If You Don't Want Politics In Music, Just Stay Home

Roger Waters last Thursday night, before he made things all weird.
Roger Waters last Thursday night, before he made things all weird. Photo by Violeta Alvarez
“So ya thought ya might like to go to the show
To feel the warm thrill of confusion, that space cadet glow”
— Pink Floyd, “In The Flesh?”

I wish I could tell you that I was surprised that there have been people upset about the political content of Roger Waters’ Us + Them tour, but that would be a lie. To be perfectly honest, before the show that was what I was most curious about: how would the crowd react to the impossible-to-ignore mocking of President Trump?

From my vantage point, their reaction was mostly positive to the initial jabs, with diminishing cheers as “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” went into “Money.” I didn’t hear any boos, but that’s not to say they weren’t there; I assume someone, somewhere, voiced their displeasure before retreating to the safety of a warm Houston night.

In the comments of my review, a few folks complained about the political nature of the show, and I’ve read in more than a few places that people wished Waters would have kept his politics out of the show. My favorites are when these people preface their complaint by pointing out they’re really big Pink Floyd fans.

Because obviously, they aren’t.

Now listen, I live in a world where Paul Ryan once cited Rage Against the Machine as one of his favorite bands, so I get that people don’t really pay attention to the music that they claim to love. I get that if you listen to a lot of classic-rock radio you might have grown to love “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” and “Wish You Were Here” and thought that hearing them live would be really neat.

Now, if this were the year 2000 and Roger Waters was circling the globe on his In the Flesh tour, I could see how maybe you weren’t aware of his political leanings. If you hadn’t dusted off Animals in a few years or skipped over his solo records, I guess I could see how you might have missed it. But this is 2017, and I don’t think it’s even possible to talk about Roger Waters without mentioning his disdain for Donald Trump, let alone not know that the man leans way left.

I mean, what do you think “Money” is all about?

But that’s not really the point. Obviously, you don’t have to agree with someone’s political POV to enjoy their music; it might help, but we humans are pretty good at compartmentalizing.

What you can’t do, however, is pay money to see someone and then complain that they were themselves onstage. I mean, you can, free country and all that, but you look like a tool if you do.

It’s easy to forget, even in a world of constant social-media posts, that the people who perform onstage at concerts are actual human beings, full of hopes and dreams and anxieties and, like it or not, political beliefs. And it doesn’t matter how much you paid or what you think you’re entitled to, they don’t owe you anything other than an experience.

And that experience is not always going to be the one you want. Sometimes you buy a concert ticket and you don’t get to hear all the songs you want, or the show isn’t as elaborate as you hoped, or it doesn’t run as long as you think you deserve, or you have to deal with politics that make you uncomfortable. That’s the gamble you take when you buy a concert ticket. It’s the risk you run when you use concerts as a form of escapism; most of the time you’ll win, but sometimes you won’t.

Politics absolutely have a place in music, whether you’re Roger Waters, Prophets of Rage or Ted Nugent. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to agree with it, but you also don’t have to buy a concert ticket in the first place. Maybe it’s better if you don’t. Honestly, the only thing I can think of when I hear complaints about Roger Waters — I remind you here that he’s the guy who wrote Animals — being too political in concert is, well, this:

“Tell me is something eluding you, sunshine?
Is this not what you expected to see?”
— Pink Floyd, “In the Flesh?”

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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia