Roger Waters should have left Pink Floyd’s The Wall at this

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With all apologies to Roger Waters, by the time Pink Floyd released The Wall on November 30, 1979, there was simply too much talking, and not enough — you know — music. While working out issues in dealing with a meteoric rise to fame as an adult after losing his father in World War II as a child, Waters turned Pink Floyd into his own therapy session — and the musicians around him into sidemen.

That was never more true than with the late co-founding keyboardist Richard Wright, a consistently playful and diaphanous presence who was subsequently demoted and then pushed out of the group by Roger Waters. (Bandmate David Gilmour later reinstated Wright in a Waters-less edition of Pink Floyd.)

Whatever its attributes — “greatest concept album ever”?; it’s starting to seem like a back-handed compliment — The Wall just wasn’t a band effort, and it suffered for that. The early free-form psychedelic influences of original leader Syd Barrett, inspiration for Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” had finally, sadly, disappeared by 1979.

Pink Floyd albums, once a series of trippy vignettes, would transform into wordy, over-serious novels — airless and overbearing. Too, the sterile, hands-off theme of alienation only intrigues for so long, like being pushed away by a love interest. After a while, you simply go after another.

It was that way for me and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. That is, until the more recent Immersion/Experience reissues again led me back to “One of My Turns,” one of the project’s most striking successes.

A rock star (“Pink” in the movie from three years later) finds himself on the road and thus surrounded by people, but yet unknown to all of them. He brings a groupie back to his room only to discover this overwhelming regret over what his life has become. Pink’s marriage, left unattended, has grown cold — and this encounter is no better. As his thoughts, famously, draw tight as a tourniquet, the character explodes into a furious line of questions about how this empty evening might play out.

How could he have become so very disconnected from his own life? How could that yawning chasm ever be filled with this thoughtless interaction with a stranger?

After Pink rages through a series of sad scenarios by which he might entertain this now stunned and then silent and then quickly fleeing guest, Roger Waters’ character — so self-involved as to have forgotten that he mentioned grabbing his “favorite axe”; meaning, what? A guitar? An actual axe? — plaintively wails: Why are you running awaaaaaay?

But the song’s title provides its own subtext. If this was only one of Pink’s turns, then we know why. There must have been others. Still, like a great moment in literature, you’re left wondering if it had gone worse the last time our protagonist got unbalanced. Was there, that time, an actual axe?

I first heard this tune as a B-side on the single “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2),” its own anomaly in the digital age. Back then, the story was that “One of My Turns” was inspired by Roy Harper, the lead singer on Pink Floyd’s earlier “Have A Cigar,” who in 1975 had trashed his caravan at the Knebworth Festival.

Yet “One of My Turns” fits perfectly on The Wall, mainly because within one song cycle it encapsulates the larger theme. As the groupie marvels over his sprawling suite, Pink catches a bit of The Dam Busters — a 1955 film highlighting the wartime efforts of England’s RAF 617 Squadron — on television, and he’s hurtled back into the deeper loss that separates him from this girl, and from everybody.

It hit me that “One of My Turns” (part stirring confessional, part shocking exorcism) was, in many ways, the only song Roger Waters needed to write about all of this. Too bad he kept going. Quite frankly, that eventually killed Pink Floyd — and I never forgave Waters, or The Wall for that.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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  • Globe Picture

    Oh man, well, here we have the noodle/Gilmour/Syd Myth fan version of the Floyd fanbase, which I am well familiar with. I like this reviewer a lot, and usually agree with him and share overlapping interests in music it seems. I have heard all different versions of the “which one’s Pink?” debate from Floyd fans (and only non-Floyd fans fail to notice the distinctions of era peculiar to Pink Floyd). Roger Waters, indeed, worked for years to trash the Pink Floyd sound established in the 60s and aped in the early 70s. Waters was indeed first among equals by 1973, and he was very decisive in making Wish You Were Here cohesive at all. After that, he was prime mover, and the music shifts towards even his solitary instrumental preferences. Animals, which still has some of the old sound, is the first of the three Floyd albums written by Roger Waters and performed by Pink Floyd. Rick Wright did not even play much on the Wall. I feel these albums are really what Pink Floyd should have been and was striving toward. The major fault of Gilmour/Wright revisionists is that they know that behind the Waters framework of the sound they crave in WYWH, for instance, is only vague ideas, best expressed, perhaps, in their solo albums in the 70s. David Gilmour’s commitment to the band made his entry into mainstream pop in a timely manner impossible, but who couldn’t imagine this would have been his choice sans-Waters? The pretense of being deep was pressed on him by his Record Label and his fans’ expectations in the 80s and 90s, especially following in the Floyd tradition. This took an army of people to flesh out. The Syd purists have their point, and I appreciate their fervor of saying that Floyd ends with Ummagumma or Syd’s second solo sabotage (they really messed those albums up, as an aside). Syd was influential, and I wouldn’t argue it. Waters made statement music in 1979 that all the drunk college kids singing Wish You Were Here in a lyrically blind fashion cannot erase. Wright’s Wet Dream and Division Bell, these are catalog entries. Wish Waters had just gone ahead and called the band “Roger Waters’ Pink Floyd” in 1979 and gotten the company backing he needed to not ruin his cache of music in the mid eighties. Thanks for the article, by the way.

  • super stevens

    I do think that the Wall is a great album. I have to admit it sounds less like a band effort than prvious Floyd releases. But, the melodies are still there, the concept is really awesome with some depth, Gilmour sounds as epic as ever…