Pink Floyd The Wall: Is there anybody out there?

I am often quizzed as to why I like Pink Floyd so much. My dad thinks it’s all depressing mood music for melancholic reflection (although he reserves a special and more specific hatred for the “funeral dirge” of Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale, as do I). My wife doesn’t get it (though to be fair, I’ve not exposed her to much Floyd, second-guessing what her reaction would be). The only person close to me who I can say is a real Floyd fan is my nephew, Thomas, who’s 10. My sister likes it and saw them live with me in 1994, but she’s no devotee.

And, in fact, when you dig beneath the surface, most Floyd music is arguably basic, repetitive and rubbish: mostly it’s in 4/4 time, much of it is in the key of E minor, and all of it has very simplistic lyrics, depending on the time period. Post-Syd Barrett and up to and including Dark Side of the Moon, the lyrics were so laughably amateurish that they could have been written by a 15-year-old pseudo-poet in a dark, dank bedroom (in fact, that actually sounds like a Floyd lyric from that era).

Later on, specifically on the follow-up albums Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall, and The Final Cut, Roger Waters—as the then-principal songwriter having bullied guitarist David Gilmour and keyboard player Rick Wright into perfoming-only roles—became obsessed with exorcising his personal demons using the Floyd as his vehicle.

These demons were namely the loss of his father in World War 2, before he was even born, plus his general misogyny, wars in general, his hatred of the music industry (including performing to large crowds), and even his hatred of actually being in a band. Oh, and not forgetting the extension of the ideas explored on Dark Side: alienation, isolation, madness, paranoia and the fear of death, much of which was informed by the acid-fuelled downward mental spiral of original band leader Syd Barrett.

It’s not laugh-a-minute stuff to be sure. So why the appeal?

For me, I was 16 and obsessed with the prog rock excesses of bands like pre-1975 Genesis and Yes when I first heard Floyd. A friend lent me Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall after he played them on the kitchen stereo in the hotel where we worked.

The impact wasn’t overnight. I didn’t have any sort of epiphany, although they were good-enough albums. But none of the Floyd members was or is a particularly gifted musician, other than perhaps David Gilmour—and even he’s no Steve Vai or Joe Satriani. And being into Genesis and Yes, my teen-idol rock stars absolutely had to be musical geniuses, with their albums featuring 20-minute concept pieces.

But the music grew on me quickly, especially given the marked difference between the two albums, which fascinated me. Dark Side is not all that musically, lyrically or even conceptually ambitious, but as a cohesive piece of work, it’s sublime. Songs like Time, Us and Them, and The Great Gig in the Sky are effortlessly moving and relevant across all generations, and the subtle sound effects, like the musings on violence, madness and death that play softly in the background, all added up to make this one of my favorite albums.

The Wall, however, was a very different beast even though it was released only five years and two albums later. Here was a concept work clearly based on Roger Waters’ and Syd Barrett’s lives and experiences.

It took the themes of Dark Side—madness, isolation, death—and extended them into a bleak narrative that saw a rock star slide from superstardom into an alienated altered state, in which he is part fascist Nazi, part band leader, and full-on whack job. In fact, he’s so far removed from his audience that it’s as if a wall had been erected between him and them. (Of course, in the live shows a physical wall was actually constructed between the band and the audience during the first half of the performance.)

The album yielded a (Christmas) hit in 1979 in the UK—Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)—so I was at least familiar with some of the music. But the more I listened to it, the more it spoke to me on a personal level. It made me weep; it made me angry; it pumped me up with emotion and rage. It still does almost 30 years since I first heard it.

All of which is pretty weird since I had a very normal childhood and teenage years. I wasn’t rebellious, I didn’t have any sort of breakdown or other reason to identify with the album so much. But I am a very sensitive person and have had my fair share of reflective, introspective and depressed moments, and I was and am able to immerse myself totally in the world of The Wall’s protagonist and to completely identify with him and his losing battle with sanity.

