Mother, should I build a wall?
There is no short answer for what the Wall means, nor even a singular answer, at that. Like all art, it means different things for different people. On top of that, part of what makes the Wall so brilliant is it's narrative complexity, the way it can be equally applicable on a personal, social, political or international level.
That said, if I were to distill the album, stage show, movie, and other incarnations into a somewhat singular philosophy, I'd say the Wall is about the golden mean, and realizing that what you do affects others just as much as the things that are done to you. It's about being an individual but not to the point of personal and social alienation; it's about how a person can be so consumed with hatred that he becomes the very thing he hates; it's about the danger of making gods of men; it's about the importance of communication, the void of excess, the fullness of the little moments; and above all, it's about personal, communal and social responsibility.
There are a lot of recurrent images and themes throughout the album and movie, and a lot of people out there who simply want to know what one bit or piece means without having to wade through the entire analysis. Below you'll find a short list of the images and themes most commonly asked about, as well as a brief excerpt from the corresponding part of my analysis that discusses that specific topic.
"As imposing as the central metaphor of the Wall may seem, it is not all that difficult to parse. Since my first analysis went online in 1997, I’ve received more than a few e-mails asking for a full explanation of the symbol, but surprisingly there is little to address. The album is so grand and intricate that many fans are intimidated by the thought of interpreting the main symbol of the piece, thinking that there is always more to the metaphor than meets the eye. I personally hold the opposite opinion. If anything, I’d say the main idea behind the Wall is quite simple. As a physical object, a wall is a collection of material that is used as a partition to separate two or more things; the metaphor of the wall as it is used in the album and all subsequent incarnations holds true to this definition, though generally on a metaphysical plane. Because life can be daunting at times, we all have a tendency to distance ourselves from it – television and other activities take our minds off it; alcohol dulls it; drugs alter the reality of it. Coupled with these are coping strategies and what psychoanalysts label defense mechanisms, the unconscious psychological devices we use to cope with any number of problems that we perceive to threaten our self – our ego. As a society, and equally as individuals, we have been conditioned to distance ourselves from pain, even if that pain helps us in the long run. As a result, we create metaphorical bricks in our minds in an attempt to distance ourselves from feeling emotionally raw and vulnerable. As presented in Pink Floyd’s album, over time these individual bricks coalesce into a mental wall that, while helping to temper our psyches, can adversely affect our connection with reality and at times create various syndromes and personality disorders that, in a vicious cycle, further severs that connection with reality. Simply put, the metaphorical wall is nothing more than its physical counterpart: a collection of bricks separating us from something else. In the case of the Wall, that “something else” is life itself."
excerpted from "Another Brick In The Wall, part 1" analysis
"Hammers are a major dichotomous symbol in the Wall possessing both creative and destructive powers, simultaneously beneficial and oppressive. The same hammer that constructs a house has the power to tear it down. Similarly, the hammers in the machines metaphorically create ideal members of society while destroying each child’s individuality. Both natures of the symbolic hammer are explored in greater detail later in the movie and album as Pink slips further into his dementia."
excerpted from "Another Brick In The Wall, part 2" analysis
"An often overlooked tidbit is the color scheme of the walls in the hallway. The white top half of the wall and the red bottom half mirror the color scheme of the crossed-hammer insignia in Pink's later dictatorial dementia. It's also interesting to note that white is generally the symbolic color of innocence and red the color of blood and sin. Mixing the two together, red and white...sin and innocence...results in the color Pink."
excerpted from "The Happiest Days Of Our Lives" analysis
"Another interesting aspect about this pre-song scene is the blatant parallel between the faceless passengers in the train (presumably school children as evidenced in the next song as well as the brief mask seen on Pink between the passing train cars) and the millions of "faceless" Jews transported to concentration camps during World War II. While it's absurd to think that Waters is suggesting that the plight of oppressed school children is equivalent the deaths of millions of Jews, he is perhaps suggesting that both institutions (certain schools / concentration camps) were machines that sought to repress all "participants" and rob them of their human rights and individuality. With just roughly cut out eyes and mouths, the mask-people are rendered into things rather than people with recognizable human qualities. Fear and hate-based systems operate largely in this way, robbing people of their identities in order to break that people's spirit as well as to turn others against them. By this reading, the school master at the end of the tunnel takes on a greater weight as a cog in the totalitarian machine whose sole intent is to force the teeming masses of youth into a unified mold void of personal identity."
