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Beyond Entertainment: Roger Waters Influences Other Artists To Take A Stand

Roger Waters is an example of an artist who has taken a stand against injustice. His work has influenced others in music, film and other forms of creative expression.
The reunion of Pink Floyd at Live 8 was a moving event. The decades long rift among the members of the influential and supremely creative band was unfortunate but not surprising given the often volatile nature of artistic partnerships. In keeping with his commitment to issues of global importance and at the prompting of Live 8 organizer, Bob Geldof, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters put his personal bitterness aside and approached band member Dave Gilmour about playing at the huge concert to end poverty. The result was a set of soaring and emotional Pink Floyd favorites that captivated the audience and made news around the world.

The brilliance of their instrumentation combined with the bite of the lyrics that characterizes Pink Floyd has made them one of the most successful bands of all time. Their popularity crosses social, educational and cultural divides. However, it is interesting to note that although Roger Waters' genius is acknowledged by all Pink Floyd fans, the deeper message embedded in his lyrics is often overshadowed by the pure enjoyment of listening to the distinctive Pink Floyd sound. Roger Waters is the most intellectual and complex lyricist in rock. Both in his solo work and in his work with Pink Floyd, Waters builds conceptual underpinnings for his creations that add an unusual depth in a field generally known for simplistic expressions. Unlike most rock music, which revels in sexuality, the vicissitudes of love and general "good times", Waters' compositions focus on larger issues such as war, personal alienation, mortality and societal apathy. These themes are played out in a multitude of ways, from the exploration of time and the cycle of life in "Dark Side Of The Moon", the longing for lost innocence in "Wish You Were Here", bitter criticism of social norms and structures in "Animals", individual breakdown and militarism in "The Wall" and the tragedies of war in "The Final Cut". Waters continued to explore the darker side of the human experience in his solo work, perhaps most effectively in "Amused To Death" in which he takes aim at the fusion of militarism and entertainment. Rather than being a "rocker" in the usual sense of the word, Waters is a consummate social critic who utilizes the forum of rock to express his views to a wide audience.

Waters' stance on social issues is taken seriously by many; witness the recent controversy that erupted when Waters, who has expressed humanitarian outrage over the conditions in the Occupied Territories, announced his decision to play in Tel Aviv. In an open letter to Waters about the upcoming concert protesters called him "the artist whose name around the world was for many years associated with breaking walls of injustice". Waters subsequently changed the venue where he would play from Tel Aviv to the Israeli Peace Village where Palestinians and Israelis are living together in a bold experiment for peace.

Waters has influenced many over the years and his style is reflected in the works of music and visual expression by a variety of artists. In recent times a notable example of artistic creation in the Floyd/Waters style is the relatively obscure independent film "USA The Movie"which has the same complexity and multi-faceted approach to cinema as Waters has to composition. "USA The Movie" merges a free-floating fictional storyline with real world events and places. It is a take on war, past and present, through the "comfortably numb" eyes of an aging American hippie who can't break free of his own apathy and thus becomes a symbolic weapon of mass destruction. "USA The Movie" has a particular resonance with "The Final Cut" and such lyrics as:

"In my rear view mirror the sun is going down
Sinking behind bridges in the road
And I think of all the good things
That we have left undone
And I suffer premonitions
Confirm suspicions
Of the holocaust to come."

The filmmaker, W.T. Zeyera, who in various interviews has expressed his admiration for Roger Waters' work and sensibility, also utilizes audio in "USA The Movie" in distinctly Floyd/Waters manner. The audio design brings together elements of sound, speeches and music to create a profoundly haunting atmosphere reminiscent of "Dark Side Of The Moon" or in a more biting tone - "Amused to Death". This is a Floyd/Waters type of project not in the entertaining or rock and roll sense but in the willingness to take its time and captivate through its substance as well as style.

Movies and popular music in this modern era are both primarily viewed as vehicles for entertainment. Those artists who choose to utilize these forms of expression for something deeper or more challenging are often looked upon as going outside the traditional boundaries of their chosen field. In the case of projects like "USA The Movie", this has resulted in the film being labeled as "art house" or "experimental" while at the same time being given a niche in academia. Professor Dion Dennis, Ph.D has urged a wider awareness of the project in his detailed analysis of the film: Between Nomadology, the War Machine and the State: A Deleuzian Analysis of the Film, USA The Movie. In his paper Dennis writes: "In the process and product of "USA the Movie," he (filmmaker Zeyera) fused reality with allegory, intention with contingency, personal troubles with collective tragedies, and art with history. Even in its limited circulation, the film has formed a rhizome with the world, generating a mapping well worth circulating, sharing, discussing, detaching, and redeploying."

