Thin Ice – Goodbye Blue Sky)
“The Thin Ice” symbolizes the beginning of Pink’s childhood, in which Pink’s parents speak to him about the thin ice of modern life. They tell Pink to not be caught up on the beauty of the world because there is a lot of ugly parts underneath the beauty. They tell Pink that the sea may look warm and the sky may look blue, but the seas can freeze, and the sky can discolor. Pink then begins to mention the gross realities of the universe, using phrases including “the silent reproach of a million tear stained eyes” alluding to the millions of Jews affected in the holocaust, which could be one of the ‘bricks’ in the psychological wall (but I’m getting ahead of myself). Pink’s parents tell him that he shouldn’t be surprised if the seas freeze and a crack appears under his feet, alluding to his possible death in an extremely cruel world.
This idea of death is furthered into “Another Brick in the Wall Part 1”, in which Pink discovers the horror of his father’s death in World War 2. At this point, the lyrics, “all in all you’re just another brick in the wall,” appear multiple times. This is the first instance of what the ‘wall’ is made of. Pink creates this wall out of the injustices of society that plague the world. Pink conveys to the listener that the people who commandeered soldiers caused his father’s death. They knew nothing of the political climate in worldly matters and ignorantly sent troops to fight in the war. The death of his father, the carelessness of political figures, is his first brick in the wall.
As Pink grows up, he realizes that the Wall may expand further than he expected, especially in school. Pink demonstrates to the audience that during his “happiest days,” teachers were an extremely terrible part of his life. Pink introduces the second brick in the wall as the teachers in his life. He brings up the idea that students were not allowed to think for themselves, unveiling the idea of thought control. This, along with the multiple beatings Pink endured during school, ultimately adds another brick to the Wall. Pink would try to escape this control, but he couldn’t. This is shown in the song “Mother,” which is a conversation between Pink and his mother, who is portrayed as someone who is extremely overprotective. Pink sees this as a byproduct of his father’s death while not explicitly stating it. Pink’s mother talks about making all his nightmares come true, she’ll always watch over him, making Pink feel as though he had no control over is life, which eventually helps Pink expand the wall.
While his school life has been tarnished, and his life at home has become controlled, Pink remains hopeful. As a child, he had many expectations for the world: the sky to stay blue, the water to stay warm, etc. However, these dreams do not last long. Pink continues feeling this until he finally feels as though the innocence in the world has been lost. In the song “Goodbye Blue Sky,” you hear a small child say, “Look, Mommy, there’s an airplane up in the sky.” This symbolizes the beginning of the end for the innocence of the world through war mongering countries. As Pink leaves childhood and enters adulthood, he realizes that the idea of a beautiful, nurturing world is a lie. In Pink’s perspective, the ideologies of large companies that exist only to gain money and power have destroyed the world like bombs. Governments have profited on the death of hundreds of thousands of people. Pink begins to lose his respect for the world and the innocence that was once alive in him has faded away.
The Adult Life of Pink
(Empty Spaces – Goodbye Cruel World)
Pink eventually grows up and becomes a rockstar, very analogous to Roger Waters. (This rockstar persona matches the one seen in the first song of the album, introducing the show.) Entering the adult life of Pink comes with some quick realizations, the most important of which being his psychological issues. At this point in his life, Pink relied on drugs, sex, and money to feel something. To feel anything. In the song “Empty Spaces,” he’s asking someone how he should fill these empty spaces of the Wall, how should he get to that point where he has truly removed himself from the plague of society. This song ends with the question, “How shall I complete the Wall?” This question is immediately answered by the next song title. “Young Lust.” In this song, Pink states on multiple occasions that he needs a woman. He talks about himself as a “stranger” in this town, noting that he doesn’t want to be someone who is admired in current day society (because many of the people who are ‘admired’ in society are terrible people). He wants a woman to reach the point where he no longer feels anything, where he can desert society and be truly ‘happy.’ On this quest to be truly happy, Pink calls his wife. In the background of this song, you can hear a telephone operator talking to a man stating that a call is coming in, “For Mrs. Floyd from Mr. Floyd.” She repeats this line again and gets hung up on again and tells Mr. Floyd (Pink), “It’s a man answering.”
As Pink closes off the connection to the telephone operator, the remnants of the hope of a normal life has dissipated as he realizes his wife has cheated on him. As “One of My Turns” starts, we can see the beginnings of the psychological toil that Pink has endured. Pink is shut down, both mentally and physically, while a woman in the background asks him a multitude of questions. Then she asks, “Are you feeling ok?” Pink then goes on to dictate the way he truly feels, love has faded, everyone grows older and dies, nothing is fun anymore. This then turns a flooding of emotions from Pink. He sarcastically responds to each of the woman’s questions (which will be shown in parentheses), offering to show her his favorite axe (Are these your guitars?), if she’d like to watch tv (Whatcha watching?), get between the sheets, or contemplate silent freeways (are you feeling ok?). This evokes an extremely violent tone within Pink until he ultimately breaks the windows of the room and offers to teach her “how to fly,” alluding to him throwing her off the building. This continues until the girl evades Pink, and he asks why she has left him. This, along with “Don’t Leave Me Now” show that Pink is oblivious to the many reasons why none of his relationships are successful. He threatens her, in a sarcastic tone, and begs her to come back to him, in a serious tone, at the same time. These revelations lead him to finally feel as though full isolation from the world is desirable. “Another Brick in the Wall Part 3” depicts this in multiple ways: I don’t need no arms around me (shackles) I don’t need no drugs to calm me (prescription drugs). From his overprotective mother, to his adulterous wife, Pink feels as though the Wall is the only way out. He finally locks himself in his hotel room, with broken windows, and brings himself to say “Goodbye Cruel World,” as he enters the Wall.