THE WINDOW AND THE WALL

In the late 80s I was living alone in a small house in Footscray, an inner-west suburb of Melbourne nestling between industrial docklands and a waste management terminal. Bunbury Street was quite special not for any Oscar Wilde association but because a railway line ran underneath it, lengthwise.

It was a goods line from the industrial complex across the river so the trains that rumbled down-under were lurching, heavily laden affairs that took forever to pass and seemed to be causing the strip of five conjoined ‘workingman’s cottages’ to slowly subside towards the tunnel. That is no mere exaggeration: while I was living there a pot-hole larger than a car tyre and deep enough to hold a basketball opened up in the footpath near my front gate. Could’ve swallowed a jogger, but given the pollution and the demographic, exercise hounds were rare in that part of the world.

The little green dot marks the spot

The little green dot marks the spot

The house itself was what Real Estate agents like to call ‘original condition’. The walls sported a network of ever-widening cracks while the bathroom was reached via a covered walkway out the back door. In the back yard was a brick pigeon-house (not in use, but with accumulated evidence bedecking the floor) and on the back fence, the outhouse. Once you got used to the trek and the occasional need for an umbrella it was actually quite peaceful. Though very draughty.

The cottage next door was a mirror image of the one I occupied, though ‘improved’. I deduced that they put the rooms to different use as his lounge room appeared to adjoin my bedroom. Note the location of the windows and the stereos. This information will become important.

Figure 1. Plan

Figure 1. Plan

Though I do not know what his job was, I do know that my neighbour worked late. No problem there.

He liked to relax with some music on returning home, usually around midnight. No problem there, either. In winter.

But on a muggy Melbourne summer’s night these little brick houses become awfully stuffy. You gasp for all the air you can get, opening every portal to catch a whisper of breeze.

Referring back to Figure 1 you will note that the actual distance from the recumbent would-be sleeper’s head to the right speaker of the neighbour’s stereo is about nine feet. With both windows thrown open, that’s nine feet of air. My ears were substantially closer to his Hi-Fi than to my own.

Now I am, and have been these many years, a serious Pink Floyd fan. The entire catalogue resides on CD and most of it on vinyl too. There are even a handful of bootlegs in the 41 Pink Floyd entries of the Vinyl Connection catalogue. I’ve seen them live in Melbourne and Hannover and ridden a bicycle through Grantchester Meadows in homage to the Ummagumma song of the same name. Been there, heard that, own two t-shirts.

But I do not enjoy The Wall. Didn’t like it in 1979, don’t rate it now. It is one of only a handful of albums I have written scathingly about, including the following review on the Progarchives website. The ratings are a little harsh, perhaps, and without doubt the entire review will enrage some, yet in essence I stand by what I wrote.

Power corrupts. By 1979 Roger Waters had all the power in Pink Floyd and TheWall is his dystopian personal vision unshackled from group quality control. The album is over-long, over-serious and vastly over-rated.

At the end of side two when Roger moans ‘Goodbye cruel world’ you sincerely hope he means it, but no, there’s a whole other record to go. If it was not for some terrific playing, especially by David Gilmour on guitar, you’d be hard-pressed to find much to like in this dismal self-indulgent rant. Richard Wright was so depressed he was sent home. The two songs credited to Gilmour – Waters (‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘Run Like Hell’) are by far the strongest on the album. And don’t bleat about how marvelous ‘Another Brick In The Wall, Part II’ is – that’s only because you’ve heard it so often you’ve forgotten that it is used three times on the first disc and are able to ignore the manipulative use of a children’s choir to cover a bilious attack on education generally. (Where did you go to school, Roger?)

The best thing that can be said about The Wall is that it is better than the album which followed it. Faint praise indeed. If you wish to hear anger and social criticism expressed powerfully and in a controlled way, listen to Animals and avoid The Wall.

RATING:
Vision & Innovation: 5/30;
Playing and Composition: 15/30;
Listener Enjoyment: 5/30;
X-Factor [cover, reviewer bias, antacid]: 2/10.
Total: 27/100 –> 2 Stars (barely)

 So when, late one sticky summer night, the maudlin sounds of ‘The Happiest Days of our Lives’ wailed through the window at substantial volume you can believe, dear reader, that I was less than entranced.

But how to respond? I started subtly with some muted coughing and harrumphing. Not surprisingly, given the volume, this had no impact. I shut the window. Then I opened the window and shut it again, firmly. The third time I positively slammed the sash closed, hoping at the very least to make his stylus jump but alas, although some plaster showered down upon my head, the soundtrack continued.

Collapsed on the bed, panting from my exertions, I pondered the options. A plan of devious malevolence took shape in my heat oppressed brain.

Padding off to the lounge, I uncoiled the speaker wire; maybe there was just enough. Lifting the box on its stand, I staggered down the hall and into the bedroom. The cable pulled taught. Not exactly at the open window, but perhaps close enough. I paused, listening intently, then trotted off to my shelves.

