vineri, 21 noiembrie 2008

Young Lust

Bounding behind "Goodbye Blue Sky" on the album and "What Shall We Do Now?" in the movie, "Young Lust" bursts into life as "a pastiche of any young rock and roll band out on the road" (Waters, 1979 interview). The music is so vibrantly cliché and the vocals so infectious that the song, while lampooning the sexually driven, big-guitar-rock songs and bands of the time, transcends its mold and becomes a lively entity unto itself. Although Waters' original song recounted the singer's cautious sexual exploits after school, "hanging around outside porno movies and dirty bookshops," the collaboration of Waters, Gilmour, and Ezrin quickly turned the song into a rollicking melody recounting Pink's entrance into rock and roll super stardom. And what better way to show celebrity excesses than through the eyes of yet another sex-driven star. Yet there's little wonder as to why Pink explodes into his new personage: in terms of album chronology, he has just left his overprotective mother, his school, and the life he knew, all of which oppressed the development of Pink's individuality. In the total absence of any boundaries whatsoever and with his newfound power as a celebrity (we never really do find out HOW Pink became a star…but that might be besides the point), Pink bursts through the rules placed on him throughout his life and recklessly embraces all that he was never allowed to experience. As the cliché says (which is appropriate for this purposefully stereotypical song), he simply immerses himself with sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

Though the song is relatively simple in terms of narrative (it's mainly used to detail the sexual exploits of rock star Pink whose every sexual fantasy is explored in every town that his tour stops in), the very style that Floyd uses to convey the message contributes to the deeper undertones of the album. It's interesting that Waters described the song as a pastiche, a literary imitation usually for the sake of satire. In one way, the pastiche technique is used to criticize a certain type of music or lifestyle without blatantly attacking it. To use a literary example, many of the chapters of James Joyce's masterpiece Ulysses parody other writers, books, and cultural trends of the time in an attack on what Joyce arguably saw as the degeneration of intellectual thought and literature. Although Joyce never mentions a specific writer or book in these parodic sections, his views are loudly proclaimed and his aim is nearly unmistakable. So too is the aim of Pink Floyd's "Young Lust," a parody of every rocker whose used his celebrity for sex and drugs, whose ego is as large as his image, and whose only care is the pursuit of carnal pleasure.

Going beyond sheer parody, Floyd interestingly uses this technique to further define Pink's character. The very fact that the song is an imitation of popular rock music of the 70's reinforces Pink's lack of individuality at this time in his life. Up until now, he has been molded by his mother, his school, and life itself into a model civilian void of nearly all traces of distinctiveness. In the movie Pink is punished by his teacher for writing poetry, restrained sexually by his ever-watchful mother, alienated from much of society because he has no father; all of the above have only contributed to the flimsy mask of personality, each incident painting a feature onto the mask rather than adding depth to his character. Fittingly, the first song of his new independence is one that is so full of rock clichés (the gruff, sexual voice; the catchy, melodic hook; the polished guitar solo) that it's hard to grant just one person credit for writing the song. It not only recalls popular musical trends at the time but the vocals are also reminiscent of an earlier Floyd tune called "the Nile Song", according to a Waters interview. Pink is not just a mere shadow of 70's rock and roll but he's also a shadow of his creators' earlier music. But it's only after he fully erupts that Pink finally comprehends the hollow shell that he is and the void of individual nothingness underneath, a realization that further contributes to the completion of the wall and the destruction of whatever self there once was.

While the song's position on the album denotes a more natural sense of newfound sexual freedom, one might argue that its position in the movie is much more dubious, casting the song in a retaliatory light. By this argument, Pink turns to the sexually willing groupies in order to get even with his unfaithful wife whose infidelity he has just discovered in "What Shall We Do Now?" Pink stays in his trailer for most of the song, only emerging momentarily when he sees a pretty female fan that catches his eye. Although he is obviously annoyed with her when she tries to get his autograph, he nevertheless takes her back to his hotel room, insinuating that he originally intended to do something with her, that is until he has another one of his "turns" in the next song.

