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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, May 26, 2007
    On avoiding comfortable numbness
    Watching BBC2's Seven Ages of Rock tonight made me wonder: if I'd been blogging at the time what would I have written about the opening night of Pink Floyd's The Wall at Earls Court in August 1980?

    Some of my readers already know this, having been with me through thick, thin and thinner, but in my youth I was a very keen Floyd fan.

    Fact - I spent my first few weeks' wages as a 16-year-old on a record player of my own (Mum bought it on HP for me and I gradually repaid her). Fact - in the orgy of music-buying which followed (at least one hundred albums in my first year of employment) probably the first entire collection I completed was that of Pink Floyd, with their various side projects (Zabriske Point, Terrapin etc) included.

    That August night was the first time in Britain that they or anyone else had spent half a concert building an 82ft high wall across the front of the stage separating themselves, by the interval, from their sizeable audience. What I recall about the event - my first ever Floyd show - was that, greatly anticipated, by the time I got to it I felt strangely underwhelmed at the prospect. I couldn't put my finger on why, but I didn't feel like a fan any more.

    If I'd been blogging at the time perhaps I'd have put that down to a broadening of my musical tastes. By that time Floyd weren't all they had been to me. I'd discovered Gong and Fairport Convention by then. And being an avid music press reader and friend of many Erics-goers I'd have known that The Bunnymen had just released Crocodiles which would soon have a radical impact on me.

    It just struck me tonight that perhaps another reason for my sense of detachment from the group was that they hoped The Wall would do precisely that to their 'fans'. Its building was motivated by a U.S. tour in which Roger Waters got famously fed up of what he saw as the increasingly banal behaviour of their followers, many seemingly disinterested in what the band were trying to do with their music. To Waters stadium concerts were an opportunity to try out his existential ideas on a large scale; but for that to work he needed an audience which would engage with it, with some integrity. Waters sensed that a large proportion of those who came were, as the band famously put it, comfortably numb to his artistic intentions, and were simply there to be - in a rudimentary way - entertained.

    So maybe my sense of detachment from the group was just as they intended: and that rather than settle for a lifetime of unthinking enjoyment their approach to The Wall tour helped shake me into being uncomfortably sensitized to theirs and other people's art and pain. If that is what happened there, then I'm grateful. Then again, it could have just been the effect of drinking cheap lager in the afternoon.