Pink Floyd released “Comfortably Numb,” featured on their eleventh studio album The Wall, in 1979 and again in 1980 as a B-side single to “Hey You.” The six-minute song is one of Pink Floyd’s most well-known, boasting one of the most legendary guitar solos of all time. Along with its legendary solo, the song provides airy and eerie lyrics by Roger Waters.
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But what is the meaning behind Pink Floyd’s most well-known songs? What does it mean to be “Comfortably Numb?” Let’s discuss.
The Meaning in Context with The Wall
Pink Floyd’s The Wall is a concept album, or as they considered it, a rock opera. The storyline follows the protagonist, Pink, based on Syd Barrett and Roger Waters. Pink builds a metaphorical wall around himself when his father died in World War II. Within the wall, he embarks on an emotional journey into the past. But, his journey is interrupted when his management breaks into his hotel room. Along with Pink’s management is a doctor, who suddenly, injects Pink with a drug. The drug counteracts his already drug-induced state to ensure that Pink can perform at a concert later in the evening.
The song begins with Roger Water’s singing:
Hello? (Hello, hello, hello)
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone home?
Come on (Come on, come on), now
I hear you’re feeling down
Well, I can ease your pain
And get you on your feet again
The first verse reflects the doctor coming to Pink in his drug-induced state. The doctor speaks to Pink asking for any response whatsoever. The parentheticals emphasize Pink’s drug state as he is not hearing the doctor properly as though everything is moving in slow-motion and vibrating.
Finally, Pink is able to respond to the doctor, which David Gilmour sings:
There is no pain, you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re saying
Pink reflects on his state. The doctor believes that he is in pain, but Pink tells him it’s exactly the opposite. There is no pain. He completely exists in a state of mind-numbing peace from the drugs. They make the doctor feel as distant as a ship. When the doctor asks how he feels, Pink compares his peaceful state to his childhood when he had a fever. He says My hands felt just like two balloons / Now I’ve got that feeling once again entailing that he is floating in his state of drug-filled peace. He is … “Comfortably Numb.”
Roger Waters’ Personal Experience
Waters told Rolling Stone in a December 2004 interview that the meaning behind “Comfortably Numb” was based on personal experience. In 1977, Waters suffered from hepatitis, which can cause tiredness, abdominal pain, and vomiting. At a show that year in Philadelphia, a sleazy doctor injected him with a tranquilizer before a show. He said “That was the longest two hours of my life, trying to do a show when you can hardly lift your arm.”
Waters was placed in a state where he was “Comfortably Numb.” He was heavy and sleepy—everything felt similar to the lines Hello? (Hello, hello, hello).
The Song’s Legacy
In 2005, it was the last song ever performed by Waters, Gilmour, keyboardist Richard Wright, and drummer Nick Mason together. Since then, the song reached critical acclaim with listeners of the digital radio station Planet Rock voting it the greatest guitar solo of all time and Guitar World rating it the fourth-best guitar solo of all time.
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