Roger Waters's "Perfect Sense" from the album, Amused to Death, questions why we view the world in terms of profit instead of human life. For me it opened up the question of how we value things. In this paper I will analyse the lyrics of Amused To Death.
Amused to Death starts starts with the song "The Ballad of Bill Hubbard", which is a monologue by Alf Razzell. In "The Ballad of Bill Hubbard" Alf Razzell talks about one of his most haunting experiences in World War II. His monologue is about how he finds Bill Hubbard wounded in no-man's-land, and has to leave him behind. This sets the scene for the rest of the album. The combination of soft melodic music and Alf Razzell's "grandfatherly" English voice in contrast with the violence of the scene accentuates the horror of the story. The music also peaks and falls with the drama of Alf Razzell's monologue. In the beginning of this song the sound of a television changing channels foreshadows one of the themes of the album, how television alters our perception of reality. Alf Razzell's monologue is concluded by the sound of changing channels, and we briefly hear a girl saying "I don't mind about the war, that's one of the things I like to watch, if it's a war going on, 'cause then I know if our side's winning, if our side's losing," before the channel changes again.
The second song "What God Wants, Part I" starts by telling us how the will of the controllers of the mass media is imposed on the individual. This is made very clear by the repetition of key lines. The first of these lines is: "What God wants God Gets" which tells the listener that regardless of the choice of the individual the outcome will be the same. The second repeated lyric is: "God wants ..." which is followed by things both positive, negative. God is impartial, and does not abide by any morals. This is most obvious at the end of the song: "God wants good/God wants bad". The line " Don't look so surprised/It's only dogma" shows that it is not necessary to abide by what God wants, because if you don't, God will still get what he wants.
"'I'm very upset by religious dogma,' reveals Waters. 'I get angry, gobsmacked in fact when I hear George Bush saying that God was on their side during the Gulf war. It's amazing that in 1992, one of the most powerful men in the world can reduce political rhetoric to that level. But that's what he has to do, to get votes and maintain power and then use that power to help the American automobile industry.'" The line:
" The monkey in the corner/Wrote the lesson in book" refers to how the monkey (which is used as a metaphor for the human race throughout the album) accepts the dogma without question. "... which is this idea of a gorilla who is a metaphor for the human race sitting watching television and trying to work out what his relationship is with all the other gorillas..."
Musically the "What God Wants, Part I" contrasts with "The Ballad of Bill Hubbard" because of it's much heavier sound. The song opened by the sound of pigs, birds, and what seems to be the roar of a tiger. The song accentuates the line: "What God Wants God gets God help us all" with a chorus, sound of a barn door opening, and by what sounds like a sea of people. This song concludes with the sound of a channel changing. The third song on the album "Perfect Sense, Part I" tells what got ancestors started on this destructive path. The song starts off with the monkey sitting on a pile of stones holding a bone. We aren't told what happened before the song starts but it must have been important because of the line: "Turned his back on the garden" which refers to the exit from Eden in the Bible. "The monkey" however does not, or refuses to learn from past mistakes. "Memory is a stranger/ History is for fools". The monkey also uses religion to justify his actions; "And he cleaned his hands/In a pool of holy writing". An important line is "Man is a tool in the hands/Of the great God Almighty;" religion absolves man from responsibility for his actions. The song also points out the futility of the individual's actions because at the beginning he leaves the garden of Eden, and at the end he searches for the garden. Musically the song is very mellow, and flows without pause until "Perfect Sense, Part II"
The forth song "Perfect Sense, Part II" shows how the mass media has persuaded people into doing what goes against human pleasure and logic. The most important set of lyrics in this song are: "Can't you see/ It all makes perfect sense/ Expressed in dollars and cents/ Pounds shillings and pence." If you value things in terms of money everything makes sense, but the reverse is also true: if you value things in terms of love, loyalty, and human feelings, nothing makes sense. The song also points out that television plays a large part in the propaganda which has a lot of control on how the population reacts. The line "Little black soul departs in perfect focus/Prime time fodder for the News at Nine" shows that the media plays on our guilt. The telecast part of the song expresses the opinions that war has been glamorized to the point that people view it as a game. The song musically enhances the "Can't you see/ It all makes perfect sense/ Expressed in dollars and cents/ Pounds shillings and pence" parts of the song by having them sung not only by a different singer but also by a crowd, much like in "What God Wants".
