Terrence McGovern, WSWS.ORG
(13 October 2010)
Editor’s Note: Do NOT miss the addendum, a piece outlining Waters’ views on animals, hunting and other morally significant issues. The mark, indeed, of the well-cushioned, and essentially politically ignorant celebrity long enveloped in a cocoon of liberaloid petty bourgeois thinking. The dude is confused. In the worst possible way. His unexamined narcissism leads him to believe that because “he does it” it must be alright. How many mediocrities do you know who think that way?—PG
In 1979, the progressive rock band Pink Floyd released its 11th studio album, entitled The Wall, which was to be accompanied by possibly the most ambitious live show in rock history as well as a film, released in 1982 and directed by Alan Parker. The live show centered on the building of a 40-foot-high wall separating the audience from the band. Huge animations were projected onto the wall, which effectively became a giant screen, while giant inflatable monsters stalked the stage and the band played variously from behind, in front of and on top of the wall.
Roger Waters, the band’s bassist and lead songwriter, committed this year to taking the show back on stage for the first time since an enormous 1990 concert in the no-man’s land at the site of the Berlin Wall that had until then divided Berlin between East and West. While Waters is utilizing the most modern projection and lighting technology, computer graphics and stage effects, the major change to the show is the integration of new political commentary and the accentuation of previous statements in the music.
Over the last four decades, both under the Pink Floyd name and under his own, Waters has been releasing music that is powerfully opposed to religion, imperialism and capitalism. His last solo rock album, Amused to Death (1992), was explicit and unreserved in its criticism of contemporary society—in ambitious songs like “What God Wants,” “The Bravery of Being out of Range” (about the Gulf War) and “Perfect Sense,” in which a massive audience bellows the “global anthem:” “It all makes perfect sense expressed in dollars and cents, pounds shillings and pence!”
In 2005, Waters released two singles over the Internet that made clear his opposition to the Iraq War and the Bush administration (“To Kill The Child”) and to the demonization of the people of the Middle East (“Leaving Beirut”).
His new tour furthers these positions. Apache helicopters roar toward the audience, Boeing bombers drop crosses, Stars of David and dollars signs, faces of dead soldiers and civilians linger on the screen and a giant projected camera “spies” on the audience. Waters rouses the audience with a resounding rendition of “Bring The Boys Back Home,” in which he dramatically projects a quotation from Dwight D. Eisenhower across The Wall: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft, from those who hunger, and are not fed, those who are cold, and not clothed.”
Waters’ music and his Wall show in particular represent a unique achievement for the rock genre. The development of rock as an artistic form has been contradictory. While rock was gradually induced to take itself more seriously by the late 1960s as the youth became more assertive and politically involved, the genre mostly absorbed the mindset that was politically expressed by the New Left. Lyrics, while no longer dwelling in the clichés of earlier love songs, were often nonsensical and at most reflected the banalities of drug use, Eastern religions and a pretentious ambiguity toward all questions that raised social (especially class) and not merely individual questions.
New experimentation in rock during the late 1960s matured into progressive rock at the beginning of the 1970s. Pink Floyd was originally a “psychedelic” band with typical nonsense lyrics and themes, becoming only gradually a band known for its deep and challenging concept albums. While progressive rock made important advances in the 1970s, it suffered greatly from the inability of progressive rock bands to concentrate on real social problems and concerns, leading to the subgenre’s association with fantastic, vacuous themes and pointless instrumentals. By the late 1970s, progressive rock had become discredited and its stylistic opposite, punk, captured the imagination of rock listeners for a time. The Wall’s success at the end of the 1970s was surprising during the period of progressive rock’s decline. Progressive rock never recovered as a dominant form of rock music, and many of its bands returned to more radio-friendly music in the 1980s, before largely disappearing from the public consciousness in the 1990s.