In the case of a megastar like Waters, his unyielding focus on human blindness and social injustice has sometimes been criticized for being too dark or depressing. However, this focus on the painful aspects of the human condition is what sets him apart. On the whole, Waters doesn't so much point a finger at a specific target; rather he holds the entire species accountable as in "Perfect Sense Part 1" from "Amused to Death":

The monkey sat on a pile of stones
And stared at the broken bone in his hand
And the stains of a Viennese quartet
Rang out across the land
The monkey looked up at the stars
And thought to himself
Memory is a stranger
History is for fools
And he cleaned his hands
In a pool of holy writing
Turned his back on the garden
And set out for the nearest town
Hold on hold on soldier
When you add it all up
The tears and the marrowbone
There's an ounce of gold
And an ounce of pride in each ledger
And the Germans killed the Jews
And the Jews killed the Arabs
And the Arabs killed the hostages
And that is the news
And is it any wonder
That the monkey's confused
He said Mama Mama
The President's a fool
Why do I have to keep reading
These technical manuals
And the joint chiefs of staff
And the brokers on Wall Street said
Don't make us laugh
You're a smart kid
Time is linear
Memory is a stranger
History is for fools
Man is a tool in the hands
Of the great God Almighty
And they gave him command
Of a nuclear submarine
And sent him back in search of
The Garden of Eden

Waters' adherence to his principles despite the criticism that is sometimes leveled at him is a vital contribution to the creative arena that paves the way for other artists to take a chance and speak their conscience through their work as well.

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the WALL 31.May.2006 09:26

rAT

They like to boast that 'Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall'. What a buncha BS. The whole world knows Pink Floyd brought that wall down.

Waters rocks! 31.May.2006 11:01

Ted

Though many criticize Waters for his control-freakishness when it comes to Pink Floyd (a trait shared by many dominant, artistic personalities, like Steve Perry in Journey, Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple, Dennis DeYoung in Styx, etc.), it's hard to fault his lyrical genius. Yet despite having worked with other great guitarists like Eric Clapton ('Pros and Cons...') and Jeff Beck ('Amused To Death'), he's never been able to cede enough of the musical direction to recreate the kind of dynamic chemistry that existed with David Gilmore. Reports from Live8 rehearsals quote Gilmore as saying the atmosphere was very tense. It's really too bad that Waters can't get over himself enough to relax and release to Gilmore his fair share of artistic credit, because it prevents a Pink Floyd reunion from ever happening. There is no shortage of charitable causes that such a reunion could be employed to benefit and the world desperately needs all the attention that artists like the members of Pink Floyd, U2, etc, can muster on behalf of society.

One particularly evocative song, especially in light of the Bush Admin's cuts to VA Hospital services during the current war in Iraq, is "The Fletcher Memorial" from The Final Cut. The rich in America get tax cuts while the poor get back-door drafted or rotated through multiple tours of duty in Iraq. Then if they survive they get to return to pay-off the additional national debt that the Bush Republicans shove on them at the same time they take away the medical support the VA is supposed to provide. Like Water's wrote rather sardonically of the rich-enough-not-to-fight class in England, "Did they expect us to treat them with any respect?"

The Final Cut is Searing 31.May.2006 11:24

Dexter Rexter

Ted's mention of the 'Fletcher Memorial Home for imperial Tyrants and thieves' was the first thing that came to my mind when I started reading this post. The final cut is barely known last product of Pink Floyd with Roger in the band. Way too strong a sticky drippy political satire for most PF fans.

Where else do Margaret Thatcher and Latin American Meat packers go to retire together?

Even famous people have the right to be irate and bitter about the hubrus of the powerful. Sorry if he bummed some people's trips, not that 'The Wall' was uplifting.

DR

Read Nick Mason's book 31.May.2006 12:44

Velvet Glove

"Inside Out" by Nick Mason sheds a lot of light on the whole dynamic of Pink Floyd. Gilmour is a genius -- absolutely no doubt. His guitar and vocals sometimes literally makes me high. But, I have to say that I think the lack of appreciation between Gilmour and Waters goes both ways. In some of the interviews I've read with Gilmour it sounds like he thinks that Roger, although a good lyricist and taskmaster. really wasn't all that vital to Pink Floyd. How wrong he is!!! And Waters is well known to downtalk Gilmour (but never his talent). Waters was all about work (which I more than admire) while the others, by their own admission, became less interested in working hard once they achieved a certain level of comfort. Waters kept bringing projects and compositions to the band but instead of kicking in they would snipe at his offerings without coming up with any of their own. When Waters wanted to begin The Final Cut, Gilmour wanted to wait until he wrote some things of his own because he didn't like the increasingly political tone of Waters work. Waters in frustration, told him,"Dave, you haven't written anything in years. You've had plenty of time to do it." Waters felt like he was always trying to get the others to push forward and finally got more irritable about the whole thing. Rick Wright got fired because while Waters was completely immersed in creating "The Wall" and working constantly to get it done, Wright bitched because due to scheduling issues, he had to lay down his piano/organ tracks during the summer, which cut into his vacation time!! Waters flipped because this was another example of how he was devoted to the work but he felt increasingly alone. Anyway. fascinating stuff. Waters personallity might be a bit harsh but he is a real artist in his commitment to his work and his beliefs. I love it. I love Pink Floyd who are inspirational. There is nothing like the chemistry among them when they all kick in. Gilmour is music incarnate while Waters is the intellect, expression and orchestrator. Wright is able to create a haunting undertone and Mason, of course, is the beat. They were blessed to come together and we are more than fortuanate to receive their music.

Top 10 01.Jun.2006 09:11

Floyd Pink

1) Dark Side of the Moon
2) Animals
3) Wish You Were Here
4) The Wall
5) Meddle
6) The Division Bell
7) A Saucerful of Secrets
8) The Final Cut
9) A Momentary Lapse of Reason
10) Obscurred by Clouds

Roger Waters and Nick Mason will perform together on 10/12 at Key Arena in Seattle and on 10/10 on the SF Penninsula at Shoreline Amphitheater. No Portland dates have been announced.