Wa­ters’s loss brings cash gain as protest songs chime with times

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

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

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