It may seem like an unlikely topic for a "book discussion group" but Pink Floyd's The Wall is not only an iconic and powerful concept album (and film), but a rich and deeply moving poetic experience that explores topics that remain relevant to modern listeners some 34 years after its release, including the notion of personal identity, mental stress, the impact of war on families, the impact of the celebrity cult from both the audience and the celebrity point of view and many other themes. Because the wonderful Al Filreis invited me, as a ModPo alumni, to join in, I decided to sign up for Book Group #69 - Beyond Pink Floyd's The Wall: What's Out There?
Though The Wall wasn't my favourite Pink Floyd album (though I liked many of the songs on it - Wish You Were Here was always number one for me), I've been gobsmacked at how exceptional The Wall is when you listen to it deeply, consecutively and with attention. I've been listening to it on a endless loop in my car over the past week and every single listen has been fresh, revealing new insights and pleasures. The discussion group is being led by Patrick Bredehoft, director of the Penn Alumni Interview Program, who has begun the discussions by sending out a bunch of material - all the song lyrics, song downloads, and a link to the film (which I just watched for the first time - I had no idea Bob Geldorf was such a good actor). Patrick is driving the discussion through each of the songs. We've just been working through the first two songs - In the Flesh? and The Thin Ice. Here is my initial response:
Aside from just being a terrific way to open an album musically, I see “In the Flesh?” as an invitation to the listener. We are, literally, at the show (we’ve turned on the music – ready to dive into the concept) as audience (simple observers), antagonists (feeding off the illness and frenzy for our own enjoyment), and co-protagonist. The album opens at the height of Pink’s illness – the critical climax for him. The question mark reminds us that appearances can’t be trusted – this isn’t a reliable narrator – we’re going to have to go deep into his mind and past to find out who he is and perhaps to an extent, who we are.
Moving into “The Thin Ice” we have a stark contrast (the lullaby refrain) that signals we’re now flashing back to the beginnings of the story we opened at the climax of – the very start of the illness – at birth perhaps. The progression is that of a narrative, but as Alec pointed out – one that has a therapeutic arc – we’re digging into the psyche on that journey. We’re now beginning the process of “clawing” through the thin ice of the disguise (hence the repeated use of the word “claw”).
Are you a fan of The Wall? If so, just for fun, why not respond below with your own interpretation of the first two songs on the album (you can listen to them by clicking on the song names above). There are lots of other great discussions going on through UPenn's Alumni Association including Scott Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain, The Poetry of John Ashbery, Woody Allen's Annie Hall and Bullets Over Broadway, Nabokov, and lots more. The program is only open to UPenn Alumni, but apparently if you do ModPo you're an Alumni! Just another reason of many reasons (like the fact that it's wonderful) to participate in ModPo. The next one begins on the 7th of Sept, 2013.