The Wall White Stout
Is there anybody out there?
One of the best concerts I have ever been to was seeing Roger Waters perform The Wall live in it’s entirety. It was fashioned after the old Pink Floyd shows, with the building of the wall between the band and the audience during the first half, before ultimately blasting it apart during the end of “The Trial.” At the end of the show, Waters addressed the audience, saying that when he wrote the album he was so filled with rage, but today was only filled with love for the audience. I suppose that’s what happens with about 35 years of reflection. But the rage that Waters did feel was profound. During the band’s “In the Flesh” tour of 1977 after the release of Animals, Rogers felt such antipathy for the audience that he would imagine there was an actual wall between himself and the crowd. Supposedly, much of his anger originated from the fact that members of the audience would not stop screaming during the band’s softer and more quiet songs. During the last show of the tour, Rogers spat in the face of an audience member, which would end up being the turning point for Rogers mentally, and would also be the genesis for the idea behind The Wall. Rogers had written about isolation before, with parts of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here touching on this. But The Wall would take those touches and expand on it. Rogers, at this point, was aware of how fame had changed him, and he wasn’t particularly happy with the results.
As far as the album in general, the singing in The Wall is much more theatrical than their previous works and the songs are more “radio friendly”, with the longest song being the 6:22 long “Comfortably Numb”. The album contains 26 tracks, more than their previous three albums combined. It is probably the best known “rock opera” of all time, selling over 23 million copies, which supposedly makes it the third best selling certified album in US history.
The character of Pink in The Wall is partially autobiographical, and is also modeled partially after Syd Barrett. The Wall opens with the song “In the Flesh?”, a not so subtle nod to the tour that started the whole thing. The sound of Floyd at this point is very different from everything they had done up to that point, especially the previous release, Animals. Rogers immediately addresses this with “Tell me is something eluding you, sunshine? Is this not what you expected to see?” Pink is trying hard not to show any human emotion, but deep down inside, he is tormented, sensitive and longing for love. He addresses this with the next line: “If you wanna find out what’s behind these cold eyes/You’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise.” The song ends with a dive-bomber sound effect and a baby crying to start the next song, symbolizing that Pink’s father had been killed in war. That part is most definitely about Waters, whose father was killed in WW2. The story starts assembling the “bricks in the wall” that lead to Pink’s isolationism. “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)” is about Pink learning of his father’s death and beginning the construction of the wall around him. The plot moves on to Pink’s experiences in the school system, with teachers and administrators being cruel and abusive toward the children, as expressed in “The Happiest Days of Our Lives.” It moves on to a daydream of Pink’s where the children stand up to the teachers in “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”. Side one finishes with the tale of Pink’s overprotective mother and how she helped build the wall on “Mother.”
The second side starts with “Goodbye Blue Sky”, which laments the actions of Nazi Germany during the 2nd World War, which is presumably when Pink’s father was killed. It moves on to “Empty Spaces” which reveals Pink’s marriage is crumbling, in part because of his wall. Next comes “Young Lust” in which we learn Pink has been unfaithful in his marriage and is having sex with groupies. “Ooooh, I need a dirty woman. Ooooh, I need a dirty girl. Will some cold woman in this desert land/Make me feel like a real man?” At the end of the song, he tries to reconcile with his wife on the telephone, perhaps out of guilt, and places a collect call. However, a man picks up the phone both times the operator tries the number and promptly hangs up. “Oh, He hung up! That’s your residence, right? I wonder why he hung up? Is there supposed to be someone else there besides your wife there to answer?” says the operator. This ultimately is the final straw for Pink before he completely loses it. The next song, “One of My Turns”, has Pink inviting a groupie up to his room, but he’s so upset about his wife’s affair, he ignores her in favor of the TV. Finally, he snaps, trashes the room and the groupie runs away. When he realizes what he’s done, his emotions peek from behind the wall and he wonders “Why are you running away?” Is he talking about the groupie or his wife? The next song, “Don’t Leave Me Now” shows Pink’s feelings of abandonment, most notably by his wife. However, he doesn’t have enough empathy to realize that he was the one who drove her away with his wall, infidelity and lack of communication. After this brief stint of self-pity, he declares “I don’t need no arms around me” in “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 3)”. He decides to finish the wall and completely close himself off emotionally from society. He completes the wall on the final song of side 2 in “Goodbye Cruel World” with the words: “Goodbye, all you people, There’s nothing you can say to make me change my mind. Goodbye.” And with that last word, the music promptly ends.
