Sunday, April 1, 2007

When The Tigers Broke Free

Normally, I don't do this sort of thing, but someone sent me this on Craigslist, and I haven't been able to get it out of my head, so I decided to post about it since I haven't finished The Knife Thrower yet.

One thing I've always admired about Pink Floyd is their ability to make a whole statement with a song. Lots of songs sound like real chop jobs: one guy in the band has a melody, the other one has some lyrics, and they cram them together. The singsongy, 6/8 time of the vocal line plays up the fact that the story is told by a child. The snare drums and brass give it a militaristic feel, the choir and the slow timpani in the background give it the funereal aura. You can almost tell what the song will be about before the lyrics even start.

This song is from the movie The Wall, but it didn't make it on to the soundtrack for whatever reason. There has always been discussion and debate about exactly how much of the plot line of the film was inspired from life, but there's no question about this song. It's the verifiable tale of what happened to Roger Water's father, Eric Waters (and the rest of Royal Fusiliers Company C) at the Anzio (weird side note: spell check suggested maybe I meant "Nazi" here) bridgehead in Italy during WWII.

Even in 1979, when the song was written, the story of WWII was starting to take on a romantic, heroic glow. Yet Eric Waters died because of a foolish mistake, and the king for whom he died didn't even bother to sign his real signature to the scroll he sent the family, just a rubber stamp. Roger's mother hid all of Eric's effects in a drawer, rather than have to confront the facts of his death every day. And the death of a father he couldn't have remembered well haunted Roger that he wrote this song, probably a good 25 years after he found the drawer with the scroll, and you can still hear his resentment and grief in the last line of the song.

"When the Tigers Broke Free" isn't your typical Pink Floyd song. Most of Pink Floyd's lyrics are more metaphorical, and frequently employ bizarre, trippy imagery which sends your mind off on all kinds of tangents (probably why it's so often associated with drug users). This song is as straightforward as it gets, about as metaphorical as a coffee cup. Hell, he doesn't even put a simile in there. Yet, it still has the power to make you think, about the futility of war, the lies we tell ourselves about noble causes and heroic deaths, the coldness of those who send people to die in their wars, the effect it all has on those left behind. It's as if Monet had decided to paint a photo realistic painting, just to show he could. Or, to use a simile from our times, it's like when Michael Jordan decided to play baseball too, if he'd been any good at it.

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