Figure 2: Response

Figure 2: Response

Crouched at my amplifier, the Floydian noise bouncing down the hall from next door was somewhat muffled; still it was not difficult to find the song currently booming out. Waiting with fingers poised until the end of the song, I cranked up the volume and let the next track rip a second before his began. As my future echo surged out the window I added a bit more volume for good measure though not so much as to drown out his, now slightly delayed, transmission.

I have no idea what it sounded like next door because I stayed in the safety of my lounge-room. But the stereo delay caused by my own separated speakers was quite disconcerting enough, so I can only imagine what it sounded like in the neighbour’s lounge.

The side ended. The stylus lifted.

Silence.

Relieved rather than jubilant, I slouched back off to bed, happy at least that a window of opportunity had created a use for The Wall.

IMG_2978

And don’t forget the 45 I acquired last week. Sad, eh?

22 comments

  1. Just wonderful. Truly.

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    1. Aw shucks. Thanks Joe.

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  2. I did not know that you were one of “The men who stare at goats”.
    Whilst I too have resorted to music in a battle with neighbours, I used sheer volume in the fray rather than the sophistication of your MKULTRA approach.
    FABULOUS!

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    1. Not, perhaps, my finest moment in human communication… but effective!
      Still, I hope just a little less abusive than the US government’s ‘black’ human manipulations of the MKUltra Project!

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  3. I’d finished with them by then too!

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    1. Sad, really. Don’t know about you, but I rate The Wall‘s predecessor Animals amongst their finest. What a form-slump!

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  4. Great stuff as always, Bruce. Given the degree of your distaste for ‘The Wall’, I’m embarrassed to tell you that ‘The Wall’ was, I’m quite certain, my introduction to Pink Floyd’s oeuvre and that ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ is among the small handful of Floyd songs I would recognize if pumped in my bedroom window on a muggy night at high volume. Love your telling, love the floor plans (with color highlights), but this reader wants to know: was there ever a round 2 to the open window battle that summer?

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    1. I think your Floyd recognition template would apply for many. ‘Another Brick’ was a massive single around the world. Still makes me grit my teeth though!

      No, detente was achieved after the Wall summit. In fact, we became quite pally later… he worked for a CD distribution company!

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  5. LOL! Very clever stereo war maneuver! I remember being disappointed when The Wall first came out. Of course, there are a couple high points, and Waters’ The Wall concert was great, but I agree that it is certainly not their best album. I think Gilmour has expressed this same opinion pretty clearly. What a shame that Waters and Gilmour couldn’t continue to work together. It still bothers me to this day.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the piece Marie, given it was triggered by ‘The Stevie Ray Vaughan Wars’!
      I’m with you on the live Waters recording: I was trying to find a way to work in a comment along the lines, ‘If you must listen to The Wall, try the Roger Waters live in Berlin version’. It is improved immeasurably by the inclusion of Joni Mitchell, Cyndi Lauper and even an hilarious one-line cameo from Jerry Hall.

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  6. The Prudent Groove · · Reply

    Brilliant! Exceptional use of overhead diagrams as well. “…opening every portal to catch a whisper of breeze” stands out, as does your smile-inducing closing line. Great story!

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    1. Thanks PG. The Boy was rather suspicious when I asked to borrow his white-board. And most puzzled when I proceeded to photograph my work! He erased my meticulous plan very promptly and went back to drawing monsters and dragons. Fair enough too, I reckon.

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  7. […] “The Window and the Wall” […]

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  8. […] In between the conversational bookends we have the classic Floyd chug and churn of ‘Allons-y (1)’, bringing to mind Gilmour’s contributions to The Wall – that album’s undoubted highlights. (OK. No more slagging off what is some people’s favourite Floyd opus. Anyway, I said it all here). […]

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  9. […] stand the original Wall (as noted here), but can just about get through this star-studded live version. The variety of singers and the […]

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  10. […] readers will know that we are not overly fond of The Wall here, unless it’s being used as a form of attack) and this ostensibly soothing rendition. Final track is “Brain Damage” from Dark Side. Just […]

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  11. This is really great, Bruce. Great diagram, too …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers J. I enjoyed writing this one. Thanks for the read.

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      1. Brought back fond memories of your victory, I’d imagine.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Pathetic, I know. But entirely accurate.

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  12. If “future echo” hasn’t been employed as a plot point in somebody’s scifi novel, then I’d suggest you start working up an outline, maybe something involving a train and rifts in a cosmic wall… ‘Foote’s Cray’.

    Great post to find in the back pages today. I’m with you in that I listen to The Wall for the Gilmour and Animals for the music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Didn’t Stanislaw Lem do something along these lines based on ‘Ummagumma’?

      It’s odd reading a piece from nigh on three years ago. I can no longer remember the writing and can feel how the actual events (over thirty years ago!) have somehow merged with the, er, poetic adaptations in the tale. All memory is subjective, certainly. Probably another plot line there too.

      Thanks for your comments, Vic.

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