Pink Floyd's "The Wall"
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
One gets used to anything, but nevertheless the music of youngsters in modern Western society is the alarm-bell ringing off the wall. In case any readers are comfortably asleep, let them be rudely awoken by a few moments' study of a classic "Rock" album, so that in this month of the Holy Family we can think of what Catholic parents should do.
The rock album in question, Pink Floyd's The Wall appeared in 1979. It made quite a stir at the time, even achieving a kind of cult status. The Pink Floyd group is still well-known, making concert tours nearly 20 years later, and numbers from The Wall are still played regularly on Rock radio. So The Wall has achieved classic status amongst thirty years' worth of Rock albums.
What interests us here is the words of the album, which are made available with the Compact Discs. As for the music, it seems to me not wild, although it breaks into a heavy beat at regular intervals. Above all, it serves the words well, which is what one would expect from a "classic" – these musicians have a message, and their music gets it over. As with – from the sublime to the ridiculous – plainchant, polyphony, Wagner or Frank Sinatra, the words inspire the music and the music weds the words.
That is why, even if it were true that most fans of Pink Floyd (or of Rock in general) listen to the music without caring for the words – I do not believe it is true, but even if it were – still the words are of central importance, because they are what inspired the music that gets to these youngsters. Tell me what music you like, I will tell you who you are. Tell me the words set, I will tell you the music setting.
Nor may adults excuse themselves from taking seriously the words of, for instance Pink Floyd, on the grounds that these musicians merely make the kind of music that makes lots of money. Of course Rock can make its stars into millionaires, but money is never the ultimate explanation, the question being merely pushed one stage further back -why does this kind of music and not that kind make so much money? Answer, because it is "hitting the spot", it is filling a need.
Nor may adults dodge the accusation that Rock flings in their face, by saying that skilful managers like Brian Epstein of the Beatles see an opportunity to exploit, and merely create the kind of music to exploit it. For indeed musicians are creators, and all down history they have created new kinds of music. But they do not create in a vacuum. What they create is to a considerable extent shaped by what they sense in their audience. Brian Epstein did not create the Beatles out of whole cloth, but out of the vibrations he was picking up from British youth in the early 1960's, and it is because he read the vibrations correctly that the Beatles achieved such fame and wealth.
No. If Pink Floyd also achieved fame and wealth, then Western adults, if they care at all for their youth, must pay attention to the message. Surely the message is, precisely, that the adults do not care! "Rock music is one long, unheard, scream for help", readers of this letter were told last June. Let us take a look. We were unable to obtain in time copyright permission to reprint the lyrics of the 27 songs making up The Wall, but here is the message of the first 14 songs, which form like a sequence. (The remaining 13 songs are in similar vein.)
(1)The artist tells us he has cold eyes which are part of a disguise. He is obviously at war with the world. (2) Sure enough, modern life may look good, but it is as cold and deadly as thin ice. (3) The artist's father disappeared early from his life, leaving only a snapshot behind. (4) The artist's school-teachers were cowardly sadists. (5) His school education was a waste of time (famous lines – "We don't need no education, Teachers, leave the kids alone"). (6) He turns to his mother, who promises to comfort him, but as far as he is concerned, her mothering him means her smothering him. (7) The politicians promised a brave new world, but they lied. There is no blue sky. (8) As fear the activities with which most people seek to fill their empty lives, they are a restless waste of time. (9) The artists seeks refuge with any "cold woman" in the "desert land", but in fact (10) the woman he is with means nothing to him. (11) Yet he longs for his girl-friend, but she is running away because, as he freely admits, he only wants her there in order to be cruel to her. (12, 13) In brief, all people around are nothing but bricks in the meaningless build-up of the wall of modern life which alienates and divides people from one another. Conclusion – (14) – this life is good for nothing but to be departed from, a song which has inspired God knows how many young people to take their own lives ("Good-bye, cruel world").
Adults! Wake up! In Western society suicide has become a leading cause of death amongst youngsters – what do you think that means? That we have a wonderful way of life that in all history no civilization on earth has equaled? What is unequaled in all history is so many youngsters singing and dreaming of suicide! Youngsters!! Suicide!! Adults!! Wake up!! They are crying out!! You have got something desperately wrong!!