One might also argue that the movie sequence is little more than an extension of the album version, "serious[ly] romanticizing" the life of a rock star (Waters, DVD). The majority of the song's scenes do little to advance the plot, mostly showing the excesses of celebrity life in the numerous women, abundant food, and flowing champagne before concluding the song with the groupie following Pink back into his trailer. Despite the scenes' apparent frivolity, there are a few subtleties that rescue the video from being nothing more than justification for sex jokes and female nudity. It's interesting to note that despite this being Pink's sexual anthem (at least on the album), he is probably the character with the least amount of screen time during the song. His absence from the majority of the footage creates a physical separation between the viewer and the character, one that quite possibly parallels Pink's feelings of abandonment and detachment after having discovered his wife's unfaithfulness. This sense of disconnection is further emphasized by the few times Pink is on screen. When the viewer is offered a glimpse of Pink, it is usually through the window of Pink's trailer, producing yet another wall of separation between the viewer and Pink as well as Pink and the rest of the world. Rather than joining his own backstage party, he sits by the window and indifferently watches the festivities outside of this trailer through a dark pair of sunglasses, yet another wall of separation between the external world and himself. Even when he does emerge from his trailer at the end of the song, he quickly retreats back into it when he finds that the female groupie is just another faceless fan in search of an autograph and a wild story. Interestingly, the fan is more persistent than one might expect, trying to take off his glasses to "find out what's behind [his] cold eyes" and following him into his trailer and eventually back to his hotel room, even after Pink has blatantly expressed his exasperation with her. Coupled with the groupie's resemblance to his wife (at least in my opinion…which is perhaps why Pink was drawn to her in the first place), the fan acts as yet another extension of the wife's insistent attempts to try to break through Pink's wall and truly connect with him. But just as Pink eventually drove his wife to having an affair, he will also drive the female fan away from him before she even glimpses what's behind his disguise in "One of My Turns."

duminică, 2 noiembrie 2008

What Shall We Do Now?

Although "What Shall We Do Now?" was originally recorded at the same time as the rest of "the Wall" it was replaced on the album with "Empty Spaces" because according to Waters' 1979 interview "it's quite long, and this side was too long, and there was too much of it." Thankfully he liked the song a great deal and reinstated it in the movie immediately following "Mother." Even though "What Shall We Do Now?" is in all actuality an extended version of "Empty Spaces," it differs from "Spaces" in that it really expands on the theme of transition and examines the various ways to fill the missing gaps in the wall. Since I've already discussed the song's music in "Empty Spaces" (relatively the same in "What Shall We Do Now?"), I'll go straight into the lyrics.

As Waters said in an interview, "this level of the story is extremely simplistic." Don't get me wrong, the fact that it might be simplistic does not make it simple by any means. If anything, "What Shall We Do Now?" contributes to the multiple themes of "the Wall" while adding a few of its own. But as a song in itself, the lyrics are fairly and caustically straightforward. Put simply, it is a list of things that people use to fill "the waves of hunger," that void in their lives and the missing gaps in their walls. Arguably, people are trained by society to "search for more and more applause" in a "sea of faces," or in other words, they are trained to become someone else so as to be socially acceptable, thereby garnering more acceptance (social "applause"). It's the reason why corporate stores such as the Gap are successful; we are told that in order to fit in, we must adjust to the social norm even if that norm seems to deviate from the status quo. For an example of this, look at the success and profitability of punk music (a genre notoriously known for going against the grain of society) in the early 90's sparked by radio-friendly bands like Green Day. In our ever-growing materialistic society, you must become someone else before you are someone; you must wear a fashionable brand of clothes, drive a stylish car, keep trendy friends, eat at chic restaurants. Namely, you must adapt yourself to the latest social trends in order to become your social self. Accordingly, these things start to become social fetishes. We become obsessed with the latest trends, defining ourselves by what we see in the media, what is marketed towards us, and what our peers are doing. In the most ironic social twist, individuality is supposedly achieved by conformity to commercialized social norms. We fill our lives and define ourselves with designer jeans and fancy cars; with how much money is in our bank accounts and how many sexual partners we've had; with what we eat and where we sleep. This is the very core of the attack in "What Shall We Do Now?" a polemic against the foundation of the world's increasing capitalistic society. It's an attack against conformity, the loss of individuality, and mostly against the idea that these material things will complete our lives and make us truly happy.

