December 11, 2013 – 4:32 pm

Roger Waters on music; the political role of artists; and his activism for justice around the world, including in Palestine. Interview by Frank Barat.

Frank Barat: When did you make the decision to make the Wall tour (that ended in Paris in September 2013) so political? And why did you dedicate the final concert to Jean-Charles De Menezes?

Roger Waters: The first show was October 14, 2010. We started working on content of show with Sean Evans in 2009. I had already decided to make it much broader politically than it had been in 1979/80. It could not be just about this whinny little guy who didn’t like his teachers. It had to be more universal. That’s why ‘fallen loved ones’ came into it (the shows are showing pictures of people that died during wars) trying to universalise the sense of grief and loss that we all feel towards family members killed in conflict.

Whatever the wars or the circumstances, they (in the non western world) feel as much lost as we do. Wars become an important symbol because of that separation between ‘us and them,’ which is fundamental to all conflicts. Regarding Jean-Charles, we used to do Brick II with three solos at the end and I decided that three solos was too much, it was boring me. So sitting in a hotel room, one night, I was thinking about what I could do instead of that. Somebody had recently sent me a photograph of Jean-Charles De Menezes to go on the wall. So he was in my mind and I thought that I should sing his story. I wrote that song, taught it to the band, and that’s what we did.

A lot of artist would say that mixing arts and politics is wrong. That their goal is only to entertain. What would you say to those people?

Well it’s funny you should say that because I just finished yesterday the text of a new piece which will be a new album of mine. It’s about a grandfather in Northern Ireland going on a quest with his grandchild to find the answer to the question: “Why are they killing the children?”, because the child is really worried about it. Right at the very end of it, I decided to add something more. In the song, the child tells his grandpa: “Is that it?” and the grandpa replies “No, we cannot leave on that note, give me another note”.

A new song starts and the grandpa makes a speech. He says: “We live on a tiny dot in a middle of a lot of fucking nothing. Now, if you’re not interested in any of this, if you’re one of those “Roger I love Pink Floyd but I hate your fucking politics”, if you believe artists should be mute, emasculated, nodding dogs dangling aimlessly over the dashboard of life, you might be well advised to fuck off to the bar now, because, time keeps slipping away.” That’s my answer to your question.

When will album be out?

I’ve got no idea. I’m working away furiously on lots of old projects. I’m going to give a first listen to this to Sean Evans. He’s coming to my house tomorrow to listen to it. I’ve made a demo which is one hour and six minutes long. It’s pretty heavy I confess, but there is also some humor in it, I hope, but it’s extremely radical and it poses very important questions.

Look, if I’m the only one doing it, I am entirely content. I mean, I’m not, I wish there were more people writing about politics and our real situation. Even from what could be considered extreme points of view. It’s very important that Goya did what he did, same for Picasso and Guernica and all those anti-war novels that came out during and after the Vietnam war.

You’re talking about yourself being one of the only one, in your position, taking radical political positions. When it comes to Palestine, you are very open about your support for a cultural boycott of Israel. People opposing this tactic say that culture should not be boycotted. What would you answer to that?

I would say that I understand their opinion. Everybody should have one. But I can’t agree with them, I think that they are entirely wrong. The situation in Israel/Palestine, with the occupation, the ethnic cleansing and the systematic racist apartheid Israeli regime is unacceptable. So for an artist to go and play in a country that occupies other people’s land and oppresses them the way Israel does, is plain wrong. They should say no.

I would not have played for the Vichy government in occupied France in the Second World War, I would not have played in Berlin either during this time. Many people did, back in the day. There were many people that pretended that the oppression of the Jews was not going on. From 1933 until 1946. So this is not a new scenario. Except that this time it’s the Palestinian People being murdered.

It’s the duty of every thinking human being to ask: “What can I do?” Anybody who looks at the situation will see that if you choose not to take up arms to fight your oppressor, the non violent route, and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which started in Palestine with 100 per cent support from Palestinian civil society in 2004-2005, a movement that has now been joined by many people around the world, the global civil society, is a legitimate form of resistance to this brutal and oppressive regime.

I have nearly finished Max Blumenthal’s book “Goliath: Life and Loathing in greater Israel”. It’s a chilling read. It’s extremely well written in my view. He is a very good journalist and takes great pains to make sure that what he writes is correct. He also gives a voice to the other side. The voice, for instance, of the right wing rabbinate, which is so bizarre and hard to hear that you can hardly believe that it’s real.

They believe some very weird stuff you know, they believe that everybody that is not a Jew is only on earth to serve them and they believe that the Indigenous people of the region that they kicked off the land in 1948 and have continued to kick off the land ever since are sub-human. The parallels with what went on in the ’30s in Germany are so crushingly obvious that it doesn’t surprise me that the movement that both you and I are involved in is growing every day. The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was trying to shed light on this when we met, I only took part in two sessions, you took part in many more. It is an extremely obvious and fundamental problem of human rights which every thinking human being should apply himself to.

