Welcome to the new year and may it bring you at least one memory to calm you and give you shivers down your spine. That might not seem like much of a wish but to me it seems like it’s almost too much to ask. In any case, to illustrate this convoluted greeting, I’ve got “Amused to death”, by Roger Waters, an album I would call rapturous were it not for the sad irony of the term being used in 2012.
Thinking back, there’s one Pink Floyd song which stuck with me for the longest time, seemingly odd on the wonderful Dark Side Of The Moon album. It’s “Us and Them” – I’m not really sure why it rang the bells it rang, but I’ve come to think of it as the first sign I noticed of Roger Waters’ obsession with the themes of war and loss and insanity. (I feel like an ant talking about a giant here, but bear with me, I’m doing all I can.) Arching well over The Wall, the connection I feel between Us and Them and The Final Cut album is terribly, bitterly strong. I thought that would be it, that would be the circle, the fruition of the journey, but then came Amused to Death and it just overwhelmed me.
I listened to this album for the first time with the same dear friend who introduced me to Aphrodite’s Child, in a little cabin in the mountains, near an almost deserted quarry which still scars the horizon, although the rusted, metallic ruins dotting the forest clearings would mostly be stripped away and sold for scrap by now. To behold such a landscape then was simply serendipitous (though what’s simple about serendipity I couldn’t say). Those mountains are filled with solidified, decrepit, perilous echoes in the shape of deserted buildings and mine shafts, conveyor belts and train tracks, rattled by the occasional, desperately anachronistic truck which still climbs to the quarry. And while these vistas work very well as a visual background for this music, the only word that comes to my mind when thinking about Amused to Death is “beautiful”. Not depressing, not ominous, not sad.
The kind of beauty in this music is of that quality that makes you stop in your tracks and want to weep. It’s a heart-stopping, jagged beauty, massive, weighty enough to topple you. Once attuned to this presence, the shiver which starts running up and down your spine feels like it’s come from very far away, and is unfathomably old, and becomes part of you, turns you into a resonating board, a dry, smooth wooden box which can’t help vibrate and will never stop once it’s begun. Here I am, a few years later, and all I want to do is listen and speak and write and play music. I’m not saying it’s because of Amused to Death, that wouldn’t be entirely true, but this record is one of the reasons, there’s no question in my mind. Such focus and certainty about one’s love and passion for something, no matter what it is, is what I wish you all.
Listen to Amused to Death, if you will, it’ll… make perfect sense, and it’ll possibly wash away some of the ballast of these much-sought after and yet disappointing words. I found the entire album on YouTube, so I’ll paste that. I also found a few songs off the album, in live renditions. Roger Waters looks frail now that he’s gotten old. And yet, when he performs these songs, that frailty becomes unshakeable, indomitable. May this year give us that as well, when it matters.