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…

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 10.04.58 AM

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

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.