British singer Vera Lynn died last week at the incredible age of 103. Her career spanned seven decades, but it was her World War II era songs like “We’ll Meet Again” and “(There Will Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover” that made her a cultural icon by providing strength and I comfort soldiers during the conflict. “My songs reminded the boys of what they were really fighting for,” he once said. “Precious personal things rather than ideologies.”
In 1978 when Roger Waters was writing Wall, who was partially inspired by her father’s death in the war, her thoughts turned to Vera Lynn and how she embodied a very different moment in England’s history. This reflection led to the tender ballad “Vera”, which appears in the middle of the album, when the storyteller, the disillusioned rock star Pink, meets the WWII film. The battle of great britain on television.
“Does anyone here remember Vera Lynn?” he sings. “Do you remember how he said that / We would see each other again / Some sunny day? / Vera, Vera / What happened to you?” (The song is only 81 seconds long. Above is a video of the song, combined with images of Lynn and soldiers in World War II.)
Around the same time, Stanley Kubrick was working hard adapting Stephen King’s 1977 horror novel The brilliant in a movie starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. It is a book about an alcoholic writer, Jack Torrance, who is driven mad by the spirits of a remote haunted hotel in Colorado. The book ends with Torrance dying when the building’s boiler explodes, but Kubrick changed it to freeze to death in a hedge maze and become one of the many ghosts that haunt the hotel. The final image is a photo on a wall at the Torrance hotel that attended a July 4 party in 1921, somehow, just as it did the day he died, more than 50 years later.
I like it Wall, The brilliant it’s about how the personal traumas of our past never really leave us. And Kubrick wanted to combine Torrance’s ghostly final image in 1921 with the perfect song. He settled on Vera Lynn’s “See You Again”. Like Waters, he felt he typified a bygone era. However, unlike Waters, he was old enough to remember when he was new.
Renewed attention, especially a big rock band wondering “does anyone here remember Vera Lynn?” – It must have seemed quite strange to Lynn herself. At the time Wall It came out, she was still in the public eye, and she even featured a popular BBC variety series that went off the air just a few years earlier. What no one could have predicted is that she would live another 41 years and reach 103. She even survived her author. New York Times obituary for four years. She was one of the last living singers to have songs on the charts in the 1940s, and a pivotal cultural figure for the older generation. To answer a question raised by Waters many years ago, many remember it.