Joanna P. Basile
Tear Down The Wall
Updated: Sep 8, 2021
It was a summer day, and I remember exactly what I was wearing down to the white denim, cutoff shorts. He was house sitting for our friend Scott's parents and we knew what that meant. He had recently told me he loved me, and with that, the white denim cutoffs were to come off, never to return.
I remember it beginning on the steps that lead down to the tv room and it continuing to play out on the beige berber rug. Back then there was always carpeting, and it wasn’t uncommon to lay on the floor to watch tv. Which is what I caught myself doing in light of this monumental moment.
I laid there losing my innocence while watching The Wall for the first time.
Who knew that a prog-rock concept album born of a spitting incident would become one of the most significant albums of my life.
Fast forward to November 30, 2020, the 41st anniversary of the release of that very album which inspired the 1982 cult film. The Orwellian rock opera that was once tied for the third best-selling album in US history. Today, the concept's proximity to real-life in this country is staggering. My musical soulmate Lonn calls and reminds me of The Wall’s deliverance on this day.
I happened to be reading The Untethered Soul at that moment. The chapter about keeping our hearts open, always having access to the energy that is our birthright. “Nothing, ever, is worth closing your heart over.” Closing hearts, building walls. Lonn and I talk about our chakras being blocked. All these things we hold on to, they’re all just bricks in the wall I tell him. "Tear down the wall.”
I find myself marching around the house shouting “TEAR DOWN THE WALL” in between fits of laughter. That’s going to be my mantra today.
Currently there’s no romantic I love yous or getting laid on the floor for me. And in an effort to watch the film in honor of the record release, I have discovered it can’t be found anywhere. I did locate a 10 part series with Russian subtitles on YouTube. Not quite the same.
However there’s no need for me to look for it because The Wall always seems to find me.
In an effort to tear down something, I found myself in rehab back in 2010. I like hearing it called rehab because it sounds rebellious or mysterious even – at least to those who haven’t attended. Let’s be real here and say I was in a treatment center. My drinking and drug use had come full-circle; it took off with an assault at 15 and ended with an assault at 35. It was not a glamorous stay at a Malibu retreat. It was the second toughest facility in the country.
It’s not exactly what I had dreamed of as a little girl. Whoever thought smart and sassy Basile would end up institutionalized in North Pasadena, sleeping in a shitty room with 5 other women and under constant scrutiny and observation in an effort to fix her. My own mental trial, much like Pink's. What pissed me off was I hadn’t touched cocaine in over a year, I smoked weed once a year and even my drinking had tapered off. Most importantly I had been intentionally monogamous after a short time of celibacy.
Things got really dark following the roofie-fueled attack. Is is date rape if you were only friends? A few days later at a pool party in the Hollywood Hills my friend Jeff noticed a drastic change in my demeanor. He asked me two questions: Are you done and do you want to go to rehab. I answered yes to both, and wished I could snatch that second yes from the thick air it seemed to be hanging in. Did I just say I’d go to rehab?
And go I did. Sentenced to 30 days. They asked if I wanted to stay longer and I said, “You tell me.” So I stayed for a suggested 60 days. It was actually good to unplug and hit restart. I didn’t have my phone for two months. My counselor let me sneak in calls to my mom, while my father was convinced I was in jail. Close, Daddy, it really felt like jail; I even learned how to make spread.
When I got out, I had some explaining to do. Most close friends knew where I was, but a few had no idea. Like my ex-boyfriend Rob.
Rob and I knew each other while both living and working in Las Vegas. He was an executive at a hotel property I frequented so much they still leave my car up nearly 20 years later. We dated on and off. Not sure he ever took me seriously. Not sure I ever took myself seriously.
When he learned where I had been, he remarked, “You didn’t need rehab, you were just fun.” Maybe he forgot the day we held court drinking at the Circle Bar (yeah, yeah I know, the Center Bar) from 12 noon until 12 midnight. Or the time at the Chateau Marmont when I drank enough doubles to drown out the snide comments comparing me to the other woman he was apparently seeing. The definition of uncomfortably numb.
