Waters’s loss brings cash gain as protest songs chime with times
CAN BRUCE take a Wrecking Ball to Roger Waters’s Wall? That was the newspaper headline when the figures came in for the most successful live music shows of 2012 so far.
The figures are surprising in that Waters (who is touring the Wall album) has raked in $158 million and is way ahead of the chasing pack, including Springsteen ($79 million) and Madonna ($42 million). Given the sort of business Springsteen has been doing and the amount of tour dates left for him, it’s possible he will overtake Waters by the end of the year, but it’s a big gap to make up.
It’s interesting that Waters has such a commanding lead. Unlike the others on the list (Gaga, McCartney, etc), he’s one rocker who many casual music fans wouldn’t recognise from his photograph. He doesn’t employ headline-grabbing antics or supply carefully rehearsed “controversial” quotes.
Waters is a salutary reminder that you don’t need to jump through the usual light entertainment hoops or play a desperate game of media charades to draw crowds. Low of profile, habitually absent from the mainstream music press and not someone you’d see sitting beside Eamon Holmes on a breakfast TV couch flogging the last of the cheap seats, Waters can come across as a stolid presence – earnest and dryly ideological.
Like many people, I never got Pink Floyd – until I saw them live at the Live 8 concert, in 2005. I shared the silly prejudices about their “progness” and their music being “trout farm rock”. They were a paleo-monolith consisting of hippie public schoolboys, to be scorned in the same way as the likes of Jethro Tull and (gulp) Tangerine Dream. At the time of the “short, sharp, shock” of punk/new wave, it seemed that you could put on a Pink Floyd record and go out for the day. When you came back the same track would still be playing. They were musically impenetrable, lyrically elliptical and oh so bloody boring.
On the night at Live 8 Floyd were rather ridiculously confined to a 20-minute time slot but got in as much as they could: Breathe, Wish YouWere Here, Money and Comfortably Numb (a welcome reclaiming of the song). In a word, they were awesome. The scales fell from my eyes.
Further listening and reading (and the Pink Floyd story is one of rock’s great narratives) revealed that at least some of the the songs were of radically political. But while others mining the same anti-war, anti-poverty lyrical seam were lauded as “visionaries” and “spokespeople of a generation”, Roger Waters & co were dismissed as posh, rich hippies.
One reason The Wall tour is outselling everything else in sight and showing no signs of box-office fatigue (and it will most likely continue through 2013) is precisely because of the political content of the set, which very much chimes with people’s concerns in a recession-riddled world.
For me, the song that prised open the portal door to the Floyd was Waters’s The Fletcher Memorial Home. Very much the big brother of Arcade Fire’s Intervention, it’s about the mess made of the world by our blessed political leaders and contains lyrical haymakers such as “Colonial wasters of life and limb” and “overgrown infants . . . incurable tyrants”. And the pay-off line: “They expect us to treat them with any respect?”
The song title comes from the name ofWaters’s father, Eric Fletcher Waters, who died in action at Anzio during the second World War. As Waters sings in another song, “The Anzio bridgehead was held for the price of a few hundred ordinary lives”.
That line is from When the Tigers Broke Free. Waters wrote that song as the centrepiece of The Wall album but it was rejected by other members of the band because it was “too personal”.
ForWaters, though, the whole of TheWall and the current record-breaking live tour was/is inspired by the loss he never overcame: the ordinary life of his father, sacrificed for a bridgehead in a military game of chess.
Roger Waters: Memorial day