Pink Floyd was always operating on their own unmatched level throughout their career, even during the Syd Barrett days of the band, when their sound was rawer than the Gilmour-era of The Floyd. As the years went on, Barrett’s life went in the polar opposite direction to his world-conquering bandmates who were touring the globe while he was living with his mother in Cambridge. However, on their album The Wall, they left a secret message for him to hear.
The Wall, famously, is a record that follows the story of a burnt-out rockstar who has turned his back on civilisation and becomes a recluse, a theme which is symbolised metaphorically by the wall itself. The songs attempt to create a storyline of events in the life of the protagonist, Pink—a character who fans believe is an amalgamation of characteristics that Roger Waters had taken from Syd Barrett and himself. One giveaway that fans latch on to which continues to add fuel to this theory is that Pink’s father dies when he was a child—a tragedy which occurred to both Waters and Barrett.
This theory is one that Waters has never commented on, a factor that added to the mystique surrounding the protagonist and set Pink Floyd’s fans minds racing in the progress. In reality, the likelihood is that the character of Pink takes elements from an array of different people which are then exaggerated, like all good storytelling. But it is difficult to not see parallels between the characteristics of the jaded Pink figure and that of Barrett, a musician who had been out of the public eye for a decade by 1979 when The Wall was released. That said, the character still managed to be a vehicle for this secret message on the track ‘Empty Spaces’.
‘Empty Spaces‘ seemed to confirm that there was more than an element of truth in the theory that Pink was a version of Barrett to some degree. On the track, Roger Waters inserts a hidden message which the listener would never pick up without knowing prior. In the message, he can be heard speaking as the track is played backwards, stating: “Congratulations. You’ve just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the funny farm, Chalfont,” he says when reversed.
Then a voice in the background states: “Roger! Carolyne is on the phone!”, which led many to believe ‘Old Pink’ is the band’s former lead singer Syd Barrett, who had gone off the radar since he suffered a breakdown in 1968.
However, this theory was later refuted by drummer Nick Mason who spoke to Sonic Reality in 2014 about the topic. “At the time, people were always looking for messages in albums,” Mason explained. “So we thought: ‘Oh, well. We better do one’.”
“Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message.” Asked whether there was any sort of deeper meaning behind it, Mason laughed it off, adding, “It’s complete nonsense.”
It’s hard to believe that this message could all just be a coincidence as Mason alludes to, many speculating that it would be unlikely for the drummer to out of his way to admit there is truth in favour of keeping that mystery alive. There’s also a good chance that Mason believes it is complete nonsense because Waters has added the secret message without his knowledge and never informed his bandmates about his trick.
There’s only one person who knows the true identity of Pink and if there is any truth in the secret message is Roger Waters, a figure who has stayed quiet on the topic for over 40 years so we shouldn’t hold hope for a solution any time soon.