Thematically, and in terms of the narrative, it’s brilliant, although musically it’s pretty simple. That said, the raw power of David Gilmour’s guitar work when combined with the most incisive of Roger Waters’ words (which had evolved beyond the studenty waffle of Dark Side’s lyrics by this time) is a combination that’s moodily seductive and very, very powerful, if you’re in a frame of mind that wants to both wallow and scream at the same time.

I still listen to it now a lot, as well as the live version released a few years back, and have seen the movie based entirely on the album many, many times (in fact, the album was conceived as a movie). I’ve seen the grainy 1980 live performance on YouTube as well as Roger Waters’ reimagining of it in his ambitious tours these past few years, and still it has the power to move me to tears. It’s something very personal and hard to put into words. But I thought I’d try in the paragraphs above… Next up: the 1977 Floyd masterpiece Animals…

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10 + 1 why I am in love with Matt Leppard by Rebecca Leppard

1. It is not beyond him to make up the bed, mop the kid’s accidental poop off the floor or out of the bath, and carry my feminine purse around the mall if I need to carry the kid.

2. He asks me if I want anything for breakfast and then makes it and puts on chilli flakes automatically.

3. He shoves vitamins on my lazy mouth every morning to make sure that I’m not gonna be ill during the flu season, which seems to happen every month these days! But when I am ill, he is my doctor and he is my nurse.

4. He lends his hears to my shouty mouth when I am angry and/or aggravated for a vast variety of reasons: a shopkeeper not giving the answer I need, a taxi driver not knowing the way, politicians say idiotic things on TV, someone wasting the tap water, and every single work problem.

5. He will dance with the silliest moves just to make me laugh and try to forget all the above.

6. He reads the Bible and understands it.

7. He supports my causes. Even when we have so little, his generous heart never discourage me to give whatever that we have spare.

8. He is funny. And he is funny the British way, which is my kind of funny.

9. He watches Fashion Police as religiously as I do.

10. He is handsome in my eyes but not in his.

+1 He is not only the father of my child but he really fathers my son so well that the kid literally jumps up and down welcoming him back from workL only for him, not me. And that is the kind of man one should marry. How lucky am I?

The kind of man one should marry.

The kind of man one should marry.

Happy anniversary, honey!

The last few years of my life have been full of so much change and turmoil, it’s hard to remember that it was only three years ago that Rebecca and I tied the knot. In between that momentous and overwhelmingly joyous occasion and today, we’ve all but lost my mother to a dreadful brain disorder, lost my grandmother, my sister has battled (and beaten) cancer, we have had to up sticks and move home at very short notice, and, of course, given birth and reared our active, playful, boisterous and definitely full-on 2-year-old son, Rayven.

Today (April 7) marks our third anniversary. And Rebecca will be the first to tell you — and I will be first to admit — that I am generally bad with cards and presents, while Rebecca excels not only at selecting imaginative and appropriate gifts, but also in fashioning the most creative home-made cards possible. She is the consummate planner and most thoughtful partner.

But I do have a gift, I think, and that’s the gift of words, so this is my message to Rebecca on this day; I hope she gets to read it.

First off, I am grateful that she agreed to marry me in the first place. Our engagement wasn’t much of a success because of me: I fluffed the proposal in spite of having a unique engagement gift in the form of my grandmother’s antique ring. What an idiot, and all through lack of planning and bad execution.

Then we had my parents out in December 2011, a trip they barely survived (partly because of AirAsia’s shabby long-haul service) and which involved them attending an Indonesian-style engagement party that must have been overwhelming to them (it was to me). It’s a testament to Rebecca’s organizational skills and their endurance that we all lived to tell the tale after.

Secondly, I have Rebecca – and only Rebecca – to thank for organizing and executing the wedding. Now that I’ve been in Indonesia for some time and seen how things work, or rather how they don’t work much of the time, it’s all the more impressive that she was able to handle everything from selecting the invites to choosing the catering. I recall that I selected some of the music for the after-party and did some food tasting, but generally I was an observer of the Rebecca-as-professional-planner show.