Side three opens with “Hey You”, where Pink is starting to realize the mistake of completing the wall, but realizes his efforts to escape are fruitless as he’s alienated all the people in his life. The line “Hey you, would you help me to carry the stone?” could be a reference to “Dogs” on their previous album, Animals, where the businessman with no empathy for others is dragged down by “the stone” at the end of his life. His attempts to reach anyone on the other side of the wall are chronicled in “Is There Anybody Out There?”, to which there is no reply. “Nobody Home” discusses Pink’s loneliness behind his self-imposed all, and exposes his growing regret about the building of the wall. I love the line “Got thirteen channels of shit on the T.V. to choose from.” We may have hundreds of channels to choose from now, but sometimes the feeling is very much the same. The next two short songs, “Vera” and “Bring the Boys Back Home”, are references to Pink’s father, further diving into Pink’s psyche at this moment in time. When I saw Waters perform this live, Waters left no doubt that “Bring the Boys Back Home” was an anti-war song when this quote from Dwight Eisenhower appeared on the fully constructed wall: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” Pink becomes extremely depressed. The final song of side three is one of Floyd’s most famous and contains what is considered to be one of the best guitar solos of all time. “Comfortably Numb” finds Pink unconscious in his hotel, presumably from an overdose, while a Dr. Feelgood asks him questions and tries to get him ready to perform on stage. The song is also a comparison to a sickness Pink had as a child and the emptiness he has now. Pink is ultimately injected with a wonder drug that makes him hallucinate.
The fourth and final side opens with “Show Must Go On” as Pink is still going through the start of his hallucinations, asking himself if it’s too late and if he’ll still remember the words. It segues into “In the Flesh”, which you’ll notice no longer has the question mark. This is an obvious reference to Waters and how he viewed himself during the aforementioned tour of ‘77. The exact events that occur are up to interpretation. In one view, Pink is alert due to his injection, but because of his hallucinations, he imagines himself a fascist dictator and he starts deeming some of the crowd unworthy of being at the performance (similar to Waters wanting to place a wall between himself and the audience and spitting on one of them). Another view is that Pink is not at the show at all and merely imagines it (taken from the verse “Pink isn’t well, he stayed back at the hotel”). One could also say that is Pink there, despite saying he’s not, essentially showing the change that the wall has had on him and he’s no longer the man he used to be. “Run Like Hell” continues this fantasy of Pink’s, where he is directing members of his crew and obedient members of the audience to continue to kick out the undesirables. “Waiting for the Worms” is the height of Pink’s hallucinations and bigotry and he is shouting through a megaphone like he’s at a fascist political rally. He also realizes, in some capacity, that he has completely lost it with the lyrics “Ooooh, you cannot reach me now/Ooooh, no matter how you try/Goodbye, cruel world, it’s over/Walk on by.” The song ends with an abrupt halt, and the song “Stop” begins, where Pink comes out of his hallucination and wants to get rid of the wall. This is another instance where it can be open to interpretation. Was Pink really doing these heinous things in real life and couldn’t control himself because of the drugs, or was the whole experience just one big drug overdose that opened a door into his mind and he didn’t like what he found? The movie doesn’t provide much clarity, as we find Pink in a bathroom stall. Was he tripping the whole time and this was where he came to, or is this where he mournfully realized the error of his ways? Either way, Pink realizes the wall must come down with “Because I have to know. Have I been guilty all this time?” The next song, “The Trial”, begins, and Pink is confronted with three members of his past, his schoolmaster (the inflatable version of which was hanging from the ceiling of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland when I visited with my wife in 2004), his wife and finally his mother. The song goes back in forth between those three testifying against him and Pink thinking out loud about the state of his sanity with “Crazy, Toys in the attic I am crazy.” The Judge rules Pink guilty of showing actual human feelings, which violate the principles of his wall, and declares “Tear down the wall!” which is then chanted repeatedly. This was obviously the climax of the concert with the entire audience chanting “Tear down the wall!” and the wall being blown apart.
The album ends with “Outside the Wall” where Pink is trying to reintegrate himself back into society. Although Rogers has declined to talk about the actual meaning of the song, there are a few main interpretations. One is that the story is a cautionary tale not to close yourself off from society and the people who care about you, a view that Rogers could state from experience. The lyrics “And when they’ve given you their all/Some stagger and fall, after all it’s not easy/Banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall” seem to support this. However, the album ends with the words “Isn’t this where….” and if you play the album on repeat, you’ll notice that “In the Flesh?” starts with the words “….we came in?” This leads some to believe that insanity is either destined to repeat itself, or that it is inevitable in some cases, and even if you cure one, more will follow. A third is that the whole thing was a dream of Pink’s, and the dream should be a cautionary tale before he decides to build the wall and that he should fix his life instead. Despite your personal interpretation, I think the unifying concept is that you shouldn’t isolate yourself from society and should get help if you feel too overburdened. I believe the autobiographical nature of The Wall has been cathartic to Waters over the years as it’s served as a reminder of some of his less proud past.
