Are There Any Paranoids in the Stadium Tonight? Two Nights in Santiago With Roger Waters

“We need more than a pause” in the bombing of Gaza, Roger said from the stage in Santiago, “but a ceasefire that lasts forever,” the soundtrack to that sentiment produced by the saxophone of Seamus Blake and the lap steel of Jon Carin.

5 mins read
Roger Waters [File Photo by Kate Izor]

No one does a stadium show like Roger Waters. The music, of course, is resplendent, but so too are the soundscape, the images, the giant sheep and pig, the lasers, the films, the energy of the fans who—despite the language differences—sing along… “Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?” It is a riot of emotions. The quiet calm of Santiago is broken by familiar sounds and necessary feelings: yes, we are here; yes, we exist; yes, we must resist.

Santiago is a city blistered by social inequality. For two nights, Roger Waters played at the Estadio Monumental in Macul, a commune of Santiago that is more middle-class than the rest of the city although still not immune from the sharp divides that produced the massive social unrest of 2019. Then Roger sang a version of Víctor Jara’s El derecho de vivir en paz, with new lyrics for the new moment:

I can hear the Cacerolazo
I can smell you, Piñera
All fucking rats smell the same.

The Cacerolazo is the banging of pots, a social protest that resounded from Buenos Aires (2001) to Santiago (2011 and then again from 2019 to 2022). There is a good reason to walk on the streets and bang pots every day given the permanent condition of austerity reproduced by people like Chile’s former president Sebastían Piñera, one more of the “fucking rats” that make life hell. There is the austerity, the demise of social welfare and decent work, and the rise of poverty and social despair. Then there are the sharpened contradictions, the anger that sometimes gives rise to hope in madmen (Argentina’s incoming president Javier Milei is one of them) and at other moments, it gives rise to disorganized and organized forms of dissent.

A sheep flies over the tens of thousands of people in the stadium. It is the physical cognate of the song that flies off the stage, a paean to the atomization of people in society by this State of Permanent Austerity and of the necessity of resistance.

Through quiet reflection, and great dedication
Master the art of karate
Lo, we shall rise up,
And then we’ll make the bugger’s eyes water

Why not? Why not rise up? Sure, run like hell, run as fast as you can from the forces of repression that want to manage the contradictions of austerity. But then—as Roger does, as that sound of the hammer battering down your door quietens—take off the shirt that says, “run like hell” and put on one that says, “Resist.” The guitars tear through the night, the lasers flash to infinity, and the desire increases to rip off one’s fear of the State of Permanent Austerity and to rush into protest. But the images are chosen carefully. This is not a call for action without strategy. “Master the art of karate,” sings Roger. Like the karateka, dedicated study is needed, and the battlefield must certainly be approached with care to “make the bugger’s eyes water” and to do that with careful strategy.

The hammer’s sound is both that of the march of the police—in Chile the hated Carabineros—and the banging of the tools of the people, including the pots and pans. The stadium is engulfed by the madness of the electric guitar (particularly when Dave Kilminster has his eyes closed and his fingers aflame), heartbeats symphonized drawing people into Roger’s bar, a bottle of mezcal on the piano, Roger with his arms in the air, the night sky clear and hopeful because not far away is the dawn.

Universal Human Rights

About five kilometers from the Estadio Monumental is the Estadio Nacional, where Víctor Jara was assassinated by the coup regime of Augusto Pinochet 50 years ago. A few days before Roger’s show in Santiago, Victor’s wife, Joan Jara died, but their daughter Amanda was there to listen to Roger recognize the assassination of Víctor Jara and to Inti-Illimani open the show with a tribute to Víctor, including singing a full-throated version of El derecho, itself a tribute to Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese fighters.

Donde revientan la flor
Con genocidio y napalm
(Where they burst the flower
With genocide and napalm)

Jorge Coulón from Inti-Illimani belted out those lines with a kufiyah around his neck. Roger, with his acoustic guitar and kufiyah and with the haunting voice of Shanay Johnson alongside him, sings, lay down Jerusalem, lay your burden down.

If I had been god
I would not have chosen anyone
I would have laid an even hand
On all my children everyone
Would have been content
To forgo Ramadan and Lent
Time better spent
In the company of friends
Breaking bread and mending nets.

“Stop the Genocide” in white letters against a red background appears on the screens above the band’s head.

Roger was born in England in 1943 to a communist mother, Mary Duncan Whyte (1913-2009). His father—Second Lieutenant Eric Fletcher Waters, also a communist—was killed in Italy in 1944 (immortalized in my favorite songThe Gunner’s Dream from Final Cut, 1983). Five years later, the United Nations crafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That text is the foundation of Roger’s beliefs (“I don’t know when I first read it,” Roger tells me after the show, but he refers to it often, including in his shows). The fierce defense of human rights governs Roger, his anti-war sentiment shaped by the loss of his father. It is this universal faith that drives Roger’s politics.

“Are there paranoids in the stadium?” Roger asks. We are paranoid not because we are clinically ill, but because there is an enormous gulf between what we know to be true and what the powers that be tell us is supposed to be true. Roger Waters stands for human rights, including the rights of the Palestinians. We know that to be true because that is what he says, and he acts according to that belief. But the powers that be say that what Roger says is not true and that in fact, he is antisemitic. A consequence of the powers that be is that they tried to cancel his show in Frankfurt and—weirdly—all the hotel owners in Argentina refused to allow him—but not his band—a room in their establishments (he had to stay at a friend’s house in Uruguay). When Katie Halper and I asked him about this attack on him, Roger responded:

My platform is simple: it is [the] implementation of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights for all our brothers and sisters in the world including those between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. My support of universal human rights is universal. It is not antisemitism, which is odious and racist and which, like all forms of racism, I condemn unreservedly.

Roger says this over and over again, and yet, over and over again the powers that be malign Roger. “I will not be canceled,” Roger said in Birmingham at a concert. And why should he be? The attempt to cancel critics of Israel had some impact in recent years, but no longer carries weight: the atrocities of Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza have produced new generations of people who see the hideousness of the Occupation and refuse to bow down before the powers that be. “We need more than a pause” in the bombing of Gaza, Roger said from the stage in Santiago, “but a ceasefire that lasts forever,” the soundtrack to that sentiment produced by the saxophone of Seamus Blake and the lap steel of Jon Carin.

The show opens with Pink—the lead figure from The Wall (1982)—in a wheelchair, comfortably numb. In the second half, Roger is in the wheelchair in a straitjacket, thrown in there by orderlies of the powers that be. Is this the life we really want? It better not be. I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

Roger Waters’s This is Not a Drill tour moves on to Lima, Peru (November 29), San José, Costa Rica (December 2), Bogotá, Colombia (December 5), and ends in Quito, Ecuador (December 9).

Vijay Prashad

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Latest from Blog