October 6, 2010
Roger Waters Builds His Wall
It would be fair to say Roger Waters knows a thing or two about walls. After all, he has been singing about one in particular for nearly thirty years.
The Wall, Waters’ 1980 opus with his former band Pink Floyd, was designed as a study in rock star alienation. Over the course of 26 songs and nearly two hours of music, Waters (whose songwriting dominates the album) pours out his contempt for aga parenting, fame, consumerism, the British education system, the judiciary, the police, the British government- in fact, just about everything and everybody that moves and breathes.
This “wall,” however, was not conceived as a physical object (at least, as revealed in the album’s printed lyrics) but a metaphorical barrier that the album’s protagonist ( cloyingly referred to as ” Pink”) builds to protect himself against the assaults on his dignity.
Needless to say, the album is unremittingly bleak and a difficult listen for even the most dedicated of Pink Floyd fans.
Just as well, because the album has never made too much sense. Waters is unable to cleave to a single concept and loses track of his theme as his emphasis shifts from an exploration of personal crisis to ascerbic political commentary.
The Wall, in short, is a self indulgent mess and should have been pared down by at least an hour to make any cogent sense.
Nevertheless, Waters remains remarkably uncritical of his vaunted masterpiece – mainly because he continues to squeeze such great artistic and political mileage out of it.
For instance in the 1980s, he used The Wall to symbolize the the Berlin Wall and until this day pompously believes that his album – and its great coda- ” Tear Down the Wall” had quite a lot to do with the fall of that cold war monument. He regularly invokes the Wall’s imagery to defy the policies of Western governments, whom he seems to believe are as iniquitous as any dictatorship, building walls of their own to spiritually imprison their people.
That peculiar facility, to discern the seeds of fascism flowering in the bosom of every democracy, does not belong to Roger Waters alone. In fact, almost every rock star who has something political to say about the West, regularly inveighs against democratic governments and their leaders.
But no rock star of Waters’ stature has quite used his art to so pointedly to attack the Jewish state. From the early 80s onwards, Waters was a vocal opponent of the State of Israel’s policies, decrying the first Lebanon War, Israel’s defensive policies during the First and Second Intifadas and most recently Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
Of course ‘the Wall’ imagery comes in mighty handy in Israel too. At his concerts (and one in particular in the West Bank in 2006) he demanded the Israeli government tear down the security barrier that has effectively barred Palestinian suicide bombers from entering the country for the past five years. He has turned a deaf to the statements of his own Israeli fans who have pleaded with him to examine the other side of the story.
He has now taken his objection to Israeli policies to high art. In a video montage during the song Goodbye Blue Sky performed on his current tour, a bomber is seen deploying it payload in the form of crosses, crescents, Stars of David and then dollar signs. The fact that the dollar signs follow the Stars of David has enraged many Jewish organizations who see in it an invocation of an old antisemitic trope.
When confronted in a recent (September 14) Rolling Stone interview that this coupling might be considered a violation of acceptable speech codes, Waters just shrugged it off, suggesting it was a mere coincidence.
Yet Waters was not so blase about other aspects of his show or its promotion that might have been viewed as crossing the line.
In an incident in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles, Waters’ crew apparently defaced a memorial to the late Los Angeles singer Elliot Smith with a wheat paste slogan decrying war. The rock star was soon full of apologies: “It was absolutely an accident,” Waters said. “I didn’t want to disrespect Elliott Smith’s fans, and I’ve instructed (the team) to remove the wheat paste immediately. It was a random pasting in the normal course of this, and I want to make it public that we had no intent to offend or cover up something precious.”
Similarly, just before opening night on the U.S. leg of his tour, Waters was alerted by his crew and set designer that if the singer was seen strutting about in a trench coat evoking the Third Reich, it might appear that his character had actually turned fascist. It was quickly decided to put a tailor’s dummy on stage, allowing Waters to remove the coat and step out of his imaginary persona.
Oh, so sensitive is Roger Waters. Isn’t it a wonder that being so contrite over tarnishing the legacy of a dead singer or of implying that he endorses fascist behavior, that this altruistic rock star cannot yet bring himself to address the sensitivities of the Jewish people or consider both sides of the story in the Arab-Israeli conflict?
It should really be no surprise. Most of our rock stars remain quietly and determinedly ignorant of actual facts – whether it be Bono ( of U2) whose incessant campaign for African debt relief flies in the face of abundant evidence that debt relief would only enrich African oligarchs – or Paul McCartney, who two months ago suggested that former president George W. Bush, while in office, rarely read anything (despite being married to a librarian and having read, by his own admission, several hundred books during his eight year tenure).
Wonder of wonders then it is Roger Waters, as far as Israel goes, who has truly built a wall around himself. On his visit to Israel in 2006, he reportedly refused to meet with Israeli leaders and disregarded any attempt by his own Israeli fans to provide him with extra information that might contribute to a balanced view of the conflict.
Tear down the wall, indeed.