The sound was compellingly familiar although it had been years since I’d heard it. We were visiting the Quakertown farmer’s market for the first time—this weekend event is widely advertised and we were curious. Part fresh produce, but mostly flea market, it was a tribute to my generation. You could find stuff from my childhood years here, making it a species of time travel. We stepped out of the car on a gray morning when I heard it. I was drawn to it. I’m at the age where I recognize things before I can name them. “Where are you going?” my wife asked. “Toward Pink Floyd,” I replied. Music has a way of doing that to you. It took another minute for me to place the song. It was from the album The Wall.
After we returned home I had to hear it again, uninterrupted by the distractions of a flea market to new home owners. It was a frightening experience in the age of Trump. Although they’d never been my favorite band, I had a long history with Pink Floyd. My older brother used to listen to them, and when I was working as a church intern (yes, there is such a thing) while in college, the kids in a family I was staying with took me to see The Wall on laser disc—an affluent family in the neighborhood had just bought a player, and I was curious both about the technology and the film. The Wall is one of those concept albums that requires attention—you kind of need to listen to the whole thing. The accusations against those who are different being sent “up against the wall” chilled me with thoughts of Trump and American fascism. I can only listen to the album within prescribed headspace.
Even those who’ve never been sent to boarding school can imagine how it lends itself to abuses and horror. At Nashotah House the album was almost as frequently cited as Hotel California. When the religious isolate themselves odd things begin to happen. On one of the occasions when I was left home alone in our New Jersey apartment, I pulled out my DVD of The Wall and began to watch it. As the years melted away, I suddenly felt young and intensely vulnerable. The visuals, like a little pin-prick, were jabbing at nerves a little too close to the surface. I had to turn it off and watch a horror film instead. It’s even scarier to listen to the album when democracy has failed its constituents. The wall, after all, is a most protean of metaphors.