A few years ago, I was touring and 9/11 happened in the middle of the tour and 2 or 3 people in my band who happened to be United States citizens wouldn’t come on the next leg of the tour. I said ” why not? Don’t you like the music anymore?” and they replied “no, we love the music but we are Americans and it’s too dangerous for us to travel abroad, they are trying to kill us”, and I thought “Wow!”

The scary thing is that the extreme Rabbinate you were talking about with the extreme right wing views about the Palestinians and the non-Jews are having a more and more prominent place in terms of the Israeli society, regime and power structure and that is very scary.

I wanted to follow up on the Cultural Boycott and about the fact that you are one of the only ones who take such a stand. You could, as many others do, I guess enjoy the benefits of your success and lead a quiet, at least politically, non-controversial life. Why do you do it but more importantly why do you think not more people are doing it? Why a lot of artists who often take position against wars, why don’t they touch Palestine?

Well, where I live, in the USA, I think, A: they are frightened and B: I think the propaganda machine that starts in Israeli schools and that continues through all the Netanyahu’s bluster is poured all over the United States, not just Fox but also CNN and, in fact, in all the mainstream media. It’s like a huge bucket of crap that they are pouring into the mouth of a gullible public in my view, when they say “we are afraid of Iran, it is going to get nuclear weapons…”

It’s a diversionary tactic. The lie that they have told for the last 20 years is “Oh, we want to make peace”, you know and they talk about Clinton and Arafat and Barak being in Camp David and that they came very close to agreeing, and the story that they sold was “Oh Arafat fucked it all up”. Well, no, he did not. This is not the story.

The fact of the matter is no Israeli government has been serious about creating a Palestinian state since 1948. They’ve always had the Ben Gurion agenda of kicking all the Arabs out of the country and becoming greater Israel. They tell a lie as part of their propaganda machinery whilst doing the other thing but they have been doing it so obviously in the last 10 years. For instance, even after when Obama went to Cairo and made that speech about Arabs and the Israelis, everybody was like “Oh, this is a step in a new direction at least”.

But as soon as he visited Israel, they said. “Oh by the way, we are building another 1200 settlements”. Exactly the same when Kerry went last year saying, “Oh I am going to try to get the sides together and talk peace”. Netanhayu said “Fuck you. We are going to build another 1,500 settlements and we a going to build them in E1, this is our plan.” This is so transparent that you’d have to have an IQ above room temperature not to understand what is going on. It is just dopey.

You know I read some piece the other day where it said “apparently only the Secretary State of the United States, believes that these current peace talks are real, no one else in the world does”.

It is a very complicated situation which is why you and I and all the other people in the world who care about their brothers and sisters and not just about the people of our own faith, our own colour, our own race or our own whatever, have to stand in solidarity shoulder to shoulder. This has been a very hard sell particularly where I live in the United States of America.

The Jewish lobby is extraordinary powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry and in rock’n roll as they say. I promise you, naming no names, I’ve spoken to people who are terrified that if they stand shoulder to shoulder with me they are going to get fucked. They have said to me “aren’t you worried for your life?” and I go “No, I’m not”.

A few years ago, I was touring and 9/11 happened in the middle of the tour and two or three people in my band who happened to be United States citizens wouldn’t come on the next leg of the tour. I said “ why not? Don’t you like the music anymore?” and they replied, “no, we love the music but we are Americans and it’s too dangerous for us to travel abroad, they are trying to kill us”, and I thought “Wow!”

Yes, the brainwashing works!

Obviously it does, that is why I am happy to be doing this interview with you because it is super important that we make as much noise as possible. I’m so glad that this right wing newspaper in Israel, Yedioth Ahronoth, printed my interview with Alon Hadar. At least they printed it. Although they changed the context and made it sound different than what it actually was but at least they printed something. You know, I would expect to be completely suppressed and ignored.

You know that Shuki Weiss (preeminent Israeli promotor) was offering me a hundred thousand people at hundred dollars a ticket a few months ago to come and play in Tel Aviv! “Hang on, that’s 10 million dollars”, how could they offer it to me?! And I thought Shuki are you fucking deaf or just dumb?! I am part of the BDS movement, I’m not going anywhere in Israel, for any money, all I would be doing would be legitimizing the policies of the government.

I have a confession to make to you. I did actually write to Cindy Lauper a couple of weeks ago. I did not make the letter public but I wrote her a letter because I know her a bit, she worked with me on the Wall in Berlin which is why I found it super difficult to understand that she is doing a gig in Tel Aviv on January the 4. apparently, quite extraordinary, reprehensible in my view, but I don’t know her personal story and people have to make up their own mind about these things. One can’t get too personal about it.

For sure but you can help them, I guess by what you are doing, by writing to them. You can open their eyes because that’s what they need I think.

