This title comes from Pink Floyd’s brilliant album, The Wall.
The Wall is a 3-level album. At the first level, it is a personal narrative, a musical autobiographical allegory of Roger Waters himself, centered around a fictional character named, appropriately enough, “Pink”. At the second level, it is a narrative of the experiences of the band as they gained fame, their musical performances scaled up from smaller venues to gigantic stadium concerts, and they experienced a perceptual, visceral alienation from their fans, who went from being identifiable individuals, to an anonymous sea of people; simultaneously, the band members also became alienated from each other (or rather, three of them from Roger Waters). At the third level, the album is a discussion of war and state violence, the alienation and traumatization of the individual due to societal power structures, and the eventual redemption and healing of both the individual and society at large.
We’ll stick with the personal level, for this essay.
As a boy, Pink goes through some tough times, growing up in post-war England. His father was killed in the Battle of Anzio, 1944 , and so, he grows up without a daddy, sacrificed to the war machine. Pink is then smothered and controlled by his over-protective mother (outlined in the song “Mother”), who no doubt is desperately enmeshed with her only son and the only remnant of her once-happy life before the war. As a school-boy, he is further alienated by the industrial machine of the British school system, ridiculed for writing poetry (which, incidentally, was the song Money, from Dark Side of the Moon) and forced to conform to the zombie-producing conveyor belt of 20th-century mass-scale conformist education. Pink then also experiences heartbreak, when he finally finds a girl he loves, but loses her to a combination of his own avoidance as he gets lost in drugs, and her attraction to a man, a social reformer and anti-war activist, who is more passionate and vibrant than Pink.
Pink copes with his abandonment and aloneness in a manner that recapitulates how England coped with its post-war devastation and the large-scale traumatization of its population — he becomes increasingly bound up in the Spectacle of his life as an angry rockstar and neo-Nazi skinhead, a resurrection of the very enemy his father died fighting, a young man seeking certainty in an uncertain world, power in a world of disempowerment, relying upon Structure and Hierarchy to keep Chaos at bay.
Ultimately, Pink becomes a bad dude, totally messed up, psychologically unhealthy, ‘Comfortably Numb’, cut off from the soft, embodied pain of his own emotions, reduced to a Man who clings to an ideology of power, symbolized by “hammer, hammer,” a man who oscillates between avoidance and anger, apathy and violent action, from whom the innocents of the world, the ones who are different, who don’t fit the conformist mold of a harsh vision of hierarchical purity and ‘perfection’, must “Run Like Hell.”
Finally, towards the end of the album, his character undergoes a painful “Trial” as he is judged by his actions, and found to be a thoroughly pathetic, sad person, defeated by life, hiding in his own self-imposed prison, a failure, collapsed in his own shame, someone who has gone, as one of the latter songs clearly outlines, “Craaaaaazy”.
The final verdict handed down by the judge in this trial is — “I sentence you to be EXPOSED, BEFORE YOUR PEERS!”, and then, in an orgasmic, ecstatic roar, Pink is commanded to “TEAR DOWN THE WALL!!”, and a chorus of people take up the chant, resulting eventually in the Wall — the symbol of Pink’s alienation from himself, his feelings, his vulnerability, his sorrow and aloneness and desperate yearning for connection — exploding violently. In fact, his Wall exploding hearkens back those many years to his own father (Father being the symbol of power, structure, masculinity, agency, etc.), being killed as the Anzio bridgehead he was defending was blown up by the Germans. Thus, Pink’s disempowerment comes full circle, from the explosive destruction of his own father, to the final explosive destruction of the inner prison he has built to try and protect his vulnerable self from a hostile world.
In the aftermath, as the dust settles, the bombastic, intense music of the final crescendo is gone, replaced instead by a small, quiet, humble little ditty, the electric instruments traded in for a set of folksy instruments, and the loud shrieking and vitriolic screams now supplanted by gentle singing:
All alone or in twos, the ones who really love you
Walk up and down, outside the Wall,
Some hand in hand, some gathered together in bands,
The bleeding hearts and the artists, make their stand.
And when they’ve given you their all,
Some stagger and fall, after all
It’s not easy,
Banging your heart against
Some mad bugger’s wall.
At this personal level, The Wall is a journey of healing, chronicling the way that trauma causes a person to alienate themselves, to seek power and certainty at the expense of connection, to sacrifice their own organic, creative, pulsing aliveness to the psychotic conformity of “the machine.” It outlines how the traumatized person becomes increasingly isolated in their prison of withdrawal, increasingly protected, yet also poisoned, within their cocoon of self-justifying beliefs, anger, and the desire to Dominate. It describes the utter aloneness this person eventually succumbs to, the falseness of their identity, even as they may be surrounded by an admiring throng.
And finally, it describes the way back — the reconnection to their history, to the people who have both cared for and harmed them, a full reckoning of the person’s life as they finally turn to face the Truth of themselves. And it beautifully, shockingly displays the act of courageous self-revealing, the reaching out to others, the taking off of one’s mask, so that the tender vulnerability that’s been hidden away all those long years, can finally be entrusted to others.
It’s terrifying to do so. You feel like you are committing a kind of suicide. Because indeed, from the perspective of your carefully-protected persona, you ARE committing a kind of psychological suicide. Or so it feels. Although what really happens, when you finally take that courageous step and “tear down the wall”, is that you open yourself to the true source of connection — which is vulnerability. You can finally be healed through the acceptance and love of others, which can never fully reach you until you show people your naked, broken-but-still-breathing, ‘true self’.
At a personal level then, “tearing down the wall” is about honesty, about caring, and creativity, and not-knowing, and compassion, and tears, and the need to ask people for help because you just aren’t strong enough to carry the full existential burden of life on your own individual shoulders, all by yourself.
At the societal level, the lesson is the same. We succumb to the oppressive structures, the violence of “the Man,” the military-industrial complex, the ideologies of control and domination, of certainty and “I’m right, you’re wrong,” “We are good, They are bad.” We seek to reduce the messiness, the Chaos of life through cleaning it up, sorting things out into nice, tidy hierarchies of control. And it’s suffocating. You end up with a machine, not a living, breathing ecosystem of relationships between flawed, imperfectly beautiful beings.
The antidote to suffering and alienation, is love. It’s trusting. Reaching out for connection. It’s admitting weakness, accepting yourself, and accepting the Other. It’s embracing the unknown, together. It’s courage, in the Brene Brown sense of speaking your truth, with your whole heart.
This is what it means to tear down the wall.