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dark side of an enlightened mind
Waters is known to some as an outspoken voice of revolution against
the dark side. To others, he wouldn't be recognized unless his name
was followed by the name Pink Floyd.
The mystique of Pink Floyd was deepened by the band members’ anonymity
and their enigmatic music, which was spring-boarded by the rapid rise
and fall of founding member Roger “Syd” Barrett. Pink Floyd’s later
music, lyrics and concepts kept in touch with the spirit of Syd’s avant-garde
contribution and his loss due to a worsening mental condition. Pink
Floyd went far beyond the band they originated as more than 30 years
ago. They evolved into a completely unique band of intelligent, individual
artists who had intense convictions and talents. There were many facets
to Pink Floyd, but the most obvious difference from other bands was
that their music was built on well-formulated ideas that made you think.
They used provocative art and stage visuals, but it was mostly about
incredibly moving music with chilling psychological concepts.
Throughout their career, Pink Floyd enjoyed anonymity in the midst of
worldwide success. During the height of Pink Floyd, behind huge stage
shows of lights and props, their songs spoke against injustice and the
establishment. Controversial concepts were accepted during that turbulent
time of the 1970s, but no other artist was as intelligently biting as
Roger Waters. His lyrics paint a picture of the world but are still
personal and connect with deep emotions in others. Pink Floyd, with
Roger as the band’s lyricist, created the most emotional and outspoken
concept albums during a time of war, revolution and general apathy toward
the status quo.
In the 1980s, Roger would pay the price for his Pink Floyd anonymity
when he didn't have the name of his former band to promote his solo
work. But Roger stayed true to his craft and continued to speak with
his own voice, which would eventually resonate with new generations.
Roger Waters's first solo album, “The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking”
(1983), is an in-depth album that shows a more vulnerable, personal
side in Roger’s writing. The concept deals with the inner subconscious,
all staged through a night of dreaming, with the twists and turns that
dreams and nightmares take. It touches on the need to be loved and to
feel connected, but it also seems to be about metaphysics and the elusiveness
of the dream state and waking hours. The album wasn’t well received
by the paying public, so most people didn't give it the proper amount
of time it takes to realize the depth of the concept. Eric Clapton's
intense blues-guitar riffs are a big bonus that shouldn’t be overlooked,
but it wasn’t enough to give the album the boost it needed post-Pink
Floyd and pre-heavy metal ’80s.
A few years later, his second solo project, “Radio K.A.O.S.” (1987),
was released the same year as the newly reformed Pink Floyd’s album
“A Momentary Lapse of Reason.” “Radio K.A.O.S.” was overshadowed by
the name Pink Floyd and their stadium tour.
is a narrative concept album about the threat of world annihilation,
with a storyline and characters. The main character, Billy, uses technology
to try to connect to people and make them realize what is important
in this fleeting life. The music has an ’80s pop feel, which seems to
echo the disconnect that encompassed the decade’s sound, making the
musical style of “K.A.O.S.” part of the overall concept, even if it
wasn’t planned that way. The concept speaks about how popular culture
and entertainment can and should be about connecting and sharing messages,
not just about “pop porn,” as Roger has dubbed pop music in interviews.
The “Radio K.A.O.S.” tour was a multimedia event and included a DJ booth
housing Jim Ladd, a Los Angeles DJ featured as a character who befriends
Billy over the radio. “K.A.O.S.” is also about how radio is a dying
form of communication. Radio is increasingly viewed as more of an annoying
background noise than entertainment. In reality, a primary cause of
its demise is that creativity has been taken out of it, making it corporate
and computerized, and it doesn't make people feel connected like it
In 1990, Roger performed “The Wall” at the Berlin Wall to commemorate
its tearing down. A large cast of artists and musicians helped perform
the characters, with Roger as Pink, while troops built a huge wall of
bricks that was torn down in one of the largest stage productions ever.