excerpted from "The Happiest Days Of Our Lives" analysis
"Hey You" marks the worms' lyrical introduction into the album. Roger Waters stated it best in his 1979 interview when he said, "[the worms] were my symbolic representation of decay." Isolation leads to a sort of metaphorical death ("Goodbye Cruel World") which in turn leads to decay on nearly all levels, be they physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional. In many ways the symbol of the worms is inseperable from that of the more expansive wall, with decay corrupting everything the bricks encompass. "
excerpted from "Hey You" analysis
Another common theme in the Wall also makes its debut in this first of "Brick" songs: Flying. While "In the Flesh?" technically broached this aeronautical subject with the audio clip of a bomber dropping its payload at the end of the song, "Brick, part 1" addresses the theme directly with the very first line as Pink recounts how "Daddy's flown across the ocean." Like so many other metaphors in this album, flying seems to have separate, contradictory meanings. In one instance, flight carries with it all the connotations of adventure and personal escape that one usually associates with the word (the toy airplane in the film sequence for this song, as well as "Nobody Home.") The flip side is that flying in the Wall also alludes to death, abandonment, and oppresion, from Pink's father flying off to war and never returning, to the destruction brought by the warplanes in songs like "Goodbye Blue Sky," to Pink's mother later telling him that she won't let him fly, but she might let him sing. In some instances both meanings are simultanesouly applicable, as when the animated dove at the beginning of "Goodbye Blue Sky" takes to the sky in order to escape the marauding cat, only to explode in a mess of blood and flesh as the German war eagle (a symbol of death) is loosed upon the land. Somewhat like the dove, Pink is caught in the middle of the metaphor in "Another Brick, Part 1," the subject of flying constantly on his mind as if he's always looking to the sky for freedom, but simultaneously apprehensive of the possible destruction such unbridled freedom can bring."
excerpted from "Nobody Home" analysis
Absolutely. Feel free to use my analysis as a resource as long as you cite my web site as a reference.Bret Urick
A Complete Analysis of Pink Floyd's The Wall
Original analysis written in May of 1997.
Revised analyses 2002 and 2010.
Chances are Shakespeare didn't put nearly as much thought into his works as our English teachers have led us to believe, yet there are countless books and scholarly journals solely dedicated to explicating the Bard's work.
What I'm trying to say is, yes, I am probably reading more into the album than what was originally intended. But that doesn't mean such an analysis is "wrong." Art is subjective. Just because a symbol, nuance or theme wasn't intentional does not mean that it's not there. What an artist puts into a piece is only 50% of the artistic process; it is up to the audience to contribute the other 50%, bringing in their own unique experiences, interpretations and feelings and applying it to the work. After all, when we talk about a piece of art (book, CD, painting, whatever) we generally don't discuss what this work means to the artist, but what this work means to us. Artistic intention (or lack thereof) is neither full validation or dismissal. If a person can back up her or his interpretations with logical, well thought-out arguments based on the context of the work, that interpretation is valid.
We must always remember that even though the medium of art is inflexible (once a CD is recorded, a book printed, or a painting painted, it is unchanging) art itself is a living thing, and derives a great deal of its meaning from the audience and not the artist alone.
Not really. A few of the songs are said to have been written at the same time as the Wall. While the narrators of some of these songs seem very Pink-like, (the title track, specifically), the album itself does little, if anything, to advance the Wall's plot, and so shouldn't really be considered an actual sequel in terms of Pink's story. However, Waters does extrapolate further on many of the same themes (war, alienation, social and personal responsibility); in this way, the Final Cut does continue thematically where the Wall leaves off, but a sequel it is not.
