Friday, February 26, 2010

Comfortably Numb (Wall album)

Comfortably Numb 6:23
     (written by Gilmour, Waters)

Hello (echoed)
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone at home?
Come on, now (echoed)
I hear you're feeling down
Well, I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again
Relax (echoed)
I'll need some information first
Just the basic facts
Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain, you are receding
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move, but I can't hear what you're saying
When I was a child, I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I've got that feeling once again
I can't explain, you would not understand
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb (2x)

Okay (echoed)
Just a little pinprick
There'll be no more (scream)
But you may feel a little sick
Can you stand up? (echoed)
I do believe it's working, good
That'll keep you going through the show
Come on, it's time to go

There is no pain, you are receding
A distant ship's smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move, but I can't hear what you're saying
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look, but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown, the dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb (2x)

And so it goes, the song that many consider the greatest Floyd ever, an almost perfect distillation of the style of progressive rock that they made famous: a melding of Dave's flowing guitar style and Roger's brilliantly insightful lyrics into a true musical apex. At this point in the narrative of the character Pink, the time has come when he is supposed to go on stage to do his show of the evening. When the crew discovers that he has totally withdrawn and doesn't seem to respond to any stimuli, a doctor is called in to inject Pink with a drug which gives some semblance of awareness — though the awareness is primarily of his own twisted version of reality, an hallucinatory scenario which ensues on side four. The echo of voices from the past swirl through Pink's struggling awareness, represented by a tape loop used just before the song begins.

Roger: "After Bring the Boys Back Home there is a short piece where a tape loop is used: the teacher's voice is heard again and you can feel the groupie saying 'are you feeling okay' and there's the operator saying, er, 'there's a man answering' and there's a new voice introduced at that point and there's somebody knocking on the door saying 'come on, it's time to go,' right, so the idea is that they are coming to take him to the show because he's got to go and perform that night, and they come into the room and they realize something is wrong, and they actually physically bring the doctor in."

The voice of the stage manager saying 'Time to go!' as he insistently knocks on the door is drawn from another real-life experience — that of Syd Barrett. The story behind it is excerpted below from Nicholas Schaffner's book. Pink Floyd was the second-billed act at the International Love-In concert event, midsummer 1967.

"As the Floyd's big moment approached, June Bolan remembers, Barrett was nowhere to be seen. She finally located him in a dressing room, 'absolutely gaga, just totally switched off, sitting rigid like a stone.' She tried to shake him out of his trance while the other Floyds changed into their stage gear — which was unnecessary in Barrett's case, because he was already so flamboyantly attired. 'Syd!' she cried. 'It's June! Look at me!' His blank stare registered not a flicker of recognition. As the milling audience grew restless, the stage manager kept knocking with his increasingly urgent summons: "Time to go! Time to go!' 'And we're trying to get Syd up,' June recalls, 'and get him together to go and play. He couldn't speak; he was absolutely catatonic. Roger and I hoofed him onto the stage, and en route put his guitar around his neck, and stood him in front of the vocal mike... [Syd] just stood there, tripping out of his mind.'" [Schaffner 86]

The first and third verses, sung by Roger, represent the voice of the doctor attempting to bring Pink back to reality. The second and fourth verses, sung by Dave, are the voice/thoughts of Pink. The latter are some of Roger's most interesting lyrics. They have the psychedelic feel of the thoughts of a man teetering on the brink of madness, tortured by the feeling that none of the people around him, past and present, really understand his true nature. The beautiful and poignant lyrics in the fourth verse hint at the idea that there was a moment, buried in the past, when Pink/Roger almost grasped the true meaning of things — that a Big Picture which made sense brushed at the edge of his awareness, like a half-forgotten haunting melody or the fluttering of a moth's wings. But alas, something so sublime and ineffable could not be captured and held by the mere intellect, and feeling was soon just a memory. The desperate sadness of letting that go and being faced with the mundane and meaningless reality of going on stage for yet another show is almost too much to bear for Pink, and words give way to a guitar solo from Dave, as fully fraught with emotion and meaning as the lyrics which precede it.

During the stage show, this solo was performed on a hydraulic lift, which raised Gilmour to the top of the wall, where the backlit image created a giant shadow which bled over an enthralled audience.

Dave Gilmour: "Both solos on Comfortably Numb are pretty good." [Guitar Jan 1985]

Most of the music for Comfortably Numb was written by Dave at the conclusion of the sessions for his 1978 self-titled solo album. Written too late for inclusion on the album, the melody was later revived for The Wall and rewritten with input from Roger, who of course also wrote all the lyrics.

Disc One
In the Flesh?
Thin Ice, The
Another Brick in the Wall part 1
Happiest Days of Our Lives, The
Another Brick in the Wall part 2
Goodbye Blue Sky
Empty Spaces
Young Lust
One of My Turns
Don't Leave Me Now
Another Brick in the Wall part 3
Goodbye Cruel World
Disc Two
Hey You
Is There Anybody Out There?
Nobody Home
Bring the Boys Back Home
Comfortably Numb
Show Must Go On, The
In the Flesh
Run Like Hell
Waiting for the Worms
Trial, The
Outside the Wall

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