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Obscure Musical Gems: Roger Waters – Amused To Death

This work is why I created this series in the first place.  I have another entry that is Pink-Floyd-ish coming up, but will branch out afterwards.

Roger Waters is a strange cat.  No two ways about it.  As the initial post about The Final Cut should make clear, he writes what he writes because of what interests/inspires him, and sometimes, those themes are not what you would usually expect.  Because his father died during World War Two, he often writes anti-war-themish stuff (gee, that’s a surprise), and in Amused to Death that is one of the themes that comes up.  There’s also general stuff about alienation and the current culture and whatnot.

This work is not for the faint of heart or ‘I hope there is something I can dance to” set.  It is a concept album (like almost everything he writes) and very serious.  The opening track ‘The Ballad of Bill Hubbard’ makes this very clear, as it has a snippet of an interview with a World War One (not Two, One) vet talking about a soldier named ‘Bill Hubbard’ who he found wounded (mortally as it turned out) and tried to rescue, but had to abandon.  Like I said, this is not stuff for the faint of heart.

Another theme that is present in this work is anti-god/religion.

side note:  I’m going on memory here so if I get the details wrong, sue me/correct me, but there was this guy called Dr. Jack Kevorkian, also known as ‘Dr. Death’ who helped people kill themselves until he was (thankfully) sent to prison.  For reasons not clear to my memory, he would only assent to being interviewed by Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes.  As I grew older, the more I learned/heard about Rooney, the less I liked/respected him, but there was one part of his interview with Kevorkian that was brilliant.  He asked Dr. Death ‘Do you believe in God/religion.’  Kevorkian’s response was ‘Yes, but not in the traditional sense’ to which Rooney responded immediately without a beat of hesitation, ‘In other words, no.’  This was a brilliant insight.  If you don’t get why, you need to re-examine your own thoughts about God/religion.  If this suggestion offends you, too bad.

The various tracks about ‘What God Wants’ (parts 1-3) lay out this theme in various ways.

Since I’m lazy, I will just tell you to Google it, but in remarks about The Final Cut, Waters says that you can hear the tension he felt in his voice (about the near violent friction between him and Gilmour), and my thought is always “Compared to what?”  Roger often times gives up any pretense to singing his lines, or even trying to get the lyrics to rhyme.  This has never bothered me, but I can understand why some might not be so forgiving.  Within this work, he does this often (Bob Dylan is another artist who gives up similar pretenses, though that’s a bit misleading).

As with all of Waters’ work, the potential result can vary wildly from absolutely horrible (Radio KAOS is a horrible album, and ‘Leaving Beirut’ is right up there with Ani Defranco’s ‘Evolve’ and the Shaggs’ ‘My Pal Foot Foot’ as the worst rock/pop song ever recorded) to absolutely brilliant, and I think many of the tracks in Amused to Death are the latter. 

When I was younger and had hopes and dreams and more creativity, I wrote a rock opera about Tiananmen Square and the massacre there called A Song for Beijing and ‘Watching TV’ recalls the same events (with shared lead vocals from Don Henley) with great power.  In parts, he completely abandons the need to rhyme.

‘The Bravery of Being Out of Range’, with its’ lyrics ‘old timer/who you going to kill next’ is equally powerful in its ability to evoke a theme/feeling (regardless of what you think about it overall).

Waters’ solo work has included session guitarists to brilliant (I’m being redundant, whatever) effect, and here Jeff Beck, who isn’t note for note technically skilled like a Steve Vai, lays down wickedly moving solos throughout the piece.

The ‘concept’ of the album has something to do with a monkey watching TV and/or alien anthropologists trying to determine how the human species died.  This is almost completely irrelevant.

The Wikipedia article on this work states that there is an ‘uplifting’ ending, where the vet who had to abandon Bill Hubbard recounts seeing his name on a memorial and feeling a sense of relief.  I think this is completely wrong.  The vet is recounting the fact that he lived 60+ years of his life with a sense of powerful regret and sadness.  I guess it is better than dying with the regret, but it seems clear to me that the point of the narrative within the song  is to highlight the regret, not the sense of relief so many years later.  Regardless of what one might think about the necessity (or lack thereof) of war, maybe it is my personality type, but that overall sense of regret “if there was something  else I could have done…and that always sort of worried me” is searing (“when I was 87…1984, 1984”).  When I think about who I am and what I do for a living, I realize how far short I reach from those that who have done truly great things (fixing T-SQL vs…. yeah).

In any event, don’t expect you can dance to this, but I highly recommend a listen, if you can take it.  It is not a typical album.  It isn’t even a typical ‘progressive rock’ album.  I can’t imagine that ‘most’ people would like it, however that is to be judged.  But if you do ‘get’ it (whatever that means), this will be one of your most favorite albums.  It is that good.

posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2008 9:03 PM Print
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# re: Obscure Musical Gems: Roger Waters – Amused To Death
Justice~!
10/8/2008 10:57 PM
"He asked Dr. Death ‘Do you believe in God/religion.’ Kevorkian’s response was ‘Yes, but not in the traditional sense’ to which Rooney responded immediately without a beat of hesitation, ‘In other words, no.’ This was a brilliant insight. If you don’t get why, you need to re-examine your own thoughts about God/religion. "

You and I are obviously brothers from different mothers.
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# re: Obscure Musical Gems: Roger Waters – Amused To Death
jdn
10/9/2008 8:06 AM
LOL. No doubt.

On an only vaguely related subject, I love it when white boys use Japanese/Chinese terms to try to sound deep. It is often but not always related to reading too much Kerouac ("Sartori" anybody?), and so usually passes in high school or college (both for me).

Kaizen? Why, you're soaking in it!!!!
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# re: Obscure Musical Gems: Roger Waters – Amused To Death
rscot231
10/9/2008 8:33 AM
You wrote a rock opera? Why does that not surprise me?

Still looking forward to that BDD post, btw.
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# re: Obscure Musical Gems: Roger Waters – Amused To Death
jdn
10/9/2008 9:44 AM
Yeah, I used to be creative. For undergrad, my senior's honors thesis was a novel.

BDD post could be a while.
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# re: Obscure Musical Gems: Roger Waters – Amused To Death
Justice~!
10/9/2008 1:39 PM
lol, I hear you. The uniqueness of the Kaizen name wore off for me 5 minutes after I finished reading it from a Robin Sharma self-help book. I can see why the emphasis on Toyota though! Not only does it sound cooler, but it's a lot harder to justify a developer conference name if you say you got it from reading "The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari" (and I like the book even if the author has difficulty expressing dialogue like a normal human being).


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