The Wall of Sound. Sweet heavenly Jesus: the Wall of Sound. These befuddled men asked themselves, “How much Sound do we need?” The answer–apparently–was, “A Wall’s worth.”
The problem was not really with the Sound so much as it was with the Wall. It was also an intractable problem, due to the fact that the very definition of ‘wall’ is something you cannot move easily, if at all. Hadrian’s Wall? Great Wall of China? All still there, mostly because of bunch of longhairs and bikers didn’t drag them around the midwest for months at a time. That a wall not be portable is its sine non qua is obvious with even my cursory knowledge of siege warfare, all entirely gleaned from 8th grade World history and whichever Lord of the Rings movie had the big castle fight scene. You know the name: it was the one with the little gay hobbits and the monsters and dragons and it lasts for nineteen fucking hours. (Although, seriously, what kind of nimrod builds a castle with a drainage canal thing in the FRONT, where is easily accesible to your enemy, provided your enemy is a monster, WHICH HE TOTALLY IS AND YOU KNEW THAT GOING INTO THIS, SO WHY DIDN’T YOU BRICK THAT THING UP, GRAND MOFF TARKIN?)
It took 12 hours to set the Wall up. The Amish can knock off 6, 7 barns in that amount of time. If something takes you twelve hours to build, it should be permanent. These facts, though, pale in comparison to the fact that they chose to do this during a gas crisis. You cannot haul 75 tons of anything around during a gas crisis and expect to turn a profit: it’s one of the first things they teach you at Wharton, right after, “mention Trump and you fail.”
The Wall didn’t stop at the speakers, all of which were custom-built at a special facility in Daly City, CA that lights its workshop with burning cash. No, the boys also had new space-age instruments made up for themselves, most famously Garcia’s Wolf. Phil also got a new bass, so heavy and laden with doom it looked like the melee weapon of Phil-Garr the Grateful.
I will break my own iron held rule about research to quote at length:
|Phil is using a new quadraphonic bass, the electronics of which were designed and built by George Mundy and the body and pickups by Rick Turner. The new bass has the same versatile qualities as the old bass: three pickups (bass and treble pickups covering all the strings, and a quad pickup which has a separate signal for each string); on each of the bass and treble pickups there are controls which enable him to select 1) the band-width of the filter, 2) the center frequency of the filter, 3) the kind of filter being used and 4) mix unequalized unfiltered direct sound with the filtered sound. The variety of sounds which can be achieved on the bass is the result of the many different combinations of these variables which can be used. The new bass has a frequency response with a crisper tone, and two quad pickups instead of one, the new one being a frequency-detector pickup. The main addition to the new bass is a Digital Decoding Circuit such that ten push buttons on the bass allow Phil to select any one of sixteen quad spatial arrangements of his speakers, and eight in stereo mode|
I DARE you to make sense of any of that. And then factor in the fact that this is all to play Chuck Berry tunes. You can see how the Hiatus was, maybe, a necessary and inevitable thing–what comes after the wall of Sound, after all? The band made a brief and desultory attempt to build an exact replica of Versailles out of speakers, drugs, and promissory notes, but after spending $200,000 and Mickey burning down the model, the boys lost interest.
It all sounded different after they came back. The music held less secrets, but it would have been good to hear the Wall with Mickey, too. Imagine this Samson coming through a sound system that in Olden Days would have been worshipped as a god, perhaps even two gods and a saint. The Wall had that much impressive in it: pilgrims would often leave notes in the cracks of the Wall, which was a horrible, horrible idea for two reasons. First, members of the band would invariably mistake the folded-up paper prayers for bindles of narcotics and savagely knock you to the ground trying to get to them; second, Steve Parrish had a strict policy about punching anyone who touched the Wall.