Understand me rightly. I am not saying that the musicians who make up the group Pink Floyd are saints, nor that youngsters who revel in Pink Floyd are faultless while all the fault is on the side of the adults. As a colleague commented, the revolt behind these songs has something satanic about it, for instance when it sees no more in mothering than with smothering (6). No doubt, if these musicians and youngsters think they are only being sinned against and not sinning, they are under a youthful illusion.
But, again, for oldsters to dismiss their revolt as a mere passing stage which they need to grow into and grow out of as part of modern life, is a serious error which the oldsters will pay for, for instance by being euthanized. The revolt against everybody and everything that is expressed by Pink Floyd is so against nature and so unhappy (e.g. 11) that one cannot believe such a mass of youngsters as make stars of Pink Floyd would choose it as a way of life if they had the choice. But the Western materialism inspiring this revolt was chosen for them, by generations and generations of adults that went before them, who, as they grew up, settled for the satisfactions of age-old pride and sensuality made increasingly available by that materialism.
And no doubt it is true that many Pink Floyders in turn will settle for these ever more available satisfactions (say, coach tours of the North Pole in luxury-heated buses). But woe to them if they do! Nature will not be defeated in this rising war against her. She will take a terrible revenge. She is already taking it, in the suicide rate of the young, but worse is to come. The young are right to protest. There is much more involved in Pink Floyd than just juvenile revolt. Thank Heaven the young are protesting! Their protest is a call from our common human nature which we are violating. Our way of life is rotten. There is a precious spark that is extinguished each time a youngster gives up protesting and joins in building The Wall, or, as Augustine would have said it, helps raise the city of Mammon against God.
Then what do Catholic parents and adults do? First and foremost, render unto God what is God's. Treating God as though He is of no importance is the heart and soul of the problem. Parents, adore God, love God, give the example of practicing the one true religion of the one true God, with all your mind and with all your heart, in the home. Make the presence of God there as natural to souls as oxygen is to the bodies. Pray the family Rosary, with father kneeling in front, or doing whatever he needs to do to be seen leading his family towards God.
Secondly, parents, concern yourselves with your children. They are your real wealth. God bless you for not having contraceived them or aborted them. But when they are born, your glorious responsibilities are only just starting. Today's world teaches you well how to look after their bodies, but you must take at least as much care of their souls. From the earliest age teach them to pray, teach them to control themselves, to think of Jesus, to make sacrifices, to think of others, to respect and obey you, their parents. They are not in any way your equals.
Love them, but discipline them. Never discipline without love, but also never love without discipline. Give them always good example. They will watch what you do much more than they will listen to what you say. Give them your time. They are more important than your bank- accounts. One soul, one world, one eternity. Give time especially to adolescents, who are today desperate for adult counsel, guidance, advice. Adults have lost the art of listening to them! That is why they turn to one another and to the Pied Pipers of Rock. And the Grim Reaper reaps a grim harvest!
Give to your children at all ages instruction. You are their elders. You do know better. Teach them not only their Catholic Faith, but also life. The natural is carrier of the supernatural. No carrier, no carried. Children have to grow up for this world as well as for the next. Teach them a Faith for living and living in the Faith, not some cultish sentimentality which they will toss out the moment they meet the real world. Teach boys hand-skills, teach girls hand-crafts, because "The devil finds work for idle hands". Let children not just eat and go to Mass. Keep their minds and hearts occupied all day with good things, according to their varied talents, so that the Devil will never find a vacuum waiting to be filled by him.
Lastly, keep television and the computer to a minimum in the home. The problem is not primarily the filth so easily available on each of these machines, serious though that is, and more than enough reason to ban both. The real problem is that machines cannot teach people to be people. Only living souls can form living souls. Better, for a child, a live reading than a dead video, as such. Better, to learn life, a live farmyard than a dead cupboard of Nintendo games. The subject needs a letter of its own.
And let us men be men, as You meant us to be, let the dear women be women and let children be children, throughout the New Year, and our nature will be in that much better posture to carry Your sanctifying grace.
Sincerely yours in his Sacred Heart,
Bishop Richard Williamson