It is clear that Waters’ achievements should be welcomed when seen in the context of rock history, which has a tragically dismal record with political and social commentary. There are however, areas in which The Wall reflects confusion and vacillation on the part of Waters that are characteristic of the petty-bourgeois “far left” in the United States, where he now lives. Waters, who goes as far as putting George W. Bush’s picture next to Mao’s, Stalin’s and Hitler’s during The Wall concert, air-dropped leaflets lauding Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign. Waters has been outspoken in his criticism of Bush, Tony Blair and past presidents and prime ministers in interviews, on albums and during his concerts in the past, but he now refrains from addressing his stance toward Obama, who has pursued a path identical to Bush.
Waters is unwilling to draw conclusions from his criticisms of capitalism and the government. He does not want to lean too far in any one direction. Waters carefully prepares the concert’s projections to give equal consideration to American soldiers who have died in the wars and to civilian victims. Along with the cross, Star of David and the dollar sign, he shows B-52s dropping crescent moons and hammer and sickles! This can only confuse the audience. What exactly is to replace the chilling slavery and mayhem that Waters so boldly presents to the audience as their reality? What action can we take? Certainly The Wall’s unaltered conclusion, that “the bleeding hearts and the artists” in their “ones” and “twos” are burdened with task of correcting the world, is inadequate and irresponsible to suggest. Why bring audiences together and rip part of the façade off capitalism only to tell the audience that there is nothing for them to do—that, as the New Left used to say, “all ideologies are wrong” and what we need is common decency?
The Wall remains, however, a positive application of rock music to the exposure of the barbarism and hatred that weigh down on working people all over the world. It remains for rock musicians and all artists to draw principled conclusions from the suffering and the inequities of modern life and use their creative gifts to enrich their audience’s vision of the future and give them the confidence to pursue the necessary struggles.
[6 October 2010]
Roger Waters: Rebel without a pause
Interview from the DAILY TELEGRAPH, England, 13 May 2000
[Annotated by the Greanville Post editor]
Roger Waters, the guiding force behind the psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd, is now joining the hot debate in favour of foxhunting and keeping government hands off the countryside, says Rory Knight Bruce.
THINK of Pink Floyd and what comes to mind are a hazy 1970s loucheness, Dark Side of the Moon, lava lamps, and the distinctly anti-Thatcherite tone of The Wall.
What doesn’t feature is a passionate belief in the rights of country people. [Country people? You're talking about rich people with houses in the country.] Yet that is the position that Roger Waters – who was Pink Floyd – finds himself in: he is in sympathy with, to borrow Tony Blair’s phrase, the “forces of conservatism”. [Precisely. He's a mess.]
In Barbados to work on his first album in eight years, a series of live American concerts and an opera based on the French Revolution, 56-year-old Waters has found time to reflect upon the England which, under Mrs Thatcher, he did so much to condemn. Unexpectedly, Tony Blair’s assault on what Waters sees as the basic freedoms of the countryside may prompt him – a lifelong Labour supporter – to vote Conservative for the first time at the next general election.
Waters invites me to his house and we sit on the verandah. He is, for the time being, fixed on a pastoral view far beyond the horizon before us. “I think all rational people agree that foxes need to be controlled,” he says. “I believe passionately in an Englishman’s right to make up his own mind. I am afraid that the Government has been swayed by a vocal minority.”
His love of the country, of the British landscape [this is nonsense], has been passed down to Waters from his father and grandfather. It is something he has never spoken about before. Waters is famously private and during the three days I spend with him, he resists invitations to appear on the David Letterman television chat show in America. When we go one evening to a pool bar, not a single head turns in recognition, although everyone there would know his most famous creation, Dark Side of the Moon.
They would not know the darker side of the man, the brooding about such diverse subjects as river pollution and the war in Kosovo. But now his chief concern is that the English rural idyll he grew up in is being systematically destroyed by a government that does not understand, and cares little for, anything outside the cities.
It is as if his conscience has heard the call to arms. “We all have the opportunity to make one mark on the Big Picture,” he says.
