Tuesday, July 03, 2007
And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes ...
The Reddess and I went to see Roger Waters at Summerfest last night. It was, in large part, a fairly good show. Waters has managed to surround himself with a band that can sound remarkably like the old Pink Floyd and there were few more creative groups in the early to mid seventies. Dark Side of the Moon, which constituted the second half of Waters' set last night, has an ethereal audacity and subtlety which seems almost as fresh today. (You can't really recapture the druggy sense of awe. At least I can't.)
But this is a (mostly) political blog and I want to comment on Waters politics which were front and center through a good part of the show. Most of this was accomplished by not very subtle video backdrops such as one suggesting an equivalence between the Berlin Wall and the wall being built in Israel.
The one new song that he did was a screed against US and UK foreign policy called Leaving Beirut, supposedly the recounting of the kindness shown to Waters in 1961 by a Lebanese couple. The video backdrop was a cartoon rendition of the story which was appropriate given the "depth" of the lyrics - the burden of which seemed to be to say that the war in Iraq is wrong because some people who might have been Arabs were nice to Roger when he was 17.
You can't really deconstruct something as infantile as that. When Waters wondered, in song, "whatever happened to the cauldron called Lebanon" (he obviously doesn't write lyrics like he used to), I wanted to throw out - as just one thing - "malevolent Islam." But. as the Reddess pointed out, a rock concert does not grant equal time. (I did shout that Roger try reading - a manifestation of either the law professor or Episcopalian in me and not exactly the sharpest smack down.)
This raises the question of what you do when a performer starts spouting politics that make your skin crawl. Conservatives who like rock music face this all the time. Some people left. A few were pleased and cheered. Most channeled the Stones. It's only rock and roll and they like it. (The Reddess invoked the Fairness Doctrine and was rather clear about her feelings. She scared the bejesus out of the guy next to us. Welcome to my world.)
The "it's just entertainment" tack may be the wisest although, ironically, it allows you to patronize the artist by discounting the art. But that's sort of what Waters did anyway. Pink Floyd's best work had lyrical nuance. The video backdrops (and floating pig) that Waters used last night had more in common with Leni Riefenstahl than T. S. Elliott. They were, as Dave Tianen wrote in this morning's Journal Sentinel,an "interesting illustration of the power of art to disengage critical thought ...." Thousands of people danced to sentiments that, in the light of day, they would allow are uncommonly simple.
That is, at a certain level, a testament to the artist's power but it also neuters him. It happens only because the audience refuses to fully engage the music (or, more accurately, the artists' interpretation of it).
But what else are you supposed to do when music is being turned into agit-prop? The larger offenses that Waters committed were not the insults lodged at George W.Bush (who he compared to Joseph Stalin)or religion (all of which, he thinks divide, as if the religious right were driving truck bombs into San Francisco bath houses). It was that he turned his own music into a crude poster.
Of course, I know this isn't a surprise. Waters dislikes authority and hates war. Always has. We know this. But, however talented he may be at evoking these sentiments, he, like many musicians, doesn't understand the particulars. By getting too topical, he stepped on his own show.