I started my long day today with a collection of menial chores and tasks, and put today’s album on as accompaniment. It quickly became apparent that this album is way too powerful and intense for anything less than complete focus, so at the end of this long day, I got in the car, put it on, and went for a drive. “The Wall” by Pink Floyd is one of the most emotion-stirring and thought-provoking albums of my lifetime. An unusual story and concept indeed, but it is a remarkable collection of songs and is rated as album #129 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Additionally, as it was released late in 1979, it became the number one selling album in 1980.
The basic premise of the album and the subsequent movie that presented this story was of a troubled musician named Pink, mired in the grips of depression. Like many, Pink has led a tough life. He lost his father in the war, and had a difficult childhood of misunderstanding and abuse. As an adult, he confronts the pain of relationship betrayal and substance abuse, completing the “wall” of isolation that threatens to destroy his life. Turning full circle, Pink looks within himself at his character failures and personal trauma for the longing and hope of a new beginning. While I can’t connect with the actual storyline in a personal manner, I will address the emotional sledgehammer with which many of the songs on this album personally strikes me.
Musically, the album is a masterpiece. While the storyline and much of the lyrics are the creation of bassist and vocalist Roger Waters, guitarist and second vocalist David Gilmour is equally essential to the greatness of this record. It is tragic how fractured their personal and professional relationship is now. While there is absolutely no Pink Floyd without Roger Waters, regardless of what you see or hear today, there would equally be no Pink Floyd without David Gilmour, his contributions are comparably significant.
Any rock music fan will recognize so many songs on this album, from the omnipresent “Another Brick in the Wall”, “Mother”, “Hey You”, “Comfortably Numb”, and “Run Like Hell”, this double album is overflowing with great songs. That said, I’m going to focus in on one common theme that runs throughout the entire album that is captured without compare by the band, the vice-grip of sadness. I’m not talking about “my favorite restaurant is closed” sadness or “my favorite team just lost” sadness, I’m talking about devastating, jarring, paralyzing, life-altering and potentially even life-threatening sadness.
It is pervasive across the entire record, just as it is in life. From the chords of “The Thin Ice”, the melancholy loss of innocence on “Goodbye Blue Sky”, the overwhelming anxiety of “Empty Spaces”, the torment of abandonment in “Don’t Leave Me Now”, and the terror of feeling lost in “Hey You”, I don’t think any band or record has ever captured this emotion in the same way as this record. Above all of these tracks, there are two songs that are on a different level personally, with one possible exception from another artist we will come back to revisit later in the journey.
We have all faced crippling sadness in our lives. Thankfully for me, my life has been much easier than many I know and probably most around me. That said, like everyone else, I have witnessed the tragedy of loss of life, the devastating emptiness of heartbreak and betrayal, and the lost sensation where one is completely isolated to the world, and truly unreachable. Think of yourself in your darkest moment, and you may find yourself in exactly the same place as Pink during “Nobody Home”. I have shared with one of my dearest friends, who loves this album even more than I do, that no song has ever captured that complete sense of isolating devastation and hopelessness like this song. Despite brief moments of hope and revived faith, the protagonist is left to drown in his misery, unfixable to the outside world.
Building on that sense of hopelessness, many of us, myself included, have turned in many different directions to find any relief in the moment, when all we want to do is stop all sense of feeling. Whether through outside influence or complete emotional detachment, sometimes it hurts so bad you just want to be “Comfortably Numb”. The combination of word and music on this song shakes me to the core every time. The alternating vocals of Waters and Gilmour, playing the roles of mandated medicator and emotionally void victim transcend the darkness, and the accompanying guitar solo by David Gilmour is probably the single-most powerful and moving guitar solo I have ever heard. It truly moves me that much… every single time.
However, through all of that very real sadness, there is hope. As we hear in the story, “The Show Must Go On”. For Pink, and for all of us. No matter what tragedy, what crisis, what pain or suffering we endure, whether it is a byproduct of needed medical treatment, misfortune, abuse, loss, betrayal, heartbreak or emergency, there can still be that next day. That next sunrise, that next call from a beloved friend or family member, that next song, that next movie, that next cool breeze, and that next warm ray of sun that can offer us the first tiny step on a path to something better.
Every one of us have people in our lives who love and care about us, even if we can’t always see or hear them. If you read this blog, whether you are in my inner circle or a complete stranger, I’m here for you no matter what, and I’d like to believe you would do the same for me. Don’t be silent and give in to sadness, I promise you there can be light ahead, and we will all work together to help you find it. Being sad is a guaranteed reality of life, but it only stands out because the opposing sensation is also something you are capable of finding and have experienced before, with the help of those who love you.
If you need help or just want someone to listen to you, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available for you anytime, day or night. Please call 800-273-8255.