When I first heard that Roger Waters is currently on a 40-date American tour, I assumed some kind of dreadful mistake had been made.
Waters is reportedly flogging a new album, Is This The Life We Really Want?, another smugly pessimistic concept recording that has the 73-year-old British composer banging on about dead-end public figures who say one thing and risibly do another.
In the quarter-century since his last release, Amused to Death, Waters has of course also kept the publicity meter ticking with a medley of media releases having to do with Israel.
Waters dislikes the Jewish state with a passion. He thinks the place is a dead ringer for apartheid-era South Africa. He believes there can only be a sliver of hope for the region if and when all good contemporary acts follow his example in refusing to dignify the joint with their musical presence.
To date, his public hectoring has fallen on generally deaf ears. True, Elvis Costello cancelled a couple of concerts in Israel back in 2010 — but given that Costello hasn’t recorded a decent album since the late 1970s, the no-show may have been a blessing in disguise. And it’s an open question whether poor ticket sales, rather than the given reason of “conscience,” caused him to pull the plug.
The same year also saw America’s godfather of hip-hop, Gil Scott Heron, canning what would have been his debut performance in Tel Aviv — but here again, given that he died shortly afterwards, other considerations may have been at play.
In the meantime, a relatively vast retinue of artists have made the trip, channelling the spirit — if not the actual words — of Elton John on stage in Tel Aviv, who raised a clenched fist and shouted, “Shalom! We’re so happy to be back here! Ain’t nothing gonna stop us from coming, baby!”
It could be that what’s needed here is a more memorable gesture from Roger Waters to rally the troops.
If Israel is the problem, then its major international ally, the United States, should be, too, and here the course of action is also crystal clear: not only must he cancel the remaining shows in the tour, he should immediately recall all copies of his new album from the territory, and donate any profits to date to charity.
Anything less would only smack of the risibly selective morality Waters is forever bellowing about.
It might also help shield him from what looks to be an imminent rash of unflattering stateside attention from the maker of a coming documentary by the New York Times best-selling author, Ian Halperin, who has placed Waters’ apartheid case against Israel before some of those who actually fought the real version of apartheid and profess themselves to be mystified by the comparison.
Is this the life you really want, Roger?