Yet all of the things listed in the song aren't necessarily evil. Many people feel that vegetarianism is the healthiest way to eat and sending flowers by phone is certainly a far cry from the evils of Hitler and his Nazi regime. Why are such things attacked, then? As Roger Waters perfectly states in his 1979 interview, it's about being "obsessed with the idea of being a vegetarian...adopting somebody else's criteria for yourself without considering them from a position of really being yourself." These things are not inherently evil; rather, it's the obsession with these things, with defining one's self by someone else's standards, that is the moral decay of modern society. "More, more more!" becomes the global motto with every passing day and with the accumulation of it all, walls are being erected higher and more impenetrable. While the song veers away a bit from the actual story line of "the Wall," Pink's applicability to the materialistic obsession perfectly reflects the walls of many people across the globe. As Pink's fame and fortune increase, he further buries himself behind a wall of possessions, becoming more detached from the rest of the world as a result of his personal accumulation. As one conforms to the current trends, true and personal communication becomes more and more difficult. After all, how can one communicate individually if one defines himself or herself as a collection of commercialized goods? But as the wall of possessions grows, so too does the obsession to obtain more until finally one is the beast of his fetish, living each day at the will of his delusion. Even after we are consumed, we live "with our backs to the wall," insinuating that rather than looking for a way out from our self-imposed isolation (which would require us to face the wall), we ignore the growing ramparts and continually search for the next trend in the hopes of being accepted, of getting "more and more applause."

The movie sequence for "What Shall We Do Now?" is arguably the most beautiful and haunting animation of the film. The screaming face image, the sexualized flowers, the wall of possessions, all spring from Gerald Scarfe's brilliant interpretation of the song and, at least in my opinion, fully captures the essence of Waters' social sermon. The sheer artistry of the animation in the beginning of the song with the male and female flowers flowing and morphing into lovers before attacking each other is almost beyond words. Despite its beauty, many people might have a problem with the apparent misogyny of the introductory piece. The male and female flowers sensually dance around each other before performing intercourse, morphing into free-flowing humanistic figures before changing into monstrous beings with the male attacking the female. However the female changes back into a flower and releases all of her glory, shining brightly before viciously snapping up the male in her lips and flying off as some sort of bestial dragon. It could be easy for one to view this sequence as a misogynist attack against dominant females, revealing them to be nothing more than man-hating beasts. However, I think such a reading is grossly inaccurate in that it is viewing the sequence out of context. It must be remembered that this is Pink's story and that, for the most part, the viewer has been viewing the movie from Pink's point of view. This animation sequence is no different. Not only was Pink raised by a dominant, overprotective mother, he has just found out that his wife is cheating on him. Therefore it shouldn't be a surprise that Pink would feel a great amount of aggression towards women. He selfishly feels that he has been abused by them and is continually the victim of their beastly appetites for male emasculation (although we have seen quite the opposite in "Mother" in which Pink drives his wife to infidelity by his own lack of emotion and communication). Furthermore, it was a woman (Mother) who caused Pink (at least in his mind) to become mentally isolated and distrust women. Because we view it all through Pink's eyes, we are getting a very skewed view of relationships between men in women.

As if spawned by this latest personal injury of infidelity, a wall of materialistic desires bursts onto the screen in the form of high-rise buildings, televisions, radios, Harley Davidson motorcycles, Mercedes, Cadillacs, and BMWs. A "sea of faces" greets the wall of possessions (forming a wall of conformity with their faces), each one a clone of his or her neighbor similar to the masks worn by the schoolchildren in "Brick in the wall 2." The wall plunges onward, breaking the peace of the countryside with the screams of the "the people caught up in the wall" (Scarfe, DVD). Everything the wall passes is corrupted. Gerald Scarfe states in the DVD commentary that "in the shadow of the wall, flowers turn into barbed wire; men turn into monsters." As the wall passes, an innocent infant grows into a beast and then into a man in uniform (the Nazi-esque uniform of Pink's fascist regime later in the movie) who bludgeons another man to death, the innocent's blood splashing onto the wall. As a result of the lack of communication fostered by the barriers between people, the wall begets social decay, personal degradation, and violence. Religion is destroyed as the wall continues its course straight through a church and "a new god is set up" as the pieces reform into a casino-like neon building that spews mass-produced neon bricks (Scarfe, DVD).

