Thursday, March 31, 2016

Waters on Amused to Death

Roger Waters - Roger Waters on Amused to Death

That's Roger Waters there. He's not exactly naked, but there are no props to fool with; he's just sitting in a chair in a bare, brick-walled loft somewhere. And that's a big part of the point he's making. Yes, he's announcing the re-release of the album 'Amused to Death', but the message of that album is that media seduces us away from what's  truly important.

He's being interviewed by?... Well, we never get to see who it is. The clear intention is that there will be no distractions to what he's saying - whatever it takes: rough edits, bare bones set... whatever. Marshall McLuhan, the famous philosopher of communication theory, stated that "The medium is the message!" But in this video the medium's not only the message, the message is that we had better take care in our relationship to media. Watch the video and pay attention, you'll see. 

Roger Waters? Yeah, the guy from Pink Floyd, the immeasurably popular and revered Concept Rock/Progressive-Psychedelic Music band from England; the one that's sold some 250 million albums over the years. Formed in London in 1965, they were a recording and performing unit for roughly 20 years until members began to drift in an out of the band, reviving it for a tour or recording now and then, and then continuing on their separate ways. Consequently, it's hard to pin down an exact date for the end of Pink Floyd as a group, as its dissolution apparently was a sort of de facto, unannounced non-event.  Time-wise, though, Amused to Death was was one of Roger Waters' early solo efforts; one that happened around the same time as the group's fading away in the early 1990's. Forgive me, Floyd freaks, if I got any of the fan trivia substantially wrong.

As the video opens, Rogers states in his very understated way of stating things "I'm quite pleased that they're re-releasing Amused to Death... because it didn't get the attention it deserved when it came out 23 years ago." By the way, Waters posted this video some 11 months ago and even though he's arguably one of the most successful artists ever, it's drawn only 123,000 views in that time. And no doubt, he understands that this re-released album, as well as this video that he's produced to... I'm not sure what word to use to describe his intentions, here.... promote it? explain it? announce it? other? Well, clearly he never expected to score the kind of popularity with this that he did with his work with Pink Floyd. He's after something else. If anything, I think he's using this YouTube piece to get a bit of bandwidth to set the record straight about something he cares about very much... success measured by numbers or critical acclaim or acknowledgement be damned.

And, of course, as Waters is a recording artist, he talks about records here. After giving a little explanation about his appreciation for vinyl records he explains that (referring to the re-release) "No, this isn't a new record. This is an old record that's been remixed... wedded to the sense that I had that - we could do better!... One has to remember that I made it in 1992... it's now 2,015... most of what I had to say then, SADLY, still pertains today and it may be even more relevant to our predicament as people... The title of the record, Amused to Death,  is a steal from a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death... given all the distractions that there are in modern life, it's very easy to take our eye off the ball... that is, if there is a ball that it's important to keep our eye on, which I think there is... global warming is an obvious example..." and he illustrates what he's talking about by miming with his hands, thumbs flying, a person lost in texting with a Smart Phone, indicating that the forms of digital distraction from the things that matter most in the lives of humans have become even more insidiously powerful and successful than when his album and Postman's book were first released. Rogers manages to squeeze in all of that explanation in less than half the run time of this video.

By the way, the book was written in 1985 by NYU professor, Neil Postman, who became well known for his cynical interpretation of the effect of technology on society. In it, he shares his thinking that discourse, a needed function of responsible, healthy societies, has been seriously subverted by Television, a technology with great enough appeal to cause our species to be distracted from things of essential societal importance in order to indulge its deepening addiction to electronic amusement.    

Waters ties in a connection that he sees to Aldous Huxley, whose "awful view of the future was that people would become so pleasured and amused that they would no longer be interested... no longer interested in all the things that bind us to the fact that we are human and that we are not cogs in the machine! I know it sounds very simplistic but it's fundamental to what my record is about."  And then he returns to more discussion of the relative merits of various audio technologies and his decisions about which to use in the re-mixing of this record... stating, "I'm so happy that there are people who care about these advanced formats because part of the banning of books is also about 'Oh, we don't give a fuck about that, let's all just listen to MP3's!"

This is actually a pretty good little video, certainly thought provoking... and even though Pink Floyd and Postman and Huxley are cultural and intellectual icons, many people aren't familiar with them (perhaps, they've been amused to death... sorry, couldn't resist :) - or haven't thought about them for ages and ages. But here we have another opportunity to sit with some really important ideas for the 6 minute and 5 second run time of this video.

Waters must sense that posting videos on YouTube is a significant way to get a listening for things one wants heard. Not only has he spoken his mind in this one about the overall purpose and value of this album, but he follows up with a couple of other videos in which he discusses, individually, the meaning and significance of every one of its tracks - now re-released twenty odd years on. Here they are:

Roger Waters - Amused to Death - Track-by-Track, Pt. 1

Roger Waters - Amused to Death - Track-by-Track, Pt. 2

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