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.
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