The next sequence running through a list of Pink's personal bricks is another example of Scarfe's amazing artistry. The Pink doll screams and morphs into a curvaceous female shape (the sexual promiscuity of "Young Lust" as well as the feminine "betrayal" in "Mother"). The woman changes into large, feminine dollops of ice cream suggesting the sensual excesses of Pink's lifestyle. The ice cream then reverts back to the female shape, next morphing into a submachine gun (foreshadowing Pink's violent outbursts later in the film) before changing into a syringe and needle (drugs), a guitar (his musical fame), and finally rounds out the list of personal bricks by turning into a black BMW (expensive possessions). The song ends with an ambiguous sequence depicting a red fist rising from the ground and turning into a hammer. After seeing how the wall perverts everything in its path, one might view the fist rising from the ground as another perversion of nature similar to the flowers turning into barbed wire. In the presence of the wall, even the earth rises up and forms itself into an implement of creation (the wall is created) and destruction (personal individuality is destroyed). A much more optimistic reading of this scene might see the fist rising from the ground as a good omen rather than one of social and personal decay. By this reading, nature will ultimately reclaim the earth from the tyranny of humanity's reign. Just as grass eventually grows through the asphalt of a parking lot or just as the weather erodes and destroys even the largest of mankind's creations, so to will nature rise up and destroy the personal and social walls of humankind. Though the fist is red (conjuring thoughts of bloody strife), it turns into a powerful tool of reform.

The final scene after the music is over merely reemphasizes (almost needlessly) what has just been said in the song. The hammer is used as a tool of destruction to smash a display window through which looters pilfer a range of consumer products. The fact that these items (televisions, radios, vacuum cleaners) are luxuries rather than necessities simply stresses the idea that the capitalistic wall leads to crime and violence. Society has taught us that we are nothing without personal possessions and so those who are unable to afford them are willing to steal in order to be socially acceptable. Interestingly, as the crooks are hustled into the police wagon, two old women steal out of the broken display window, insinuating that commercialism turns everyone into a criminal, even the most unsuspecting. No one is safe nor truly innocent in a society in which a baby grows into a violent monster and elderly women pilfer merchandise behind the backs of policemen.

Empty Spaces

Coming on the heels of "Goodbye Blue Sky" on the album, "Empty Spaces" acts as a transition between the young-adult Pink setting out into the world on his own (at least in terms of the album's placement of "Goodbye Blue Sky") and his entry into full-blown adulthood in "Young Lust."

In terms of the album's placement of "Empty Spaces," it's difficult to pinpoint just who is being spoken to. Had this version of the song made it in the movie directly after "Mother," one would automatically assume that Pink is talking to his adulterous wife, asking how he should fill the void that their marriage has now become. Yet by this reading, Pink's inquiry concerning the empty spaces "where we used to talk" is more ironical than truly sincere for Pink is depicted as being highly uncommunicative in the preceding scenes of the movie. If anything, this shows how blind to the truth Pink really is. Believing that their marriage was healthy before this latest incident, Pink places all the blame of his wife's infidelity on his wife, blind to the fact that his callous behavior was the major cause behind her finding a new lover, someone who would actually listen to her and love her. In this light, the last two questions concerning the remaining gaps in the wall are almost rhetorical, readily answering themselves: Pink will fill the "final places" and "complete the wall" with his wife's infidelity.

However, the song's position on the album might lead one to believe that he is addressing his mother. Having ventured out from his mother's protective wing, Pink is finally experiencing the real world and discovers it to be more desolate and unfriendly than he was expecting. By this reading, he is asking his mother how he should fill the void of her protection, of her companionship. Oddly enough, he finds a temporary filler in the sexual frenzy of "Young Lust," adding yet another Freudian spin to Pink's relationship with his mother and the influence she's had on his sexuality. If he really is addressing his mother (at least in his mind) then the last two questions act almost as a continuation of his earlier inquiry when he asks his mother if he "should build a wall," as if he's saying, "Okay, my wall is built. I'm almost completely shut off from the rest of the world. Now, how shall I finish it?" With as much damage as Mother has done to Pink's persona, he should have no problem at all filling in the remaining gaps.

Remembering that Pink acts as an Everyman of sorts, one whose life journey reflects the walls and lives of nearly all of humanity, yields a third interpretation of the lyrics. The "we" becomes more of a generalized first person pronoun rather than referencing anyone or anything specifically. In other words, Pink is speaking for the human race when he says "we," for everyone has a metaphorical wall similar to his (although most people's walls aren't as high).

