I’m hanging out in the Global Café and chatting with Colin Reese in Paris and Danielle De Picciotto in Berlin about Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio album, the Berlin Wall, and Trump’s American barrier to cultural progress.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall and one track in particular is often in my thoughts. This one—
The video clip above is from the 1982 film version of the studio recording that was released almost three years after The Wall came out. This song in particular always haunted me because it speaks of a dark and destructive mother-son relationship that I imagine would give Sigmund Freud nightmares. I can’t help but think of Donald Trump in the lyrics mother, should I run for President and mother, should I build a wall—and I also can’t help but wonder what kind of relationship the Donald had with own mother.
I was fifteen years old and living in Ronald Reagan’s America when The Wall was released on 30 November 1979. It was my Sophomore year in high school and the album was enormously popular with me and my friends. We found all sorts of meaning in the lyrics, and not just in the we don’t need no education parts.
Colin says he immediately recognized the album as “an allegory of someone retreating into a nervous breakdown and the life elements that went into the creation of a psychological wall to protect the damaged psyche from the outside world.
He’s a bit older than me—closer to my dad’s generation.
“Yeah, I think that was the main through line of the album,” I say. “But it was also co-opted by people protesting the Berlin Wall and it definitely became an anthem when the wall came down in 1989.”
“True,” Colin replies. “But that’s a bit like football teams co-opting Queen’s we are the Champions without really checking the words. Or Ronald Reagan using Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA.”
Still, I think the album is very much connected to the fall of communism in the Soviet Union in those first steps of dismantling a wall in East Germany. And, Pink Floyd embraced that connection by performing a live concert in Berlin on 21 July 1990 to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall eight months earlier.
Danielle has a unique perspective of Berlin at that time because she lived in front of the wall. So close to it, in fact, that the armed guards in the security towers could look into her kitchen and watch her cooking.
“I used to stand there and look out at them,” she says. “And over the wall I could see children play in a small kindergarden—and hear their voices float over the wall.
Although it was horrifying to think that the people over there were locked into East Berlin, and couldn’t move about as freely as we could, I appreciated that—in this case—the Cold War was not hidden behind the pretense of peaceful every day life but actually could not be ignored.”
Danielle wants to know if Colin’s generation felt as helpless watching everything develop as many of us do now or if it wasn’t as visible because they didn’t have the same sort of social media.
Colin pauses for a moment to reflect before responding.
“As an instant reaction,” he says “No—even though things were awful and the Powers That Be that controlled everything were totally out of control. BUT…WE WERE GOING TO CHANGE THAT! It was the dawning of the age of Aquarius…things were going to change. Bob Dylan wrote an anthem song about it. And also, We Shall Overcome—that’s what Obama reawakened for many of us. And now…”
“Yeah,” I say, “Now we have this caricature of an evil movie President with whom to heap upon all of our hate and mockery—gleefully giving him a myriad of derogatory names.
Colin likes, “Crotch-Fondling Slab of Rancid Meatloaf.”
“Trump is America’s Hitleresque doppelgänger Orange Supremacist,” I add. “The Groepenführer—a petty peacock proudly proclaiming his pussy grabbing prowess.”
I could go on but—thankfully—Danielle is here to take the high road with a very insightful statement.
“Living next to the wall reminded everybody in Berlin every single day how incapable our politicians are in finding peaceful solutions,” she says “But then again who is?
I think that we all have to hold ourselves accountable for what happens out there. If we ourselves are not capable of solving our own individual problems in a positive way, why should they? If we cannot interact peacefully with people of different races, religions and sexual persuasion; if we cannot curb our greed and hunger for power and continue trying to take short cuts and don’t make the effort needed to be a person of integrity—why should a government?
The fall of the wall is the best example. It basically collapsed quickly and suddenly without a single drop of blood when the complete population started demonstrating, standing as one silently—saying enough is enough.”
“That was an impressive way of realizing the power of the people and how a wall only is the manifestion of what they allow or do not allow.”
To be continued…
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