"The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range" contains similar themes to "Perfect Sense, Part II". This song focuses on how the media has trained individuals to accept war by glamorizing it. The line "I looked over Jordan and what did I see" is a line taken from the song "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" which is a song about dying. In "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" the river Jordan is the river which the angels come over to take you to heaven. This is important because later in the song you find that the singer is looking through a gunsight over the river Jordan "...through the range finder...". The rest of the song expresses again that war is treated as a game, as one more form of entertainment. This is presented in the most obvious ways by the lyrics "We play the games/With the bravery of being out of range".
"Late Home Tonight, Part I" and "Late Home Tonight, Part II" presents the
view point of the soldier as an individual who does not see the destruction
he wreaks. The soldier is "Secure in the beauty of military life/ There is
no right or wrong". The soldier is so removed from the people he is killing
it doesn't affect him. "No questions only orders and flight flight flight."
The soldier is blameless, and just doing what he's told. The beginning of
the song points out that the wife in Oxfordshire and the wife in Tripoli
are very similar; they are both waiting. The line "And his kind Uncle Sam
feeds ten trillion in/ Change into the total entertainment/ Combat video
game" refers to America where people seem to believe war is not
destructive. They have been desensitized to violence.
"And up here in the stands
The fans are goin' wild
The cheerleaders flip
When you wiggle your hip
And we all like the bit when you take
The jeans from the refrigerator and
Then the bad guy gets hit
And were you struck by the satisfying
Way the swimsuit sticks to her skin
Like BB gun days
When knives pierce autumn leaves
But that's okay see the children bleed
It'll look great on the TV"
Television desensitizes us to violence by confusing violence with sex: "Way the swimsuit sticks to her skin", and guilt "...see the children bleed". "...see the children bleed/ It'll look great on TV" looks at death only for its asthetic value. "Late Home Tonight, Part II" deals with the way in which the soldier gets treated on his return; he will be treated like a hero. The line "There's some great pictures coming in" seems to refer to the "...see the children bleed" in "Late Home Tonight, Part I". People only appreciate the aesthetic, or entertainment value and not the pain of the children, or the injustice of their death.
"Too Much Rope" addresses the greed, guilt, and willingness to be satisfied
with life as long as we have "bread and circuses". As well the media plays
on that greed and guilt to keep us passive. The first nine lines of "Too
Much Rope" use images of the gold rush to show the worth of friendship
compared to money. The line "Each man has his price Bob/And yours was
pretty low" uses the clich to show that the integrity of the bond of
friendship can be overcome with money, and that this particular bond didn't
require a lot of money to be overcome. Also note that this could possibly
be a bit of Roger Water's cynical side showing through (Bob Ezrin was the
producer for Pink Floyd, Roger Waters previous band). "History is short the
sun is just a minor star"; the individual's life is insignificant. The
lines "Is that your new Ferrari car/ Nice but I think I'll wait for the
F50" links with the previous lines; matters of life and death surround the
speaker, but he is more concerned with ostentatious wealth. The repeated
line "You don't have to be a Jew/ To disapprove of murder" is ironic, and
much like "Perfect Sense's" "History is for fools", in that the Jews were
murdered in the holocaust, but are now murdering Palestinians.
"Tears burn our eyesare expressing the view that no religious figure abides by the higher morals imposed on them by God, but they twist the dogma to suit themselves. "Give any one species too much rope" refers to having too much luxury and power. We only require more. "Sees the monsters they made" could refer the birth defects caused by agent orange in Vietnam, but also suggests the orders imposed on the soldiers made them into monsters. The line "With the same soldiers eyes" shows that both soldiers feel the same way about the war, that they were made monsters by the war. The rest of the song shows how television is made to be something good: "This tender TV", and that it causes such profound feelings of sadness by playing on people's guilt.
Moslem or Christian Mullah or Pope
Preacher or poet who was it wrote
Give any one species too much rope
And they'll fuck it up"
"What God Wants, Part II" is very similar to "What God Wants, Part I" in
that it portrays what God wants as not only good but bad as well. The song
starts with the sound of a television evangelist preaching the word of god.
"Do you believe in a better dayThe evangelist in this song has replaced the church with the "Television audience". "Through the power of money" seems to suggest that God is money, because the word money replaces God, or faith. This also seems to say that although the evangelist twists the meaning of God's words for his own personal gain, his words are the words of God. The lyrics "God don't want small potatoes" and "God wants small towns" seem to clash. However this fits in very well because god not only wants large amounts of money, but small towns which are associated with rednecks and rightwing conservative people. Later in the song the line "God wants his secret/ Never to be told" links well with "God wants to cover himself", because both lyrics say that God has fears that the people will find that his motives are not so pure.
