…you came in?
We’re trying to stop another government shutdown from happening after the longest one in history and someone is absolutely adamant in getting their way. Migrants are being demonized with xenophobic rhetoric as they make their way over the border. An egotistical and dangerously unstable leader holds rallies to whip up his fanbase into a frenzy with his rhetoric. And yet, even with all of this going on, it’s been immortalized in song and screen since the late 70’s and early 80’s respectively. Where do we begin?
July 1977. Pink Floyd is busy with their “In the Flesh” tour to perform material from their latest album “Animals”. Things were rather tense as keyboard player Richard Wright had threatened to quit the band, money was not coming in with some suspicious promotion at the Chicago Soldier Field Stadium, and one of their inflatable pigs used for the tour exploded due to the wrong gas used. But none of that would compare to the critical moment in Pink Floyd lore where guitar player Roger Waters was so fed up with a group of fans that he spat on them (ironically, one of the lyrics in the song “Dogs” reads “who was trained not to spit at the fan”). This alienating event had Waters take a step back and realize that things needed to happen.
So, for much of 1979, “The Wall” was developed, recorded, and mixed. Debuting in late November of that same year, it was met with mixed reception but garnered the acclaim it has today as well as Pink Floyd’s only #1 hit in the USA, “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”. This album then spawned an extensively theatrical tour for 1980-1981 (the performances would not be released on CD officially until 2000, complete with some added songs and extended solos), a 1990 production performed eight months after the demolition of the Berlin Wall (with appearances by Cyndi Lauper, Thomas Dolby, and Tim Curry giving a delicious performance as the prosecutor in “The Trial”), a 2010-2013 solo tour by Roger Waters and a subsequent concert film in 2015 (a solid recommendation), and a 2017 opera based on this article’s focus of the 1982 film. Not to mention it’s the band’s second highest selling album in their discography right behind “The Dark Side of the Moon”.
Director Alan Parker was brought onboard, himself a fan of the band, after his newfound fame from, well, Fame. The entire production evolved from a concert film of the 1980-1981 performance to having the film as we know it with Roger Waters in the lead. The one part that did remain was Gerald Scarfe’s animated sequences for the tour. Alas, the production was plagued by clashes between Parker, Scarfe, and Waters but, as the album proclaims, the show must go on. The end product is best described as a miserable onslaught of the senses but with a flair for the theatrical. And, over time, it’s gone on to be a cult film with the frequent suggestion of blazing it for a darker trip but why bother with drugs to experience it? It’s just a momentary lapse of reason. But what’s the deal with this film today? It’s mostly in the third act and parts of it have been hijacked by certain people but that’s later.
The nonlinear nightmare begins in a hotel with the maid making the housekeeping rounds. We have a flashback to Pink’s father loading a gun during one miserable morning in black 1944. Cutting back to present day, Pink imagines the floodgates opening to this fascist rally where he is the leader, complete with police brutality. He tells us that if we want to fully understand how we got to this point, you have to start at the beginning, when his dad died. Lacking that father figure, young Pink tries to cling onto one of the many fathers at the park, only to get shooed away. He finds his deceased father’s belongings, complete with a uniform and some bullets. Pink sets some bullets on an active train track and finds cars full of masked people flying past as his headmaster scolds him out of nowhere.
He finds himself getting scolded at school for writing poems during a math lesson (lyrics that are actually for “Money”) and we get to one of the most famous songs off the album and the band’s career, “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2”. With nods to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, you get an overtly blunt depiction of the education system hammered into your skull. Granted, not much has changed in the system and you’ve seen illustrated variations of the sequence in other thinkpieces. All the kids destroy their desks and school in frenzied liberation, only to have that be a wishful fantasy.
Pink grows up to be in a rock band after a disastrous first marriage. He becomes more and more secluded, slowly devolving into insanity as he shaves his eyebrows and rearranging everything in his hotel room. It’s when he overdoses on drugs does the real trip begin and the part that most people will reference.
Pink is taken to a car and transforms into a fascist leader on the way to a rally. It’s at this point do we get a reprise of the first time we saw him. Ever since 2015, the same joke has been made and it only gets worse from here as seen in the following clip. Triumph of the Will is in full force, colorized and put to music for this house of wolves. You have the ravenous crowds, the figures with hooded robes, the salutes, the young choir, even the rhetoric as listed in these lyrics:
Are there any queers in the theater tonight?/Get ‘em up against the wall (‘gainst the wall)
There’s one in the spotlight, he don’t look right to me/Get him up against the wall (‘gainst the wall)
And that one looks Jewish! And that one’s a coon!/Who let all this riffraff into the room?
There’s one smoking a joint! And another one spots!/If I had my way, I’d have all of ya shot!
Now, reader, this particular scene has not only been referenced in the video for My Chemical Romance’s “Teenagers”, but it has been parodied several times in the 2016 campaign on YouTube because not only has Trump had people thrown out several times at his rallies, there are several instances of violence there and then this quote from the charade himself: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Hell, a month before the election, Roger Waters played in Mexico City with new Trump graphics for “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” and that particular quote among others, as well as having a new inflatable pig bounce around in the groping crowd to their delight. With the recent news that Roger might play the album in its entirety at the border, his position on the brat’s burning desire isn’t exactly subtle.