It was an emotional height for Roger and would mark the glimmering of
an optimistic time coming out of the recessive ’80s. It was clear there
was still a great deal for Roger to speak out about. With the help of
Jeff Beck on guitar, Roger’s album “Amused to Death” let it be known
that those same gripping messages still needed to be heard years after
“The Wall” and Roger’s last album with Pink Floyd, “The Final Cut.”
to Death” (1992) could very well be the most outspoken anti-establishment
album of all time. The 1990s were a new era of war, with environmental
issues and a new level of apathy among younger generations. “Amused
to Death” addresses how humans have created an image of being civilized
yet are ignorant to real humanitarian concerns. Referring to a cast
of animals in the storyline, the concept suggests we are all part of
the animal kingdom, which may explain why we continue to connect to
violence instead of using our minds to solve problems. We portray being
organized by using religion, government and cultural facades, but are
short-sighted with aggression and competitiveness – to the point that
we amuse ourselves to death. It is a unique album and picks up on pieces
of each of Roger’s previous works, including perfecting the use of sound
effects to heighten the album’s dynamics, as he has done since the early
days with Pink Floyd.
The creation was a monster that would continue to strengthen over time.
But due to the radical subjects, often shocking lyrics, lack of a hit
single and lackluster sales of his previous solo albums, “Amused to
Death” seemed to be swept under the carpet shortly after its release.
Roger decided not to tour the album, reportedly because of low initial
album sales, but the album stayed true to Roger’s cause, and he did
what he wanted regardless of critics and sales. With Pink Floyd, Roger
did pretty much as he wished, as he was largely the leader of the band,
although on his own, he no longer had the support to get his music heard
by a large audience. Roger’s solo career had largely been ignored, and
his former band members touring with the name Pink Floyd did not help
his situation. But there was something different about “Amused to Death”
and how it fermented over time, eventually creating a new generation
of Roger Waters fans.
Putting “Amused to Death” in the context of the times reveals that music
was dominated by metal and bubble gum pop, and then grunge took over.
“Amused to Death” is not an album that can be categorized, nor can it
be considered an easy listen because it’s more than just music. It requires
intense listening, deep thinking and can be emotionally draining, which
is not easy to sell to the masses. The concepts are harsh yet often
humorous and are layered within each song. Giving it one listen is not
giving it a fair chance. Another reason the album may have been brushed
off was that the climate was too politically charged in the early ’90s,
a time of a thousand points of light: Clarence Thomas hearings, post-Baker
and -Falwell fiascos, and newly televised battlefields from Iraq. It
was an uncertain time, but Roger was reacting to old concepts in a new
light. Was “Amused to Death” ignored at first because fans weren’t willing
to listen to how terrible things really were, or could it have been
that “Amused to Death” was seen as potentially troublesome for the record
industry at that time? The rejection had to be hard for Roger, knowing
he had created a masterpiece that only a few got to truly experience.
Fast forward to 1999. Roger decided to come out of nowhere to tour,
performing classic Pink Floyd songs as well as solo material. Most of
the solo material was from “Amused to Death,” which was the first time
the songs were played live. The songs and the concept seemed ready-made
for live performance, and the album took on a new life. It also showed
how flawlessly “Amused to Death” blended with Pink Floyd classics. The
success led to tours in 2000 and 2002, as well as a live CD and DVD,
“In the Flesh.” All this begs the question, if Roger had toured when
“Amused to Death” came out and had been billed as a founding member
of Pink Floyd, would the album have been better accepted and appreciated?
Was it simply that “Amused to Death” came before its time? And could
anyone realize how prophetic some of the concepts would be 10 years
later, post-9/11? Roger speaks out about militarism, terrorism, extremes
in religion and televised violence – and reminds listeners how people
have the ability to come together, with such lines as “A Doctor in Manhattan
saved a dying man for free” in the song “It’s a Miracle.”
entire album is uniquely compelling, with most Roger fans not having
a clear favorite song or section. Fans may not agree which song on the
album is best, but one thing they do agree on is that it takes many
listens to fully appreciate the concept. After years of listening, it
continually inspires new insights and perspectives. “Amused to Death”
speaks to the world situation in 2004, with its new war and a new generation
that needs to hear the message this album heeds. One can hope more people
will hear the messages Roger has written before his concepts become
fatal realities for our planet.
Roger Waters has been working on a new rock album, and also will be
releasing an opera called “Ca Ira,” inspired by the French Revolution.
There have been rumors of a tour in support of his rock album in 2005.
Kristen Piec is an
artist, teacher and the web mistress of a Roger Waters fan site called
Bleeding Heart Artist. She has traveled extensively and toured with
Roger Waters on his past three tours. View her photos and artwork here.