— Pink Floyd (@pinkfloyd) November 30, 2019
When Pink Floyd released “The Wall” in 1979, it was clear the band had delivered another masterpiece. Throughout the decade, they released some of the strongest rock music of the era—this was maybe their most ambitious to date. It was a rock opera that told the semi-autobiographical story of the band’s bassist and principal songwriter, Roger Waters. Here, Waters is represented by Pink, an extremely popular rock star who builds a wall around his psyche to protect himself from his traumatic memories. But this is not a review; instead, it is an analysis. Surely, an album that has been adapted into a story-driven live show, a feature film and even an opera must resonate on a deeper level than just a fad. On the eve of 2020, the album has a striking resonance when one sees it as a biting look at fame and how we view fame, particularly in the world of music.
One of the things the album does extremely well is break the popular notion of the tortured artist. This is the idea that an artist benefits from some sort of physical or mental condition or a tragic life episode. All of these things supposedly make the artist more creative or more resonant. “The Wall” presents a series of incidents in Pink’s childhood: his father’s death in World War II, abuse at school by teachers and his mother’s possessiveness. But in the album, these things do not benefit him; they are scars on him for the rest of his life. “The Wall” tells the truth. These experiences affect celebrities just like they affect regular people: negatively. These events render Pink unable to relate in a way that does not involve sex or violence. He stays in the company of groupies and prostitutes to feel something. He descends into drug use to seek a chemical escape from his dark world. This is not to say that people that go through traumatic incidents automatically turn into aggressive people incapable of functioning, but it does show that by worshipping those who have as somehow more creative than those who have not, fails to truly consider the experience of the artist as a person with loved ones. Next time you hear someone talk about Kurt Cobain, or Amy Whinehouse, or Heath Ledger or Michael Jackson, remember that.
Another poignant idea is when the album dives into the true power that celebrities have over fans. In the album, after Pink builds the wall around himself, he goes on stage and emerges as a fascist demagogue. He gets his fans to throw minorities up against the wall and to committ further acts of violence on the streets. Now, this does not mean that celebrities are disciples of Hitler and Mussolini, but for many fans, celebrities’ words hold a lot of power. In the last 40 years, the presence of celebrity has grown. Clothing products they wear sells in vast numbers. The causes they champion can go viral overnight. Remember Kony 2012? This is the world we live in. That is something to remember as well, that worshipping celebrity for the sake of it will only lead to a master-servant relationship between celebrities and their fans. Rather, celebrities should be viewed as people. People. No more, no less. When they ask you to donate to a charity, look into it. When they ask you to buy a product, ask yourself, why am I doing this? Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this in the album occurs at the end of the album. Pink is judged, and his crime is to be exposed to all of the people in his life. After all is said and done, Pink is still the same scared boy he was years ago. Ask yourself, how many celebrities would expose themselves, and answer those questions mentioned earlier.
Forty years later, “The Wall” remains brilliant. It remains brilliant because an artist is opening their life up to a nearly uncomfortable degree. The pain is honest, the story is tragic and the music is beautiful. “The Wall” is brilliant because it is a person stripping every layer of protection off of themself and exposing their faults as openly as their merits.
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Ben Sagal-Morris is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at email@example.com.