Roger Waters' ''Wall''
You couldn’t go anywhere in Berlin on July 21 without bumping into The Wall. No, not that Wall. The good old ”Antifascist Protection Barrier” has been chipped, hammered, hacked, spindled, mutilated, and bulldozed into history, leaving only bare earth and the spy novels of Len Deighton and John LeCarré to mark its passage. I mean Pink Floyd’s The Wall, the 1979 concept album and rock opera that was staged live in America and Europe in 1980-81, and made into a movie the next year by British director Alan Parker. From the Kurfürstendamm in the west to the Friedrichstrasse rail station in the east, Berlin was crawling with hordes of backpacking young people sporting The Wall T-shirts, caps, and assorted promotional paraphernalia that mixed hope and hype. And all because, for one night only, former Floyd leader Roger Waters was staging an $8-million revival of his show that was billed as the biggest rock concert in history.
On this hot Saturday afternoon, Potsdamer Platz, for 28 years a bleak no- man’s-land knoon as the Death Strip that separated the two Berlins, was transformed into a 35-acre German Woodstock. All morning, a crowd estimated at more than 200,000 had gathered outside the temporary wire fences, and at 2:30 p.m. the gates opened and people started thronging in. Quickly, they formed a mass that stretched from the old Wilhelmstrasse across the square to the Berlin Philharmonic’s concert hall, the Philharmonie. The weather was hot (at least 300 people passed out from the heat), but the scene was cool: very little fighting (30 arrests for scuffling with the police), no drug busts, and just 20 people taken to the hospital, overwhelmed by the crush.
The warm-up acts began at 5 p.m.: the Hooters, three members of the Band (Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Levon Helm), and the Chieftains, joined by Irish-born James Galway, former principal flutist of the Berlin Philharmonic. Chieftains’ piper Paddy Moloney had lost none of his irrepressible way with the Irish pipes, but overall the set (”Drowsy Maggie,” the inevitable ”Danny Boy”) proved that traditional Irish music is better heard in the cozy confines of a traditional Irish pub than before a quarter of a million people, most of whom can’t wait for the next act to come onstage.
And what a stage: More than 550 feet long and 82 feet high, constructed of 130 tons of steel scaffolding, it took a month to build. During site excavations, workmen came across an SS bunker, on whose walls Nazi shock troops had painted murals depicting the coming Aryan triumph. They also found a 500-pound unexploded Soviet bomb, a cache of small arms and 128,000 rounds of ammunition, East German land mines, and live electrical wires that had to be defused and dismantled to make the place safe for humanity again.
All these fireworks were but a prologue to The Wall itself. For that opus, Waters had assembled the talents of Sinéad O’Connor, Cyndi Lauper, Marianne Faithfull, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Hall, Bryan Adams, Thomas Dolby, Albert Finney, Tim Curry, Paul Carrack, Van Morrison, the Band, the Scorpions, German chanteuse Ute Lemper, Galway, and Waters’ own Bleeding Heart Band — as well as such extras as the East Berlin Radio Symphony and Chorus, the Marching Band of the Combined Soviet Forces in Germany, and a group of Hell’s Angels. Conssicuously absent was Pink Floyd itself, from whom Waters parted acrimoniously in 1983.
The show’s staging lived up to its spectacular billing, even if Waters’ passion play — about the tough life and times of a rock star named Pink Floyd — is a musically indifferent and dramatically weak revenge fantasy against the Mother (played by Faithfull) and the Teacher (Dolby). And while the superstar cast looked impressive on paper, many of the members didn’t have much to do. In the Trial sequence near the end, when Pink faces his nemeses and breaks down the wall he has erected around himself, the talents of Finney and Curry went to waste, and Lemper, as the Wife, was made to look and sound like a Medusa.
Elsewhere, Lauper, who sang ”Another Brick in the Wall-Part 2,” was a motley, prancing nonentity — without her wrestlers, her act is pretty thin; Mitchell sang ”Goodbye Blue Sky” in what was for her a restrained manner; and Jerry Hall was a triumph of typecasting as an airheaded rock groupie. The best bits were Sinéad O’Connor’s ferocious delivery of the bitter ”Mother” (”Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb/Mother do you think they’ll like the song”) — she made the doggerel come to snarling, vicious life — and Morrison’s seen-it-all, done-it-all performance of ”Comfortably Numb.” Also noteworthy was the guitar work of the Bleeding Hearts’ Rick DeFonzo and Snowy White. Waters himself, as Pink, was a strangely passive performer — perhaps because Pink is a petulant, passive character.
Still, you had to admire Waters’ vision, energy, commitment, and sheer ability to get things done. The show had one brilliant scenic stroke after another. Helicopters buzzed the crowd and searchlights stabbed the sky. Fireworks exploded. During the show, gigantic inflatable puppets of two of the characters, the Teacher and the Pig, designed by British cartoonist Gerald Scarfe (who also contributed some short animated films), were hoisted aloft by cranes. The eponymous wall itself was made of 2,500 white styrofoam bricks, each one nearly 5 feet long, 2 1/2 feet high, and weighing almost 20 pounds. At the end of the piece, the barrier came crashing down in a satisfying Götterdámmerung: not with a whimper, like the sections of the real Berlin Wall that are still being carted away elsewhere in the city, but with a bang.
Broadcast live around the world to an estimated billion people (but not in the U.S., where broadcast plans are still uncertain, although a live double album will be released Aug. 27), the concert was the kickoff fund-raising event for the new Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief, the brainchild of the 72- year-old RAF combat pilot Leonard Cheshire. His goal is to raise 5 British Pounds (about $9) for every life lost in the century’s wars-roughly 100 million people. The interest from the fund (the capital is to remain untouched) will be used for disaster relief around the world. Mounted with funds from the European Tourism Board and fees from radio and TV syndication, the concert raised an estimated $5-6 million through ticket sales (at $35 each) and merchandising.
The day after the show, the curious were poking through the concert debris. A few tents were still pitched, harboring sleeping hippies. Some youths sat by the side of the road, dazed from their exertions of the night before when, after the concert, Berlin was one big party town. A young boy with a shopping cart happily wheeled away a souvenir: one of the styrofoam bricks, nearly as big as he was. A lifetime ago, the Woodstock Generation thought it could change the world with a flower and a three-chord song, a dream that died in a hail of bullets in Vietnam and Kent State and Memphis and Los Angeles. Now, 21 years later, their sons and daughters had gathered, 200,000 strong, and by their presence made the eloquent point that maybe the Woodstockers were right all along.