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Beyond Entertainment: How Roger Waters Has Influenced Other Artists To Take A Stand

by Hannah Korigian Thursday, Jun. 01, 2006 at 4:55 AM

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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