THE WINDOW AND THE WALL

In the late eighties I was living alone in a small house in Footscray, an inner-west suburb of Melbourne nestling between industrial docklands and a waste management terminal. Bunbury Street was quite special not for any Oscar Wilde association but because a railway line ran underneath it, lengthwise.

It was a goods line from the industrial complex across the river so the trains rumbling down-under were lurching, heavily laden affairs that took forever to pass and seemed to be causing the strip of five conjoined “workingman’s cottages” to slowly subside towards the tunnel. No exaggeration here: while I was in residence a pot-hole larger than a car tyre and deep enough to hold a basketball opened up in the footpath near my front gate. Could’ve swallowed a jogger, but given the pollution and the demographic, exercise hounds were rare in that part of the world.

The house itself was what Real Estate agents like to call “original condition”. The walls sported a network of ever-widening cracks while the bathroom was reached via a covered walkway out the back door. In the back yard was a brick pigeon-house (not in use, but with sedimented evidence layering the floor) and on the back fence, the outhouse. Once you got used to the trek and the occasional need for an umbrella it was actually quite peaceful. Though very draughty.

The cottage next door was a mirror image of the one I occupied, though ‘improved’. I deduced that they put the rooms to different use as his lounge room appeared to adjoin my bedroom. Note the location of the windows and the stereos. This information will become important.

Fig. 1 Plan

Figure 1. Plan

Though I do not know what his job was, I do know that my neighbour worked late. No problem there.

He liked to relax with some music on returning home, usually around midnight. No problem there, either. In winter.

But on a muggy Melbourne summer’s night these little brick houses become awfully stuffy. You gasp for all the air you can get, opening every portal to catch a whisper of breeze.

Referring back to Figure 1 you will note that the actual distance from the recumbent would-be sleeper’s head to the right speaker of the neighbour’s stereo is about nine feet. With both windows thrown open, that’s nine feet of air. My ears were substantially closer to his hi-fi than to my own sound system.

Now I am, and have been these many years, a serious Pink Floyd fan. The entire catalogue resides on vinyl and on CD too. If you visit Vinyl Connection you’ll find several feature posts. I’ve seen them live in Melbourne and Hannover and ridden a bicycle through Grantchester Meadows in homage to the Ummagumma song of the same name. Been there, heard that, own two t-shirts.

But I do not enjoy The Wall. Didn’t like it in 1979, don’t rate it now. It is one of only a handful of albums I have written scathingly about, including the following review:

Power corrupts. By 1979 Roger Waters had all the power in Pink Floyd and TheWall is his dystopian personal vision unshackled from group quality control. The album is over-long, over-serious and vastly over-rated.

At the end of side two when Roger moans ‘Goodbye cruel world’ you sincerely hope he means it, but no, there’s a whole other record to go. If it was not for some terrific playing, especially by David Gilmour on guitar, you’d be hard-pressed to find much to like in this dismal self-indulgent rant. Richard Wright was so depressed he was sent home. And don’t bleat about how marvellous “Another Brick In The Wall, Part II” is—that’s only because you’ve heard it so often you’ve forgotten it is used three times on the first disc and are able to ignore the manipulative use of a children’s choir to cover a bilious attack on education generally. (Where did you go to school, Roger?)

The best thing to be said about The Wall is this: it is better than the album which followed it.

So when, late one sticky summer night, the maudlin sounds of “The Happiest Days of our Lives” wailed through the window at substantial volume,  I was considerably less than entranced.

But how to respond? I started subtly with some muted coughing and harrumphing. Not surprisingly, given the volume, this had no discernible impact. I shut the window. Then I opened the window and shut it again, firmly. The third time I positively slammed the sash closed, hoping at the very least to make his stylus jump but alas, although some plaster showered down upon my head, the soundtrack continued.

Collapsed on the bed, panting from my exertions, I pondered the options. A plan of devious malevolence took shape in my heat oppressed brain.

Padding off to the lounge, I uncoiled the speaker wire; maybe there was just enough. Lifting the box on its stand, I staggered down the hall and into the bedroom. The cable pulled taught. Not exactly at the open window, but perhaps close enough. I paused, listening intently, then trotted off to my shelves.

Fig. 2 Response

Figure 2: Response

Crouched at the amplifier, the Floydian noise bouncing down the hall from next door was somewhat muffled; still it was not difficult to find the song currently booming out. Waiting with fingers poised until the end of the song, I cranked up the volume and let the next track rip a second before his began. As my future echo surged out the window I added a bit more volume for good measure though not so much as to drown out his, now slightly delayed, transmission.

I have no idea what it sounded like next door because I stayed in the safety of my lounge-room. But the stereo delay caused by my own separated speakers was quite disconcerting enough, so I can only imagine what it sounded like in the neighbour’s lounge.

The side ended. The stylus lifted.

Silence.

Relieved rather than jubilant, I slouched back off to bed, happy at least that a window of opportunity had created a constructive use for The Wall.

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An earlier version of this story appeared at Vinyl Connection in January 2014

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