Monday, December 9, 2013

"Welcome to the Machine" Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd's seminal song, at very least, one of them, "Welcome to the Machine", came out while I was in the Military. I was there for four years in active service, two years inactive service after that where I could be pulled back in. I had myself seen others pulled back in who had gotten out. I mean by that, they got pulled back, in part because of work I did. Four guys were sent to federal prison, two of them had to be pulled back into the military to be sent to prison. It was a horrible thing to contemplate but what they had down was pretty horrible.

When people blow off that there is a last two years of inactive service after your active service, where you aren't really any longer active in the service, well, you do still know very well that you are walking on thin ice and at any time, things can change. In a heartbeat. That's just the nature of the military and something that is hard to understand, if you haven't lived it.

It's a facing up to a higher authority who is sometimes literally, right in your face and can make you do whatever they want. Or at least, it feels that way, and in some cases, it is that way.

"Welcome to the Machine", was a reminder to us of how things are. It was poignant. It held purpose. Later after I got out and worked for large organizations like the University of Washington, or later, corporations across multiple states, the song never lost its impact.

Much like Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" song. It too is one of those songs that points to your entire existence and asks the question, are you where you want to be? Are things as you always wanted them? Are they as you want them now? Should you have done things differently?

And is the reality of all this now, crushing to you? For anyone working for any corporation or entity far, far bigger than them, this song offers compassion. Understanding. But also, obviousness and transparency. With an underlying sense of a call to action.

Which was what we felt back then in the military. There was a call to action and we couldn't answer, we didn't even know what that action was and that was part of the issue. We thought we were answering it in joining up, but then we found we weren't. How could that be? Trapped by our own decisions, we found we were unable to act. At least until we got out. So one did what one could, while still in, while being kept down, under control, always available. Available, at any moment day or night. Available if need be, as canon fodder at the mention of a word.

"The song describes the band's disillusionment with the music industry as a money-making machine rather than a forum of artistic expression. The plot centers around an aspiring musician getting signed by a seedy executive to the music industry, "The Machine". The voice predicts all the boy's seemingly rebellious ideas ("You bought a guitar to punish your ma, you didn't like school, and you know you're nobody's fool"). The boy's illusions of personal identity are further crushed with lines such as, "What did you dream? It's all right we told you what to dream."

I never knew that till today, that what the song meant to the band was so much about their own situation. Even still, with what that song meant to some of us, with the power and import that it held for us, it has been an anthem. An anthem for those who are trapped, especially so if it's all by their own decisions.

How many times have many of us said that we are not where we are because of the choices we have made and now we would do it quite differently, in some other way?

The point of course is to think, to act appropriately ahead of time and, when you find yourself in that wrong place, to fix it. Act. To do, something. But in the mean time we do need songs to point a finger and say to us, "I feel your pain, but it's your responsibility, so now do something about it."

YouTube video of song
Pink Floyd Welcome To The Machine Lyrics
Songwriters: WATERS, ROGER

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been? It's alright we know where you've been.
You've been in the pipeline, filling in time,
Provided with toys and Scouting for Boys.
You bought a guitar to punish your ma,
And you didn't like school, and you know you're nobody's fool,
So welcome to the machine.
Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
What did you dream? It's alright we told you what to dream.
You dreamed of a big star, he played a mean guitar,
He always ate in the Steak Bar. He loved to drive in his Jaguar.
So welcome to the machine.

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