When the Tigers Broke Free

Aprilia (Lt)

“When the Tigers Broke Free” is the best Pink Floyd song ever written. “Comfortably Numb” is the greatest, but not the best. There is a difference.

Credit for the song goes to the band member who, in the wake of Syd Barrett’s departure, began to write and direct more and more of Floyd’s output.

Roger Waters engendered animosity because he “took over” the band and ran it like some kind of dictator. The man who so often took aim at fascism was accused of being a kind of fascist himself. Floyd lore became filled with stories about Roger’s “my way or the highway” attitude.

The accusation is true, but there’s a reason for it. He brought most of the good material to the table while the rest of the band stepped back and let Roger do the heavy lifting. Roger was the one driven to work.

Roger’s treatment of Rick Wright, for example, illustrates his drive. Rick was “fired” for not bringing any useful material, and later, even Rick agreed with that assessment.

Rounds of lawsuits after Roger left solidified the grievances and hard feelings between him and David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Rick — wounds that were never fully healed even when they reunited for a Live Aid appearance in 2005. Body language after their short set concluded showed that the rest of Floyd wasn’t all that happy to be on stage with Roger again, while Roger himself seemed uncharacteristically ebullient.

Out of all the songs Roger created, his “When the Tigers Broke Free” remains a stark example of razor-sharp, absolutely perfect lyrics with its odd rhyming meter punctuating the song like the hurt and anger the singer feels, as a child tries to come to terms with the death of his father. Every line is a pointed dagger, aimed squarely at the truth of loss and pain.

They’re probably the best Roger ever wrote.

“It was just before dawn
One miserable morning in black ‘forty-four
When the forward commander
Was told to sit tight
When he asked that his men be withdrawn
And the Generals gave thanks
As the other ranks held back
The enemy tanks for a while
And the Anzio bridgehead
Was held for the price
Of a few hundred ordinary lives

And kind old King George
Sent mother a note
When he heard that father was gone
It was, I recall
In the form of a scroll
With gold leaf adorned
And I found it one day
In a drawer of old photographs, hidden away
And my eyes still grow damp to remember
His Majesty signed
With his own rubber stamp

It was dark all around
There was frost in the ground
When the tigers broke free
And no one survived
From the Royal Fusiliers Company Z
They were all left behind
Most of them dead
The rest of them dying
And that’s how the High Command
Took my daddy from me.”

Great Literature

Intelectual o Joven Intelectual, 1937

Intelectual o Joven Intelectual, 1937

GREAT LITERATURE

can exalt us, exhume us from the graves of a horribly cruel and unforgiving world, slough off our putrid cocoons of skin and money and now and pressure and anxiety and hurry up and close your eyes this will all be over soon, and lift up our souls to new conceptions of gods and put colors and feelings and sounds on our lips that have no other name but sublime…

GREAT LITERATURE

can upend us, baseball-bat us upside the head, knock us into a ditch it made us dig, bury us in our own filth, and continue pouring abuse on us until we scream then screech then squeal then squeak in surrendering entreaties, begging, why are you doing this to me, what did I ever do to you, I was so happy and comfy in my chair please oh god stop, and then right at the point we can’t take the humiliation anymore some microscopically small piece of heaven erupts out of the mud like an orgasm and we weep with excruciating joy…

GREAT LITERATURE

can confuse us, wonder us, wander us, beat us into temptation and turn all the lights out while whispering tantalizations into the base of our spinal cords, showing us in the dark where all our sinister longings lie, the evil things we take pleasure in, the laughter that bubbles up as our enemies and maybe even our friends get theirs at our hands, and we know we’re fallen, nevermore to grace the light, but we learn, we learn so that we don’t have to do, and it’s enough to leave it there, and we slink back into the day a little wiser than before with a secret only we need to know…

GREAT LITERATURE

can shame us with tongue lashings of perfections, judging and cajoling us and showing us every bit every dot of what we’ve done wrong and how we could have done right, of all the times we slept when who we loved cried alone in the dark, and it teaches us how nail holes in doors can never be erased and how whatever sins we sinned can never be un-sinned and can never be made right, and all we can hope for is just one sliver of a chance to do something a quantum-bit better than the last time…

