Roger Waters Amused to Death radio special

Roger Waters Amused to Death

With Floydian Slip's Craig Bailey

Produced by Joyride Media and hosted by Floydian Slip's Craig Bailey, this 60-minute syndicated radio special coincided with the re-release of Roger Waters' 1992 album "Amused to Death" in 2015.

The program transcript that follows is a transcript of the entire hour-long program that began airing on select radio stations July 17, 2015.

Complete program transcript

Roger Waters (RW): Whoever we are, wherever we live, whatever colour we are, whatever our religion is, whatever our political status, we need to reach out to each other to discover what it is in each individual human being that can understand the predicament of the other and stop going, "I'm the good guy, you're the bad guy. I'm wearing a white cap, you're wearing the black cap."

Craig Bailey (CB): Imagine a monkey watching a television, switching from one station to another and trying to make sense of what he's seeing. That's the premise behind Roger Waters' concept album Amused to Death.

Waters draws from the news, history and his personal life to find understanding and meaning in a chaotic world.

In the next hour, roger waters talks about the ideas behind the album, and we'll hear a lot of music.

I'm Craig Bailey, and welcome to "Roger Waters: Amused to Death."

Music fades

CB: Roger Waters.

RW: One has to remember all the time that I'm talking about this work that ... I made it in 1992. Though as I say I'm remembering the record from 20 years ago that most of what I had to say then sadly still pertains today and is maybe even more relevant to our predicament as people in 2015 even than it was in 1992.

CB: Around the time that he was creating this music, waters read a book by cultural critic Neil Postman. Amusing Ourselves to Death was a short work with big ideas. It inspired the album's name and influenced the philosophy behind the songs to come.

RW: I can't remember when he wrote the book but it must have been pre-1992 because I must have read it and I must have stolen the title.

I went back to it a number of years ago and re-read the forward, and in the forward he makes this very cogent and valid point. He says that back then when we were only 8 years after '1984' to go back to Orwell's great novel from the '30s, and we're however many years we are, since then, that Orwell's great worry was that the powers that be would enact laws that would ban books.

Book burning as we know has been a huge factor all through the last several thousand years ... Aldous Huxley, another great writer, on the other hand was deeply concerned that books would disappear because people would become entirely disinterested in them.

In 'Brave New World', he actually describes the society where the population is engineered by the state in order to conform to certain standards, and those standards that they want ... the members of the state, A) to know their place so they're genetically engineered in order to be workers or courtiers.

But Huxley's awful view of the future was that people would become so pleasured and amused — that they would no longer be interested in reading a book. Or in fact that they would no longer be interested in what anybody else might be thinking, no longer interested in philosophy, no longer interested in the humanities, certainly no longer interested in the classics, no longer interested in literature, no longer interested in all the things that bind us to the fact that we are human and that we are not cogs in the machine.

I know this sounds very simplistic but it's fundamental to what my record was about all those years ago.

(Music: What God Wants Pt. I)

CB: "What God Wants, Part One" sung by Roger Waters and featuring Jeff Beck on guitar.

Amused to Death is filled with Waters' ideas on politics, religion, philosophy and much more. This was no departure from his two earlier solo albums, Radio K.A.O.S. And The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. Even as a member of Pink Floyd, Waters mixed music and politics in The Final Cut.

The song "Perfect Sense, Part One" starts with the monkey and moves on to a satire of the history of mankind.

RW: Perfect Sense, Part I. The monkey sat on a pile of stones. And he stared at the broken bone in his hand, which is obviously a reference to '2001: A Space Odyssey', with the monolith. "The monkey sat on a pile of stones. And he stared at the broken bone in his hand. And the strains Viennese quartet rang out across the land. The monkey looked up at the stars and he thought to himself, memory is a stranger. History is for fools." The idea that we don't learn from the past and even from the recent past because we're so obsessed with consuming and doing what we're told.

"History is for fools and he cleaned his hands in a pool of holy writing. Turned his back on the garden and set out for the nearest town. Hold on, hold on, soldier," sang by BVs.

