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Revisiting ‘The Wall’ – 30 years on…

June 6, 2011

1979 – the end of a tough decade in the UK which was bringing a lot of change. It’s the year I feel I became broadly self-aware and the start of a tortuous period of confused adolescence and angst ridden young adulthood.

It’s also the year that Pink Floyd released The Wall – a powerful ‘rock opera’ written by the band’s then leader Roger Waters.

One of the main tracks that gained immediate notoriety was ‘Another Brick in The Wall’ – As a teenager the lyrics ” We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control – Teacher leave them kids alone” was a powerful anthem. I still remember watching the video and performances on Top of the Pops when that track reached number one.

As a keen fan of punk music at that time, my previous knowledge of Pink Floyd was the T-shirt John Lydon of the Sex Pistols was famed for wearing – an iconic punk image of a torn Pink Floyd shirt with the words ‘I hate’ added to it. So I was predisposed to not liking the band at that time.

The more I listened to The Wall though, the more it resonated with me. Roger Waters wrote it when he felt most alienated from those around him, including his own bandmates. It was a very personal statement at the time and one that no doubt contributed to the subsequent splits in the band, with Waters and Gilmore frequently expressing that they are very different personalities.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the album gained a resurgence of interest and another rare live performance when Waters gathered together popular artists at that time for a full performance in Berlin. The relevance in content and imagery fitted that occasion so well and the recording which featured powerful performances from the likes of Joni Mitchell, Sinead O’Connor, Bryan Adams and Van Morrison is a particular favourite of mine.

Fast forward 20 plus years and The Wall has been revitalised with a live performance theme that highlights the ‘walls’ that exist in our world today between different ideologies and religions and the impacts of the wars that keep erupting as a result. It is a powerful and extremely well produced performance, using the very latest computer projection capabilities to create a truly awesome audio visual experience. The video compilation I made from phone pics and clips can be seen below and gives a flavour of both the audio visual feast and the powerful messages contained within. (Looks like this has been blocked on youTube by EMI copyright in some places but – surprise, surprise – my Facebook version is still running fine)

Another relevance struck me as I was en-route to the US recently and replaying footage from the O2 performance as well as the 1989 Berlin recording on my phone while having a documentary about the rise of Facebook running on the in-flight entertainment monitor.

Central to the Facebook phenomenon is the ‘Wall’ – a digital space where your thoughts and those of your friends and associates can be expressed. The essence of the documentary was that this can have positive and negative effects and it followed the experiences of those whose lives had been enriched by Facebook’s capabilities and those whose lives had been ruined. In each case it was content posted on those digital ‘Walls’ that was the catalyst for these experiences.

I’m sure there are those who would equate these new digital ‘Walls’ with the alienation and isolation expressed in Roger Water’s creation where, despite the idea that such a capability promotes community and social openness, it can also be used to distribute malicious information and hide behind.

There is also a deep irony in Facebook using the term ‘wall’ – which has its greatest association with ‘privacy’ when the primary purpose of this particular wall is to extract as much useful and marketable information about you and your interests as possible. Personally I find it staggering that Facebook continues to erode its user’s privacies with each new development. For those of us who already dislike the idea of being tagged in others online photographs, the idea that Facebook will scan posted images automatically and suggest tags for the people in them is extremely disconcerting.

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