Mother, should I build a wall?
There is no short answer for what the Wall means, nor even a singular answer, at that. Like all art, it means different things for different people. On top of that, part of what makes the Wall so brilliant is it's narrative complexity, the way it can be equally applicable on a personal, social, political or international level.
That said, if I were to distill the album, stage show, movie, and other incarnations into a somewhat singular philosophy, I'd say the Wall is about the golden mean, and realizing that what you do affects others just as much as the things that are done to you. It's about being an individual but not to the point of personal and social alienation; it's about how a person can be so consumed with hatred that he becomes the very thing he hates; it's about the danger of making gods of men; it's about the importance of communication, the void of excess, the fullness of the little moments; and above all, it's about personal, communal and social responsibility.
There are a lot of recurrent images and themes throughout the album and movie, and a lot of people out there who simply want to know what one bit or piece means without having to wade through the entire analysis. Below you'll find a short list of the images and themes most commonly asked about, as well as a brief excerpt from the corresponding part of my analysis that discusses that specific topic.
Absolutely. Feel free to use my analysis as a resource as long as you cite my web site as a reference.Bret Urick
A Complete Analysis of Pink Floyd's The Wall
Original analysis written in May of 1997.
Revised analyses 2002 and 2010.
Chances are Shakespeare didn't put nearly as much thought into his works as our English teachers have led us to believe, yet there are countless books and scholarly journals solely dedicated to explicating the Bard's work.
What I'm trying to say is, yes, I am probably reading more into the album than what was originally intended. But that doesn't mean such an analysis is "wrong." Art is subjective. Just because a symbol, nuance or theme wasn't intentional does not mean that it's not there. What an artist puts into a piece is only 50% of the artistic process; it is up to the audience to contribute the other 50%, bringing in their own unique experiences, interpretations and feelings and applying it to the work. After all, when we talk about a piece of art (book, CD, painting, whatever) we generally don't discuss what this work means to the artist, but what this work means to us. Artistic intention (or lack thereof) is neither full validation or dismissal. If a person can back up her or his interpretations with logical, well thought-out arguments based on the context of the work, that interpretation is valid.
We must always remember that even though the medium of art is inflexible (once a CD is recorded, a book printed, or a painting painted, it is unchanging) art itself is a living thing, and derives a great deal of its meaning from the audience and not the artist alone.
Not really. A few of the songs are said to have been written at the same time as the Wall. While the narrators of some of these songs seem very Pink-like, (the title track, specifically), the album itself does little, if anything, to advance the Wall's plot, and so shouldn't really be considered an actual sequel in terms of Pink's story. However, Waters does extrapolate further on many of the same themes (war, alienation, social and personal responsibility); in this way, the Final Cut does continue thematically where the Wall leaves off, but a sequel it is not.
No. "Another Brick in the Wall, part 2" speaks out against certain kinds of education, namely that which tries to stifle creativity and individuality through rote learning, producing nameless, faceless drones. For more on this topic, read this part of my "Brick in the Wall, 2" analysis.
The beginning of the album says "...we came in?" and the ending says "Isn't this where..." For more info on this circular tidbit, click here.
Pink's dictator self and the intentional racism of "In the Flesh" / "Run Like Hell" / "Waiting for the Worms" are all satirical. Waters' point is that miscommunication, misunderstanding and building up walls around ourselves eventually lead to a myopic existence, a kind of xenophobic hatred. He is arguing that wars are waged and people are killed because of the personal and social walls we construct, to keep ourselves in and to all others out. Click here for more on this topic.
I haven't written any other album analyses, nor do I plan on doing so at the foreseeable future.
Years ago, Vince Amendolare, a friend of the site, wrote an interpretation of Dark Side of the Moon which you can find here. There are also a number of great books on the subject, including Which One's Pink?, an analysis focusing on the more musical aspects of Waters-era Floyd albums. Aside from those, Google and ye shall find.
Even if you think the album version of the Wall is superior, I still believe the movie has quit a bit of merit. Yes, the movie is heavy-handed at times, a bit self-indulgent at others, but it also adds nuance and complexity that the music alone cannot achieve. The Wall has always been a visual album, even before the movie was made. Why else would the band have put on such elaborate concerts, complete with Gerald Scarfe animation, inflatable characters and a giant wall that was built across the stage? It is also important to keep in mind that Roger Waters was very involved in the making of the movie. While he did have major differences of opinion with director Alan Parker (the unflattering song "Not Now John" from the Final Cut is said to be about their working relationship) and said that he was disappointed with the final product, it is interesting to note that it is Waters and art director Gerald Scarfe who provide the feature length commentary for the DVD edition, not Alan Parker.
So whether the movie is inferior to the album or not, I still argue that it is a commendable effort that adds to the overall Wall experience.
Session singer Jimmy Haas, who is credited with backup vocals on the Wall, e-mailed me to set the record straight. He says that while Toni Tennille, the Beach Boys and others originally provided backup vocals on the Wall, their parts were ultimately scrapped and re-recorded using Haas and three other backup vocalists. Haas asserts that "We [the four session singers] re-did everything that was on tape up to that point. Some of it was just bare ideas that Roger had, but the intonation and flow just wasn't there, at least on the Beach Boy parts. The only thing I recall Toni on was a bit of 'Goodbye Blue Sky.' She may well have done more, but once Roger and David got our first tune in the can after about an hour's work, they erased everything [the previously recorded Beach Boys and Tennille vocals] and started over."
Whether or not any of her vocals remain on finished album, one thing is certain: Toni Tennille is not the voice of the groupie in "Empty Spaces." Floyd fan Brian Magnuson e-mailed Tennille's official web site, who replied, stating that Toni did sing backup on the album, but did not voice "the Groupie."