I was twelve years old and living on Long Island when Pink Floyd released The Wall. The single Another Brick in The Wall was all over the radio waves and it seemed like everybody was singing along. However, I wasn't properly introduced to the full album until I was around fourteen and dating a boy named Doug. Doug listened to that album constantly. He was a cool guy; a bit of a bad boy with excellent biceps. He was also a great kisser. What little I knew about him was that his father was gone and his mother was a pill junkie. He lived a couple of towns over from me and in the summertime, when my mom and step-dad were at work, he would hop on a bus to visit me. I can still picture him showing up at the door; smiling beautifully, boombox hoisted up on one gorgeous shoulder. I would bring him into my room where we commence to sparse dialog about how life sucked and what the future may hold for losers like us and then we'd make out; all to the moody thrashings of that iconic album.
In those early teen years, everything was a tragedy and it was a rare adult that could understand just how hard it was. And school? Forget about it. There were bars on the windows of my Junior High. I never knew if they were there to keep kids in or keep intruders out. Either way, those bars were a discouraging testament to the dangerous town I lived in. I was frequently tormented by my classmates because of my white skin and lingering baby fat. It was a nightmare and I hardly went. I didn't need no education or thought control. Home was not much better.
I did have friends, though. My sister and I hung out with some boys (Doug included) who lived in a different town. We were all music lovers with shitty family situations existing at that liminal "coming of age" point where we knew we would be soon facing adulthood but were still able to find magic in our friendship and the music we listened to. At that time, I loved the Beatles most of all. But The Wall spoke to my despair and I listened to it again and again; memorizing the lyrics and poring over the disturbing and compelling artwork that graced the inside panels of the double album cover
It was the story that played out through the course of the album that grabbed me. A dark legend of a boy named Pink who came from a broken home; his father taken by senseless war and an overbearing mother whose smothering love caused David Gilmour's guitar scream and wail out those famous haunting, echoing riffs. Also tortured by a sadistic school master, the boy learns to hate and he begins to construct a metaphorical wall around himself. This wall is meant to protect him from further soul insult and he builds it higher and higher. When he reaches adulthood, he realizes he has imprisoned himself. He cannot love. He cannot feel. He cannot function. He is dying.
And then, something happens. He hits bottom and goes deep within his own psyche. He finds himself in a courtroom where he has put himself on trial. This is an extraordinary psychodynamic event. Our hero confronts the darkest parts of himself and he overcomes. He tears down the wall in a dramatic explosion of emotion. The final poignant track leaves the listener with the impression that Pink finally sees beyond his own pain and comes to the realization that he is loved by many:
All alone, or in two's The ones who really love you Walk up and down outside the wall Some hand in hand And some gathered together in bands The bleeding hearts and the artists Make their stand
And when they've given you their all Some stagger and fall, after all it's not easy Banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall
The album is deep, to be sure. There is a reason why it's considered a classic. I believe that it speaks to a very real struggle that many face; the struggle to stay human and connected despite the horrors of war, corruption, abuse and deceit. For me, it holds a firm place in my Musical Mythology as the quintessential redemption from the psychological darkness we know as severe depression.
It's not clear to me what became of Doug. I heard a rumour that he overdosed and died years ago. If that's true, I would like to honor him and dedicate this blog to his memory. It's my hope that he found peace in his passing.
How high is your wall?