IT IS AS simple as this: Pink Floyd's album, "The Wall," dominates the popular music of the Western World.
In the United States, it is No. 1 on the chart after 17 weeks, with more than 2 million units sold. It is also No. 1 in Italy, Germany, Canada, Australia, Sweden and New Zealand.
The central statement of "The Wall," inescapable on AM and FM radio and in spot television advertisements, is contained in a refrain sung by children: We don't want no education We don't want no thought control No dark sarcasm in the classroom Teachers leave the kids alone. Hey! Teacher! Leave us kids alone!
It is not a gentle message, and thereis no irony in its delivery. It rides on a jack-booted bass-line, and it is that chant of menace and cold intention that now reverberates from the dairy farms of New Zealand to the boulevards of Rome to the lanes of McLean, Va.
Still, it is entirely posible that other-wise well-informed persons -- National Symphony subscribers who readtwo newspaperss on Sunday and intend to vote in November -- have altogether escaped Pink Floyd until now. Let us repair to explication:
Pink Floyd is a British band. It was founded in 1965, a year in which many of its most devoted fans were born,to play rhythm and blues. By 1967, Pink Floyd had adopted the light show as part of its performance routine, and was the first English ensemble to do so. It produced hit albums ("Dark Side of the Moon" and "Animals") thatwere characterized as psychedelic, electronically imaginative, and "mellow"in the appropriately dopey way. On tour, the theatricality of Pink Floyd was never in dispute, and required, in fact, 11 tons of lightning and amplification equipment.
The group's most extraordinary aspect, however, was not its music, but the decision by its four members to remain relatively anonymous. They gave, and give, no interviews, endorse no particular style of living, and are apparently immune to the appeals of fan magazines. Little is known of David Gilmour, Rick Wright, Nick Mason and Roger Waters beyond their music.
We are given to assume that Waters, the bass players, is the creator of this "concept album," as today's long-playing fairy tales set to rock music are called. We are not to assume that any adult foresaw "The Wall" as predestined to dominate the world popular market.
"The sales are king of suprising," said Jane Berk, a publicist for Columbia records, the American distributors. "On one hand, this is really a tremendously self-indulgent, hackneyed concept. It's ironic that it should come from a group often thought of as the ultimate acid casualties. But "The Wall" seems to have an intellectual appeal, a social appeal, on the very broadest level. That's pretty strange from a cult band."
"The Wall," a two-record set which lists for $13.98, is a teen-age psychodrama in 27 parts, a picaresque tale of passage fir for a latter-day Dante Alighieri or John Bunyan. In Pink Floyd's inferno and slough of despond, teachers, family and peers lie in wait to torment and mold the pilgrim hero. The medium is rock music highly polished in the studio, the story-line one of unremitting menace and horror, and the effect as puzzling and scarifying as the best metamorphoses of Lewis Carroll. e
As for The Wall of the title, it is the entrapping barrier thrown up by society -- a heavy-mortared edifice built of prejudice, convention, and submission -- to brick in lusty youth.
"The Wall" begins with a reference to rock performance itself -- doubtless the self-indulgence identified by Berk, since self-conciousness has been a familiar and cloying annoyance in rock for many years. So ya Thought ya might like to go to the show To feel the warm thrill of confusion That space cadet glow Tell me, is something eluding you, sunshie? Is this not what you expected to see?
Floyd then sets out to create a world of shocking pink. It warns, with no subtlety of image, that "If you should go skating on the thin edge of modern life," don't be surprised when "a crack in the ice appears beneath your feet." The band then plunges headlong into a curious episode called "The Happiest Days of Our Lives." When we grow up and went to school There were certain teachers who would Hurt the children anyway they could By puring their derision Upon anything we did And exposing every weakness However carefully hidden by the kids. But in the town it was well known When they got home at night, their fat and psychopathic wives would trash them Within inches of their lives.
One hears the world-wide prepubescent cheers that accompany this bitter delight, and smiles. But the smile fades quickly, wiped away by the refrain and leitmotif as it rises, carried bodily by the insistent bass guitar of Roger Waters: We don't Want no Edu Cation
It is a chant that echoes Nuremburg. Excerted from the album, this slack-jawed ditty now hold the number-one title "Another Brick in the Wall." sAt something more than 100 beats a minute, "Another Brik" is very near disco, and the driving rhythms here introduced will be returned to periodically throughout "The Wall" both overtly and as a subtle basso obligato. The choice of a popular dance form to carry the burden of the album's call-to-arms is an imagine and successful one -- as if Beethoven had chosen the minuet as the vehicle for his funeral march in the Eroica symphony.
