Roger Waters, Barcelona, The Wall Live
Roger Waters in Barcelona, Spain, during The Wall Live. Photo credit: Alterna2 Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Bloviating from the stage.

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Roger Waters has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. Fifty years after the release of Pink Floyd’s seminal The Dark Side of the Moon, Waters has seen his comments about the Ukraine war overshadow this important musical anniversary. He’s said that Ukraine is “not really a country” and is run by “Nazis.”

At a United Nations Security Council meeting in February he tried to clarify his comments, observing that “the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation was illegal” but “not unprovoked.”

The fact of him even speaking at the UN was ridiculed, with an anonymous council member asking, “What next — Mr. Bean?”

Are we to lose Mr. Bean to incendiary views as well? Who knows?

Artists are getting tangled up in politics more than ever these days, with their every utterance recorded by social media and posted for approval or condemnation, depending on the poster’s own leanings.

To put my cards on the table, I’ve always found Waters a humorless, self-regarding blowhard, and never much liked The Wall.

But The Dark Side of the Moon was a key soundtrack to my teenhood, and I saw the band on their baffling Animals Tour (that was the one with the huge, inflatable pig).

I didn’t then wonder about the musicians’ politics; in those days it was assumed that anyone in a rock band was likely to have been against the Vietnam War and for the liberalization of drug laws (that was basically what we cared about at the time).

But recently watching a DVD of the 2005 Cream reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall, while enjoying Eric Clapton’s superb guitar work, I couldn’t help seeing him as an anti-vaxxer who’s made some racist comments. I won’t say it ruined the concert for me, but it added some unwelcome context.

Perhaps I’d prefer not to know the politics of any of these figures. It’s always bothered me a bit that the American everyman Jimmy Stewart (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life) was a lifelong admirer of the GOP as well as a personal friend of Ronald Reagan.

I’ve written about Woody Allen’s private life getting in the way of some of his films, but politics are different. Anyone should be allowed to hold political views, and artists can’t be expected to stay neutral about everything.

I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen perform twice, first at the Boston Music Hall in 1978, and then at a John Kerry get-out-the-vote rally in Cleveland in 2004.

As a lifelong Democrat I can still enjoy Jimmy Cagney’s films, even knowing that he was a lifelong Republican. But it adds a bit of a plus to Edward G. Robinson’s performances to know that he was a liberal Democrat. Likewise, learning that Myrna Loy was a liberal who espoused better roles for actors of color in the 1940s gives an extra sparkle to her work (for me, at least).

Perhaps I’d prefer not to know the politics of any of these figures. It’s always bothered me a bit that the American everyman Jimmy Stewart (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life) was a lifelong admirer of the GOP as well as a personal friend of Ronald Reagan.

Even when Woody Allen praised Bob Hope, he stipulated it was “politics aside.” (Allen = Democrat; Hope = Republican.)

There’s a generation that grew up with Harry Potter who now feel betrayed by J.K. Rowling because of her views about trans rights.

The Dixie Chicks got into big trouble in 2003 when the Texas-based trio declared at a London concert that they were ashamed to be from the same state as George W. Bush (then stewarding the Iraq War). Country music has traditionally been more enamored with right-of-center people, so the band quickly got itself in hot water with a lot of its fans.

It took them some years to regain their commercial footing, but it’s a testament to their politics that they wanted to disassociate themselves from any perceived Confederacy leanings and they are now called simply the Chicks (still proud to align themselves with nascent chickens).

I was surprised to discover that Ted Nugent is still touring, but he’s actually performing at a couple of casinos this summer. Having expressed hard-right views for over 30 years, as well as personally introducing Donald Trump at several of his rallies, the dim, sleeveless rocker has probably narrowed his audience to apolitical or die-hard MAGA fans. But his politics have been long known, and he no doubt chooses his venues carefully. 

Please Donate to WhoWhatWhyBy contrast, Waters had a gig canceled in Germany because of his views, and withdrew from a concert scheduled in Poland because of outrage over some of his Ukraine comments. I suspect his conservative beliefs surprised many of his followers, which is why they caused such havoc. But he’s been described as being “virulently anti-war, anti-drone, pro-Black Lives Matter, pro-Indigenous people’s rights and pro-LGBTQ+” as well as antisemitic (from his own former bandmates, no less).

His recent concerts have featured him espousing his political views from the stage, something concertgoers may have found vexing, but it’s a tradition going back to the ’60s. Back then, the views tended to match those of the people in the seats.

Van Morrison is a notorious grump of long standing, but even he managed to alienate many Morrisonians with his lurch into reactionary anti-lockdown advocacy and vaccine grouchiness. He issued a single in 2020 titled “No More Lockdown,” and his last album (will it be?), What’s It Gonna Take?, contains such songs as “Fighting Back Is the New Normal,” “Can’t Go on This Way,” and “Fodder for the Masses.”

Naturally he teamed up with the cranky Clapton to produce the track “Stand and Deliver.”

Of course, one person’s rant is another one’s heartfelt feelings, but I wonder if any of these new diatribe ditties will survive alongside such well-known protest songs as Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” or Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

To quote one of Morrison’s recent song titles, “Sometimes It’s Just Blah Blah Blah.”

I couldn’t agree more. 

J.B. Miller is an American writer living in England, and is the author of My Life in Action Painting and The Satanic Nurses and Other Literary Parodies.


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