RoadRUNNER Zen Motorcyclist

Wall Of Death

Feb 10, 2013 View Comments by

Wall Of Death

On the wall of death all the world is far from me, on the wall of death it’s the nearest to being free.” – Richard Thompson.

Richard and Linda Thompson’s final album Shoot Out the Lights (1982) contained a song called Wall of Death which I first heard performed by Nanci Griffith. Every time I hear it motorcycling always comes to mind. The song refers to the attractions at sideshow carnivals, specifically the Wall of Death, a barrel shaped wooden cylinder which showmen ride in circles (in cars or on motorcycles) as they are held in place by centripetal force.

The Wall of Death has been around since the early 1900’s and got its start from American board track racing. Thompson writes that while you may get certain thrills or be amused wasting your time on other rides, it’s the Wall of Death that is his choice because it makes him feel the most alive; and so it is for me with motorcycles. I suspect the same is true of you too.

I’ve driven sports cars, trucks, ATV’s, trikes, and raced bicycles but it’s the motorcycle that is my preferred mode of transportation for the simple fact Thompson illustrates so well in this short masterpiece. It makes me feel alive. Case closed and end of story. In everything else you are a passenger being moved from here to there; while on a motorcycle you are the mover, getting yourself there, with wisdom, skill, courage; “balls and brains” I like to say.

Wall of Death has been covered by R.E.M., Nanci Griffith, and others. There’s also a fantastic video called Wall of Death by Benedict Campbell which features The Ken Fox Troupe, a family who travel Europe and the British Isles performing on the wall. You can find the video on vimeo. The lyrics to the song follow below. Enjoy and ride safe.

Wall Of Death
Written by Richard Thompson

Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
You can waste your time on the other rides
This is the nearest to being alive
Oh let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death
You can go with the crazy people in the Crooked House
You can fly away on the Rocket or spin in the Mouse
The Tunnel Of Love might amuse you
Noah’s Ark might confuse you
But let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death

On the Wall Of Death all the world is far from me
On the Wall Of Death it’s the nearest to being free

Well you’re going nowhere when you ride on the carousel
And maybe you’re strong but what’s the good of ringing a bell
The switchback will make you crazy. Beware of the bearded lady
Oh let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death
Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
Oh let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
You can waste your time on the other rides
This is the nearest to being alive
Oh let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death
Let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death
Oh let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death

 

 

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About the author

I have been motorcycle commuting since 1998. I created Zen Motorcyclist (formerly Commuting Motorcyclist) in 2011 and work as a motojournalist, software developer, CAD designer and IT/CAD manager in the Surveying and Civil Engineering field.