Monday, July 31, 2017

Pulpit Bully: Why I Chose Not To See Roger Waters in Concert

I go to a lot of concerts, and the past two months have been especially fertile.

In June and July I attended 15 concerts, from huge football stadiums to arenas to free shows in local parks.

I saw old favorites like U2, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Paul McCartney, bands I've long liked but had never seen--such as Blondie--and those for whom my fondness is fairly recent (Tool, The Church, Echo & the Bunnymen).

Acts I enjoyed live, just over the past 8 weeks, have ranged from the massively loud Metallica to the far more mellow James Taylor.

Obviously, I can't--and don't, for various reasons--get to every Chicago area concert, even by artists I like. Virtually every day on Facebook I see friends posting from shows I'm not at, and frequently think, "I imagine that would be quite good."

Among those were a trio of concerts--July 22, 23 & 28--at the United Center by Roger Waters, who had been one of the primary forces behind Pink Floyd.

Although I love Pink Floyd (though not quite as much as some), saw Waters twice on his The Wall tour (in 2010 & 2012) and found last year's concert by his former bandmate David Gilmour to be not just one of 2016's best but almost spiritually sublime as Floydian classics were dusted off and wonderfully delivered, I opted not to see Roger Waters this time.

I could somewhat write this off as due to scheduling conflicts, as on the 22nd & 23rd, respectively, I saw Blondie/Garbage and Echo & the Bunnymen/Violent Femmes double bills, with all acts except Garbage ones I'd never seen live before.

And while I enjoy going to concerts, theater and ballgames in large volume, I'd done so 7 of the prior 9 nights--mostly deep into Chicago or to far outlying suburbs--so even with $55 tickets in plentiful supply at the UC box office Friday, I was physically and financially quite ready for a quiet night at home.

But the truth is, simply from a musical point of view, I would have eagerly gone to see Roger Waters, knowing that the show would be full of Pink Floyd classics set to some rather amazing visuals.

Reviews from friends and critics were largely quite positive--though not universally so--and I won't deny that I looked to see if dirt-cheap ducats could be had on StubHub. (No.)

Though I didn't know anyone who might be interested in attending with me--in part for the reasons I'll address--neither that nor $55 were great hindrances, and simply to abet my awareness, in general and in writing this article, perhaps I should have borne witness.

Plus, singing along to "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2," etc., etc., never grows old.

So to use a word Roger Waters seems to champion, I wouldn't quite say I was "boycotting" him.

But why I decided not to see him has far, far less to do with the music he had made--and seemingly continues to, live and on a well-received new album--than with my perceptions of the man himself.

I also believe it too simplistic--in multiple contexts--to say that I avoided seeing Roger Waters simply because I don't like his politics.

First, in terms of the overt Anti-Trump messaging seemingly hugely prominent on his Us+Them Tour--based on photos & videos I've seen and reviews I've read--I'm aligned with Waters, although I'm rarely a fan of being bashed over the head by political statements at rock concerts, at least to the extent he seems to be doing so.

Second, while I have serious reservations about Waters' overt condemnation of the state of Israel for transgressions against Palestinians--he is a prominent supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement--this was also the case back when I saw The Wall Tour twice, I've continued to quite contentedly see Elvis Costello, who has previously opted not to play in Israel, and while I'm not rushing out to see Kid Rock again anytime soon, an artist's political stances are not a litmus test for my fandom.

Certainly, my affinity for artists like Bruce Springsteen, U2, Pearl Jam, etc., has much to do with the humanistic bent of their lyrics, but having attended over 700 concerts, many have undoubtedly been by artists whose personal viewpoints may differ from mine.

Which is perfectly fine, even desirable to an extent. Though I believe what I believe because I think it is right--and some things are indelible, like not hating people due to the color of their skin--I'm very much a proponent of discussion, discourse and debate. To only listen to perspectives with which I agree would provide no room for new thought, consideration, learning or growth.

And the interesting thing is that denouncing Israel has become fairly popular among lefties and
liberals with whom I agree on many matters.

Although I am Jewish, I am not automatically nor ardently Pro-Israel. I visited the country in 2009 and found myself frequently harassed by security personnel, and perturbed by pushy cabbies. I am not eager to return, in part because while I am proud of my heritage, I am not a practicing Jew and did not feel welcome or comfortable in the Holy Land.

Regarding Palestine, the situation is quite complex, and I do not have a default position.

Sadly, I would assume some Palestinians who haven't sought to do any harm have themselves been harmed, even killed. This I can never condone.

And while aware of and revulsed by the mistreatment, oppression and slaughter of Jews (dating back centuries, decades and presently), inherently empathetic with Israel to some extent (with relatives who live there) and also understanding that offense can sometimes be a plausible means of defense, I am not much aligned with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, excusing of any egregious behavior nor theoretically opposed to a 2-state solution.

I harbor no antipathy against the Palestinian people--or Arabs or Muslims--appreciate their territorial consternation and am never comfortable with anybody being abused, as many have been in various ways.

In no way am I particularly knowledgeable about Middle Eastern politics, or even specifically Israel, and in trying to better understand the myriad perspectives and ramifications, do not disdain Roger Waters and others--including people I admire such as film director Ken Loach and Archbishop Desmond Tutu--simply for having and espousing opinions about Israel's supposed indiscretions.

Over the years I have had discussions with people I believe more sage about the Israel-Palestinian situation, including prominently with my friend Brad.

Brad is a staunch Democrat and liberal, with whom I agree on many societal and political matters. Like me, he is Jewish, but not Orthodox, and seemingly not actively observant or practicing. (I don't think he regularly attends synagogue; I do not.) He similarly regards Waters as an often brilliant musician, and his lauding of a recent film by another ardent BDS member--I, Daniel Blake, directed by Ken Loach--prompted me to see it and also find it terrific.