I still don’t know how much it all cost: I daren’t ask. But Rebecca is CFO of our family unit (see how much I rely on her?) and she balanced it all out so that we paid for our reasonably lavish wedding without having to ask anyone to contribute financially. It was a marvellous day, resplendent in sunshine, smiles and love. From the service sheet to the piano melody of “In My Life” by the Beatles (“our” song) that played as she walked down the aisle, it all went like clockwork. And it was all down to Rebecca – even helping with everything from my best man buying a suit in Bali at the last minute to helping my sister and my nephew with their Bali orientation program.

Since that time, I’ve grown to rely on, and love, Rebecca even more than I did then. She always describes herself as unlikeable, but to me, she is more than likeable: she is a wife and mother to two boys. She is a reliable wing-man; an honest confessor; a trusted advisor; and, of course, a valued co-parent. I have to confess that even though I have spent far more time with Rayven than she has, it’s Rebecca’s influence that has driven most of his accomplishments to date, including calling me “daddy.”

When she accepted her current job, I have to admit that I wasn’t happy with the decision, but she has balanced the role of mother and wife with being a communications director with aplomb. And we couldn’t have survived my recent six months of unemployment if she hadn’t been working. She also took the lead on our two trips to the UK, and organizes every trip we make to Bali, plus my Singapore visa trips, and our fantastic trip to the Gili islands a year or so ago.

So without playing down my role too much, you can see how much Rebecca shoulders in our partnership. She thinks I don’t notice, but that’s only because I am not the most demonstrative partner (although I am getting better). I do notice, appreciate and thank her for all she has done and continues to do, from the bottom of my heart.

Honey, I love you with all my being. Thanks for being there for this flawed, imperfect man. Here’s to three years and to many more happy times ahead.

With love, Matthew (and a kiss from Rayven)

Happiest day of my life so far

Happiest day of my life so far, along with the birth of our son

2013: the year in review

I’ve been meaning to write a 2013 “year in review” post for a while now. And suddenly it’s February, which is a little late, but never mind. Rebecca’s in Bangkok (I just checked online and her fight has landed) and the nanny is taking care of the kid, so there’s no time like the present.

But where to begin? It was such a strange year. One of the best and one of the worst in my life. Such extremes: I generally wish my life was on a more even keel and less prone to spikes and dips and peaks and troughs but there you go. Life, eh? Can’t live with it; can’t live without it.

About a year ago, we “lost” mum, which was a devastating blow still being felt today. I use quotation marks since she didn’t die, and is still alive today. But this time last year, she started to act very weirdly—severe memory issues and behavioral changes were the main symptoms. It was as if she had sudden and acute-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which generally doesn’t come on like acutely and suddenly. The most worrying thing was when she went AWOL in her car one time: to this day, we still don’t know where she went and never will. That was when we knew it was serious.

So we had a battery of tests performed culminating in a brain biopsy, which revealed she had/has PML, a viral infection that normally infects HIV-positive people. It infected mum because her immune system was suppressed due to years of immunosuppressant drugs for her arthritis. I say “we” meaning my sister and my dad since I am a quadrillion miles away in Jakarta, so am largely a spectator in all of this. This situation makes it all the harder to deal with, a theme I will return to later.

The prognosis was bleak. PML stands for Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy, and the key words in there are “progressive” and “multifocal.” The disease attacks the brain in many areas and doesn’t stop; it is always fatal, we were told, and so rare that nobody could tell us really what to expect.

The end result was that mum was hospitalized and eventually ended up in a care home where she lives to this day among other mental patients, for want of a better phrase. She has had periods of extreme physical distress, including one where we thought it was the end (to the point where Rebecca and I mapped out a plan for me to attend her funeral); she has had moments of lucidity, though they are few and far between; she is generally unaware of her situation and the comings and goings of daily life. She is child-like and maddeningly contrary at times. But she’s our mum and we love her.

That’s now, of course. Back to my year in review and April 2013 saw the birth of baby Rayven Matthew Leppard. As I type this, I have a photo of him only hours old in front of me stating his date and time of birth (April 4 at 8:30pm). A moment of pure joy, although also not without its problems: Rebecca’s labour was painful and problematic and complicated, though it all started so beautifully. Her contractions came according to plan and we checked in and shored up for the big push, since we desperately wanted a normal birth and not a Caesarean. I was prepped for Rebecca to swear like a trooper at me and she was psyched for a world of pain.