"The Wall" is designed to be played loud -- as loud as the owners' speakers (or more likely, headphones) will permit. And thought the listener's reaction is an overwhelming urge to boogie on the grave of civilization as we know it, the party is rather less jolly than that. "The Wall" has an alien tone, a particularly non-American perspective. A gray English fatalism is apparent -- one not easily associated with puberty in America. This is the world of Anthony Burgess' "Clockwork Orange," of entrapment in a class society, and it is far removed from the playful barbaric yawp of Bruce Springsteen's automobile-and-boardwalk New Jersey. "The Wall" echoes not with the seeds of revolution but with the fury and panic of "The Prisoner," the oft-repeated British television series with Patrick McGoohan, in which one individual fights desperatly against a pernicious and enciphering society that cannot be changed, only escaped from.
The alienation here is literal and incurable -- David Bowie's in "The Man Who Fell to Earth." And it may be that teen-agers have a more hopeless condition in England than elsewhere. This album, for example, rates only 27th on the British charts. The number-one record of the moment there is called "Tears and Laughter" -- by Johnny Mathis.
It still comes as a surprise, given all we have for the little buggers, that the kids don't want our education.
"When you're a freshman or a sophomore, teachers really dominate your life," explains Harold Brodie, 16, a sophomore at Langley High School. "We each have about six teachers, and you're lucky to have three you like. Some kids hate all their teachers." Brodie, who gets good grades and is a founder of an emerging rock band called Last Minute Dance, says Pink Floyd's appeal is simple. "The Wall" says things about real life that no other band says. It's a powerful statement for kids all around the world."
The Floydian Statement is made primarily in the cartoon-like progression of the central character through the perplexing world he finds around him. His mother closes him in by sanitizing his experience, his teachers by stomping his idealism that accompanies adolescence, his wife by nagging. Even television sets and telephones contribute to the bricking-in process, and eventually he yields, entombed. But I have grown older and You have grown colder and Nothing is fun anymore.
The story, unquestionably marvelous as a naive evocation of trial by puberty, ends in fact with a trial -- in the best tradition of "Alice in Wonderland" -- which finds our hero brought before the Worm Magistrate of establishment authority.Called to testify against him (the change is "showing feelings of an almost human nature") are his schoolmaster: I always said he'd come to no good His wife: Your little s---, you're in it now I hope they throw away the key And his mother, who pleads with the magistrate to permit her to take him back home and smother him.
But the Worm Magistrate pronounces the verdict -- guilty as charged: In all my years of judging I have never heard before of Some one more deserving The full penalty of law The way you made them suffer Your exquisite wife and mother Fills me with the urge to defecate. His punishment is ultimate: I sentence you to be exposed Before your peers. Tear down the wall.
So concludes the mythic voyage of teeny-bopper Everyman.
In a staging of "The Wall," performed earlier this year six times in Los Angeles and six times in New York, a large wall built up during the extravagant production was seen literally to crumble, with sound effects of dramatic nature. Such literalness hardly seems a disservice, since 14-year-olds generally do not think in metaphors; life for them is not comparison but experience, since all teen-agers live in an alien and mutating landscape.
Roger Waters and his semi-anonymous colleagues have entered that landscape and brought back a grand trophy. If only they had left themselves out, "The Wall" might take its place in the catalogue of artworks that successfully assay the human condition.
The problem is that Waters and company, each born just at the conclusion of World War II, are ever-present. The album is as much about the disappointments of being a wealthy rock star as about being a lost child ("Do I have to stand up wild-eyed in the spotlight?/What a nightmare!"), and apparently Waters, when he looked about for specific evils to be faced by the young, saw Adolph Hitler everywhere.
"The Wall" is at its most nit-witted when it seems to equate the rise of Britannia once again with subjugation of the spirit, the putting on of Black shirts, and the rounding up of Jews, blacks and pot-smokers to be shot. When Pink Floyd warns its young audiences against the dangers of the Final Solution, it is doubtful many of them will even recognize the reference. That is Floyd's world of memory, not its audience's, and Hitler will not be so easily used.
But this is mere quibble, simple observation that there is little literary or musical sophistication in "The Wall" beyond its excellent use of rock recording technology.
Its power is more raw, more magical, and more appropriate than that. After all, in an adolescent's world of parents and teachers and pimples and horrifying physical change, the center truly cannot hold. He watches with astonishment as his feet grow larger by the year, as the nature of sex becomes apparent, as the road forks again and again with every step. To adults, teenagers grow; but to an adolesent, the process is more properly a new death every year. He has hardly yet learned to be 13 when he is 14; hardly grasped the meaning of 15 when suddenly another birthday snatches the experience away. So it is that a high-school sophomore, reflecting on the lives of eighth-graders, often looks back with a sadness and a sense of separation greater than a grandfater pondering 50 years of marriage.
Early adolescence is a marvelous and dangerous territory, and one largely ignored by art until television and record audiences rose to be recognized.
In that sense it is the children who have given us "The Wall." As a matter of fact, they have bought the album with our money. We may as well listen -- and thank God that the Worm Magistrate has not sentenced us to go back to that alien land again. Pink Floyd had done it for us again. Lyrics copyright (c) 1979, Pink Floyd Music Ltd.