National Commentary

Roger Waters’ ‘The Wall’ Tour

bentonmug“When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye … I turned to look but it was gone. I cannot put my finger on it now. The child has grown, the dream is gone. I have become comfortably numb” (from “Comfortably Numb,” by Roger Waters and David Gilmour).

These few lines from the most popular song in Waters’ and Pink Floyd’s epic work, “The Wall,” have haunted me since they first appeared in 1980, and continue to stand alone for the poetic majesty by which they critique everything about modern society.

bentonmug“When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye … I turned to look but it was gone. I cannot put my finger on it now. The child has grown, the dream is gone. I have become comfortably numb” (from “Comfortably Numb,” by Roger Waters and David Gilmour).

These few lines from the most popular song in Waters’ and Pink Floyd’s epic work, “The Wall,” have haunted me since they first appeared in 1980, and continue to stand alone for the poetic majesty by which they critique everything about modern society.

“The child has grown, the dream has gone. I have become comfortably numb” is a funeral dirge for a life of imagination and potential lost to the incessant pounding on the brain and psyche by convention and its twin, mediocrity.

Of course, in “The Wall,” that theme persists throughout against a backdrop of war and fascism. One leads to the other, and back again.

On tour now, Roger Waters was the seminal genius of Pink Floyd, which trail-blazed a whole new type of music in the 1970s, riding as it did in the fast lane of a kind of rock music that took people away from the civil and human rights and anti-war struggles of the 1960s into the inward-directed socially-fractured 1970s.

But Waters and Pink Floyd were subtly different. The lyrics and themes of an ethereal other-worldliness, into places like the dark side of the moon, hung together with thoughts of and yearnings for interconnectedness and purpose. No better single exists than “Wish You Were Here.”

So, with “The Wall,” a veritable symphony completed in 1980, the themes of loss and alienation were linked with the horrors of war and tyranny. An unsuccessful movie version was followed by the breaking up of the band and ugly legal battles.

But in the summer of 1990, Rogers came out of seeming obscurity to pull together one of the most epic outdoor concerts in history. Eight months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, held in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, the large open space which for almost 30 years had been divided by the wall separating East and West Germany.

With special guest performers including Cyndi Lauper, Bryan Adams, The Band, Joni Mitchell, Sinead O’Connor, James Galway and the incomparable Van Morrison belting out the lyrics to “Comfortably Numb,” the concert turned “The Wall” into a giant metaphor for the Berlin Wall and its fall.

With over a half-million Berliners cheering on at the same spot where they’d poured out in equal force to dance on top of the crumbling actual wall the previous November, Waters progressed the music of “The Wall” by amassing cement-like blocks gradually, eventually completing a high wall.

At the penultimate turning point in the production, all the paper blocks came tumbling down in a cathartic few moments, symbolizing both personal and social liberation, and a new hope.

Now, in his 30th anniversary tour that is currently underway, and that brought him to Washington, D.C. on Oct. 10, Waters has performed to sold-out crowds in venues like the Verizon Center and Madison Square Garden, holding not a half-million but an impressive 20,000 or so fans, many of whom weren’t even born when “The Wall” was first performed.

The downsized recapitulation of the July 21, 1990 Potsdamer Platz concert, replete with the erection of the faux-brick wall and its subsequent destruction, is impressive. Waters’ voice still retains its uniqueness and power, although as when he called on Van Morrison to do “Comfortably Numb” in 1990, he’s been leaving that honor on his tour to a band member with a tremendously resonant and powerful voice.

The visual effects that were blazoned on the wall centered on the tragedy and horror of war, culminating in the passionate songs, “Vera,” and “Bring the Boys Back Home.”

It came as a shock to many of those watching in the nation’s capital that one of the quotes flashed on the wall read, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

The attribution: U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (from a speech in April 1953).

 


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]