It wasn’t to be. After many false starts, the contractions just didn’t get stronger and many excruciating examinations later, it was decided that Ray had to come out of the front door. So Rebecca was wheeled down to the operating theater with me in tow, eventually decked out in scrubs and boots. Then we entered the theater. It was a surreal experience: I was shielded by a sort of canopy up by her head so I couldn’t see the goings on in Rebecca’s tummy. At one point, they put her out completely and that was weird: one moment she was talking and the next she was unconscious and I found this very unsettling. This was the moment of the big push, and out Ray popped, screaming. He hasn’t really stopped since—more of which later.

In May, my grandmother died, which in and of itself wasn’t a big surprise (she was in her mid-90s), but the timing was quite bad. We had already “lost” mum and now we lost granny. In the end, neither of them got to meet my son, which is a regret I have to live with, but again such is life. And of course, the person who felt all this the most deeply was and is my father.

So with all the goings on and with Ray still in the newborn phase of sleeping and staring at the ceiling in between crying, Rebecca and I decided that we should visit the UK in August, to coincide with the Muslim holiday here in Indonesia. It was a strange and bittersweet trip: the reduced family got to meet Ray and we got to see mum, which was less of a shock than I thought it would be, largely because she was still “there” physically and occasionally mentally though there is no doubt she couldn’t really put together who we were and who Ray was.

The trip also gave us the opportunity to reconnect with my sister and father, which was much needed given all the stresses and happenings. Ray was on top form: fat and full-on with his crying, he didn’t let up for the whole time it seemed. It was also nice to see our nephew Thomas and Saffron’s husband Rich, as well as one or two friends. Warm and fragrant, the summer was in full flow: the nights were long and humid and it was in stark contrast to our winter visit there the previous Christmas.

Mum’s absence in her and dad’s home was one of the hardest adjustments to take, speaking of contrasts. Where before she had driven the house and home, now there was no driving force. My dad simply isn’t equipped to deal with life alone and the house felt incomplete and unfinished, wanting for life and ringing with absence and loneliness.

Still, we did manage to take mum out a few times for walks and trips into town and these, along with trips with dad and Saffron to Winchester and Bournemouth, remain my abiding memories of the trip.

Back to Jakarta and shortly after our trip, Rebecca started work at a local luxury hotel. This was a big blow to me, of course: my job is demanding and tiring and she had been my home-based angel of mercy since she moved to Jakarta shortly after I started my own job. Now, with baby on board, she was going to be working. I felt at a loss for a long time and found the adjustment hard (I still do at times). Ray was starting to be more demanding and mobile and suddenly needed day care. Rebecca’s mum stepped in but this could never be a permanent solution.

But we coped. We eventually found a good nanny and settled into a sort of routine. We both leave early in the morning together and then I get back from work a little earlier than Rebecca: with just about enough time to hit the gym and then prep Ray for sleep. Both of our jobs are demanding and Rebecca’s involves being on call in the hotel late into the night once a month. Again, a tough adjustment for me, but we coped. We always do.

A few months ago, Ray started pre-school in a gym in a local shopping mall. He bounces and crawls and gurgles and rattles all the toys (he started crawling at about the same time as he started school) and goes three times a week. Once with Rebecca and me and twice with grandma. He seems to enjoy it and it’s a good way of helping him get rid of all his excess energy, of which he seems to have a boundless supply. Ten months in and he’s more of a joy than he was at first, chattering endlessly and with a definite personality. He just recovered from his first serious illness: hand, foot and mouth disease, which saw him house-bound for two weeks.

So that’s about all for 2013. Rebecca and I ended the year in the Brewhouse at her hotel. It was a low-key affair but I managed to put away enough beers to overcome my social awkwardness and have a reasonably good time. Rebecca was in her element and we were happy. And in the end, that’s all that matters. The year won’t go down in memory as one of the best of my life, despite the birth of Ray: there is simply no way of offsetting the mum situation. But it had its fair share of moments, and those I will cherish.