Because the album is very different from the rest of the Floyd catalog to this point (and very different from the other 3 albums I decided to highlight for this series), I wanted it to appear very different on a visual basis. It is by far the lightest colored beer we made, with an SRM of 8 (the next closest was for Dark Side of the Moon at 18). And although the album discusses very dark themes of abandonment, isolation, insanity and violence, it doesn’t come across as a totally dark album, especially when compared to Animals. Also, with the main theme of the album being Pink creating a wall around himself from society to hide, I wanted to make a beer that symbolized that action, of putting something around you while remaining who you are on the inside. After all, Pink did realize he couldn’t survive with the wall around him and had is torn down at the end. So I decided to make a pale beer with dark flavors, and chose to make a white stout.
The first white stout I had was a few years ago when I had Stochasticity Project Master Of Disguise by Stone Brewing. The name of the beer and the lyrics “If you wanna find out what’s behind these cold eyes/You’ll just have to claw your way through this disguise” were part of the inspiration that lead me to make this beer.
Aside from symbolizing the construction of the wall, I chose to do a white stout to also highlight the contradictions in Pink’s character. In “Mother”, he asks his mother a serious question of whether she thinks they’ll be bombed, followed by a trivial and selfish one of whether people will like the song. Later, he asks if he should run for President, then quickly asking if he should even trust the government. In “Young Lust”, we learn that Pink is unfaithful to his wife, but then goes off the handle when he learns that his wife is being unfaithful to him at the end of the song. In “One of My Turns,” Pink tries to numb himself after learning of his wife’s infidelity by inviting a groupie to his room, which he promptly ignores. He then scares her away before wailing “Why are you running away?” Pink then declares himself done with human contact immediately after crying about the lack thereof. I thought those instances fit into my vision as well.
Finally, I wanted to make a beer that would mess with people’s minds a bit, similar to the insanity that Pink felt at the end of the album. I’ve been told frequently in the past couple of days that the beer is a total “mind f**k”, so I’d say mission accomplished.
A quick note about the term “stout”. Originally, the term did not mean a dark beer, but just meant a strong beer, as evidenced from a document found in 1677. “Porter” was first used in 1721, and eventually the term “stout porter” was used to define the strongest of the porters. At some point, “porter” was dropped and just “stout” remained, and “stout” has referred to a stronger, dark ale ever since. Therefore, using the term “white stout” isn’t completely out of character, as it has some historical context to it. However, I am acutely aware that modern craft beer enthusiasts expect their stout to be dark, which plays into my “mind f**k” intention that I wrote about previously.
In order to get the flavors without the color, we removed all roasted malts from the grist. The base malt is Simpsons Golden Promise, with some Munich. A big part of a modern stout is the thicker mouthfeel, so I used a mixture of flaked oats and barley to constitute about 18% of the grist. I also added a small amount of smoked malt and light crystal to help support the darker flavors I’d add in later. After fermentation was complete, we aged the beer on cocoa nibs from Ecuador for about 2 weeks. After that, we racked the beer onto a blend of coffee beans and more cocoa nibs, this time from Ghana. We used 2 different types of cocoa nibs to symbolize the fact that The Wall is a double album, as well as to give a more complex chocolate flavor. We got the coffee beans from our friends across the street at Coda Coffee, and the coffee we chose was their Notorious blend. I ended up doing 3 cuppings with the fine folks at Coda, with help from my friend Nicol The Thirsty German (http://thirstygerman.com), before we found the exact flavor of coffee I was looking for. What is a cupping? Find out here. Here’s some pictures from our cuppings:
Some of the notes we wrote down about the Notorious blend from our cuppings were cinnamon, toasty, deeper cocoa, burnt crust, blueberry and flavor of the forest. Coda describes it as complex, caramel and milk chocolate on their website (http://codacoffee.com/notorious-espresso.html), and it is their standard espresso blend.
Visually, the beer is clear and golden, much like a Czech Pilsner, but aromas of roast, coffee and chocolate swarm out of the glass. The same are in the flavor, with additions of caramel, dark fruit and faint floral notes from the yeast (we used a dry English strain). The EKG hops we used mostly provide bitterness, but do provide very faint floral and earthy tones. You’ll notice that the bubbles move much slower to the top of the glass than our other beers, and this is mostly due to the large amount of flaked malt we used. The final stats are 6.8% abv, 35 IBU and 8 SRM.
As I’m reaching the end of this blog post, which is for the final beer in the Pink Floyd series, I’m becoming reflective about the whole series and am very proud of the four new beers we’ve been able to bring you. All four of them are distinctly different, not only from each other, but from anything we’ve made in the past. I have my personal favorite from the series, but I’ll keep that to myself, at least as far as the internet is concerned. You’ll have to have a pint with me at the brewery to get my answer. 🙂 But in this self-reflective period, I feel I’ve paid one of my favorite bands of all time appropriate homage, not only in the diversity of the product, and not only with the flavors, but with the spirit of each release as well. While supplies last, all four beers are currently on tap, and you can get a flight of all four. We’d love to hear what your ranking is, as well as your reasons. So don’t sit behind your own wall, come Hop On down to the brewery and share a pint with us. We can’t wait for you “To feel the warm thrill of confusion/That space cadet glow.” Hop On!