Who was born in a house full of pain
Who was trained not to spit in the fan
Who was told what to do by the man
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On the 6th of July 1977, Pink Floyd played live at the Stade Du Parc Olympique in Montreal. The show was the final scheduled performance of their In the Flesh
tour, which immediately followed the release of the Animals
album in January that year. As the band was playing through their set, parts of the audience grew increasingly unruly. Whistles, shouts and fireworks kept interrupting the performance, and at some point near the end of the song "Dogs," Roger Waters had reached his boiling point. Adding new ambiguity to the song's lyrics, Waters leaned forward and discharged his disgust by spitting in the face of a fan near the front of the audience.Animals
was Pink Floyd's tenth studio album, preceded by Wish You Were Here
and followed by The Wall
, which, according to Waters, was inspired by the so-called "spitting incident." Typical of most Pink Floyd albums, Animals
is a concept album that explores several interrelated themes. Inspired by George Orwell's Animal Farm
, the album constitutes a scathing critical inquiry into the socio-economic and political conditions of Britain during the 1970s. On the day of the album's release, Pink Floyd played the first show of their In the Flesh
tour, for which Animals
would be the primary material.
The In the Flesh
tour was one of Pink Floyd's first big tours following the phenomenal success of Wish You Were Here
. Though albums like the seminal Dark Side of the Moon
had already propelled the band quite far along the road to superstardom, the In the Flesh
tour saw them playing to their largest audiences yet. Though most bands would revel in such success, Pink Floyd grew increasingly alienated from one another and their audience as the tour proceeded. At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, an exhibit based on the album The Wall
shows a quote by Waters that sheds light on the circumstances that led to the incident:In the Old Days, pre-Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd played to audiences which, by virtue of their size, allowed an intimacy of connection that was magical. However, success overtook us and by 1977 we were playing in football stadiums. The magic was crushed beneath the weight of numbers. We were becoming addicted to the trappings of popularity. I found myself increasingly alienated in that atmosphere of avarice and ego until one night in the Olympic Stadium, Montreal, the boil of my frustrations burst. Some teenage fan was clawing his way up the storm netting that separated us from the human cattle pen in front of the stage, screaming his devotion to the demi-gods beyond his reach. Incensed by his misunderstanding and my own connivance, I spat my frustration in his face.
Although there is a tendency to blame Pink Floyd's feelings of alienation from their audience on the American fans and their experiences mainly during American tours, the fact that the spitting incident happened in Montreal shows it more to be a matter of individual mentality than nationality. The massive multi-purpose venue where the incident transpired was, as its name indicates, built originally for use in the 1976 Summer Olympics. Colloquially called the "Big O" as a reference to both its name and doughnut shape, more cynical locals have taken to calling it the "Big Owe," as it was a continual source of structural and financial problems despite the massive costs of construction. The Olympic Stadium is used today mainly as a concert venue, and the Montreal Tower which rises over it holds the world record for tallest inclined tower in the world.
Montreal itself is the largest city in the Canadian province of Quebec and the second largest in the country. The city is named after Mount Royal (Mont Réal
in Middle French), a triple-peaked hill in the heart of the city. French is Montreal's official language, and the city comes second only to Paris as largest predominantly French speaking city in the world. Acting as Canada's industrial and financial centre for over 150 years (before being surpassed by Toronto in 1976) left Montreal rich with architectural and historical points of interest. It sports 50 "National Historic Sites of Canada," more than any other city in the country, including the famously beautiful and ancient Notre-Dam de Montréal Basilica. Most of these can be found in the historic area of "Old Montreal," which is studded with a delightful selection of living history. The cultural and architectural influence of France permeates Montreal, and perhaps more so even than New Orleans it allows for an immersion in French culture otherwise possible only in France itself.
Montreal's sophisticated and refined cultural context make it an unlikely location to result in something like the "spitting incident," but this merely adds further evidence to the fact that inconsideration, self-obsession, and disregard for others knows no national boundary. When you get enough people together under one roof, there are always a few that take advantage of mob anonymity to spoil the joy of others. Pink Floyd understood that fame had its price, and all the members grew reluctant to pay it; this attitude of animosity toward the cult of fans surrounding them was by no means confined to Roger Waters. David Gilmour expressed similar sentiments, and the growing tension and dissatisfaction almost drove Richard Wright to quit the band. Fortunately, the band found a way to channel this growing malaise into the creation of a truly monumental subsequent album, The Wall
. Later in the exhibition quotation, Waters writes:Later that night, back at the hotel, shocked by my behavior, I was faced with a choice. To deny my addiction and embrace that comfortably numb but magic-less existence or accept the burden of insight, take the road less travelled and embark on the often painful journey to discover who I was and where I fit. The Wall was the picture I drew for myself to help me make that choice.
May 23, 2014
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