Ten weeks? Ten years? How long?

They grow up right before your eyes, don’t they? Indeed. Another old statement of the very obvious is proven right again: our son is definitely growing… well, not up, but more outwards. What Brits and Scots (and some Americans, probably) would call “bonny,” Ray weighs in at a hefty six-kilos-plus now.

But at least he’s a happy, if somewhat chubby, chap. Or happier. Yes, he still does the reverse of turning a frown upside down (i.e. frowns) and cries his little socks off (literally: his socks do fall off) and wails and wails as if it’s the end of his cossetted little world. But he’s also started to gurgle and coo and to smile and to hold our eyes as we gaze at him. He even “talks” back as we chat about our days and (in my case) how tortuous they’ve been.

This is truly a magical time and an experience to be treasured and it makes all the crying and the ridiculously unpleasant farts* all worth it, although that opinion can take a severe knocking at 10pm when he won’t sleep.

It’s also a time when we know we can really shape his development, so we’re playing music, reading and talking, and encouraging him to crawl, look at things and all the other stuff that could help boost his little brainpower.

It also brings us closer as a couple, although I still wander off absentmindedly sometimes on some little mission (forgot the remote, forgot to take my socks off, forgot what I was doing, etc.) and have to be called back loudly. But we can really share in the joys of togetherness where before, it was crying Ray with me and contented Ray at Rebecca’s breast. I can also confidently send Rebecca to bed as I take the 8pm-12am shift, feeding Ray at 11:30 as he dozes in a pillow with me softly whispering to him.

Fatherhood’s great, mostly. But that said, would we go through the first 10 months again in a hurry? Probably not. That’s why humans are built so we can’t. And so we forget over time, too. So I’m told by those older and wiser than me, and who am I to contradict them?

Ray at play in what is laughably called a "gym." He barely breaks a sweat!

Ray at play in what is laughably called a “gym.” He barely even breaks into a sweat!

*Yes, among the things they don’t tell you in the “things they don’t tell you about parenting” lists is the horrendous guffs that babies can emit. Or maybe it’s just Ray’s special gift.

Cry baby cry*

Ahh, you poor, poor, dear, dear soul, baby Ray. Tortured and tormented by hidden demons of discomfort and distention. Confounded by climate settings of cool, medium and hot. Stressed by overbearing relatives half the time and left all alone—the loneliest person in the world—the other half. Serenity, wherefore art thou?

Why do newborn babies cry so much? It’s an oft-asked question, the Internet tells me. It’s because crying is the only form of communication they have, I read, and because life outside the womb is so jarringly shocking. I know and agree because I too was a testy tot once upon a time 43 years ago. Apparently I cried for three years non-stop, which is an awful load of old colics.

But really. No, really. Is it really necessary for newborns to shriek so violently for no apparent reason? Surely it would be better if humans were born able to speak and point and nod and indicate rather than just crap and cry? I can’t see the logic in them being born so unusually useless. It’s a tricky question both for evolutionists (are humans as evolved as they should and could be) and also for creationists (why were baby humans built so bad).

As to me and to Rebecca? We just muddle on. The most heartbreaking thing is that while I hate to wish my life away, I am looking towards the 2- to 3-month mark when Ray becomes an infant and not a newborn. But, as they say, I’ll never get those three months back. Perhaps best just to put up and shut up. Which is what I’d like Ray to do, if only he understood logic and sense… Bless his little heart, of course.

One of these has reasons to be happy. The other is a muppet.

One of these has reasons to be happy. The other is a muppet.

*Sang along to the Beatles song of the same name

In the family way: birthday boy

Take oxygen, carbon and nitrogen and mix in with them some calcium, phosphorous and potassium, plus a dash of chlorine, sodium, and magnesium. Season with a pinch of iron, cobalt, copper, zinc, iodine, selenium, and fluorine, and fling this proverbial bun mixture into a warm oven for nine months and hey presto, you’ve got a human.

Yep, looking up the chemical composition of a human being on Wikipedia as a dubious lead into a blog post is almost as easy as it was to conceive our son—although it required a lot less effort. And now he’s here.

