Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Road Goes On And On

There have been many cries from the stage about the hardships of stardom. Riches don't buy happiness; friends are untrue and devious; the press intrudes too deeply; new art is ignored in favor of old classics. Musicians seem particularly easily stung by fame. Entire albums bemoan the trappings of endless luxury and the disaffection caused by constant recognition. There's certainly a grain of truth in the complaint that being famous isolates one from the subject matter that generates the best work. Unless, of course, that work is about the isolation caused by fame.

Standing head and shoulders above in that department is Pink Floyd's THE WALL. Roger Waters spits acid at everyone and everything around him, going on at great length about the misery he's endured as the son of a widow, husband of a shrew, and leader of a stadium-filling band. Is he to blame? Not a bit, even for the band's transformation into fascists in "In The Flesh". No, that's the audience's fault for being such mindless sheep. Where did he get that idea? Canada, of course.

The Olympic Stadium in Montreal on July 6, 1977, to be precise, the last show of the stadium tour ironically called Pink Floyd In The Flesh. Floyd toured rarely, and the crowds had been rowdy at every stop. The setlist, the same every night, was the newly released ANIMALS for the first half, WISH YOU WERE HERE front to back in the second half, and an encore or two from DARK SIDE. The stage set was enormous, featuring a huge screen that showed films and inflatables, most notably a pig with glowing red eyes.

Since the music was a collection of soporific dirges (and I really like ANIMALS) and the band was microscopic for all but the first few rows, the fans entertained themselves with drugs and firecrackers. Roger started feeling the band wasn't connecting on a personal level with the 60,000+ individuals they met every night, and began to get depressed about this lack of communication. During the last show, he exploded, lashing out at the firecracker-setters for not letting him get through Pigs On The Wing Pt. 2. Waters' rage built until, during the coda to Pigs (Three Different Ones), he called an audience member to him, luring the punter closer and then spitting on him. This incident, Waters claimed, spawned THE WALL.

Perhaps the soul is damaged by being away from one's home and family for long periods of time, shuttled from city to city, performing the same music every night for tens of thousands of people. Many musicians have fallen prey to the predations of the road. Maybe the repetition or the disconnection or the loneliness become overwhelming. That might've been the germ of the story, but THE WALL is about so much more than the unforgiving road. It's a diatribe about British emotional repression, an elegy for Syd Barrett, and an anti-war tract, to name three. It's a work of boundless self-pity and vitriol, perfect for teenagers and other alienated parties. Pen up a bitter Englishman in a hotel for six months, and THE WALL is what comes out.

The guy who yelled "Judas" at Bob Dylan's Royal Albert Hall show has made press appearances, but the Roger Waters spit guy? Not shown his face since. After hearing THE WALL, he's probably concluded that fame isn't worth the price.

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