And yes, you do see Pink go on an absolute power bender as you see his goons reenact some moments of Kristallnacht and other Nazi rallies, complete with the hand gestures in “Run Like Hell”. It was Alan Parker’s decision to use actual supremacists as crowd members in the sequence, which makes it all the more horrifying because that means that what you see isn’t necessarily an act but more of a strong belief. When they take to the streets in an abridged version of “Waiting for the Worms”, you see pamphlets reading “Britannia Rules OK”, sounding similar to a certain nationalistic slogan of recent times, as well as party members holding their own public rallies and declaring their values like in Charlottesville, all transforming into the iconic marching hammers.
This is where the appropriation of the work ends by those in the Trump cult. I say this because there are images of people wearing shirts with the album cover with “Pink Floyd” replaced with “Donald Trump”. Saturday Night Live even went so far as to try this joke in a skit involving a phone call between Obama and Trump, wherein Obama asks Trump about his favorite Pink Floyd album and is told “Dark Side of the Moon” (noted Floyd fans will be quick to point out that “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” would’ve been the better punchline but it’s “too niche” for a general audience). It’s because they want to feel the “warm thrill of confusion and space-cadet glow” which can be seen in every single speech he’s made. It also ends here because the rest of the album deals with the consequences of acting upon these fascistic fantasies.
Pink, in a fused vision of Kafka and Hieronymus Bosch, is placed on trial for his lifelong isolation. The characters include a cabbage-faced prosecutor, a metamorphic vulva, a judge that literally talks out of his ass, and more. The judge has no choice but to expose him before his peers by tearing down the wall. This small and shriveled ragdoll of person needs to repent but we don’t see that happen as the children are left to pick up the debris from Pink’s tirade, ending with a kid draining a Molotov cocktail. Will we see this played out in real life? It’s hard to say but one can only hope for justice of some kind.
Some people might say that drawing the political parallels between the music of Pink Floyd and the real world shouldn’t be done because “it’s not the right time”. Spare me your pearl-clutching hypocrisy and open your eyes. Politics have been in Pink Floyd’s music as well as Roger Waters’ solo work for quite some time. With the band, “Animals” was really their first heavy use of political imagery, drawing upon George Orwell’s Animal Farm for inspiration, especially with the aforementioned “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”, and ending with anti-war album “The Final Cut”. Whenever Roger plays “Mother” on tour, the lyric “Mother should I trust the government?” is met with the response “no fucking way”. As for Waters’ solo career, you have the WarGames-inspired “Radio KAOS” that criticizes Margaret Thatcher’s control, the supplemental score for the British animated film Where the Wind Blows, the sprawling soundscape of distraction partially inspired by Neil Postman’s text that is “Amused to Death”, the little-heard French revolution opera “Ca Ira”, and then “Is This the Life We Really Want?” with modern politics criticizing the state of our union. And that’s just from one person.
While Pink Floyd stopped creating studio albums in 1994 with “The Division Bell” and wouldn’t return until 2014 with the polarizing “The Endless River”, there wasn’t a chance for them to criticize George W. Bush’s presidency. Fortunately, the music made then carries over to the Trump administration with stronger force. Radiohead’s “2+2=5” from “Hail to the Thief” screams out that “you have not been paying attention” and to “not question my authority”. Green Day came out swinging with their title track from “American Idiot”. The Flaming Lips had 2006’s “Free Radicals” that calls out people who are holier than thou and, in an eerily prescient move, states that this person “is turning into a poor man’s Donald Trump”. With the unfortunate and unwanted new wave of, let’s face it, neofascism, you have Radiohead’s Thom Yorke weaving some antifascist imagery into the Suspiria track “Has Ended”, Moby and the Void Pacific Choir biting hard with “Erupt & Matter”, Childish Gambino’s symbolism-laden smash hit “This is America”, among others.
So, why all of this, especially now? I can’t help but repeat the old aphorism that those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it. The parallels of Trump’s populist rise to Hitler’s, as well as Trump’s personal background, is so astounding that the Baby Hitler thought experiment may as well spawn its own sequel for the literal manbaby. For everyone that was against Trump because they saw how much trouble he would be if elected, it’s been a lackluster moment to tell everyone that they were right. Anyone watching this film today would look at the third act and sigh because they can now say they were alive when they saw the spectacle happen. I used to call it one of my favorite films in college because of my passion for the band and the artistic depiction of the album’s narrative. As years went by, I distanced myself from it because of the real-world similarities that were taking place. Ignoring them would be futile.
We’re very much eagerly waiting for the pain and this current narrative to stop so that the trial can happen but if real life were the album, we’re stuck in the angry chants that end “Waiting for the Worms”. We saw the wall being built brick by brick and here we stand waiting for it to be torn asunder by a judge. I cannot guess when it will happen but soon cannot happen soon enough. If all this seems familiar, you might as well ask yourself this question:
Isn’t this where…