GREAT LITERATURE

can abjure us and clothe us with unbidden praise, groveling before us in our light and beneficence, how we’ve made the universe better than it was when it was just a kidney stone in god’s urethra, how fearsomely and wonderfully made we are and how no one and nothing else in the universe could ever hope to be worthy of licking the boot laces we threw in the trash…

GREAT LITERATURE

can comfort us in the lonely times, can anger us at our mother’s funeral, can make us laugh when the doctor shakes his head in sorrow with bad news, can lull us to sleep in the middle of the best party, can wake us up in the deepest darkest absence of life and sound, cats sleeping at our feet and lions sneaking into the bedroom to eat us and unicorns crashing through the window to take us to never land…

GREAT LITERATURE

finds us at our weakest and with one word can pierce us until we weep and cry harder than we’ve ever done before, a single snapshot picture that destroys everything we thought we are and in that moment we join the universe as a single atom, a drop in an ocean shared between stars and we become the whole world at once, showing us the difference between waiting for someone to save us and waiting for rigor mortis to set in…

GREAT LITERATURE

never does only one thing.

Scala Metus: From nukes to wolves

They told us to be afraid, be very afraid, of nukes.

Or, more correctly, to be afraid of our communist enemies who had nukes. Our nukes were good, of course. Their nukes were a terror.

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When I was small, our pastors and teachers kept us Christian kids in line with fear of the commies, who were always threatening to launch nuclear missiles at us. Or, they were going to invade us and rip up our Bibles and make it illegal to pray. And we had to pray to Jesus really hard, or God was going to let it happen. And we had to make everyone else pray real hard too, or else the godless Russkies were going to make us cut up our American flags.

In the 4th grade, I was once subjected to a “drill” to illustrate just that. Our teacher told us what was going to happen: Men in military uniforms would come into our classroom, arrest her and bring in another teacher who would tell us to spit on the flag and throw our Bibles out the window. If we refused, we would be arrested and sent to a re-education camp where we would be taught to hate Jesus and our mommies and daddies. Because, as you know, the commies don’t love their families as we do.

When the Soviet Union fell, that fear faded. So, we had to be afraid of something else.

The preachers in our conservative mega-pulpits then tried to make us afraid of Bill and Hillary. They were “ungodly.” They were part of some super-secret Satanic ring trying to take over the world. Hillary was going to force all men to become women. She and Bill were going to “ban the family” and force us all to give our children to the state. And horrors, they were going to make us all get health care!

They had to be stopped. Everyone having access to health care was an insult to Jesus.

But that fear didn’t last long, even though it turned out to be a lucrative cottage industry for radio talk show hosts. It only appealed to the more insane and gullible of us. So, a new monster was needed.

We got it on 9/11.

At the time I foolishly thought the terrorist attacks would finally teach us the insanity of religious fundamentalism. Boy was I wrong. We just got more religiously fundamentalist in response. There were more than a few Christian preachers who taught that God allowed the attack to punish America because we didn’t believe as hard as the terrorists believed.

After a few years, the terrorist threat got smaller but more vicious. Now, we’re afraid of “lone wolf” attacks — some poor, isolated soul infected with a mind-virus of hate and fanaticism. And that makes it easier to find new people to fill the role of our fear avatars: Black people, brown people, anyone who wasn’t a Christian, feminists, liberals…

We are always to be afraid. We’ve been made afraid of anyone different. We’ve been made afraid of education, of being smart. We’ve been made afraid of anyone who won’t toe the line and bow down to authority. We’ve been made afraid of people with the insane notion that food, safety, and health care are fundamental human rights.

Fear, fear, fear. It was why religion was invented in the first place – as a salve for our fears of the dark shadows in the night. But now our religion is becoming fear itself. We’re addicted to it. We can’t live without it. It’s our drug.

And we always need a bigger dose, or else we won’t do what we’re told.