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Celebrating 40 years of Pink Floyd’s The Wall: Still singing, ‘We don’t need no education!’

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Celebrating 40 years of Pink Floyd’s The Wall: Still singing, ‘We don’t need no education!’

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If you ask anyone what their favourite Pink Floyd album is, they will not be able to pick one. ‘The Wall’ describes the struggle not just of Pink the rockstar, it is a universal story of you and I. This double album is forty years old on November 30.

Celebrating 40 years of Pink Floyd’s The Wall: Still singing, ‘We don’t need no education!’
If you ask anyone what their favourite Pink Floyd album is, they will not be able to pick one. They will say Dark Side Of The Moon because ‘Time’ is relevant to their life. Or insist that ‘Wish You Were Here is the album that twists their heart suffering a separation. Others will promise that you can come up and hear the bootleg tapes they have from Nothing has Changed. I was introduced to the band by an older cousin who was according to the family, truly a black sheep, for having left medical school and gone wandering off in search of the perfect sound with a hippie.
The Wall made such an impact on my mind simply because it describes the struggle not just of Pink the rockstar, it is a universal story of you and I. We build walls to keep ‘others’ out. And yet, when those who we call our own betray us, we find ourselves buried within the walls, unless we can summon some courage and tear it all down.
This double album is forty years old today and is so huge, it contains 26 songs. A number that matches all their songs previously released. If you search, you will find a song by song analysis of the entire rock opera (yes! It’s so magnificent, there was a movie and concerts to complete the experience). How and why they made it into a movie and played it at the Berlin Wall. Here is the story: Pink is an ageing rockstar, walled in by his life experiences. As his memory takes him to his childhood and all its traumas, he has to relive those in order to begin healing.
The Wall is a scream against the system. And no one can deny the system has crushed you and me both. Have you never been at the receiving end of a wet cane or a dressing down for being different?
‘Get In line!’ you are told, right from your childhood. A line to get into class, a line for school lunches, a line even to receive the six-monthly dose of castor oil (or something just as ghastly) that the nuns force-fed you at school if you wanted the fat slice of freshly baked warm bread slathered with Milkmaid after. Families too wanted you to tow the line. You had to bow down and touch the feet of ‘elders’, you had to eat baingan bharta that you hated because it was served on your plate and there were hungry children in Bangladesh who had nothing. You had to sit properly, not laugh too loudly, not run everywhere like a wild child because you were a girl.
How you wished you had support, someone who could say with you that you did not want to be schooled and force-fed everything - from learning the ABCs to life philosophies - because that was what was expected. You wanted to rebel and shout, ‘We don’t need no education!’
As a young person, I wanted to go walkabout and truly discover the real me, but was thrust in the school system (no one knows anything better even today), where I did come across masters who were very good with the wet cane on the back, a ruler to the knuckles, chalk thrown accurately at you, being singled out for your lack of understanding problems like, ‘A train leaves station A at 123kmph…’  Also because you asked, ‘Why can’t we just close the taps and let the cisterns fill...Stop wastage of water…’
We were wounded by sarcasm… Oh, the sarcasm, of masters picking on me exactly as they did to Pink. Confiscation of notebooks filled with love poems, confiscation of doodles (now proudly being marketed as zentangles), confiscation of pages written a la Balzac… I remember hours spent outside the staff room where you could hear teachers read aloud and then laugh uproariously on what you had penned… We didn’t know it, but each laugh, each taunt was like a brick in the wall that was being built around me. Would I ever shine? Did I want to shine?
The Wall was the brainchild of the band’s bassist and vocalist Roger Waters, and David Gilmour (one of the Gods of Guitar) gave it the magic that it deserved. The band was going through a tax crisis at the time and because it was such a magnum opus, Waters brought in Bob Ezrin (who had worked with greats like Lou Reed, Alice Cooper and even Peter Gabriel), who added the voices of schoolchildren to the song and made it what it is.
The first song on the album ‘In The Flesh?’ starts almost reluctantly and you think something is wrong with your player, or the amp. When you crank the volume up, the song manages to make you jump out of your skin, and then you drown in the synths (Richard Wright) and the drums (Nick Mason) and stay gobsmackingly drunk on the lyrics. All the feelings you have felt: childhood fears, and the absence of a father figure to nurture you, of being friendless and alone as a grown-up because everyone just leaves you, take you through this river of tears. Your face is as tortured as those kids in the video, but there’s no one there to hear you…
You play on and can’t help but bawl when you hear, ‘If you should go skating/ In the thin ice of modern life/ Dragging behind you the silent reproach/ Of a million tear-stained eyes…’ you can picture your family, your friends, everyone around you - disappointed in you on so many levels… Then the needle on the vinyl wants you to wade through your tears and come back and play ‘Happiest Day Of Our Lives’ hoping there will be hope in the song once again…
The ominous ‘Goodbye Blue Skies’ is never far away from your head each time you step out of your comfort zone to pitch an idea to a client or to meet a reluctant lover… The animation and the story that the song tells is that of war, and we will hopefully never ever have to be in wars like that again. But it doesn’t prevent us from suffering the private battles we wage… We are the frightened ones…
Before I tell you that Side 3 of the double album is my favourite, even though you cannot take the beauty of ‘Brick In The Wall’ song (all three parts) away. Plus the first side has the ominous ‘Mother’ protecting baby Pink from the world. You realise that this mother is going to be there for you always and even when you have outgrown the nest. When a protecting hand over a baby’s head becomes the one suffocating the child… Don’t be fooled by the almost gentle guitar and ‘mama’s going to keep you under her wing’...
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When you have built that wall around you and think that you are safe, how can you stop yourself from wondering ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ The war and its aftermath are a recurrent motif of this album, and even though I have never experienced that kind of filial separation, the mortality of ageing parents is a reality with which most of us live today. The pain of not being understood is a theme I see even in the young students in college. Everyone sliding down their own personal spirals to hell. Some singing it aloud because they grew up with the song, and others simply living it, ‘Comfortably Numb’
Before I let you experience this life changing album, let me share with you a joy of hearing this on vinyl. I love technology as much as the next audiophile, but only those who have the vinyl will be in the know of the secret message left for Pink Floyd fans when you play the song, ‘Empty Spaces’ in reverse. The message made the audience a part of the Pink saga. It told you to get in touch with ‘Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont…’ and it ends cryptically with ‘Roger! Carolyn is on the phone, okay.’
And then I trawl the net to see some helpful person has recorded the reverse and posted it online. Am sure you will discover it too. Then the alarm on your phone will remind you that the world is as bad as ever, and urges you to do what this song tells you to: Run Like Hell…
 
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication. Read her columns here.
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