"When you add it all up the tears and the marrowbone, there's an ounce of gold and an ounce of pride in each ledger. And the Germans killed the Jews. And the Jews killed the Arabs. And Arabs killed the hostages. And that is the news. And is it any wonder that the monkey's confused. He said Mama Mama. The President's a fool Why do I have to keep reading these technical manuals. And the joint chiefs of staff and the brokers on Wall Street said don't make us laugh. You're smart kid. Time is linear. Memory's a stranger. History's for fools. Man is a tool in the hands of the great God Almighty. And they gave him command of a nuclear submarine and sent him back in search of the Garden of Eden."

I rest my case. I don't rest my case but the monkey is me and you and all of us obviously, so that's kind of the history of mankind condensed into 20 lines, and it's satire rather than cynicism, and it's saying what I try and say whenever I ever talk to anybody on camera about anything which is that if we were allowed to go to school — where what they were asked to do was not to prepare themselves for lives as consumers and producers as well, but to prepare themselves to become adults who think about things, who have open minds, who actually care about the Constitution of the United States of America that goes back 200 years, who actually are capable of understanding what's written on the document, who care about individual freedoms, who care about all of that, the rights of the human being — can you imagine what it might be like?

(Music: Perfect Sense Pt. I)

CB: "Perfect sense, Part One" sung by Roger Waters with PP Arnold.

I'm Craig Bailey, and you're listening to "Roger Waters: Amused to Death."

Sports announcer Marv Albert makes a cameo in the album. He gives a play by play of a war between a submarine and an oil rig.

RW: Thing between Part I and Part II of Perfect Sense with Marv Albert, the idea that I had was the idea of seeing the world as the Colosseum.

So when we look back at the fall of the Roman Empire, we know that the Colosseum in the time of the latter emperors, particularly Nero, towards the end of it. So that when the Romans decided that that was the way to go, having been all over Europe and the Near East and North Africa, plundering and stealing and doing all the things that they did.

The Romans, it reminds me of the 'Life of Brian' when they go, "What did the Romans ever do for us?" and I think it's Eric Idle who goes, "Roads. Plumbing" which was very, very funny, and they did invent, but they were also just wicked, marauding, imperialists and they had a culture that.

Anyway, they had sea battles in the Colosseum. That's sort of where I got the idea from. They weren't just throwing Christians to the lions. The gladiators weren't just murdering Christians.

It's sort of where you're getting to now with, I think it's called, beating each other to death except they don't let them kill each other but almost. They will eventually I'm sure, and when that ever happens, maybe then we will be able to look at each other and go, "Hang on a minute, we've seen this before. This is like the fall of the Roman Empire." This is the end of empire.

We are still, unfortunately, today in 2015 laboring under the yoke of competition. Competition is set up, certainly where I live here in the United States as being the absolute holy grail, something that must never be questioned in any way; to compete is fundamentally good always.

My philosophical view would be, and it's a philosophical views that was expressed in 'Amused to Death' all those years ago, is that that is not true. Competition is a good thing but only under controlled circumstances. Controlled to the point where it doesn't cost millions of people their lives. If competition starts involving us in conflicts where children die, it's not a good thing, it's a bad thing, B-A-D, it's a bad thing.

(Music: Perfect Sense, Pt. II)

CB: "Perfect Sense, Part Two" sung by Roger Waters. Coming up, songs about Ronald Reagan and the bombing of Libya. I'm Craig Bailey, and you're listening to "Roger Waters: Amused to Death."


CB: Welcome back to "Roger Waters: Amused to Death." I'm Craig Bailey.

Roger Waters describes himself as a radical atheist, and he targets religious dogma in the lyrics to "What God Wants, Part Two."

RW: Whatever your attachment to something up there is, my belief is that that is almost certainly a malign influence on your life. I think it interferes with you confronting some of the questions that I think are fundamental, both philosophically and politically to all of us.

Radical atheism is sort of being on the side of Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins, these very bright people who write books but they travel around the world as well as going - faith is not a great basis for making decisions on what you're going to do in the future if you're concerned about the in order to make things better for you children and grandchildren.

One of the things that I believe fundamentally is that it's really important that you do not allow yourself to be amused to death or you don't allow them to be amused to death if you care about them.