Here we were both back in LA, and I was sober.
“I know you are dying for sushi.” He was correct. I don’t remember the meal, but I remember walking the streets of Pasadena that night like a kitten amongst shiny things.
So that’s how we ended up seeing each other again. Adding a few more months to that six year stretch of on and off. Cumulatively he might hold the record.
After dinner one night we ended up at his place. It would be the first time I’d be getting my groove on post-treatment. I had been reborn in a way, and this could be significant to me. Yet I saw no reason at the time to disclose this – it was my own recognition that mattered either way.
It’s not like I didn't make love or fuck while straight before. In fact I am one of those that doesn’t need lubrication to relax my inhibitions. It was my social anxiety that needed a drink. Triple dog dare me and I’ll do whatever it is stone sober. Matter of fact I have always enjoyed everything more when lucid. I danced sober and even sang karaoke sober. Besides, I felt safe in his company – not always emotionally – but I knew the sex would be solid. And it was.
I just started to lose myself in the heat of things when I hear a familiar sound emanating from the television across the room. I look up to see marching hammers.
The Wall was on the tv.
Tears began to uncontrollably fall down my cheeks. I tried to retreat a little inward as to not reveal my reaction – not so easy to do when someone is inside you. I know now that real intimacy could have transpired there, making it quite beautiful or at least meaningful for the both of us, but to this day I don’t think he is capable.
A week later I pointed out that in 6 years he never paid me one complement, and he responded, “Yes I have; I told you that you give the best head ever.” A week after that I left and never looked back.
That first year I gave up many things. Fell on my face sometimes while doing so, but I never relapsed. I had learned from a counselor how to identify triggers and avoid them until I had my legs. Live music was a trigger, as it seemed to pair nicely with brown liquor and the occasional white horse. I became a loyal Kentucky bourbon girl when seeing bands. I picked up that habit back in Chicago from another friend named Scott. Needless to say I had to stay away from both shows and Scott for awhile.
Along the way I picked up some new friends. Trudging buddies. A few I met through MusiCares meetings, a process group lead by my now dear friend Gary. Gary created this group of misfits that were able to talk candidly about the perils of being a creative in recovery. I’ll never forget when my friend Ernie came into that room. That day he was upset that they wouldn’t allow him to have a nail file where he was staying. How was a guitar player supposed to keep his chops up without filing his nails! So I bought him some emery boards, and the rest is history.
Ernie became and still is my big brother. A best friend. He has helped me navigate everything from some hard-core breakups to the death of my dad. We hit the gym together, even when all I do is dance and talk and eat cupcakes after. And he was by my side when I started going to live shows again.
I scored a ticket to see the Foo Fighters at The Forum through colleagues and Ernie got seats complements of Dave Grohl of course. He brought our friend Pops if I remember correctly.
There is something about the Forum, and the infamous Forum Club. The history. The cake for and of the band. The buffet, hoping it's 'breakfast for dinner'. Running into everyone you know. Or when you'd look behind you to see the likes of Cindy Crawford 3 feet away. And my favorite, getting hit on by Spicoli.
That night it was pure rock in one of my favorite venues. And for the first time I didn’t have a drink in my hand.
The Foo Fighters did not disappoint. And towards the end of the set there’s a purposeful pause. And then this riff…
I immediately get the chills.
Grohl is playing In The Flesh?, the opening track of, you guessed it, The Wall.
“So ya. Thought ya. Might like to, go to the show. To feel the warm thrill of confusion. That space cadet glow.”
Overcome with emotion, I cry. I get goosebumps and I cry.
How perfectly those lyrics described many of my show experiences up until this very moment. What would I have become if I continued to subject myself to the proverbial sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. At one point I knew in my bones that if I didn't stop, I'd be found dead on the bathroom floor.
