It pains me to have to dissent with one of my teen idols, I the teen, Roger Waters my idol.
From my post-boarding school days in Ramsgate, Kent, to taking the TTC in Toronto from St.Michael’s Choir School to my home in the suburbs, Roger Waters is so ingrained in my life, that if it weren’t for The Wall, I might have fallen through the cracks.
With every slide of the guitar and words that resonate in me like An Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen or Pike by Ted Hughes, the music and lyrics of Roger Waters were a constant companion from the moment I discovered the Walkman to the neatly stacked Pink Floyd collection on my stand-up piano. And while my classmate Marc introduced me to Robert Smith of The Cure, and my Polish neighbor to Bruce Springsteen, no musician has had such staying power in my life as Roger Waters.
When Roger Waters came to Toronto with his tour The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, I queued up in the snow squall at the corner of Yonge and College to make sure I had tickets to see him play for two of the three concerts he gave in Maple Leaf Gardens. From the moment he picked up a red phone and asked the audience: “Is there anybody out there?” I knew it wasn’t an ordinary question, but one that summed-up my inner state of existence, for I stammered, and badly. The Wall eventually did come down in my life when I took speech therapy, and in my other life, as a photojournalist who covered the events in Berlin on Nov.9, 1989.
The statement by Roger Waters questioning the motives of Richard Branson’s Venezuela Aid Live concert was extremely unnecessary given the fact that three million Venezuelans have fled their country during the last several years, many of them now in Colombia, desperately trying to eek out an existence playing music in parks, delivering fast food, and sadly, begging for food. When they get up every morning Roger, they are forced to look into Every Stranger’s Eyes.
I expected more from an artist who composed what I consider to be one of the great masterpieces of music – The Final Cut. So, Roger when you write that “a group of anonymous Latin-American meatpacking glitterati” should join Brezhnev and Nixon at the Fletcher Memorial Home, why are you leaving Maduro in the Miraflores Palace?
He seems to fit the bill perfectly as a candidate of the home of “Incurable Tyrants and Kings.”
I appreciate you have friends in Venezuela who tell you that there’s “no mayhem, no murder, no apparent dictatorship, no mass imprisonment of the opposition, no suppression of the press.” Now, my question to you, Roger “is there anybody out there?”
Maybe you dialed a wrong number, as my friends in Caracas – the very few who didn’t lose everything to Chavismo by expropriation – are terrified of police brutality, rampant crime and forced disappearances by the National Guard, and if Branson has a “bleeding heart” maybe yours has become comfortably numb.
You see Roger, before I learned the lyrics of Mother, I was lying next to my mother in an incubator at the Clinica Caurimare in Caracas, the place where I was born. I have stayed in touch with Venezuela since I left in 1974, through childhood friends and new ones, and I can tell you that there’s no shortage of conversation of a regime that has institutionalized food lines and mocks the hungry.
Just last week my computer techie José was frantically trying to transfer the equivalent of US$75 to his family in Caracas to help cover the funeral costs of a relative. According to José, the money he was able to collect from fixing hard discs amounted to two months of his father’s income, meanwhile, Granny was lying in a morgue that didn’t have electricity.
Not everyone is starving in Venezuela, I give you that. During a pro-Maduro rally in the city of Merida recently, summoned by master henchman Diosdado Cabello, the whiskey-fed Chavistas filled the camera frame gloating – and bloated – like those Generals in the Fletcher Memorial Home who “polish their medals and sharpen their smiles.”
The problem with Venezuela, Roger, is that crassness displaced decency. If humanitarian aid can alleviate hunger in one school, or old age people’s home, isn’t this worth defending, instead of a social media tirade that belittles your words, given to humanity from the Dark Side of the Moon, and green pastures of The Gunner’s Dream.
And I close with a verse from your elegiac song of a fighter pilot who meets his end in some foreign field, and which speaks volumes of what the people of Venezuela need most at this historical juncture, with or without music:
“A place to stay, enough to eat [..] to speak out loud, about your doubts and fears, and what’s more, no-one ever disappears.”