A Reflection from the Roger Waters Concert Tour.
About four months ago, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters kicked off his North American tour entitled “Us + Them”. Although he performed many of old Pink Floyd songs, the tour was pretty much related to “Is This the Life We Really Want?”, his first solo album in twenty five years. As you might have guessed from the title, the nature of the tour was 100% political; it condemned the travesty of Donald Trump and his Presidency.
In an interview with Michael Smerconish on CNN, Waters explained his reason behind his politically-motivated tour,”In my view, you have to make your choice as to whether you do the right thing or the thing that makes you the most money.” When asked about people who are looking for escapism rather than politics at a rock concert, Waters simply said,” Go see Katy Perry, you know?”
Us + Them — Charade via Youtube:
What makes us flabbergasted is Roger Waters’ persistence in remaining political throughout his career amid the long standing massive commercialism. The fact that he is the “child” of counter culture movement in the 60s does not reduce such achievement since the majority of musicians from this generation has “left the building”. Being political has been the oxygen of all arts; it’s what gives arts the breath to be alive, kicking, and evolving to new forms.
Context and Art Forms
Rock (and just about any other genre within the popular music “industry”) has been dead for over 40 years; it has lost its purpose since the mid 1970s when most, if not all, of the artists bowed to commercialism, and no longer lived the context.
Making music hasn’t been about signifying the mind and conscience anymore; it’s been about making money and being famous. The irony behind this view and practice is the fact that every musical genre that has been commercialized and mobilized by “the industry” was born out of cultural and sociopolitical context, even in the case of Hip Hop, the today’s most popular genre. Fortune and super-stardom in music business evidently have swallowed the true roles and functions of music in societies.
Different time or period undergoes different context, and this is the very reason why music (and other art forms) keeps evolving and finding its new form. Almost two decades has passed in this 21st century, and world issues like global warming, racism, terrorism, anti immigrant & refugee, white supremacy, war, nationalism, extremism, and economic domination & injustice have perturbed humanity. In the meantime, the world still seems to have no common view in how to confront these dehumanizing matters, let alone the answer.
Arts that used to lead the way in addressing injustice and immorality seem to be too busy in making “sell-able and/or sensational goods”. Some people in the art scene argue that today is the period of individuality; others even say that art form is no longer relevant, any individual is entitled to create his/her own form. Well, an art form is a manifestation of a collective or common conceptual thought that grapples with growing and/or disturbing issues within the existing context; thus the societal concord in thought, message and act are the key elements that shape the forms in art.
In the case of Rock music, the birth of it is the proof of what we just discussed. The name Rock was meant to rock the mainstream mores and culture. The later sub-genres like Progressive, Punk, New Wave (in the US), and Grunge are simply affirmations of such proof. In late 60s, Progressive rock was born to disapprove commercialization (including the music modeling imposed by major labels) that swept the earlier generation; such disapproval was symbolized by presenting a sophisticated musical form with no concern whatsoever over whether the audience would like it. In the late 70s, Punk emerged while Progressive died out. Punk movement actually addressed the same issue, but came up with the opposite musical structure that progressive rock embraced; instead, they chose simple chords and disregarded technical virtuosity. Around the same time, New Wave in the US was more concerned about the press media that controlled information and shaped opinions. Still in the US, New Wave was also a self-critique to White people by ridiculing themselves with silly costumes and stage acts.
Gentle Giant, one of prominent Progressive Rock Bands – Another Show (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)
Talking Heads, one of the pioneers of New Wave from NYC – Lifetime Piling Up (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)
In mid 70s, Breaking (then developed into today’s Hip Hop) was also in the making. The gangs in South Bronx, New York City, had enough with the wars among themselves, and begun to focus on “war” against violence, and socioeconomic injustice. The movement transformed the gang war into art form, and “battle” was the chosen form. Breaking is a symbol of physical fight between “enemies”; the movement vocabularies are inspired by Kung Fu that was popularized by Bruce Lee at the time. Rap, on the other side, is a verbal battle in which two opposing sides throwing “lethal wordings” to each other until one side “surrenders”.
Grunge, in the late 80s, was voicing out the “young nobodies” in middle class America who were mostly unemployed due to the country’s economic downfall. The musical form was a result of a marriage between Hard Rock and Punk of the 70s that felt best in symbolizing the condition at the time. Being unemployed (and not because you’re lazy) is a miserable feeling. Grunge itself literally means filth or dirt, and that was how the young generation at the time felt about themselves; they felt as the dirt of society.
Such misery is well represented in the darkness of the music. The dreadful lyrics symbolize anxiety, the vocal is pretty much about torment, and the distorted guitar sound represents their being unfit in society.
The above brief descriptions show how a movement shapes the form of its art. Individuality always has a place, not in the shape of individual art form, but in signature. In High Renaissance art, we can easily differentiate the works of Da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Titian, and Rafael. In Baroque music, it’s easy to notice the differences among Vivaldi, Couperin, Bach, and Scarlatti. In Impressionism, the differences among Matisse, Cézanne, and Monet are quite obvious. In Rock music, it’s no way that we can’t tell the differences of guitar playing among Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page.
The non-existence of new common form of art today perhaps should be seen as the incapability of our societies to unite against inhumanity. The aforementioned individual form of art is not born out of collective concern or movement, and most works cannot be considered as new form(s) of art either. In music, for instance, most new works are mere replications of the old forms. There has been no new sub-genre in Jazz since Jazz Fusion, no new sub-genre in Rock since Grunge, no new sub-genre in Blues since Pop Blues, and no new sub-genre in Classical since the 20th Century music.
What we’ve been listening so far is actually a preserved music. If music is food, then we’re actually listening to “canned food” music; changes only takes place in packaging and prices, not in contents. Canned food is a preserved food, thus an all season edible; it remains the same no matter what the situation is. A can of Campbell soup is always a Campbell soup, in breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even in years time, a Campbell soup we had when we were kids will be the same soup we’re having at the time we are grandparents.
Preservation, Cultivation, and Evolution
Preservation has its own function; it’s the archive of the past that no longer lives. It’s important because we need to learn from our history. Never forget that our today is the result of our yesterday. In Classical music, preservation is called conservation, and that is the reason why the school for it is named Conservatory. Cultivation is the act of keeping our heritage living and functioning in real life. In the West, for example, criticism is a tradition that has been kept alive and well in their societies for hundreds of years. Evolution is the consequence of cultivation, and also a mechanism that eventually provides new solution(s) to the problems faced. There are past arts that we should preserve, there is cultural heritage that we should nurture, and there are new answers that we need to find to address present and future challenges.