One of the great arguments that is put up by the god botherers is: man is incapable of making ethical choices that are valid without the interference of a deity, an almighty.

I would take issue with that on Darwinian grounds in that it has always seemed to me that to make humane, calculated decisions about what you want to do actually serves you well.

So to borrow from the scriptures, I would say it is actually better to give than to receive because it gives you more joy.

(Music: What God Wants Pt. II)

CB: "What God Wants, Part Two" sung by Roger Waters.

Work on the Amused to Death album began soon after the end of Ronald Reagan's presidency. He plays a part in the song "The Bravery of Being Out of Range."

RW: Yes, that's a song about Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan is a great hero in this country, still, to an awful lot of people. Ronald Reagan was an extraordinarily malign influence on the lives of millions of people all over the world.

I wrote a number of songs about Reagan when we were still in that time when it was extremely politically incorrect to do so and in a weird way still is now because this guy is held up as a big hero in this country, and I think he epitomises a lot of what is wrong with the political systems.

I'm not saying that I would have preferred to have been living in the USSR. Clearly to live in a country where you're not allowed to leave is appalling and this is something that people are always pointing out to me and saying, "Well, it's all very well to talk about Cuba or anywhere," and I say I don't. I do not condone the idea of keeping people in a prison anywhere in the world. I think it's an insane policy. I'm not saying that just because I pick holes sometimes in the system of imperial capitalism that operates in this country that's not that I think that somebody on the other side of some wall got it right, so you're wrong and they're right.

That's not what I think at all. I actually think that what is wrong is that any of us allow ourselves to put ourselves in a position where we point the finger at other people and say, "I'm the good guy, he's the bad guy. Now I get to do whatever I like."

CB: The weapons of war have changed since 1992 when Amused to Death came out — but not their purpose.

RW: Back in those days, we didn't have drone strikes, we didn't have drones. I'll tell you what we did have, we had cruise missiles, and so when we look at the drone strikes all over Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Yemen particularly, and places, we have to remember that back in the day there were cruise missile strikes in all of those countries.

People would sit on aircraft carriers and go, "Phttt. There might be somebody there possibly," and it was pretty crude. They'd go, "All right, fire," and off it would go and it would explode somewhere, and whole small communities being wiped out in one attack by a cruise missile and there being nobody there who was any threat.

This question of security threat to the United States of America and how that was an important prerequisite of going to war is something that has been laid to one side in recent times on the altar of political expediency. So drones were a huge worry to me, and if they'd been around then they would have been a big part of 'Amused to Death'.

(Music: The Bravery of Being Out of Range)

CB: "The Bravery of Being Out of Range" sung by Roger Waters.

You're listening to "Roger Waters: Amused to Death." I'm Craig Bailey.

The news became a source for Roger Waters' lyrics on this album. When the United States bombed Libya in 1986, Waters re-imagined it from a couple of different perspectives.

RW: One of the things that was going on globally must have been close to the very first time that we decided to go and bomb Libya because there's a song on there called Late Home Tonight and it's all about American fighter bombers taking off from somewhere just off the M4 in England and flying to Libya and dropping bombs on the capital killing people because Gaddafi had done something of which we disapproved apparently.

So the song is actually about the minutiae of the personal lives of the farmer in Oxfordshire or the farmer's wife who sees the Phantoms taxiing, ready to go and take off on their mission which they have no idea, nobody has anybody where they're going or why they're going, and a woman in Tripoli being killed for reasons that she will never have any idea what it was about or what it was for, and it sort of brings us up-to-date now with the drone programme.

(Music: Late Home Tonight Pt I & II)

CB: "Late Home Tonight, Parts One and Two" sung by Roger Waters.

Coming up, wishes, miracles and amusing ourselves to death.

I'm Craig Bailey, and you're listening to "Roger Waters: Amused to Death."


CB: Welcome to "Roger Waters: Amused to Death." I'm Craig Bailey.

The premise behind Amused to Death is that a monkey is watching TV and switching channels. He's trying to find a connection to all the information coming at him.

