For the second time in my life, I'm writing a column about Pink Floyd. More specifically, the man I have always considered to be the brains of the band: Roger Waters. The first time I wrote about him was 26-years ago when I was a high school senior at C.B. West, in Doylestown, and editor of the school newspaper, the Chatterbux.
Back then, I was one of the lucky few to see Pink Floyd perform The Wall, live at the Nassau County Coliseum. I wrote about my experience. My glowing review earned me an invitation to the principal's office. There I was encouraged to write a retraction on the grounds that I had promoted a band whose lyrics the principal believed to be associated with drug usage.
It was a moment straight out of Another Brick in the Wall, part 2. "We don't need no education", indeed. I told the principal to pound sand. I may have even called it a matter of 'free speech'.
For three decades, the Floyd has never left my play list. In fact, I have done what I call 'the cycle' for every Floyd and Roger Waters recording. That means I bought it in all forms in which it was released - album, 8-track, cassette, and CD. I once made a London taxi driver take me to the Battersea Power Station just so I could photograph the image that appears on the cover of my favorite album, Animals. No one was more pleased than I when the band re-united to headliner at Live 8. And in the never ending debate amongst fans of the Floyd as to David Gilmore vs. Waters, I have always sided with Roger Waters.
My affinity for Waters has always been in spite of his politics, which are well known to me. Chalk that up to spending too much time in my bedroom studying song lyrics back in the day when they printed such things. Then, I thought rock stars had all the answers.
Fast forward a quarter-century from high school.
Last Wednesday night I sat in the front row for a Roger Waters' performance at Madison Square Garden which featured his solo material and many cuts from the Floyd, including Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. (He'll be at the Hollywood Bowl October 5th, 6th and 8th.) I was accompanied by my buddy, Paul Lauricella, a Philadelphia lawyer whose politics are closer to Waters than my own. The two of us fit right in. The crowd was diverse, but largely comprised of guys like me - white, middle aged, with receding hair and expanding waists.
It should have been a night to have a few beers and enjoy the soundtrack of my life. Instead, I sat there in my expensive seat, and heckled the guy whose music I know by heart.
Waters' politics are no longer just liberal, they're over the top.
I was expecting the line about "incurable tyrants and kings" when he sang Fletcher Memorial Home, and I knew there'd be reference to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, among others. What I was not prepared for was a photo montage that featured Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush. Especially not two days removed from the anniversary of September 11th in the city where the most death and destruction occurred.
I'm sick and tired of entertainment types arguing a moral equivalency between our President and the Butcher of Baghdad and Architect of 9/11. It's not that I object to the criticism of the president or his war policy. But Waters and others lose all credibility when they treat Bush and Bin Laden the same. And that was before Waters announced that he was beginning the "controversial" part of the show.
I held my breath as he introduced Leaving Beirut with a long-winded story about his teens. Then came:
Are these the people we should bomb
Are we so sure they mean us harm
Is this out pleasure punishment or crime
Is this a mountain that we really want to climb
The road is had, hard and long
Put down that two by four
This man would never turn you from his door
Oh George! Or George!
That Texas education must have fucked you up when you were very small
This is Waters' ridiculous ode to some guy who gave him a lift and a meal when he was thumbing it in Beirut at aged 17. According to the logic of his lyrics, because he was extended this courtesy, we're supposed to overlook the murder of innocents at the hands of radical Islam, including the close to 3,000 who died almost five years to the day, and just blocks from where I was now hearing him sing.
I couldn't take it any more. "Go visit Ground Zero" I shouted at him from the front row. He heard me, and proceeded to avoid our corner of the stage for the rest of the night except to oblige some hottie who wanted to take his picture with her cell phone.
Then the pig came out.
I refer to a giant, inflatable pig, a hallmark of many Floyd shows, and the symbol of my aforementioned favorite album. Only this time the pig was a billboard for Waters' twisted priorities. "Habeus Corpus Matters", it said, among other things. How appalling. I wondered how many in the New York City audience had lost relatives or friends in the attack of 5 years ago and now were witness to his call for more rights for their murderers?
"Go visit Ground Zero", I yelled again.
A quarter century since first seeing Roger Waters, he maintains his free speech rights. Bald, bespectacled, and now willing to shell out for a front row seat, so do I.
Follow Michael Smerconish on Twitter: www.twitter.com/smerconish