For a lot of people, myself included, “Comfortably Numb” is the greatest Pink Floyd song, and the focal point of “The Wall.” In a great many ways “Comfortably Numb” is a perfect Pink Floyd song, it is dark and atmospheric, it has a great guitar solo, it is part of a bigger story, the lyrics are deep and complex, did I mention it was dark and atmospheric, well it is that twice over and that is key to being a perfect Pink Floyd song.
A reoccurring theme in Pink Floyd music is drug use. Many, if not most, if not all, of Pink Floyd’s music is or has psychedelic elements through out. “Comfortably Numb” is balance of things, the literal and the metaphorical. It is literally about slipping deeper and deeper into your mind because of excessive drug use. In the movie “The Wall” the character Pink is dying of a drug overdose during “Comfortably Numb.” It is likely a safe bet that Roger Waters and the rest of Pink Floyd experimented with drugs a lot. But a major reason we see this return, over and over again, to the dark side of drug use, and self destruction, is because of founding member Syd Barret doing just that. It is highly appropriate that a fictional character named after the band would suffer, severely, from over use of drugs.
Another reoccurring theme in Pink Floyd’s music is the metaphorical side of “Comfortably Numb.” We do not need drugs as a conduit to the dissidence described in “Comfortably Numb,” no, delusion would perhaps better serve us in understanding this song. There is a lot of disillusionment in the music of Pink Floyd as there was in their lives. Things never went as planned for Waters and the team, and with that a lot of misery made up their music. “The Wall” is about a lot of things, but suffering is a major element within. “Comfortably Numb” is the breaking point.
“Comfortably Numb” maybe, and in fact is, the best song off of “The Wall.” However, it’s presence on the second half of the album is not the sole reason I love that half so much, I love every song surrounding “Comfortably Numb” starting from “Hey You” right to the end with “Outside the Wall.”
That is the thing about the wall, it is twenty-six songs ranging from very good to the greatest music ever; as a consequence, any song, or combination there of, would be a fine choice for one of my amateur reviews. The obvious attack points were the two most famous songs “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” which I discussed last time, and now “Comfortable Numb,” but to some extent this review is a vehicle to discuss two lesser know songs that come just before “Comfortably Numb.” A pair of songs that flow together as seamlessly as “The Happiest Days of our Lives” and “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2,” that is “Vera” and “Bring the Boys Back Home.”
“Does anybody remember Vera Lynn?”
As a matter of fact, I do not Mr. Waters. Thankfully I live in the age where all human knowledge is at my finger tips.
Vera Lynn was a popular singer in the 1940s. She had a popular song at that time called “We’ll Meet Again.” Waters invokes this reference for a few reasons. First it is a deliberate attempt to draw the listener to the feelings of hope many shared regarding their loved ones combating in the second world war, the exact message Vera Lynn expresses in “We’ll Meet Again.” Does anyone remember that feeling of hope? Meanwhile the narrative of “The Wall’s” story is bleaker, the character Pink’s father does not come home, and he will not meet him again. Just like the real-life Roger Waters whose father went off and died, never to come home again fighting in that same war.
The second angle of approach for “Vera” is symbolic, and metaphoric, because of course it is, this is a Pink Floyd song.
Does anyone remember Vera Lynn? Most of the listeners of Pink Floyd and “The Wall” likely have no clue who that is. I had forgotten altogether until about a month ago when I was refreshing my memory about this album and song. It is insanely easy for modern listeners to relate to Wates and his fictional avatar Pink Floyd, most of us cannot recall who Vera Lynn is, or what that dark hope wishing and waiting for loved ones to return home feels like. We cannot relate to the common mood, so we too feel isolated and singled out for unique, and in this case cruel, treatment.
“Does anybody else in here feel the way I do?”
The story, as it unfolds, is meant to be taken that few, if any, do feel the way Pink Floyd, the character, does. This is particularly ironic because everyone who listens to “Vera” does feel the way Roger Waters does. We all feel the way he does because he has so perfectly captured this sad emotion of loss that no one can escape feeling the way he does.
It is perfect art really.
Which leads us to “Bring the Boys Back Home.”
Bring the Boys Back Home:
“Bring the boys back home.
Bring the boys back home.
Don't leave the children on their own, no, no.
Bring the boys back home.”
That’s it. That’s all the words we get. Waters comes from the school of thought of less is more, which may sound strange since we are discussing a double album with twenty-six songs, but Waters knows to hit us with small but powerful pieces through out, not over explaining or rambling on with repetitive choruses or wasteful filler. “Bring the Boys Back Home” enters the stage and exists after unleashing a devastative message, the joy of others is additional pain to the self.
In “The Wall” the movie “Bring the Boys Back Home” presents the young version of the character Pink Floyd as being bombarded by the mirthful celebration of a mob all of whom are reunited with loved ones returning from the war, while the boy, Pink, stares helpless at them lost in his loss, arrested by his grief, unable to do anything but watch in uncomfortable contempt while all the happy people unintentionally, but unavoidably, mock his pain.
It is another short but perfect song, that strikes the heart strings and leaves us numb.
Which perfectly leads us to “Comfortably Numb.”
Of all the many reasons discussed above we can safely conclude that “Comfortably Numb” is akin to perfection to songs like “Stairway to Heaven” or “Lady in Black,” but in addition to these many powerful points, “Comfortably Numb” has the benefit of being introduced at the perfect time, in the perfect place, in a perfect album. It is almost unreal how amazing “Comfortably Numb” is when taken into it’s full context. After battering the listener with dark tales and numerous cruel misgivings of plain ordinary human suffering, Waters gives us a song that breaks the mood and the story. He gives us a song about absorbing all that pain and no longer being meaningfully effected by it. Waters sings about letting go and transforming into something else, a duel identity puzzling whether or not there is anybody out there, both in the real world but also in the inner self.
In the story “The Wall” what is birthed from “Comfortably Numb” is a twisted reflection of the worst of human nature. The dark side takes control and the character Pink Floyd takes a very dark turn. This of course leads us to our terrible climax of the tale, but that must be address next time where we take a big picture analysis of “The Wall.”
“Comfortably Numb” on its own is majestic, but when grouped with it’s sister songs we see something so much more. A perfect song, placed perfectly, in a perfectly album. It is a workmanship of songcraft the world has ever rarely seen, and even fewer have ever dared to dream of such an fantastic artistic creation.
King of Braves