This is raw and immediate so forgive me if comes out a little confused. I will come back and edit it but I feel a need to get this out there.
Pink Floyd are celebrating 50 years as a band. I just read, a few minutes ago, an article about two of their surviving members unveiling a plaque at their old college and, in the connected articles, was a link to Comfortably Numb. It has finished playing as I write this sentence and here am I trying desperately to nail down my evaporating emotions on a keyboard.
Isolated. Living in a rural part of Sussex. One dog, one cat and the four of us Goulands. This was a period where my mother decided to pick up our education again after a lengthy gap. Probably because she was bored brainless with her life.
It’s approaching Christmas, 1979 and Pink Floyd have released a new album The Wall and my mother wants to buy this as a Christmas present for my father. Having done so, she waited until he’d left for work (he was either selling showers or working as a private investigator at this time) the next morning and played the album to make sure it was all right. She tested that cassette all day, every day (except weekends when father was home) for almost a month. By the time my father unwrapped it on Christmas Day, that was one very pre-loved item. When he went back to work, the cassette went straight back into the stereo.
Much of Pink Floyd’s canon is etched onto the souls of St F and I but it is The Wall that resonates most strongly.
Their music had arrived in our lives in my father’s sea-going kit bag, three years earlier. I was eleven years-old and my father insisted that I sit between the speakers and listen to the album he’d brought back from his ship. It was Dark Side of the Moon. From then on, my mother made every effort to track down as many of Pink Floyd’s albums as she could. St F and I loved most of it – some of it was just plain weird and some of it I heard too much of. There was an 8-track stereo in my mother’s car and the same album was always in it. When she started the car, the tape would play. Again and again, for years! It was a long, long time before I could listen to Wish You Were Here again.
The Wall came back to Norfolk with us. Home was an even more isolated place in a rural area. No school – for us.
Isolation, separation, suffocation are recurring themes that I’ve dropped into this post. And they are recurring themes in The Wall. I haven’t listened to the Floyd for a while so finding, and listening to, Comfortably Numb, blew away thirty-five years of my life.
‘Wrong, do it again’ builds into a cacophony of voices all saying different things and then … silence. When the song starts again, it is quieter, muffled, as if the singer has turned inwards. That muffled, quieter – even deadened – quality is how my life felt, to me. At fourteen, I understood what Roger and the boys were saying. I knew about walls. I didn’t realise they were walls. but Pink Floyd handed me the perfect description. Walls didn’t protect me from being punched in the mouth and losing my front teeth. Walls didn’t protect me from having baby food mashed in my head and being thrown up the stairs by my hair. Walls did give me somewhere to hide my mind, though. Young as I was, I already knew that owning or hurting people physically wasn’t enough for some. They wanted, not only power over your mind, they also needed to see inside you. To see how you work, what your thoughts are. For them it’s like watching rats in a laboratory. That’s why the wall came in useful, it hid me. That and music, of course. I sang along, I absorbed the lyrics, I daydreamed, St F and I acted out whole chunks of The Wall when we were alone and each segment of the album became a small magic spell. All of the frustration, anxiety and confusion I poured into my renditions of those songs has stayed in them, trapped by a web of magic and memory.Play any part of that album to me and the spell pops. I am drenched in those painful feelings again – even just the voice telling me I’m wrong and I’ve got to do it again shoots me backwards instantly.
All of this comes across as a bit doomy and gloomy but wait … I haven’t listened to the Floyd properly for some years – The Wall, probably not since I was in my thirties and the gap is a good thing because there is a cut-off point, unlike with my Strawbs albums which never stopped collecting memories, so I went back to a place I haven’t been for twenty years, maybe. Yes, my wall was imperfect and some of my worst demons were thrown over the top of the wall into my deepest self but I listened to that particularly meaningful song as a (nearly) free person. My wall still stands and is still in use but I have been actively dismantling it for the last few years and now it less resembles a wall, more a Stonehenge.
And that’s a good thing, right?