At one point he gets a taste of something more personal to roger waters in the song "Three Wishes."

RW: It is more personal, yes. I think it was a musical thing. I think I wrote this song sitting at the piano. It is much more personal, yes. "You see someone through the window who you've just learned to miss. And the road leads on to glory but you've used up your last wish."

It's the old story of the three wishes. This is one of the few things that we teach the circle of children is the idea of the genie in the bottle and that you get three wishes. If you ask almost anyone on Earth, they would say, "Well why don't you say I want as many wishes as I can have in the future, that's my first wish?"

Most children even will see the fundamental flaw in the question, but it brings up all kinds of other philosophical questions about be careful what you wish for. It's a bit like Midas. What was King Midas' wish? Didn't he wish that everything he touched would turn to gold? So he dies of starvation because he can't eat anything.

It's a nice story and it's actually a good parable to teach children because there's something fundamentally sound in the reasoning of be careful of what you wish for.

(Music: Three Wishes)

CB: "Three Wishes" sung by Roger Waters with Jeff Beck on guitar.

Waters avoids being cynical in Amused to Death, but sometimes he can get sarcastic. The song "It's a Miracle" brings out his humor while talking about religion.

RW: It's a Miracle is not based on a book. But just looking at it now, it is a bit sarcastic, it is sarcastic.

It has lots of biblical reference in it. Apparently somebody said that this song was based on a book, the bible possibly. "They had sex in Pennsylvania. A Brazilian grew a tree. A doctor in Manhattan saved a dying man for free. It's a miracle."

Well, this chorus is fundamental. "By the grace of God Almighty," which is obviously meant to be a snide comment about God, "And the pressures of the marketplace," which is a critical comment about how the free market will free us from everything when obviously it won't. It actually enslaves us in my view.

"The human race has civilised itself," which is obviously hasn't clearly, "If you live, it's a miracle." Then it goes on, "We've got warehouses of butter, Mercedes. We've got Porsche, Ferrari and Rolls Royce. We've got a choice." Love it.

I believe this may be apocryphal because I read it somewhere, and even where I read it they said it might be apocryphal. The story is that Gandhi, the great proponent of non-violence and resister of British colonial rule in India back in the '30s, was asked one day by somebody what he thought of Western civilisation and he replied, "That's an interested idea." You've got to love Gandhi.

(Music: It's a Miracle)

CB: "It's a Miracle" sung by Roger Waters.

I'm Craig Bailey, and you're listening to "Roger Waters: Amused to Death."

The album title came from a book by media theorist Neil Postman. Roger Waters finds that the ideas in it ring true decades later.

RW: A short tome called 'Amusing Ourselves to Death,' which is really about the notion that given all the distractions that there are in modern life, it is very easy to take our eye off the ball.

That is if there is a ball that is important to keep our eye on, which I think there is, and I think that ball has a number of things on it.

Not least now here we are, 23 years later, global warming is an obvious example whereby keeping our eye on that particular ball which is fundamentally important to even the short term survival of our species, not to mention all the other species. We are diverted from that by, A) the people who want to make a lot of money as always, and that's another thing that the record is about, but, B) by the fact that the biggest industry now getting into the pockets of young people particularly is the video game industry.

It's far bigger now than cinema or anything else, or television or anything that used to make cash for people. Setting aside carbon, fossil fuels and armaments which were obviously huge pluses for somebody who wants to make money, setting aside that stuff, in the world of entertainment now, people used to talk about movies and rock and roll and TV, but not anymore. They have been absolutely blown away by this, and when you're doing that it's very hard to keep your eye on the ball over there.

(Music: Amused to Death)

CB: "Amused to Death" sung by Roger Waters.

"Roger Waters: Amused to Death" was produced by Paul Chuffo for Joyride Media. Our executive producer is Eric Molk. Our associate producer is Andy Cahn. All songs on this program can be found on the Columbia/Legacy Records release "Roger Waters: Amused to Death."

Special thanks go to Mark Fenwick, Sean Evans, James Guthrie, Jennifer Kirell, Jim Lane, and Rico Alcock.

I'm Craig Bailey, and thanks for listening.