There are so many musicians I admire, a smaller circle I adore, a smaller one still I revere, and a relative handful I’m grateful for. Artists whose work has changed my life, immeasurably for the better; artists who have demonstrably made the world a happier, more intelligent, passionate, inclusive place than it would otherwise be. Artists who have honored and exploited the gifts given; the gifts that, to the undiscerning observer, seem divine, yet are seldom offered without a concomitant burden: the sensitivity that feeds extreme empathy and inexorably spirals into sadness (even madness) which often refracts inward, resulting in self-loathing or antipathy for others — especially those one is closest to.
I can hardly think of an artist who epitomizes these multitudes — alternatively exhilarating and discordant — than Roger Waters. The same lyricist whose output during the ’70s goes toe to toe with any rock legend who has put pen to paper; also the man who set the control-freak for the heart of the sun, equal parts Icarus and Captain Bligh, breaking apart an all-time band at the height of its powers (and the recrimination that followed; all that wasted ire and bitterness, ostensibly to secure the accurate narrative, but mostly in the service of himself), aging poorly from eccentric uncle to egomaniacal crank.
But he knew he was and, as he’s evolved into being who he is, he’s seemed increasingly at peace with the multitudes within — the idiosyncrasies and ability that make him, and have helped him make the work that’s made his legend. Unlike so many of his rock god peers, he’s improved as a human being, aging with elan and retaining the piss and vinegar that inspired him to create albums that will remain inextricable from musical history, transcending both cultural trends and time. Yes, he’s gotten fabulously rich and sure, he refuses to perform for free (and why should he?), but he’s the rare genius who continues to live the truth he wrote about so indelibly several decades ago (unlike, say, Pete Townshend, whose soul died before he got old).
Roger Waters, almost 80, doesn’t need to be the thinking man’s Man in Black on stage. More importantly, he wants to be on stage. He’s allergic to retirement and wants to continue poking the eyes of the powerful and bludgeoning sacred bovines. The man has mellowed, but he’s still on message, one of the rare icons with whom a straight line can be drawn from the Summer of Love to today. He’s still leaving it all out there, leaving few stones unturned, and turning on fans — old and new — the old fashioned way: by being out there, in the flesh, obliging us to remember that conformity is cold comfort, and a walk-on part in the war is preferable to a lead role in a cage.
Shine on, Roger.