In the film, the song is depicted in the scene at Pink's concert in which he describes for the crowd the masks we put up to shield ourselves from the world. What once lay beneath my mask was years of pain, trauma and abandonment, much like Pink. But unlike Pink I wasn't ready to be a victim, and close myself off from the world. I did not want to go insane. I learned along the way that ultimately freedom can't be separated from personal responsibility.
Around this time I get a new mentor, Louisa, and she tells me her father worked on The Wall in some capacity. I can never remember if it was the tour or the album or the film. It’s a good excuse to reach out. Anything to connect to loved ones these days.
I miss that time in LA. I especially miss the people and my road trips. Every time I drove through the desert to my friends Jamie and Gene’s pad in Yucca Valley, I’d play the whole record. Something about the wind turbines makes me think of the marching hammers. I wonder if anyone else plays 'Waiting for the Worms' when they see fields of the things. I now do the same through a stretch of them somewhere in the middle of Nowhere, Indiana. Life sure is funny, isn’t it.
Not long after the Foo at the Forum, I was finally going to see the concert of all concerts, and at the LA Coliseum no less. I was intimidated by Roger Waters even before it began. I had heard a few stories. Waters said himself he "famously hated playing to large numbers of people...in stadiums." But after all was said and done, he was now the Grand Master of arena rock and has been quoted as being "moved" by performing in large places. Now in an outdoor arena, the wall was able to stretch 500 feet.
He forever changed the concert into an experience. And I couldn't wait.
Although charged with childlike excitement, I was so afraid I wouldn’t get it if I wasn’t stoned. Was this just stoner music all along and I’m the only one that doesn’t actually get it?
I sat quiet the entire set. It moved through me as if it were part of me. Better than any high I had ever known.
A few years ago I found myself contently sitting in on a Saturday night. And I inadvertently landed on the movie. I finally watched it in its entirety after all those years. With my pants on.
The then 31 year old Bob Geldof does the part of Pink justice at every turn. While trying to unearth it again today, I caught snippets of it and I’m realizing how strange it is to resonate with Geldof in his kabuki-like makeup as the tortured psyche of Pink - a screaming, unhinged fascist. Oh, how life can imitate art. And this isn’t said in jest; until the torch is passed we Americans should be uneasy.
Just like many of my life experiences, The Wall is as beautiful to me as it is raw. Both beauty and confusion can reside in the same space.
The dichotomy in the making of this record is impressive, considering the outcome. Imagine what it felt like in the studio - when they were all allowed in the same space. As documented, both the production and release of the album was indeed not easy. Loads of confusion and in-fighting, followed by record label discord. And despite the tour being a rabid success, it was an economic failure.
In spite of its exasperating entry into the world, The Wall is story-telling at its finest. So thought provoking. And I never fully realized the many parallels until I put the needle on the record for the very first time. I truly listened to the lyrics and the way the music deliberately carried them. And it now resonates with me more than ever - the metaphoric tale and expectant journey of death and rebirth. But it was a very long time before I would even possess the album itself. In all the used record stores I visited across the globe, I could never find it.
In the midst of the pandemic, out of nowhere, at long last came the courage to go through my father’s record collection. It must have been exactly the right time for a long-awaited posthumous gift of music from Daddy.
And there it was.
The Wall found me once again.
The Wall made its way into my pandemic soundtrack early on, notably Disc 1, Side 2 - beginning with Goodbye Blue Sky. Seems fitting.
My father’s eclectic collection contains everything from Peter Tosh to Sabbath. I wasn’t shocked at all. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Regarding rehab, don’t be afraid to ask. I am not ashamed. With an open heart, you can find a way to experience most anything with acceptance and grace.
I’ll write about my time in treatment someday. In the meantime, check out this exposé by Mark Groubert c. 2008: https://www.laweekly.com/going-undercover-at-impact-house/. I concur.
I am always here to help tear down the wall.