Outside The Wall
...we came in?
November 13th saw the return of Roger Waters, sans the Floyd of course, to South FL and a truly landmark event...The Wall, performed live, in all its epic entirety. Replete with dazzling media displays, floating pigs, and Gerald Scarfe's whimsical and somewhat disturbing animations, the show did not fail to disappoint. The huddled masses responded in kind to the larger than life projections, the pyrotechnic flights of fancy and a tight, nimble band that breezed through each song with the most minimal of effort. Truly a memorable show, one that, even some 30 years after the event, still managed to tug on the emotional shirtsleeve and take direct aim on the human psyche.
No doubt, 30 years is a long time, a VERY long time in the music biz. When The Wall was originally released in late '79, few people could even dream of replicating such a massive work on the concert stage. Thus, the accompanying tour (only 4 or 5 cities worldwide) was a grandiose, if somewhat spotty affair, weighed down by financial maladies and a band on the verge of a terminal breakdown. A film, featuring a stellar performance by Bob Geldof in the starring role, not to mention some brilliant animated sequences, met with critical, if somewhat limited theatrical success in 1982. Then...nothing. The Floyd entered into a 5-year hiatus before emerging later in the decade without their former bassist and primary lyricist. The Wall, so it seemed, was fast becoming a mere blip on the band's radar screen...the shortest chapter in their long, precarious history.
Then, suddenly, the Wall came down. Literally. Overnight. The Berlin Wall and it's inevitable demise in the closing days of 1989 not only changed the course of history forever, but ultimately proved a pivotal point in the resurrection of The Wall and Roger Waters' fledgling solo career. Singers and musicians of the highest caliber were quickly assembled and rehearsed (everyone from Joni Mitchell to Sinead O'Connor) and the ensuing concert, with well over 250,000 in attendance, is considered even to this day to be one of the most spectacular concerts in musical history. But there was a problem. It was not The Floyd...not even close. And the fans knew it. We felt it. Watching the concert from this standpoint in 2010, there are fewer shivers up the spine, less sting from Scarfe's menacing caricatures, but most of all a gnawing sense that The Wall, in all its sweeping, epic glory, had become nothing more than a bland commercial for world peace. And, then again...nothing. Floyd released its mid-90's swan song (Division Bell, 1994), once again without Waters, then silently exercised its own euthanasia. Goodbye Cruel World indeed.
So when, seemingly out of the blue, it became certain that Waters would be building his proverbial Wall once again in the form of a Fall tour, I could not help but wonder why. Why NOW? After all, this was the album, like nothing else before it, that seemed to define my entire existence with a bullseye back in late '79. With its themes of isolation, withdrawal, overbearing mothers and haughty schoolmasters, this was the album THAT HAD ME PEGGED. I listened to nothing else after its release for weeks on end, stunned and amazed by its brutal honesty and sheer grandiosity. The lyrics, themes, and bizarre animations struck all too familiar chords in the heart of a shy, withdrawn 17-year-old boy, burning with passion and ambition but clueless as to how to strike out and make his mark on the world. But that was then. The world of 2010 was markedly different from that of late '79...right?
I nearly didn't make the show. By the time I was informed of the event by the local Winn-Dixie cashier who took notice of my "Wish You Were Here" T, it had sold out entirely, with the sole exception of those 3 and 4 hundred dollar seats in the first few rows. "But they're gonna add a second show!", exclaimed the excited cashier, who informed me exactly where and when to go online and make the purchase. It was the same with the server from Duffy's, who absolutely insisted that I go, despite my grumblings about the sordid history surrounding The Wall and its celebrated author. When she went so far as to pass along a copy of the latest Rolling Stone, proudly featuring a full-color spread and review of the upcoming tour, I took the bait. Maybe the time had FINALLY come to"feel the warm thrill of confusion, that space cadet glow". But it didn't end there, for by now, the second show had nearly sold out as well!
No matter, the plan was simple. I would allot myself the princely sum of $100 (nothing more) and scour the craiglists, the stubhubs, and the ebays up until the night before the show, fully bracing myself for impending disappointment. And it came, with a frequency even I couldn't have predicted. Ticket scalping has soared to even newer heights on the internet, where I quickly discovered that even the nosebleed seats had nearly tripled in price. But I soldiered on, determined to score a seat, ANY seat, for less than $100. And on Friday, only 16 hours before the event, it happened. I met a private seller, a one "Andrew" in a local Denny's parking lot, with whom a mere $60 was exchanged for the coveted "hard" ticket. Front row. Nosebleed. I was delighted beyond description. And of course, as mentioned previously, the show did not disappoint. Nor did it entirely delight either.
Again, 30 years is a LONG time. Enough time to shed my awkward, pubescent skin and face the inevitable gates of adulthood. Enough time to grow and embrace my pending mortality with as much grace and surrender as I could muster. Family, responsibility, and a sense of duty would eventually replace my misplaced ambitions of youth, and former passions that once burned to a fevered pitch would soften, over time, to a steady, ethereal glow. And as I sat, front row/nosebleed, anticipating those familiar opening power chords, I found myself wondering if any of the surrounding masses were groping with similar feelings. A quick glance revealed a WIDE range of ages, everyone from the pimple-ridden long hairs to my immediate right to the 60-something shirtsleeve who was clearly feeling lost and out of place in the massive arena. And of course there was old Roger himself, the sole author of the evening's performance, who himself turned 67 earlier this year. I couldn't help but wonder what words of wisdom would he be willing to impart to our eager ears on this balmy, mid-November South Florida eve?
The answers came with lightning speed. The opening power chords shook the arena like a tornado when, from nowhere, Mr. Waters stood center stage, "In The Flesh"...his scrawny, six foot three frame a mere flyspeck from my nosebleed perspective. It was a dazzling opener, walloping the crowd with the latest in high def imagery and computerized pyrotechnics. But despite the raucous opener, it was evident from the get-go that something was missing. It certainly wasn't the band...they played with admirable precision. It wasn't the audience...they sprung to their feet heaping copious amounts of praise on the evening's host. No, the answer alluded me...stubbornly, obstinately...until I heard those familiar juvenile voices: "we down't need no ed-juh-kay-shun!" A group of 6th graders from a local school suddenly appeared, stage right, eagerly chanting the familiar refrain while mocking Scarfe's grotesque, oversized "schoolmaster", all to the delight of the assembled masses who happily cheered them on. But to the late 40-something nosebleed, who had once embraced this album like a ready-made shield of armor, the entire production had sadly been reduced to a near caricature of itself.
The situation wasn't aided when Mr. Waters momentarily stepped out of character to introduce the next song. "Mother" has always been a highlight of the show, but this time he stood solo, strumming and singing along with "that frightened, angry, miserable former image of myself from 30 years ago" while the original archive footage from London's Earls Court show was projected onto the "wall" behind him. It was a stirring moment, leaving me feeling somewhat uneasy until suddenly, it hit me with a force even stronger than all those explosions and pyrotechnics from the show's opener...what was missing from the performance was ME!!! The shy, withdrawn little boy, unsure of himself and his proper place in the world, had miraculously shed his former skin, just as old Roger had done! Somehow, through it all, or despite it all, I had made it. We BOTH had made it. And as our host sang along with a projected image of his former self, I celebrated the moment right along with him, my spirits lifted, my heart alight, and my mind at peace.
Yes, 30 years is a very long time. But no matter, I am thankful to brother Waters for taking me down the rough and winding pathway one more time. And for the realization that, despite the situation or circumstance, "the ones who really love you walk up and down Outside The Wall".
isn't this where...