In 1994, I was 18 and really into Pink Floyd. Meddle, Animals, Wish You Were Here, The Wall—I loved them all. Their songs were elegant, harmonic distillations of my disgust with the world.
Everyone was wrong. Everyone was a brick in the wall. No one knew why they were living. They went to work, ate, drank, married, reproduced because they had been told to do so by the machine. I had integrity (or at least as much integrity as someone can have while his parents pay rent and stock the refrigerator). I would never be another brick in the wall. No one would welcome me into any machine.
When I heard about their concert at Mile High Stadium in June, I made sure I had a ticket. It would be the summer’s climax.
The day of the concert was a typically beautiful Colorado summer day—dry heat, sun with a little cloud-cover, a late afternoon sprinkle to cool things off. Before heading down from Boulder, my friends and I ate some mushrooms. To ensure the full experience of Pink Floyd’s insouciance, I ate a quarter ounce.
I had never been to a stadium show. It didn’t seem like the best place to experience a concert, but I had faith in the Floyd to maintain their integrity. Tickets were $80 after all. How could an $80 show be bad?
My friends and I tailgated before the show, bringing a keg of beer to ease us into our mushroom trips. Everything was going great until I entered the stadium. The large spaces, the massive crowds of very brick-like characters, the hawking of t-shirts, the concession stands selling overpriced Coors and cheese-whizzed nachos. I became immediately disturbed. Then I found my seat. It was on the first level, in the last row next to the exit. Because the seat was deep under the first balcony, I had only a partial view of stage (apparently a large inflated pig came out of the top of the stage, but I didn’t see anything). Florescent lights flickered overhead. I couldn’t smoke weed because cops stood next to me throughout the show.
I tried to go to another seat but was asked to show my ticket at the multiple security checkpoints along the aisles. Because I was tripping, I lacked the wherewithal to concoct a story about why my real seat was not the one on my ticket.
What little I heard of the the performance felt rote. Each song sounded like a facsimile of the album’s version with the overlaying of female backup singers that characterizes late-era Pink Floyd. The tour should have been called the “bilk our fan tour.”
I sat there tripping, flanked by cops, under florescent lighting, pissed off at having spent $80, listening to an imitation of former glory, thinking one thing: I am just another brick in the wall.
I could never listen to Pink Floyd again.
In many ways, my views haven’t shifted much in the 17 years since that concert. I still believe that most people are bricks in the wall. I still believe that most people don’t think about why they do stuff (why else would women wear riding boots everywhere?). That they take on values because they have been led to believe they are valuable by their families, their religions, the media and other external sources.
The big difference is that when I was 18, I thought I was different than “people.” I held the mistaken belief that my actions were my own. I thought I chose what I chose because it was what I wanted—that my choices were free from my family, my history, my environment, commercial interests and so forth. I think the Pink Floyd concert was a turning point. I saw how nicely I could fit into a wall. I’ve been much slower to judge since then. Offered a few million dollars, I might do the same thing Pink Floyd did that summer.
While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being a brick in the wall, it is a limiting way to live (walled-bricks can’t move). A brick in a wall has to look to others for answers. It can’t be upsetting or unusual. It has to make sure that its actions don’t compromise the integrity of the wall.
If you suspect that you are a brick in the wall and are interested in removing yourself, here are some things to ponder:
- What questions about my life have I let others answer? Whether it’s work, relationships, or our life’s purpose, most us accept externally-sourced answers about how to live our lives rather than arriving at our own ones.
- How might you answer the questions from #1 if you were free to choose for yourself? Being free from the constraints of your socioeconomic situation, your education, your religion, your ethnicity, your identity, how would you live your life? For example, what would you do for a living if you weren’t worried about how it’d make you look? Who would you date? Etc.
- Name 3 things you’d do if you weren’t worried about compromising the integrity of the wall? These are usually things we don’t do because they would make us look “weird” or different from everyone we know.
- Do one of the things from #3 now. While it might be hard to instantaneously remove ourselves from the wall, we can start chiseling.