Yes but if their eyes were going to be opened they would need to either visit the Holy Land, visit the West Bank or Gaza or even visit Israel or any single checkpoint anywhere and see what it’s like. All they would need to do is visiting or, read, read a book! Check out the history. Read Max Blumenthal’s book. Then say “Oh I know what I am going to do, I am going to play a gig in Tel Aviv”. That would be a good plan! (sarcastic tone).

Note: Frank Barat is one of the producers of “The Wall Has Ears; Conversation For Palestine”. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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  2. What makes people think being a musician makes one an expert on international and political affairs?

    Rodger’s views are obvious pretty naïve and unsophisticated (and linked with the history of anti-semantic rhetoric found throughout Europe, now and in the past , and no more valid that the views of a taxi driver or any other non-expert.

    Ok, Rodger does not like Jews, oh sorry, just the Jews in Israel, so what? Why would anyone care?

    By Jack on Dec 12, 2013

  3. As usual when Rog goes off on one of his anti-Semitic rants, there’s nary a mention of any of the genocidal talk coming from the Palestinian side. No, the Joooos are devils, and the Palestinians are oppressed underdog innocents. It must make life easier to have such a simplistic, black-and-white, good-vs-evil view of the conflict. Oh well, at least he stopped short of saying the Jews use the blood of Palestinian babies to bake their matzos. Hey, maybe next time.

    By none more black on Dec 13, 2013

  4. Jack - I didn’t notice Waters saying anything in opposition to the study of meaning (i.e., “anti-Semantic). If you’re going to call someone else “naïve and unsophisticated” it would improve your credibility if you could spell.

    Waters doesn’t like the policies of the current Israeli government. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t like Jews, many Jewish citizens of Israel don’t like the policies of the current government either. It’s a lot more constructive to discuss these issues on the merits rather than trying to shut down discussion with ad hominem attacks.

    By drkrick on Dec 14, 2013

  5. drkrick

    As you can see, speling ain’t my strong suit :).

    I am neither Jewish nor Arab, so I don’t have any dog in this fight. However I can understand, although not necessarily agree with, actions on both sides of the conflict.

    If there was an easy solution, it would have been found years ago.

    However, my post was not specifically about the situation in Palestine. Far smarter people than I am have tried and failed to bring peace to the region.

    If you want to spend your hard earned money to attend a reenactment of 1930s Berlin where you can tear apart a pig with the Star of David on it, and pretend it is a musical event, go ahead, it is your money.

    But I think Rodger Waters, other famous musicians and all of us can be better than that.

    Many of my favorite musicians and bands get involved in political causes which I don’t necessarily agree with. However, they usually separate their political activism from their music. Sure they will play music at an event promoting a political cause, which is great and free speech and all that, but the event is billed as a political event. When they play a “concert” the politics are placed on the back burner and the event helps bring people with different backgrounds and worldviews together to enjoy something in common.

    I go to a concert to enjoy the music and feel part of a community, not to hear a sophomoric political lecture by an uninformed musician. Music can bring us together. There are so many things which tear us apart and increase political divisions (I happen to be in Bangkok right now where political divisions are pretty sharp). Do we need music to add to the divisiveness? Rodger Waters has decided to use his fame and music to divide, antagonize and promote his own naïve beliefs.

    I am sure he feels his beliefs are right, but others obviously do not.

    Although I am not necessarily a big fan of the music of Pink Floyd, music has the potential to bring us together. Wouldn’t it be nice to see conservatives and liberals, Jews and Arabs, young and old, male and female, singing and dancing together while listening to Rodger’s music?

    Instead he has decided to promote hatred by promoting violence against religious and other symbols many people value.

    Rodger Waters can be a better man and do more good than he is now.

    By Jack on Dec 14, 2013

  6. To anyone who holds the view that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (who are referred to as unified despite their many differences) is completely or mostly the fault of Israel, I say: please read the charter of the Hamas movement which controls Gaza and which the people of Gaza voted for in preference to the “traditional” Palestinian leadership. Then we can talk again.

    By jania on Dec 15, 2013

  7. Instead of Jews, why not have a pop at the religious zealots who want to take us back to the dark ages, Roger? They created (and still do create) the always on edge, suspicious paranoia about amongst us that led directly to Menezes. That probably wouldn’t be PC enough though would it?

    By Shep on Dec 15, 2013

  8. I don’t doubt Roger Waters sincerity, but neither can one ignore his blatant anti-semitism. His references to the powers of “The Jewish Lobby” and the deeply offensive analogies to Nazi Germany are horribly painful and show willfill ignorance of history. Shame!.

    The politics and map of Israel is far more complex than what Waters boils down to Prime Minister Netanyahu and a relatively small religious right wing. And his characterziation of the statesman David Gurian is pure character assassination. For Waters who self righteously proclaims himself the truth teller/the arbiter of justice, but every indictman, every accusation, every inuendo expouses him as a hateful fraud.

    By Larry Fishman on Dec 16, 2013

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