Roger Waters at Desert Trip
Did our parents forget?
Desert Trip. Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who, and Roger Waters on the same bill for the first time in history. A music lover’s wet dream, and—for my parents and the rest of the Baby Boomer generation that came-of-age in the Sixties and Seventies—a once-in-a-lifetime chance to relive their youth and wax nostalgic about the glory days of Rock Music.
All told, it was three days of classic music, epic guitar solos, and off-pitch sing-alongs—the kind of thing you’d expect when six of the most legendary musicians play the same festival to a sold out crowd of parents, aunts, uncles, and old neighbors. There were fireworks, jokes about being old, and plenty of booze to keep the audience just lucid enough.
But there was a noticeable standout—Roger Waters. Playing hits from The Wall as well as Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals, all nearly in their entirety, he also captivated the audience with the most immersive audiovisual experience of the entire weekend. Maybe the most incredible audiovisual experience I’ve ever witnessed.
But the performance was more than just deep cuts and flashing lights. By the time his set was up, Waters had commented on police brutality, drone strikes, government surveillance, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine – a conflict that he is known for denouncing. Perhaps more relevant, Waters dedicated the entirety of “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” to demonizing Donald Trump, with an array of images depicting Trump as everything from a pig to a KKK member. Some of the acts had briefly and indirectly alluded to Drumpf, but this went far beyond that.
Truth be told, while some of the other acts were happy to show up and play the hits, Roger Waters showed up with a message, and the courage to deliver it live onstage. In speaking to the struggle of Black Americans living under systemic racism, and Palestinians living under occupation, Waters made his music relevant to the contemporary socio-political climate.
And for me, a Millennial who fell in love with Rock n’ Roll as a teenager for its ability to spur social change and speak for the outsiders, Waters’ performance was more in the spirit of the Sixties and Seventies than any other set. What I recognized in Waters’ performance was purpose—the reason I had fallen in love with Rock n’ Roll in the first place. Because it was revolutionary. It was dangerous. It was challenging. It spoke truth to power and gave a voice to millions of young people looking for change.
And that’s what my parents and their generation loved about it as well, whether they acknowledge it or not… Sure the music was catchy, pop-ish at times, but it was its rebel spirit and countercultural impulse that drove Rock n’ Roll’s synergy.
And it was the young people people in the crowd hooting and howling during the most political moments of Waters’ performance. The Baby Boomers around me remained silent, or traded whispers of disapproval, this is not the place for politics, why did he have to throw politics into it?
Did they forget? Did they forget that all art is political, and political discourse is as embedded in Rock n’ Roll as the blues scale or the solo? That every single one of the Desert Trip performers had in one way or another inserted themselves into the political conversations of their time? That whether as protestors of the Vietnam War, or those advocating and thrusting toward sexual liberation, they were there? Politics was as much a part of their identities as their long hair, or their habit of thrashing hotel rooms.
The hypocrisy stunned me, and I argued with my parents about Waters’ performance in the post-show din. The idea that an artist should hold their tongue about politics is infuriating, especially when we need creative voices more than ever.
Waters’ performance cut deep into the generation gap dividing us Millennials from the Baby Boomers, beautifully re-sparking a much-needed dialogue about art as politics and politics as art. It pushed the audience to think about the most pressing socio-political issues of our time. Indeed, as the dust settled and the last note of the festival rang out, it was neither the sex nor the drugs nor the nostalgia of Rock n’ Roll that stayed with me. Instead, it was Roger Waters’ bold politics and fearless voice.
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