His Possible Endings: The Anger and Hope of Roger Waters
Roger Waters: a man of anger, a man of hope.
The gears started turning in my brain when I read a simple but complicated question: what song do you consider Pink Floyd’s last real song? Depending on how you view the band, there are a lot of potential answers: the final song they released (“Louder Than Words”); their final song with Roger Waters (“Two Suns at Sunset”); their final song before Roger Waters started releasing solo albums under the Pink Floyd name (“Pigs on the Wing 2”); their final song with original front man Syd Barrett (“Jugband Blues”).
Although I’m a Roger Waters stan, I acknowledge “Louder Than Words” as the final Pink Floyd song, although from where I’m typing I wish that title went to “Outside the Wall.” After that, there are Pink Floyd songs that are fine and songs that are bad, but very few songs that feel like Pink Floyd.
Is This the Life We Really Want?, Waters' new and potentially final solo album, has for the first time in decades a few moments that feel like the old Floyd sound, minus the guitar magic that David Gilmour brought to the party. Much in the same way that the final Floyd record, 2014’s The Endless River, felt like an amalgam of everything that came before it, Is This the Life feels like catching up with an old friend right where you left off. From the sound effects to the preoccupation with war, it feels like the most Roger Waters record of his career, and if it’s his swan song it’s a hell of a way to go out.
But it’s those endings that I’ve been thinking about the most lately. Waters — who plays Toyota Center this evening — didn’t work exclusively in concept albums over the course of his career, but he wrote many, and a great concept record has to have a great finale. For a long time, Waters had a rap of being an angry, bitter man, the guy that railed against the system, the guy who spit on the fan, the guy who sued his former band over the rights to use a giant inflatable pig. But one that becomes clear in looking at his endings is that while there was an anger that burned inside him — which was definitely important and necessary, given how many of his songs remain as relevant in 2017 as they did when they were written — that anger was tempered by a hope that connection with others is possible.
There’s something darkly humorous that the bleakest ending of any of his Pink Floyd work comes on Dark Side of the Moon. Yes, The Final Cut does end with the fall of an atom bomb and the annihilation of its narrator, but consider the ending of “Eclipse”:
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon
No matter how good things can be, there’s always a darkness coming to ruin it all.
Meanwhile, Animals is this big, dark, bleak statement on the world, and yet it has an ending that is, dare I say it, sweet:
Now that I’ve found somewhere safe
To bury my bones
And any fool knows a dog needs a home
A shelter from pigs on the wing
Yes, the world is a dark place, but even the apathetic can learn to care and find safety in numbers.
Roger Waters' rock career could have ended with “Amused to Death.” Amused to Death, as an album, has little positive to say about the world at the time it was released, and there is no glimmer of hope at the end of this one:
The alien anthropologists
Admitted they were still perplexed
But on eliminating every other reason for our sad demise
They logged the only explanation left
This species has amused itself to death
Consider for a moment this was written in 1992, long before smartphones and reality TV. If “Amused to Death” had been Roger Waters’ final statement, yes, it would have been dark, but he’d be something of a visionary.
But that possible past was not to be.
This is how Is This the Life ends:
Watching endless repeats -
Out of sight, out of mind
The ultimate crime
But when I met you, that part of me died
Bring me a bowl
To bathe her feet in
Bring me my final cigarette
It would be better by far to die in her arms
Than to linger
In a lifetime of regret
And I love that. I love that one of rock music’s ultimate cynics wrote this final album, full of songs about how not-great the world still is, and ended it with a song about how we might not be able to change the world but we, as individuals, can change.
Yes, the moon is all dark, but if you have someone to look at it with, or at least to be by your side when you wake up scared in the middle of the night, maybe it’s not all bad.
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