Slide the CD into the player, find the symbol to stream. Click. The waves hit you. You go under. You need to go under, deep, deep, into the depths. If you try to get your head above the surface you won’t be truly listening. You won’t be really there. You will only hear the wind hitting the waves.
To truly listen you must be on the inside. This is not background music. This is not music for the car trip to the supermarket. You must be perfectly still to enter. It demands complete attention. This is not a joyride. This is not music to dance to. There’s no party going on here, no laughter at the trivial, stupid and dumb things of life. You are in the mind of Roger Waters. Words and music give conceptual form to a universe of song. Inside, you can feel the pulse.
It’s an unforgiving, scary place, and yet familiar – of cold steel rails, of bitter tears and dreams that drown in an oceanic sigh of indifference. Here, alienation and terror are a way of life, power corrupts and the war is eternal. Love is the shadow to hope and anger is the drug to keep going, to not surrender to the forces of a material, political world that equates life to that of ant. Life is a constant struggle for survival. Redemption comes in the small flickering flame of a candle lit by small flickering acts of human kindness.
This is entertainment in the mind of Roger Waters. This is art from the dark side of the tune.
And the song has remained, with one detour into opera with the album Ca Ira, based on the French Revolution, the same for the past half a century, from the birth of Pink Floyd (he was a founding member with Nick Mason, Rick Wright and Syd Barrett) to the release in the past few weeks of his latest solo album Is This The Life We Really Want?
The loss of a father Roger Waters never knew to war runs through his work, as does the type of society that arose from the ashes of war.
Along the way Waters has become very rich and famous. Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon stayed on the Billboard charts for more than 14 years. It stayed on the British charts for seven years. Worldwide it has sold more than 45 million copies. Pink Floyd, overall, have sold more than 250 million albums. The clutch of albums in the seventies – Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall – established not only the group’s place in rock history, but the bedrock of Water’s philosophy.
From such a great height when the break-up occurred in the mid-eighties it was equally monumental. The feud between Waters and the rest of the band, especially with David Gilmour, took the word acrimonious to the moons of Jupiter and back. Icy silence never had better companions than Waters and Gilmour. Lawyers were brought in, war in the High Court seemed possible, but resolution came and the remaining members continued as Pink Floyd, releasing three albums over 27 years before calling it a day with the album The Endless River in 2014 by Gilmour and Mason, which was based on music by Wright, who had died of cancer in 2008.
The writing, however, had been on the wall a few years earlier. In fact it had been on the back cover of the album The Final Cut (1983). “A requiem for the post-war dream by Roger Waters. Performed by Pink Floyd.”
A year later Waters released his first solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. It was, on the scale of things, underwhelming, as was the next one Radio K.A.O.S. Enter serendipity. The Berlin Wall fell. Six months after one of the defining moments in modern history, Waters was playing to an estimated 200,000 people in Berlin, near the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Plaza. (There is an irony here in that The Wall was conceived essentially after the gap Waters had felt between audience and band from playing stadium venues.)
Two years later, he released Amused to Death (the title taken from the book Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman). It was a return to form for the songwriter. Though he toured consistently from then, it was to be his last album of original material for 25 years.
In the mind of Roger Waters, there are main actors and side players; there is the blind indifference of the market, and there is the shadow of God.
Now there is Is This The Life We Really Want? It’s as if he never left the studio. The Waters’ trademarks are in evidence throughout, from the musical tropes of the fading vocal echo to the choked higher notes to register anguish/anxiety to the murmur of the almost monotone melody, more half whispered than sung, to the conversations of the unknown, to the familiar bass lines, the changing of gears between verses, chorus and keys and, of course, to the shattering of glass.
These are all as integral to his signature as his lyrics. And it is in the words that, on almost every level, the personal is political. Waters turned 74 two weeks ago and the well from which he drinks creatively started filling when he was five months old. For it was in February 1944 during the Battle of Anzio that his father was killed. (His grandfather died in WWI.)
The loss of a father he never knew to war runs through his work, as does the type of society that arose from the ashes of war. The entwining of capitalism, corporate culture and militarism to form a fence of brutalism to imprison what Waters sees should be a civilised life, that is, one of compassion and kindness and the rights of the individual, is self-perpetuating and, ultimately, self-destructive. Though he won’t see its demise.
In an interview with Mojo magazine recently, he said: “None of this shit is going to change in the next 100 years. This bullshit is going to go on and on. We’re not going to suddenly develop a sixth sense where we go, ‘Ah, I get it – if we’d only co-operated and showed each other empathy and stopped all this bullshit about how awful foreigners are and retreated from ideas about national or racial supremacy, everything would be all right.’ Where’s that going to come from?”
His latest tour, which includes two shows at Rod Laver Arena next February, is entitled not without good cause Us and Them, the song from Dark Side of the Moon:
‘’Us and them
And after all we’re only ordinary men
Me and you
God only knows
It’s not what we would choose to do
Forward he cried from the rear
And the front rank died
And the general sat
And the lines on the map
Moved from side to side.’’
Waters’ critiques are not only in songs. He has spoken out against the treatment of war veterans and Palestinians (he has criticised Israel for its West Bank stance, at financial cost, and will not play there and urges other artists not to as well).
In the mind of Roger Waters, there are main actors and side players; there is the blind indifference of the market, and there is the shadow of God. On a distant shore washed up by the whims of both these elements are the victims. This is who he sings of and to. If you sit perfectly still and listen, you will be transported into this musical soundscape, to these shores and, like Waters, light a candle in your mind for them.
You will show that you are not comfortably numb.