Within seconds of being led to our seats, the stadium erupted into cheers as Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters walked onto the stage. As I found my seat in the first row, the loud cracking sounds of fireworks rocked the stage from side to side, and the heat and intense brightness forced me to shield my face with my hands. It looked like the stage had exploded. The legendary rock star took center stage and raised both arms in the air and the crowd again burst into cheers and screams. It was an incredible feeling to be part of this energy.
The lights dimmed as Waters was handed his bass guitar. Suddenly, from the gigantic speakers, the ominous sound of helicopters emerged, their deafening rotor blades vibrating through the crowd, so realistic, as if hovering right above us, casting bright, menacing searchlights upon the audience. In the background a telephone started ringing, and ringing, hopelessly. The crowd roared as the familiar guitar rift began, and became the opening song for the night, their most famous, Another Brick in The Wall.
Naturally, I went back in time to when I was 16 years old when the song was first released. As children appeared on the stage for the chorus, I found myself, fist clenched and held high, singing as loudly as I could:
We don’t need no education,
We don’t need no thought control,
No dark sarcasm in the classroom,
Teacher, leave them kids alone…
Of course, the song took me back to some of my dark and desperate boarding school years in England, from the ages of 11 to 17 years old. Back then the song was like an anthem to me. I was attending a boarding school that was void of anything that was love and kindness. I was 7,500 miles away from my home and family in Malaysia. In those days, we didn’t have the luxury of international calls. I went for months without speaking to my parents and family, and often wondered if they were all still alive. I used to wait desperately for letters to come in the mail from my mother. My father rarely wrote, just the odd postcard from his business trips. The telephone ringing reminded me of the deep anguish that I felt, thinking that even if I could call home, what if no one answered? It was uncanny how close those memories were still to me at that moment.
The show had started with the band in full view and with each song a wall of cardboard bricks was gradually being built between the band and the audience, allowing only a few gaps for the crowd to see through. By the second half of the show a complete wall stood, 40 feet high, separating the audience from the band performing.
I attended a convent in the English countryside that was run by Canadian catholic nuns. As I sang the words I remembered how harsh and uncaring the teaching nuns were to us. I was reminded of the unwelcoming, depressing conditions of the boarding house, which we would come back to after a day of school, and the coldness of the nuns who ran it. The nuns were trusted to act as our surrogate parents, our mentors, supposed to be responsible to care for us with love, compassion, encouragement and kindness. Instead, a dark and vacant side of human nature was revealed, where our essential worth as children was undermined and damaged. The way we were all treated and the injustices imposed upon us forced me into being rebellious and antiestablishment during my youth.
Waters was against the injustices that he experienced in boarding school himself, which was formal, controlling and rigid. It was a system that forced kids to loose their individuality and to conform. Another Brick in The Wall became a symbolic song against power over an individual, whether it be education, government or religion.
Waters originally thought up the concept of building a wall across the stage to express the feelings of alienation he felt from the audience. Eventually, the wall not only symbolized the separation of the band from the audience but also separation between east and west, rich and poor, black and white, powerful and weak.
To me, the bricks in the wall are like obstacles. They mount up and become walls that separate us from one another. My experiences collected from boarding school have molded me into who I am today, and especially the kind of mother I wanted to be for my children. I am to my children what was missing from my formative years.
A kaleidoscope of colors and fast images were projected onto the wall as the band, who had temporarily reassembled in front of it, quickly cleared the stage. It was toward the middle of the second half when security asked all of us in the front row to stand back. Waters, standing on a raised platform, took on the persona of a fascist dictator performing at concerts similar to neo-Nazi rallies, and ordered and aroused the crowd as everyone chanted:
Tear down the wall,
Tear down the wall,
Tear down the wall…
The wall, drenched in colors of red and orange, began crumbling from the top, accompanied by sounds of explosions, and dramatically, the whole wall fell to the ground with pieces of cardboard strewn about like wreckage all over the stage and floor. Stage handlers who were shielding the first row from being hit quickly maneuvered the pieces to the sides of the stage. The tearing down of the wall felt historical.
Waters came out onto the stage for the last time, a personable and softly spoken, gentle man, choosing his words carefully and meaningfully, he thanked his fans, and talked about his journey and how he had changed over the last 30 years. I reflected too, upon my own journey and how I have changed.
I reflected on how I battled through all the bricks in my own wall, particularly the emotional trauma of my boarding school years. Having those days now safely behind me, I have stumbled upon my most challenging of all obstacles, that being the diagnosis of my own child with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I share the same hope for my son that Waters had that evening, as he spoke about the oneness of people, and the need for us all to break down the walls that differentiate and separate.
As the charged crowd stood clapping, again the stadium erupted into cheers as Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters walked off the stage, ending his last performance ever in the United States.