Three weeks ago this evening, baby Rayven* Matthew Leppard was dragged kicking and screaming from his mother’s belly and into the arms of a green-garbed doctor who then manhandled him under a heat lamp and scraped all the gunk off him. I say dragged from his mother: there seemed to be an awful lot of pushing involved, and none of it from mum.

You see, after 27 hours of labor pains and inducement (induction?) we decided to opt for a C-section, and fortunately so, it turns out: baby Ray was not positioned right and would never have slipped out like a bar of soap. This explains why the inducing (induction?) led to painful contractions on the part of mum, and intense in-belly wriggling on the part of baby. He was being pushed hard and had nowhere to go.

At 2cm dilated. And all for nothing. Such is life... We had it all planned out.

At 2cm dilated. And all for nothing. Such is life… We had it all planned out.

So we clad ourselves in ludicrous hospital clothes and went to the OR (it’s not called operating theater any more, apparently). There, Rebecca was given a local anaesthetic for about 10 minutes and then a general knockout for about 10 more minutes as the docs really got to work on her insides. This part of the proceedings was done on the other side of a cloth wall that stopped Rebecca and (importantly) me from seeing the slicing and dicing that was going on “downstairs.” Seeing Rebecca talking to me and then going cross-eyed and then slipping away into blackout was quite upsetting, and thinking about it again now as I write this leaves me feeling a bit generally anxious.

DO NOT TAKE MEDICAL ADVICE FROM THIS MAN!

DO NOT TAKE MEDICAL ADVICE FROM THIS MAN!

Then the pushing: nurses, doctors, all pushing downwards on Rebecca’s upper abdomen with such violence that it made me very concerned that they’d crack a rib or something. (It was all due to Ray’s weird position.) Still, thanks to Rebecca’s un-squeamish approach to documenting every single aspect of our lives, we have the whole thing on video anyway, except the bit where I cry a little after seeing the baby.

Unlike the horror stories I had read of babies being whipped away from their mums after a C-section, tiny Ray was placed on Rebecca’s breast and encouraged to feed right away, which we somehow muddled through as a threesome. Then he was put into an incubator and taken outside for the family to see, and then off to observation. We next saw him in the wee hours of the morning.

The morning after the night before: a getting-to-know-you session with Ray

The morning after the night before: a getting-to-know-you session with Ray

Surviving amid the throngs of visitors we had to cope with. And when I say we, I mean I. Rebecca copes already.

Surviving amid the throngs of visitors we tried to cope with. And when I say we, I mean I. Rebecca copes adequately already.

A days-old Ray with the first raft of gifts and cards.

A days-old Ray with the first raft of gifts and cards.

And that, as they say, was that. ‘Tis a miracle to be sure. When everything in the universe other than life moves inexorably towards entropy and chaos and randomness, Rebecca and I (well, mostly Rebecca) built, from 46 chromosomes and a lot of food and water, a small human being. A person and a future.

There’s way more to this story to come. I really hope that the story doesn’t end and that it continues with Ray and his brothers and sisters and their own families (my stab at genetic immortality). But that’s the lot for now. I need to get home and help with the breast pumping and the other delights that go with new parenthood. Ah, but when I look into his eyes: yes, all worth it. And when I see Ray and Rebecca sleeping side by side and in the same pose (as I did this very morning), well, my cup runneth over.

COMING NEXT: Survival of the fittest: the first month

*We wanted R and M as the initials: these stand for Rebecca and Matthew and Roger and Mary (my parents) as well as Rebecca’s kind-of-actual surname, Manalu. Ray we already had, since the family on my side has gone through (and is still going through) its fair share of tribulations at the moment. So Ray is a “drop of golden sun,” as the song goes. A raven is also a black bird, and Blackbird by The Beatles is one of a few songs we both adore. It is also the first bird that Noah sent out from the ark, and a bird that is associated with the Tower of London. It has been said since Charles II that if the resident ravens leave the Tower, it will fall into enemy hands. Hence the spelling of Rayven. Oh, and when Rebecca was growing up, one of her nicknames was “Re” and pronounced (you guessed it…) Ray. So there.