Since I was a kid I have loved Pink Floyd. Strangely, I have not thought deeply about why that is. Like many things in life, when we like something or we don’t like something, we don’t necessarily give it more thought that that. However seeing Roger Waters perform a classic set from Pink Floyd as well as selections of his new work, I really started thinking about what the music means to me and how much of it speaks very clearly to our times.
Growing up where I did, a person’s exposure to music was somewhat limited. Pop music was sugary banality that had no reflection on my life as a teenager. Arguably country music should have spoken to me coming from a small town in the midwest, but I found what I heard just as banal while trying to dress itself up in the trappings of down-to-earth wholesomeness, which in the end was contrived and even more vapid than pop. Those were pretty much my choices asides from what one heard in church on Sunday. And though ecclesiastical music can be beautiful and powerful, it rarely captivates the teenager.
It was almost an accident that I was hanging out at my best friend’s house when he happened to be playing part of The Wall. For a kid who had not been that interested in music, something about it cut right through me and I was enthralled. There was something grandiose about the music: raw, emotional, expressive, expansive, but constructed with deliberate precision. It was clear that the music was there to deliver a message on an epic scale.
One thing that was constantly ingrained into me as I was growing up was that only my best was good enough and that through my best efforts anything was possible. This constant message left me with an oversized imagination to fill. Books and science fiction did a good job, but in a small town the only place to witness the grandiose manifest is the church. The church’s music (though it might not have captured my imagination) combined with the soaring vaulted ceilings, vibrant mosaics, and gilt statues all dripping with symbolism, was the first art on a grand scale that I was exposed to.
The music of Pink Floyd found my young mind primed for emotive expression that strived for the epic by relying on simple ideas and potent symbolism both ancient and modern to convey a message that was relevant to me. Pastoral settings, literary references from the modern to the Tang Dynasty, trips through the planets, and themes of communication, madness, isolation, and loss satisfied my thirst for expression on what felt like a monumental scale. Of course this experience was always accompanied by Storm Thorgeson’s iconic imagery including prisms, seas of cloud, metal faces, and of course bleak industrial landscapes, which complemented the music and added depth while somehow simultaneously adding more mystery.
One image which continues to beguile me is that of Battersea Power Station, serving as the cover to the album Animals. The hulking, crumbling edifice to former industrial greatness still haunts me with its elegant but imposing art deco lines under a foreboding sky, and served as the perfect metaphor for the album. Though the cover art was impressive, it was always the words of Pink Floyd which I found most powerful. A product of late 1970s, Animals was a scathing critique of the socio-economic climate and capitalism of the times couched in terms of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, casting all people as either cutthroat dogs, hapless and obedient sheep, or profiteering pigs. It was a reminder to me of how easily we can lose our own humanity in how we regard and treat each other.
And somehow until I heard the first chords of “Dogs” and saw the model of Battersea rising above the crowd at the concert, it had not occurred to me how prescient this message was and how uncommonly relevant it still is today.
Although my words and humor often veer towards cynicism, I still have great hope. However hope is reckless if one doesn’t understand (or worse, misunderstands) the opposition. These words of the 45th President of the United States, projected against that model of Battersea as Roger Waters played “Dogs,” spoke volumes.
One could not have described the President better than he does himself.
Though I think one should be loathe to reduce a person to terms of an animal and rather strive to find one’s common humanity, after reading these words of the President, I found it hard to disagree with the final statement beamed onto the side of Battersea:
Trump ist ein Schwein.
It has always been the responsibility of music and art in general to hold a mirror up to society. However even if you agree with the above statement and are abhorred by what is in the mirror, it remains only a statement, an observation. Understanding is only the beginning and a statement of fact is not a call to action. It must inform one’s deeds in order to affect change.
If the President’s words are a perfect summary of the current administration and the associated challenges we face, those words also serve as a guide to the measures we must take. As Roger Waters simply framed it: resist.
Resist xenophobia and tribalism. Demand enforcement of protection of minorities and respect for the constitutional rights of all.
Resist fascism. Call out the fallacy of moral equivocation and do not accept our leaders embracing or even courting hate groups.
Resist jingoism. Elect leaders with actual experience in geopolitical negotiation and diplomacy who will not engage in needless bluster that could cost actual lives.
Resist jingoism. Elect leaders with a sense of moral responsibility not only to the nation but to the world. Demand leadership as well as partnership in our foreign policy.
Resist jingoism. Elect leaders who with a sense of responsibility to represent the United States to the world as a reliable partner and a negotiator in good faith.
Resist mediocrity and iconoclasm. Accept only leaders who have a proven record of experience, knowledge, moral authority, and sense of service. Reject those who wish to simply destroy the status quo without a better alternative.
Resist misogyny. Demand accountability for violence against women at all levels of society. Be vigilant not only in the public sphere but also in the workplace, in education, and in religious institutions.
Resist nepotism and cronyism. Elect leaders who surround themselves with the best talent and reject those who instead surround themselves with sycophants and use public office to benefit only their own family and friends.
Resist sexism. Take anyone to task when a person of the other sex is not respected or treated as an equal.
Resist racism. Reject judgements made on other people by the color of their skin or heritage.
Resist racism. Advocate for equality of law and justice regardless of race, understanding that equality does not mean anyone loses rights, rather that everyone is entitled to the same and is safe in his/her rights.
Resist xenophobia and isolationism. Do not accept that the only way to protect a border is by sealing it. Demand that our government responsibly regulates the border while respecting the human rights of all immigrants and does not forcibly separate children from their parents.
Resist ignorance. Elect people with basic science literacy to government. Support science research and demand that our schools are well-funded and have robust science curricula.
Resist ignorance. Support scientific advocacy groups and make choices that minimize your own impact on the environment.
Resist narcissism. Remember that our government works for the people and not the other way around. Elect officials who are dedicated to serving and not those who seek praise or the self-gratification of power.
Resist apathy. Remember that leadership is not symbolic. It is measured in what is accomplished. Demand results from our leaders.
Resist mediocrity. Remember that nothing about the state of affairs of this administration is normal. Continue to hold government to the standards we have historically known and do not allow the normalization of incompetent or malevolent government.
Resist dishonesty in government. Support impartial government oversight bodies and the free press doing its job in bringing government malfeasance to light. Demand transparency in government including robust use of FOIA.
Resist dishonesty in government. Support campaign finance reform laws and anti-gerrymandering initiatives. Understand that the people choose their government and not the other way around.
Resist a government of greed. Demand that government robustly do its job in regulating markets and stop the revolving door of self-dealing in regulation.
Resist a government of greed. Stop electing “businessmen” to high office. Business acumen can be helpful, but never forget that government priority is always the people and not a bottom line.
Resist a government of greed. Challenge the notion that greed and wealth is always good. Encourage it in a well-regulated open market, but do not accept that a minor drug offender should be incarcerated for a decade while bankers who lost people’s life savings walk free.
If art lays truths bare to us, it is then incumbent on us to act on them. Although hope may have taken a beating in the past two years and we are left wondering where those better angels of our nature have fled, it is only through our own actions that we can keep hope alive. As we work for a better world and against those that choose to undermine it, we rekindle that hope. We all deserve better.