No. "Another Brick in the Wall, part 2" speaks out against certain kinds of education, namely that which tries to stifle creativity and individuality through rote learning, producing nameless, faceless drones. For more on this topic, read this part of my "Brick in the Wall, 2" analysis.
The beginning of the album says "...we came in?" and the ending says "Isn't this where..." For more info on this circular tidbit, click here.
Pink's dictator self and the intentional racism of "In the Flesh" / "Run Like Hell" / "Waiting for the Worms" are all satirical. Waters' point is that miscommunication, misunderstanding and building up walls around ourselves eventually lead to a myopic existence, a kind of xenophobic hatred. He is arguing that wars are waged and people are killed because of the personal and social walls we construct, to keep ourselves in and to all others out. Click here for more on this topic.
I haven't written any other album analyses, nor do I plan on doing so at the foreseeable future.
Years ago, Vince Amendolare, a friend of the site, wrote an interpretation of Dark Side of the Moon which you can find here. There are also a number of great books on the subject, including Which One's Pink?, an analysis focusing on the more musical aspects of Waters-era Floyd albums. Aside from those, Google and ye shall find.
I am woefully uninformed. I might have written a lengthy interpretation of the Wall, but I am by no means a Pink Floyd expert. If you want to know specifics about the band, the latest happenings / concerts / album news / whatever, your best bet would be Google.
Even if you think the album version of the Wall is superior, I still believe the movie has quit a bit of merit. Yes, the movie is heavy-handed at times, a bit self-indulgent at others, but it also adds nuance and complexity that the music alone cannot achieve. (The very image of the faceless masks are icons in themselves). The Wall has always been a visual album, even before the movie was made. Why else would the band have put on such elaborate concerts, complete with Gerald Scarfe animation, inflatable characters and a giant wall that was built across the stage? It is also important to keep in mind that Roger Waters was very involved in the making of the movie. While he did have major differences of opinion with director Alan Parker (the unflattering song "Not Now John" from the Final Cut is said to be about their working relationship) and said that he was disappointed with the final product, it is interesting to note that it is Waters and art director Gerald Scarfe who provide the feature length commentary for the DVD edition, not Alan Parker.
So whether the movie is inferior to the album or not, I still argue that it is a commendable effort that adds to the overall Wall experience.
Session singer Jimmy Haas, who is credited with backup vocals on the Wall, e-mailed me to set the record straight. He says that while Toni Tennille, the Beach Boys and others originally provided backup vocals on the Wall, their parts were ultimately scrapped and re-recorded using Haas and three other backup vocalists. Haas asserts that "We [the four session singers] re-did everything that was on tape up to that point. Some of it was just bare ideas that Roger had, but the intonation and flow just wasn't there, at least on the Beach Boy parts. The only thing I recall Toni on was a bit of 'Goodbye Blue Sky.' She may well have done more, but once Roger and David got our first tune in the can after about an hour's work, they erased everything [the previously recorded Beach Boys and Tennille vocals] and started over."
Whether or not any of her vocals remain on finished album, one thing is certain: Toni Tennille is not the voice of the groupie in "Empty Spaces." Floyd fan Brian Magnuson e-mailed Tennille's official web site, who replied, stating that Toni did sing backup on the album, but did not voice "the Groupie."
I'm often asked why I wrote my analysis, what turned me on to the Wall in the first place, and what makes me qualified to write a 100+ page explication of an album whose lyric sheet could easily be squeezed onto a single piece of standard 8.5 x 11 inch paper? (Runner-up personal questions: What other bands do I listen to? Do I think Pink Floyd is a great or the greatest band in the history of rock music? And who do I think would win in a fist fight, Roger Waters or David Gilmour? [Just kidding on that last one.]) So to those who care about such things, here you go...my rather boring Wall story.