Even after conversations with him, and perusals of various sources, my understanding is admittedly still rather simplistic, but Brad has helped me see why Waters' underlying criticisms of Israel seem myopic.

This article is not meant as a staunch nor studied defense of Israel, but as I perceive it the Palestinian government is partially controlled by members of Hamas, which Jewish Israelis and others view as a terrorist organization.

Hamas denies the Holocaust ever happened and has historically been disinterested in a 2-state solution or much in the way of a peaceful compromise. I apologize for not being able to provide attribution toward the veracity of these claims, at least per my understanding, Hamas has wished devastation and even eradication upon the Jews, repeatedly attacked and killed Israelis, and when retaliated upon by Israel has used Palestinian civilians as human shields, which causes the military bombardments to appear even more barbaric and over-the-top.

Israel's President, Netanyahu, is a right-wing conservative, not to the liking of me, Brad or many in Israel, and seemingly staunchly opposed to the sort of compromises likely necessary if peace in Israel is ever to be a possibility.

So it's hard for me to too steadfastly condemn Waters for blasting Netanyahu, the policies he puts forth and the actions taken by the government and military he leads.

Yet as Brad suggests, Waters and the BDS are actually harming their own cause:
"The main obstacle to peace on the Israeli side is that they are currently governed by Netanyahu and a far right Likud coalition. When Labor is in power, they are more amenable to compromise. The goal of BDS is to isolate Israel on all fronts. Waters is the head guy on the cultural front. The theory is that it will force Israel to make unilateral concessions. This is naive. To the extent that BDS is successful--it isn't--isolation would lead to a more fearful Israeli populous, which would be more likely to elect right wing governments who (there as well as here) feed off that fear to advocate a more extreme agenda."
As I noted above, the situation is hugely complicated from all sides, and I recognize that strident action is often necessary to compel change.

Individuals now widely hailed as heroes may have earlier been regarded as nutjobs, and as someone who believes artists have every right to offer political statements, I do not disdain Roger Waters simply for making his, even if Brad suggests that the vehemence of Waters' anti-Israel views can't help but reek of underlying anti-Semitism.

Some may see this as splitting hairs, but my problem with Roger Waters is that he comes off as an insistent, intolerant prig.

And a jerk.

A recent, acute and untenable example of this is his condemnation of Radiohead for planning to play a concert in Israel, which they did in Tel Aviv on July 19.

As I understand it--with the caveat that there may be an element of "he said vs. he said" at play--is that after Radiohead set their concert, Waters tried to engage singer Thom Yorke in conversations (seemingly via email) that urged the acclaimed British band (also a favorite of mine) to reconsider.

According to Waters, Yorke angrily responded to him--apparently rejecting his entreaties to cancel the Israel show--before cutting off communication.

So Waters seemingly spearheaded a petition that he, Loach, Desmond Tutu, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and 50 prominent figures signed in order to up the pressure on Radiohead to cancel.

In a Rolling Stone article, Yorke responded:
"It's deeply disrespectful to assume that we're either being misinformed or that we're so retarded we can't make these decisions ourselves. I thought it was patronizing in the extreme. It's offensive and I just can't understand why going to play a rock show or going to lecture at a university [is a problem to them]."
In intimating that Radiohead had felt properly informed in making their decision to play Israel, Yorke
also noted that the band's guitarist Jonny Greenwood "has both Palestinian and Israeli friends and a wife who's an Arab Jew."

I will also add that just in June and July, Guns N' Roses, Britney Spears, The Pet Shop Boys and Tears for Fears are among the prominent Western artists to play in Tel Aviv without seemingly incurring such wrath from Waters and the BDS movement.

Essentially it seems, Waters asked Radiohead not to play Israel, Yorke rejected his overtures, so Waters organized a petition to reiterate his stance and Yorke took exception.

Still trying to plead his case, Waters then made his own statements to Rolling Stone, followed by Loach condemning Radiohead in an Independent article, to which Yorke responded via Twitter:
"Playing in a country isn't the same as endorsing its government. We've played in Israel for over 20 years through a succession of governments, some more liberal than others. As we have in America. We don't endorse [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu any more than Trump, but we still play in America. Music, art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression. I hope that makes it clear Ken."
After R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe offered a statement in support of Radiohead's decision to perform--while also saying "Let’s hope a dialogue continues, helping to bring the occupation to an end and lead to a peaceful solution," so not absolving Israel any more than Yorke had--the concert took place without overt incident.

"A lot of stuff has been said about this, but in the end, we played some music," Thom Yorke told the crowd.

As it was Radiohead's longest show in a decade, and they played "Creep," a song I love but haven't heard live in any of the 8 times I've seen the band--including in Kansas City in April--I would have been thrilled to be there, musically speaking.

In similar parlance, I imagine it would have been sublime to hear Roger Waters and his band perform "Time," "Welcome to the Machine," "Wish You Were Here," "Us and Them" and much more

Certainly I was tempted, and I neither condemn anyone who went nor feels differently about all of the above than I do.

Numb or not, I reached my decision comfortably.

And so too, it seems did Radiohead.

As for Roger Waters--albeit without having seen the concert--I'm not sure why he's advocating a boycott of Israel yet playing so many massive shows in the U.S. in which he openly attacks the sitting president.

What's the difference between advocating that many Americans should rebuke Trump but not allowing for the likelihood that many music-loving Israelis are not aligned with Netanyahu?

Could the answer be "Money"?

1 comment:

Ken said...

A very thoughtful and unbiased essay. I'm in agreement with you. Great tag line!!