As if reflecting this transitional theme, the song's music is a bit chaotic in my opinion. "Empty Spaces" picks up on the main musical riff from "In the Flesh?" but makes it far more unstable, most notably with the high vibrato of the synthesizers and the jumbled music and mumbling in the intro. However, there's more to the strange, backward sounding mumbling than sheer atmosphere. Click here to play the musical intro in reverse. Yup, a secret message in which Roger Waters says the following: "Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Send your answer to Old Pink in care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont..." At this point, a second person says: "Roger, Carolyne is on the phone." Leave it to Waters to throw the listener on another loop (or maybe cycle). I know, I know. It's almost too much to try and interpret what is obviously Waters' attempt at humor. But I think there's a bit more to the backwards message than just a good laugh. Firstly and as previously mentioned, "Empty Spaces" (on the album) is chronologically set before Pink's adulthood in "Young Lust" and after his adolescence in "Mother," making him roughly 18 - 20, give or take a few years on both sides. While we could quibble as to his exact age, what's most important is that the song does NOT take place in the true present time (during the concert, after Pink has finished his wall). Yet judging by clues such as "Old Pink in care of the Funny Farm", the hidden message is most likely from the present time for it's only after Pink finishes his wall that he truly becomes "crazy, over the rainbow." Therefore, what is presented here is a sort of foreshadowing from the present, if such a thing is possible. In the middle of telling his story, Pink indirectly inserts his present state. Interestingly, it's this transition that is one of the most critical in Pink's development. As an adult, he could easily cope with the injustices he has been dealt by life and thereby alleviate his repressed emotions. As we see, though, (or have already seen in the movie), Pink refuses to take responsibility for what has happened to him and so he signs his own metaphorical death sentence when he continues to build his wall at an increasing pace. Thus, the transition is emphasized by the hidden foreshadowing alluding to Pink's current mental state caused by his irresponsibility at the "Empty Spaces" point in his life. In other words, it's as if Pink is saying, "I am here now (in the "Funny Farm"...the metaphorical insane asylum in my head) because of what happened then (in "Empty Spaces."

Secondly, the song delves into self-reflexivity when the second voice comes in telling Roger that "Carolyne [Roger Waters' wife] is on the phone." The mentioning of Waters' real wife reminds the audience that this story is NOT real, that it is merely art. Such self-reflexivity is a major characteristic of modernist and postmodernist literature in which the authors intentionally draw the reader out of the story to remind them (among other motives) that what they are reading is art and should be read on more levels than just the narrative plane. One of the most classic examples of this can be found in James Joyce's Ulysses in which the character Molly Bloom seemingly addresses the author directly when she exclaims something to the effect of, "Oh Jamesy. Won't you take me out of this poo." Since there is no "James" or "Jamsey" in the story, most readers are inclined to believe that Molly is addressing Joyce himself, comically asking why he has written her into such a situation. As you can imagine, the effect is jolting. At first the reader is inclined to ask how a character would know that she is just a character in novel? Well, mainly because she IS just a character and so she says exactly what she is written to say. This forces the reader to step back from the narrative and realize that there is more than story going on here; there is the sheer artistry of the author as well as the multiple levels he or she has instilled in the piece of art. The hidden message in "Empty Spaces" has the very same effect, forcing the listener away from the narrative for a moment and reminding him or her that this is just a piece of art, not a slice of life. However, the fact that the second voice calls him Roger while Roger is speaking in the guise of "Pink" reminds the audience that, in a way, this IS real. Roger IS Pink because he has infused his own persona and much of his life into his character. So while the self-reflexive message draws the listener out of the story, the blurring of reality and fiction validates the actuality of the story. The backward message simultaneously shows that while Pink's specific story is fictional, his metaphorical journey and the wall he creates are universally real.

One last tidbit of information: Water has been quoted as saying that if it had not been for his wife Carolyne and her insistence on communication, he would have ended up as insane as Pink. As we see in the movie, Pink drives his wife away as a result of a lack of communication. But according to Waters, no matter how stubborn he got or how hard he tried to push his wife away, Carolyn would force him to open up to her and talk. So perhaps the backward message is above all a personal "thank you" from Roger to Carolyne. After all, Waters / Old Pink is interrupted from continuing with his "secret message" by Carolyne who is on the phone and wanting to talk (communicate) with Roger.