The Horror of an Altered ‘Wall’

Disclaimers:If you’re not familiar with Pink Floyd’s The Wall (the landmark concept album/rock-opera/concert/Alan Parker-film) or you don’t give a damn about Roger Waters’ new staging of the album; then I have to warn you that you may not give two craps about this post (I have something more explicitly horror-themed coming within the week, don’t worry I know we’re in the best month ever).

Also, I have to state up-front that I have the utmost respect for Roger Waters and thought that this was one of the best (if not the best) concerts I’ve ever seen(and I’ve been to a metric ton).

This Thursday I attended the music event that I’ve been waiting the better part of my life to see: Pink Floyd’s The Wall performed in its entirety.

I loved it, it was everything I hoped for, but there were also some changes to the program that not only tired to rearrange the context of the original album, but spelled out too explicitly what was already there (an even greater sin, in my book). This post will look at those changes and nitpick what was otherwise a truly incredible show and one that anyone who can see should see.

The technological upgrades to the show are more than welcome. Cutting edge, digital, modern equipment trumps three 35mm projectors (the extent of the equipment at the original show) any day of the week. I take issue with Waters’ overwrought pantomime when accompanied with overly-explicit anti-war, anti-religion and anti-consumer culture images.

It’s no hyperbole when I confide with you that one of my earliest memories is listening to the album on my parents Hi-Fi system. Shortly after that I remember watching the film for the first time (parenting class of 1957 represent! Y’all traumatize your kids) and the rest is history.

I’m not doubting Waters’ authority in changing the text. He wrote the damn thing: he can do whatever he wants to it. But, I can’t help but feeling that in an attempt to reach out and change the jaded mind of the most pigheaded members of his audience (which has to be the vast minority) he risked alienating the more intelligent among us. I’m not portending or presuming my own intellectual maturity, but I feel upon the forty-eighth-thousandth listen: I know at least partially what The Wall‘s about.

Waters’ real fault here is doubting the formative/informative powers of his own songs. Tracks like “Nobody Home” “One of My Turns” “Bring The Boys Back Home” and “In The Flesh (part 2)” both consciously and subconsciously deliver their message through alternating feelings of exhilaration an melancholy.

The “absolute” message of The Wall is indefinable, it’s a lot of things, but there are some inescapable truths discovered upon listening. The album’s overall statement that “the world is absolutely insane” (newsflash!), technologically imposed anomie and that war is both avoidable and shameful should be inescapable to any listener of the album. These ideas don’t change between 1980 and 2010, so why change the mode of transmitting them?

There is a sequence where the visuals of the show alternate between the deaths of WWII soldiers and more recent casualties of violence in the Middle East. It’s a positively striking parallel, but it also takes place within the first 10 minutes of the show. It’s the only alteration the audience needs to see the message Waters is transmitting. It’s a good change, one that brought me close to tears when accompanied with the iconic music.

Not so effective or subtle are the visualizations that follow (i.e. a warzone being “bombed” with the symbols of religion, money, and corporate greed).

A good example of an update not working is the new accompaniment of “Mother.” It’s a song (a gorgeous and amazing song) that’s obviously about abuse of authority/presumption of inability. The new version starts out with Waters strumming a guitar along with footage of himself (30 years younger) but then is accompanied with the words “Big Brother is Watching” with brother crossed out and replaced with mother. It’s a clarification that I, as a mentally competent human being, don’t need or want. It takes me out of not only the song but the entire show, I start thinking things like: “some of us have had 30 years to think about this song, we get it.”

What I’m saying is: if I myself, someone who share’s Waters’ political/social views pretty closely(I’m no fan of war or religion, although I do still cling to capitalism, sorry Rog), thinks that the updates to the show are a bit heavy-handed: then what the hell is someone who doesn’t agree with him going to feel like after seeing it? On the original album, the room for ambiguity was enough wiggle room to let a listener in on the poetics but not entirely in on the politics. Not to mention that Waters’ views have grown more pronounced over the last 30 years.

The show works best when it sticks closely to the original. The stage-crew constructs a physical “wall” on-stage out of white cardboard bricks, and the original Gerald Scarfe-based animation makes multiple appearances. The artistry and craftsmanship on hand is breathtaking, but the changes (to borrow a Briticism) are piss-taking.

I love The Wall, and if I had the money I’d follow this show for every stop, not caring that I see an identical show every night. But, I can’t help but wonder if Waters is hurting his case (both politically and artistically) by “updating” a classic. Roger: go ask George Lucas if these changes were a good idea.

5 thoughts on “The Horror of an Altered ‘Wall’

  1. Oh my goodness. This was a stoner anthem back in high school. Haven't heard the new variation on it, though CBC News talked about auditions for it a week or two ago, in which students were chosen to sing backup vocals.

  2. Musically it's identical, the visualizations during the concert have changed though. Having the kids come on stage during “Another Brick In the Wall” was a nice touch (I'm pretty sure they weren't mic'd, tho).

    Thanks for stopping by Fox.

  3. Assuming this tour goes as the last one, cheap Roger Waters Tickets price will be well worth it. I think it was 2 years back, we saw him at Jones beach in NY. I had a great seat ,got it at He played the entire Dark Side of the Moon album, Wish you were here, then a few tracks from the wall.

  4. I saw Roger Waters perform his new staging of the Wall in Toronto at the start of the tour. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I enjoyed the production, but the visuals didn't strike me as anymore heavy handed than anything else originally in the album.

    I love The Wall, don't get me wrong, and I recognize its subtleties, especially in its use of metaphor, imagery, and subtext. However, The Wall has never been a densely sophisticated text. Its success and longevity as a pop album, I think, is predicated on its ability to be both heavy-handed and subtle at the same time. In this view, I didn't see the new visuals to be anymore overt than the album already is.

    In fact, I discovered new subtitles to the visual metaphor of the wall. At several points, especially during intermission, blocks in the wall turned into the photos and bios of soldiers, activists, and civilians killed / disappeared in war or in totalitarian regimes. It was quite moving to read the stories of people who lost their lives for following orders or, ironically, taking a stand against oppression.

    I will say, however, that the riff on iPods was pretty cliche.

    I'm 27 and saw many teens and kids younger than I at the show. I think The Wall's new look could do a lot to capture the imaginations of a new generation of Pink Floyd / Roger Waters / The Wall fans.

  5. Nice post Adam. I checked out your blog after seeing you on Twitter. I've seen the old laser light show, but I don't think I've seen this one. You must have jumped at that chance.

    The visuals do sound a bit blatant and overdone. There are many movies like that too, giving away too much. I would tend to agree, most people have had 20-30 years to think about the lyrics. Playing their music on the guitar can be the most soothing thing in the world. The notes drip in air, becoming thick and almost visible. There is something special about knowing the real meanings behind the music you love.

    I might even be a little mad, that they gave away something that I worked hard to understand–something I experienced.

    The computer is now on Youtube, looking up some songs. My feet begin to tap, head nodding. With each resonating note, I know time machines exist.

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