Wish you were here: The art of sticking it to the man

Wish you were here: The art of sticking it to the man
Blog: Roger Waters, Pink Floyd star and Israel boycott activist, is facing a coordinated smear campaign as he starts a tour of Canada, writes Hadani Ditmars.
5 min read
15 Sep, 2017
We don't need no thought control: Roger Waters sprays graffiti on Israel's separation wall [AFP]
Poor Roger Waters.

Whatever you think about the excesses of his rock star ego, of his twee-meets-monumentalist stadium rock show The Wall, or the inflatable pigs, surely he didn't deserve to be pilloried by the likes of Howard Stern and Alan Dershowitz in a new documentary called Wish You Weren't Here.

Currently being promoted by B’nai Brith Canada in a cross-country tour in October to coincide with BDS advocate Waters' own tour, a recent press release made their intent clear:

"With Roger Waters' Canadian tour quickly approaching, and in a bid to refute his misguided and inflammatory views on the State of Israel, B’nai Brith Canada is proud to team up with #1 New York Times bestselling author and award-winning filmmaker Ian Halperin (Who Killed Kurt Cobain?, Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson) to present screenings of his latest film, Wish You Weren't Here."

It appears to be part of a coordinated effort with mainstream Israel lobby groups across North America.

"Your vile messages of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and hatred are not welcome in our community," said a recent statement from the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

"Mr Waters, stop openly calling for support of a cultural boycott of Israel," it added.

The trailer alone is such an obvious smear campaign - Waters has told Jewish jokes for years, exclaims film-maker Halperin - that it feels like a mockumentary. It's hardly a shocker that the Pink Floyd star didn't return the director's calls.

Of course it can only be a badge of honour to be dissed and called an anti-Semite by the likes of Howard Stern and Alan Dershowitz.

Still the whole brouhahaha makes me wonder, when did sticking it to the man turn into middle-aged miasma?

One minute you’re the son of a Communist conscientious objector father who "pulled himself up by his own bootstraps" and worked as an ambulance driver during the blitz - only to meet his demise when he signed up for duty and died in the battle of Anzio in 1943 - next you're a rock star god - and then - yes, the awful denouement of being demonised by Dershowitz - worse even than the indignity of having your contract with American Express cancelled.

Of course, among many of the boomer activist set in Canada, this is actually a plus  and ticket sales for Waters' gigs have been brisk.

But it also makes me wonder, what kind of music do Israeli soldiers listen to now that Pink Floyd is politically incorrect?

"We used to get stoned and listen to Pink Floyd all the time," says an Israeli acquaintance of his late 1970s days as a commando in the Israeli military. "It was the music of our era."

Of course, my acquaintance also had a nervous breakdown during the invasion of Lebanon - when he took over a flat by the Mediterranean that belonged to a pair of academics. It was lined with books, just like his parents apartment, he told me during an interview, and one day the mistress of the house returned to inspect the damage.
Roger Waters speaks of the need for UN reform
in order to hold Israel to account

When the Lebanese woman began to weep at the sight of her wrecked home, he felt uncomfortable and shouted at her to stop, eventually scaring her into silence by cocking his gun.

"It was at that moment," he told me, "that I felt deeply ashamed at how I had abused my power - as a soldier - but also as a human being. It was as if I had destroyed my own mother's home."

The moment was an epiphany of sorts, one that made him question his assumptions about Zionism, his country and himself. Eventually all his questioning led him to embrace Sufism and he now practices zikr with Palestinians, Israeli hippies and even conservative rabbis.

But I have to wonder if listening to Wish You Were Here still triggers his Lebanon war flashbacks.

Now that his son is in the Israeli military, I wonder what kind of soundtracks fill his days? Violent new nationalist hymns sung by settlers mixed with horrible electronic backbeats?

It seems that pop music became unbearable, just as the Israeli left began to disappear, as illegal settlements and assassins banished Rabin's vision to the dark side of the moon, and any attempt at moral higher ground was rendered as fatuous as an aging rock star's comeback. Now it seems more appropriate to sing dirges rather than anthems.

But perhaps middle-aged nostalgia is a dangerous thing, and the dirges were there all along, buried in hymns to nationalism, sealed in sanctimony.

Pink Floyd's The Wall, of course, was inspired partly by the loss of a father to war, and Waters has played many gigs for veterans' charities.

I wonder if Palestinian schoolchildren, with fathers dead or rotting in Israeli prisons, sing "we don't need no education" when their schools are bulldozed. I wonder what they think of Pink Floyd, if at all?

In these dark days of middle-aged disappointment at youthful hopes dashed, I imagine a terrible new libretto for some future surralist rock opera:

A hapless B'nai Brith employee enters a portal via a session of Pink Floyd nostalgic listening and ends up behind the wall in Bethlehem with a Palestinian ID, unable to escape. He is subjected to show tunes sung in nasal off key tones by Alan Dershowitz, and is only saved at the last by Waters arriving on a magic carpet singing Mahmoud Darwish poems.

"Wait for her with an azure cup. Wait for her in the evening at the spring, among perfumed roses... There is no one alive but the two of you. So take her gently to the death you so desire, and wait."

The finale will be a chorus of Wish You Were Here, sung by the ghosts of dead fathers and children trapped behind walls, tired old soldiers, and aging rock stars.

Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?

It will not have a happy ending, and it will not be optioned by Hollywood, but it will be big in Russia. And everyone will be too exhausted by grief and disillusionment to stick it to the man. 


Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone: a Woman's Journey Through Iraq. A former editor at New Internationalist, she has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades. Her next book, Ancient Heart, is a political travelogue of Iraqi heritage sites.

Follow her on Twitter: @HadaniDitmars