As a child in Cambridge, Waters would cycle out to the countryside and go bird-nesting in the beech woods. He used to fish the tributaries of the Cam at Grantchester for gudgeon and roach “with a bamboo pole and a bent pin”.
This has given him a lifelong love of fishing and the rivers of England, and he regularly fishes the Test which, he points out, would not be there without the sporting fishermen [sic] who reclaimed the river from marshland and who protect its wildlife and fish-stocks today. “I see what has happened to the rivers of my youth, polluted by fertilisers, and I see how people who are concerned as sportsmen have saved them, with no help from the Government, and brought them back to life.”
As a result of the riparian owners and sporting fisherman, in which he includes the Cockney fisherman catching the Tube to the canal bank at weekends, Waters points out that we enjoy significant birdlife on the river. “From my home,” he says, “I can see mallard, merganser, Goldeneye and tufted duck, as well as a profusion of coots and moorhens.”
Against such sentiments, it is fascinating to hear Waters’s views on Sir Paul McCartney, an avowed vegetarian and opponent of hunting, and who has, it could be argued, used his fame to promote his opinions. “He is a person of great sincerity and I respect his right to hold his views,” says Waters. “However, McCartney also disapproves of horse and dog racing on the grounds that they exploit the animals.
“Maybe,” Waters allows, “if Sir Paul had his way, he would ban racing and eating meat as well as hunting and fishing. A ban on hunting could be the thin end of a very thick wedge.”
Waters also dismisses Sir Paul’s suggestions that foxhunting should be replaced with draghunting. “Draghunting won’t catch on because it’s not hunting, there’s no spontaneity. People enjoy foxhunting, at least in part, because it is ‘hunting’. There is a quarry, that’s the point. Man is a hunter. To legislate against his natural instinct is folly.”
Waters’s views on hunting were formed early. When he was a child, his grandparents would drive him out into the south of England countryside in their Ford Anglia to meets of the local foxhounds. “I remember seeing hunts in progress across farmland and thinking what a spectacular sight they were. I was very struck by the hunt followers on their bicycles or in Ford Populars with their Thermos flasks and a ruddy atmosphere of enthusiasm.” [So much for this supposedly proletarian's enthusiasm for one of the most barbaric anachronism of a brutal upper class.]
Waters lost his father at Anzio in 1944, when he was one, and his grandfather to the trenches of the First World War. His grandfather had been a coal miner in the drift mines of County Durham, and latterly Labour agent for Bradford; his father, a communist Christian. Both men loved the English landscape. “You could not fail to be a communist then. The children of Bradford did not have shoes or clogs but rags about their feet,” says Waters.
“I’m filled with the sense that I am heir to their passion and my forbears’ commitment to right and wrong, to truth and justice,” he continues. “I hope I have inherited what I admire about them as men, that they had the courage of their convictions, which caused them to give their lives for liberty and freedom.
“If this legislation finds its way on to the statute book, it could create, if not open revolt, at least a bitter schism between town and country, the reverberations of which could only sour our increasingly culturally impoverished society.”
This is a conversation one could be having at one of the Countryside Rallies, the first of which he attended with his family and which he found terrifically moving. The atmosphere reminded him of the Aldermaston marches in the 1960s.
Waters would regularly go to Boxing Day meets in his local market town until they were stopped because of anti-hunt protesters. “The antis’ tactics were so violent that it became a threat to public order and so an important tradition was stopped by the actions of a few thugs. Is this the democracy for which my father died?”
The unexpected discovery of a poignant family memoir has reinforced his commitment to defend hunting. Last year, after the death of his father’s sister, he was left a diary written by his father when he was 16. It begins on New Year’s Day 1929, when Eric Fletcher Waters was a schoolboy at Bishop’s Auckland, before winning a scholarship to Durham University.