Do you have faith in a golden way
If you do then we must come together this day
Come together as one united
Brought together by the sound of my voice
United united financially united socially
United spiritually and all possible ways
Through the power of money
And the power of prayers"
"What God Wants, Part III" expresses a hope that the human species will
escape the influence of the media. The song still says our world is
consumed by money through lines like:
"And in banks across the worldTowards the end of the song while the television is pumping out propaganda as in:
Christians Moslems Hindus Jews
And people of every
Race creed colour tint or hue
Get down on their knees and pray".
"And the bullets flythe line "But the monkey's not watching" seems to express a hope that the monkey, a metaphor for the human species, will overcome the influence of mass media which is TV.
And the rivers run dry
And the fat girls sigh
And the network anchor persons lie
And the soldier's alone
In the video zone",
In all three "What God Wants" songs an alien tells animals "don't look so suprised"; as if the message is obvious. Following this two animal embodyments of either religon, laughing, or thievery do what they are told. The last animal, a monkey, writes in his book as if he's not learning anything only absorbing the alien's words.
"Watching TV" shows that although the television uses asthetics to
manipulate, and manipulate us through our guilt, and our greed, there are a
lot of real messages underlying the propaganda. The song also has the very
cynical view that although television makes us feel pity, we don't do
anything to change the world. The song is about the Tiananmen Square
killings, and how the death of one appealing woman on television made that
event meaningful for watchers.
"She had shiny hairexemplifies that her significance for the viewer is her beauty. The line "So get out your pistols/ Get out your stones/.../Cut them to the bone" expresses that now that the crime has been witnessed, we have to fight. The rest of the song makes her an individual. She's important because she died on television and therefore can reach many more people. This is very cynical because none of the ugly dead are mentioned. This comes through powerfully. The lines:
She had perfect breasts
She had high hopes
She had almond eyes
She had yellow thighs"
"They are the lackeys of the grocer's machineAlthough there are very real feelings towards this woman's oppressors the viewer is not going to do anything about them, except grieve for the dead woman. This also comes through in the lines: "Did we do anything after this/ I've a feeling we did/ We were watching TV". Finally at the end of the song the singer admits that he will only grieve for his sister, and that indeed "She's symbolic of our failure" to do anything.
They built the dark satanic mills
That manufacture hell on earth
They bought the front row seats on Calvary
They are irrelevant to me
But I grieve for my sister",
In "Three Wishes" the man receiving three wishes realizes too late that he wants another wish but he's used them all up. The last wish in this case is for love.
The song "It's A Miracle" shows that we have got what God wants now: empty entertainment. The line "We've got famine when we need it" suggests that somebody needs famine. The line in the song "We've got choice" suggests in our luxury we have a choice of which car to drive, and that choice is more important than the famine in other countries. The biblical reference: "She said meet me/ In the Garden of Gethsemene my dear" implies that we are betraying ourselves, much like Jesus was betrayed in Gethsemene.
Near the end of the song we hear,
"Lloyd-Webber's awful stuffWaters hates Lloyd-Webber's music, and he uses Webber's material as a prime example of empty entertainment.
Runs for years and years and years
An earthquake hits the theatre
But the operetta lingers
Then the piano lid comes down
And breaks his fucking fingers
It's a miracle."
In "Amused To Death" Roger Waters points out that too much entertainment
can kill the human spirit. The second line of the song "This supermarket
life is getting long" expresses much the same way as "It's A Miracle" that
this life is empty; there is no meaning, only entertainment. In the lines
"What is the heart life of a colour TV/ What is the shelf life of a teenage
queen" the types of life are deliberately reversed implying television is
as valuable as human beings. It also links with "Too Much Rope" where the
"tender TV" means that the television not only delivers the feeling but
possesses some feeling itself. Later in the song the line:
"The little ones sit by their TV screensshows television sucks meaning from human life, people are satisfied by consumption but not nourished by it. "We did as we were told/ We bought and sold/ It was the greatest show on earth". The end of the song is about how an alien will find our remains, "And when they found our shadows", which is much like the deaths in Hiroshima in that shadows of the victims were left.
No thoughts to think
No tears to cry
All sucked dry
Down to the very last breath"
The final monologue of Amused To Death is a message of hope. In the monologue Alf Razzell tell of how the haunting experience which he'd had before is now resolved. This suggests that we can help ourselves by reaching out to one another instead of letting the human spirit die. It also shows that people still have real feelings, not just empty desire to be amused.
As Roger commented,"...what struck me about Alf Razzell was the extraordinary humanity of his
story in that he had been living with his concern, having left his friend
in no-mans-land 74 years before and that he carried this kind of burden
with him and I guess it struck me that we help each other little to sort
out those burdens that each of us individually has."