Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb: behind the meaning of the lyrics

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A request breaks the night.

Hello
Is there anybody in there?

In this way, almost whispering, Comfortably Numb begins: a wonderful poem about loneliness and need for meanings.

Comfortably Numb, one of Pink Floyd’s most beloved songs, from The Wall (1979), melody and music by David Gilmour and lyrics by Roger Waters, describes a state of loss: the protagonist is someone who get anesthetized before entering the stage.

I hear you’re feeling down
Well I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again

Can you show me where it hurts?

In an interview released in the 80s Waters said that much of the song comes from an episode that really happened one evening when, in order to allow him to hold a concert in Philadelphia, the doctor gave him a sedative against a severe stomach ache, probably caused by the tension. On the stage, his hands were blocked and his vision blurred, but none of this interested the crowd, which continued to move and shout. Hence one of the main themes of The Wall: the incommunicability between the public and the band.

“That was the longest two hours of my life, trying to do a show when you can hardly lift your arm.”

Roger Waters

There is no pain, you are receding
A distant ships smoke on the horizon

You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re sayin’

I can’t hear what you say: that’s the distance mentioned in the chorus.

You have taken away my pain, you have anesthetized me, but you didn’t make me happy. Lyrics written with the lucid awareness of the melancholy that we experience sometimes, in evenings. This song is a very clear vision, carved in pain and will to live.

When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons

Now I got that feeling once again

I can’t explain, you would not understand
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb

Incommunicability is a pain. Because to be alive, to be human, we need others. We don’t need just to be seen, to be perceived: we need to be listened to.

Just a little pinprick
[ping]

Can you stand up?
I do believe its working, good
That’ll keep you going for the show

Come on, it’s time to go

The interpretations obviously could be many. In a metaphorical sense, it could also mean that the protagonist is ‘fixed’ in order to adequately address his life, society and relationships, which to him are now just like a big show. Society doesn’t care about the effects of drugs. As long as they work for their purpose.

There’s no pain, but you’re receding. Like a distant ship smoking on the horizon.

As Nicola Randone points out:

“In literature both the water and the sea symbolize our mind, especially the unexplored depths of the unconscious. […] The complete disorientation of man with respect to his situation makes him feel unable to really express himself and his sensations. That’s why the lyrics say: ‘I can’t explain, you would not understand… This is not how I am’

The main theme is the distance between our mind and the perception of reality because of an artificial relief. In other words: we may not suffer, but that does not make us alive; escaping from life and its problems actually deprives us of something. This is the meaning of the song: life is out there, I prefer to face it and let it hurt me, instead of losing all feelings.

Depression, in Comfortably Numb, is just a gray anteroom where everything is reminiscent of death. The absence of pain is not happiness. The doctor of the lyrics takes off the pain to get the show going, but that doesn’t work. It only increases distances, and even the voice sounds more distant.

Our society is based on productivity and success, so reducing pain or humanity to get positive results is seen as a help: but we risk to forget that the world of feelings, pain, search for the other, time for itself, even fatigue, this world actually represents our whole life. And it keeps us in touch with reality.

When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone

The second guitar solo in Comfortably Numb was considered the fourth most beautiful solo in the history of rock according to Guitar World magazine. The public, however, had a greater enthusiasm: when in 2006 the British radio station Planet Rock asked to vote the most beautiful solo of all time, this song was the winner.

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