On that day the young Eric left his mother’s house at Copley, near Barnard Castle, where she was the housekeeper for the local country doctor, and went out on foot with the Zetland foxhounds. “It is a beautiful, eloquent account of the crispness of the air, the snow on the ground and the cry of the hounds, and how a fox was finally killed in a railway cutting,” he says. [Sure, let's enjoy the beautiful countryside by ripping to shreds an innocent and badly outgunned and outmanned creature. If this evident and revolting form of cowardice and cruelty is elevated by this man to elegiac proportions, why are we to believe his posturing along the lines of "progressive" politics?]
The diary, which shows the enthusiasm of teenage years and ends after a couple of months, also describes more prosaic elements of country life. “Caught the United bus to Barnard Castle. Played snooker with Jack. Won tuppence.” For anyone who has lost a father when young, such scraps give immense succour and comfort. “It makes me weep to think of it,” says Waters. “It has provided me with an understanding of part of the reason I feel so passionately about the hunting issue. It’s not just in respect of memory for him and the sacrifice he and his father made, but the sacrifice they made for the freedom of Britain.”
This vision has a strong place in Waters’s philosophical outlook. He wonders, in slightly nightmarish Pink Floyd fashion, if there might one day evolve a politically correct society that permits only vegans to breed and that human canine teeth, those in all of us that represent the hunter, will be extracted to extinction. “All sports are a symbolic form of hunting or warfare. Should we ban darts because it represents a sporting side of human nature of which Big Brother Blair disapproves?”
Politics dominates Waters’s conversation. Although moved by New Labour’s proposed assault on the countryside, he also feels that the standard of parliamentary democracy has fallen to such a level that it is merely television politics. “There is no longer room for a Charles James Fox or Pitt the Younger to express their views at length with passion and eloquence because our attention span has been reduced to a few seconds of soundbites. Populist politics has become everything.”
He also feels that attacks on the Prince of Wales for allowing his children to hunt are wrong. “He is a deeply thoughtful man who should be allowed to pursue his life, liberty and happiness in the way that he chooses.” When he read about the criticisms of William and Harry for hunting, he says his reaction was that he was not sure he wanted to return to an England that was so mealy-mouthed, nasty, dishonest and incoherent. “Most of the time I ignore the papers, but a ban on hunting will not run off my back.”
He believes that interference in the countryside is an insult to the farmers and sportsmen who, by and large, do their job pretty well to husband the wild and farmed animal population. “The hunting community has provided the bulwark against the forces of the market which would bulldoze the countryside flat, cover it in fertiliser and grow genetically modified wheat.”
Waters is neither bucolic nor historic in his appreciation of animal husbandry. There are practices, from the transportation of live animals to the raising of veal calves and the tethering of sows in labour, which he condemns. He would support any legislation to bring these to an end. But he maintains that, in England, animal husbandry is pretty good and that without sound farming “our green and pleasant land could easily be turned into a dustbowl”.
Ultimately, he believes it is the huntsmen and the country people who prevent this from happening. “We desperately need for these communities to remain intact, even those of us who live in towns, if future generations are going to have any countryside to enjoy at all.”
Waters does not talk about his music, but in his 1987 album Radio K.A.O.S., he foresees a society numbed by the satellite generation that will eventually revert to the values of nature and the countryside. A Welsh choir, with echoes of the valleys where farmers and miners co-exist, concludes:
- “Now the satellite’s confused because on Saturday night,
- The airwaves were full of compassion and light,
- And his silicone heart warmed to the sight of a billion candles burning,
- The tide is turning.
- I’m not saying that the battle is won,
- But on Saturday night all those kids in the sun,
- Wrested technology’s sword from the hands of the Warlords,
- The tide is turning.”
It is an anthem to understanding, belief and hope which could well be taken up today by those who are prepared to defend the countryside.
As I leave, passing grand houses that resemble Berkshire on a sunny day, to weave through the Bajun shanty huts, I reflect there is a corner of a foreign field that is forever England. In that field, Roger Waters stands tall with his convictions and the memory of his father and grandfather. And he is not alone.
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