Roger Waters' “The Wall" 2010

I've never been much for going to concerts of any sort, but especially rock concerts. Before last night, I think you could probably count the number I'd been to on one hand.* But when my husband and I learned that Roger Waters was bringing his new production of the "The Wall" to Chicago, we knew that we had to go if we could, especially after we learned that it was the brother of one of my closest friends who would be singing the part of David Gilmour.

We went last night, and, yes, it was worth the trip. The music, the lights, the giant puppets, the floating pig (or was it a warthog?), the fact that it was (did I say?) my friend Rebecca's brother Robbie who was up there on the wall singing "Comfortably Numb,"** and, oh, yes, the Wall that the stage crew built up across the front of the stage over the course of the first part: it was all a great show, really great. If I were less of an introvert, I might even have gotten into the little party that was trying to form among the people we were sitting--I mean, standing--with, but I hadn't really drunk enough. And yet, isn't being an introvert what "The Wall" is all about? Or, if not precisely an introvert, someone whose feelings have been so traumatized by his growing up surrounded by adults intent on teaching and protecting him and then by his success as a performer that he withdraws into himself, behind a wall of...well, what? What is the Wall? What is "The Wall" about? After last night, I'm not really sure.

Here are some of the images projected on the screen of the Wall as it was being built: faces of men, women and children who died in war, whether the early twentieth-century World Wars or the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Iran; bomber planes carrying payloads of crosses, stars of David, crescents, Shell Oil shells, Mercedes-Benz hood ornaments, and dollar signs which they rain down on the world; (mostly) naked women dancing seductively ("Young Lust"); a giant surveillance camera ("Mother"). Here are some of the images projected on the screen once it is complete: marching hammers; a whole series of Apple i's (iTeach over images of religious leaders; iLearn over images of sheep wearing iBuds; iKill over images of political leaders; iPay over an image of tombstones; iProfit--but I can't quite remember what image); scenes of ecstatically-weeping children being reunited with their soldier parents.

I know that this is all meant to be highly significant, but how exactly? Waters has apparently explained that the show is ultimately meant to be optimistic: "30 Years ago when I wrote 'The Wall' I was a frightened young man. Well not that young, I was 36 years old. It took me a long time to get over my fears. Anyway, in the intervening years it has occurred to me that maybe the story of my fear and loss with it’s [sic] concomitant inevitable residue of ridicule, shame and punishment, provides an allegory for broader concerns: Nationalism, racism, sexism, religion, Whatever! All these issues and ‘isms are driven by the same fears that drove my young life. This new production of 'The Wall' is an attempt to draw some comparisons, to illuminate our current predicament, and is dedicated to all the innocent lost in the intervening years. In some quarters, among the chattering classes, there exists a cynical view that human beings as a collective are incapable of developing more ‘humane’ i.e., kinder, more generous, more cooperative, more empathetic relationships with one another. I disagree. In my view it is too early in our story to leap to such a conclusion, we are after all a very young species. I believe we have at least a chance to aspire to something better than the dog eat dog ritual slaughter that is our current response to our institutionalized fear of each other. I feel it is my responsibility as an artist to express my, albeit guarded, optimism, and encourage others to do the same."

So we need to tear down the walls of fear that we have built up against each other. That's good. But who built these walls, really? I know, I know, it's supposed to be our parents, teachers and leaders ("We don't need no education / We don't need no thought control"). But isn't Waters himself trying to control our thoughts, too? Surely the whole point of education is to teach us to (gasp!) think for ourselves, not sing back verbatim the lyrics to songs about not needing any education. I know, hardly a novel observation about that particular song. But I've been hearing it ever since high school when my friends started singing it enthusiastically, if sometimes ironically, in the halls.

And what about those iPods? I understand from Robbie's nephew (whom I also met for the first time last night) that Apple is in fact a sponsor for the show. Are they not bothered by the images in the "infomercial" of sheep wearing earbuds as they march to the songs taught them by others? And how, exactly, does one put on a show like "The Wall" without tapping directly into the entire infrastructure of venues, transportation, product distribution***, advertisement and (one suspects, but I don't have proof of this) profit-making that the Capitalist Warthog would seem to be warning us against? It is all terribly confusing.

At one point in the show, Waters would seem to be urging us to take care of the world and each other, perhaps by feeding the poor. But surely that would mean, I don't know, not spending $250/ticket in order to come see his production (something on which nearly every person around us managed to comment at one point--how much he had paid and yet how happy he was to be there) so as to be able to give it to some worthier cause. Perhaps we are meant to see Waters like Jesus and break the alabaster jar over his feet rather than give the money to the poor as the apostles suggested. Which isn't entirely a bad thing: we need artists to help us see the world in new ways and to help us think about what our life means. But what does it really mean when hundreds of people chant the lyrics to a song they have clearly memorized for life when the point of the song is to think for themselves? Mind you, I can sing (if you call it singing) most of "Comfortably Numb" myself; it's a great song. But I actually believe in education--another of the i's in the "infomercial": iBelieve.

As I've been working on this post, I've been looking around for other reviews of the show and I'm learning that what I'm experiencing in trying to make sense of "The Wall" and its most recent incarnation is hardly unique. Yet again, what is the Wall? How can we ever truly escape from the culture around us? Is our only refuge in irony (iRony)? "The Wall" as originally conceptualized was itself an ironic comment on the power of rock musicians to sway their audiences (thus the marching hammers). But what happens when the marching hammers becomes a symbol for reminding us to love one another and not build walls against each other? Will we then see it dropping from the bombers in the sky?

*Let's see: the Go-Go's, David Bowie, the Grateful Dead, Jethro Tull (all in Houston between 1982 and 1986), Dire Straits (Wembley, July 1985). Silly Wizard, if you're counting folk (which, by the way, was fabulous). That's all I can recall at the moment. Oh, there was a trio of guitarists who were pretty famous, but I can't remember their names (embarrassing, eh?).
**Absolutely beautifully, of course. It was all worth it just for that song.
***Yes, I bought the t-shirt. The red one with the incredibly rude Gerald Scarfe flowers.

Comments

  1. I saw the show in PHX and I thought it was amazing! It was, by far, the best concert that I have seen. The into alone was amazing!

    Brian

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