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Sittin’ On a Barbed Wire Fence

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

By Baruchi Malewich

Walls and fences are so much more than physical objects. These barriers have deep social and political meanings, both tangible and symbolic. They are namely materializations and catalysts of division lines between people mixed into one threatening entity. They are artifacts that encourage fear, uncertainty and the indifference to the well-being of the other. More troubling, they come in the form of a solution, many times slightly alleviating a certain symptom while deepening the problem. Therefore, Trump’s recent political actions since taking office have almost all been devices of expanding—and creating new—division lines between people. While he keeps talking about building a physical wall, the President of the strongest nation on Earth has already managed to erect several invisible walls. I used to live in a country that based—and still bases—its national security doctrine on walls. Most severely, the wall was already up during my entire adult life. It solved nothing. Instead, it only deepened the already-strong separation between Israelis and Palestinians, and indeed I never met a Palestinian person until the age of 25, and that also was in Stockholm. While making the physical border clearer (and implying that possession over land is possible—something I’m not entirely sure about), walls blur the line between obliviousness and evil. They allow us to disengage ourselves from the inherent responsibility we have towards the Other. And yet, they also bring some hope. Division lines enforced on us by governments and politicians—whether physical or abstract—can be brought down. They can be brought down by the power of solidarity, and the denial of the lifestyle walls dictate. The tearing down of walls is an exciting human phenomenon, and it excited us because we are naturally curious as to what is on the other side, and we are ecstatic to find out—time and time again—that it is merely another person, just like us.

I love Radiohead. Now, sorry: I LOVE Radiohead. I always used to say that their live concert (I’ve seen in Berlin by the way, another formerly-walled location) is the closest I came to a religious experience, and I meant that as well. It is therefore a bit of a surprise that I haven’t used any of their songs in this blog yet (or at least I think I haven’t? my memory might be betraying me). And yet ‘Climbing Up the Walls’, one of the later tracks in their 1997 masterpiece concept album ‘OK Computer’, is by no means a natural fit to this list. ‘Climbing Up the Walls’ as an expression, means an extreme state of agitation and/or concern, and the song itself concerns mental illness and severe cases of paranoia and schizophrenia (perhaps paranoia slightly does fit the theme here). However, the song’s musical production makes it extremely troubling and some describe it as ‘sinister’. There is a deep, troubling feeling that arises as soon as the track begins, and which goes throughout. It is this fear-invoking approach that is so detrimental in putting up walls.

This is an easy one, really. Anais Mitchell’s concept album ‘Hadestown’ is a modern depiction of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice from the Greek Mythology. Set in an Americana dreamscape town, one of the songs features a despotic god of death who ‘indoctrinates the workers’ who ‘engage in mindless, soulless work in exchange for security promised by their boss-king Hades’ (quotes are from a fairly recent article written for Huffington Post by Mitchell herself and applying it to the age of Trump). The song has a simple formula: Hades asks his ‘children’ a question, and receives an answer, and moves on to the next question and so on. The questions all refer to the reasoning behind the building of the wall, and the answers eventually make it clear that the wall does not create more security, nor does it improve the lives of the people inside or outside, but the people of the town are so brainwashed that they keep abiding to Hades’ tyranny, reiterating—quite obviously cynical, as far as Mitchell is concerned—that ‘we build a wall to keep us free’. Little did Mitchell know how poignant her lyrics will become in the days following Trump’s inauguration.

If ‘Why We Build the Wall’ is a cynical take on modern day America, ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ is an Americana classic invoking the fond memories of the ‘good old days’ at the frontier (while completely disregarding the injustice that has fallen upon the Native Americans, but we can’t really expect such state of progressive thinking from a song written almost a century ago). It is a somewhat nomadic song, put to music by Cole Porter for the soundtrack of the western ‘Adios Argentina’. I say ‘put to music’ because the text is based on a poem written by an engineer who used to build highways in Montana which are, in a way, the modern-day opposites of walls. The song, which features a very calm and pastoral landscape, repeatedly begs an unknown entity not to fence him in. This is an interesting point, as it has become a bit of an anthem in the south and the frontier states (at least I remember singing it around the campfire in a Colorado ranch), many states that Trump swept in the recent elections. Originally performed by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, the song also features many covers, most notably a version by Ella Fitzgerald (one cannot disregard what it must have meant for people of color to compose and make versions of this song in segregated America). Another interesting version, by Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne, turned into a Louisiana-style jazz anthem, has a fantastic video (revolutionary for when it was shot) featuring headshots of people of various age, race and gender singing the song together.

I was driving in my car one day, many years ago, and on the radio I heard a song that was so beautiful and enchanting that I just had to know what it was. This was way before Shazam and smartphones, and I was a bit puzzled as to how I will be able to find the song and the singer. Luckily the radio station playing it uploaded all the playlists to their website, and that’s how I stumbled upon indie-folk singer-songwriter Liz Durrett and her phenomenal vocal abilities. Unfortunately she never got big, or famous, but every now and then I go back to her music that makes me so sentimental. One such song is ‘We Build Bridges’ (and I’m sorry for the tacky video, apparently this song featured on some TV show). I don’t really have much to say about it, I just think it’s beautiful.

Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ is perhaps the epitome of concept albums (which seems to be a bit of a theme in today’s playlist). Telling the tale of an individual who—through all the hardships of his adolescence and adulthood—surrounded himself by a figurative wall, it is an ode to limited individualism, all the while criticizing both modern society and the way it encroaches on people’s freedoms and the selfishness some people are driven towards. The album is obviously written from the perspective of Roger Waters, who by then became the dominant lyricist of Pink Floyd, and based on his own life and thoughts about politics, society as well as on his reflections on his own actions—namely, an incident that occurred while Pink Floyd were touring with their previous album ‘Animals’ (Waters recently played ‘Pigs: Three Different Ones’, the centrepiece of the album, in Mexico in front of 300,000 people and ‘dedicated’ it to Trump, the video is amazing). I chose not to add the iconic ‘Another Brick in the Wall pt. 2’ to this playlist but rather the somber and soothing ‘Outside the Wall’, to hopefully bring forth a message of hope rather than one of despair, a message that highlights the human connections that can be made regardless of walls and barriers.


Leonard Cohen—The Partisan

Baruchi Malewich is an Israeli expatriate currently residing in the UK. He completed his BA is Government and Diplomacy from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya and his MPhil in International Relations from the University of Cambridge. He was a DJ in the student radio of both schools, and is an avid music fan. He is currently working on PhD applications and on an online publication devoted to researching the role of theory in the

social sciences.


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