As much as I wish I could claim to be a tried and true Floyd fan from the beginning, with personal connections to the band that gave me a deep insight into the masterpiece that is the Wall...well, truth be told, I wasn't even born until 1979, the same year the album was released. Aside from the handful of tunes that played on classic rock radio, Pink Floyd didn't even enter my musical consciousness until 1996 or so. Knowing that I liked bands of the 60's and 70's - The Beatles, especially - my guitar teacher recommended I check out an album called the Wall. He guaranteed that I'd love it. He couldn't have been more wrong.
Penniless high school student that I was, I managed to scrape together $30 for the double-CD (this was ages before iTunes), rushed home, popped it into my CD player and listened...
And I HATED it.
I thought the album was a disjointed, incoherent mess with very, very, VERY few redeeming qualities. "Another Brick, part 2," "Hey You" and "Comfortably Numb" (ie, the songs classic rock radio DJs play ad nauseum) even remotely decent. I didn't understand why anyone in their right mind would voluntarily listen to Roger Waters' whiny, discordant voice. And though I knew the album supposedly told a story, I hadn't the slightest idea who the main characters were or what the story was even about? War? Sex? Construction workers? Some guy who wants to shoot people with spots? If I could have returned the CD for a full refund, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. But alas, it was opened goods. I had just wasted $30, a veritable fortune to a jobless high school student. I put it aside for a day or two, but then reasoned that I might as well get my $30 out of it. So I played it again. And again. And again.
By about the fourth or fifth listen over a few days, I was hooked. As a lifelong reader and someone who is naturally inclined to dissect the mechanics of a story, I began to tease out the connecting lyrical and musical threads of the songs and see how they fit within the overarching narrative. Soon after, I rented a VHS of the 1982 movie, and everything started falling into place.
In this pre-Wikipedia, pre-Google era of 28k modems, I was disappointed to find, or rather not find, a single web site offering even a brief narrative overview of this purportedly classic 70's rock masterpiece. There were lyric sheets a-plenty, but nothing that detailed what the songs meant and how they contributed to the overall story. I sought to change that in the final months of my senior year in high school. To my recollection, I posted my first Wall analysis on the web in early 1997. It was was about 27 pages long, and mainly dealt with the basic plot of the album as visualized by the movie. Many of the early interpretations were fairly spot on, especially considering my rather scant knowledge of Pink Floyd or World War II history. Some of the song analyses missed the mark by miles. (I originally assumed that "Vera Lynn" was the name of either Pink's wife or mother.) Despite its obvious flaws, the site was well received by the online Floyd community, remaining in that form for nearly four-and-a-half years.
It should come as no surprise to those who've read my site that I went on to major in English in college. After devoting four years of my collegiate life to explicating the works of everyone from John Keats to William Faulkner to James Joyce, I decided to revisit my original analysis and apply to the Wall some of the same literary criticism techniques I used for innumerable class papers and projects throughout college. What was supposed to be a general update turned into a complete rewrite delving into the album's major and minor themes, recurring symbols and various social and narrative implications and interpretations. That second analysis of 2002 was received equally well and, from what I've been told, has been used as a guiding text by high school teachers and college professors teaching the Wall as modern poetry. (It was also illegally sold for a time on term paper web sites...which, I suppose, is flattering enough in its own way!)
In 2010, I decided to tweak the site's look just a little bit...and ended up re-writing / re-editing / re-configuring all of the song interpretations for a third and possibly final version of the analysis.
About those other questions I mentioned above, Pink Floyd is, surprisingly, not my favorite band. That title unquestionably belongs to The Beatles. I am a huge fan of the Waters-era albums (Dark Side through The Final Cut), but only own one of the albums post breakup. Don't get me wrong, I think David Gilmour is a brilliant guitarist and songwriter in his own right, but the later "Floyd" albums really lack for the counterpoints that Waters brought to the mix. As for other favorite bands, a by no-means complete list would include Pearl Jam, Josh Ritter, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Iron & Wine, Wilco, Clem Snide, Sigur Ros...........