Down the memory hole…
Amused to Death is a concept album, and the third studio album by former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters. It was released in 1992.
Amused to Death further explores Waters’ disillusionment with modern Western society, focusing specifically on the influence oftelevision and the mass media. The album was inspired by the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, a critique of television and its related culture by Neil Postman. Continuing Waters’ trend of having well known guest guitarists featured on his solo albums, Amused to Death features Jeff Beck on lead guitar.
Like every studio album Roger Waters has recorded since The Dark Side of the Moon, Amused to Death is a concept album. This one is organised loosely around the idea of a monkey randomly switching channels on a television, but explores numerous political and social themes, including critiques of the First Gulf War in “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” and “Perfect Sense”.
|The album title came from a short book by Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, which is about the history of the media, particularly as it relates to political communication—i.e., how things have changed since such works as Lincoln’s speeches were made available for the general public to read.||”|
|“||And I had at one point this rather depressing image of some alien creature seeing the death of this planet and coming down in their spaceships and sniffing around and finding all our skeletons sitting around our TV sets and trying to work out why it was that our end came before its time, and they come to the conclusion that we amused ourselves to death.||”|
|“||Things coalesced slowly as I became more and more interested or obsessed, pick your word, with the inordinately powerful and all-encompassing effect that television seems to have on the human race. My general view is that television when it becomes commercialized and profit-based tends to trivialize and dehumanize our lives.||”|
|“||So I became interested in this idea of television as a two-edged sword, that it can be a great medium for spreading information and understanding between peoples, but when it’s a tool of our slavish adherence to the incumbent philosophy that the free market is the god that we should all bow down to, it’s a very dangerous medium. Because it’s so powerful.||”|
|“||I think the motivation is at the root of its current evil, i.e. it’s because they have to compete in an open marketplace that their standards get reduced so the programming tends to end up as the cheapest possible saleable item. I don’t believe that wanting to beat the opposition makes for good programming, but it’s an ideology that is still rigidly adhered to.||”|
- — Roger Waters, speaking about the album to the LA Times, September, 1992
In Neil Postman’s book The End of Education, he remarks on the album: “(…) Roger Waters, once the lead singer of Pink Floyd, was sufficiently inspired by a book of mine to produce a CD called Amused to Death. This fact so elevated my prestige among undergraduates that I am hardly in a position to repudiate him or his kind of music.”
Waters stated in an interview with Rockline on 8 February 1993 that he wanted to use samples of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey on the album. Stanley Kubrick, the director, turned him down on the basis that it would open the door to many other people using the sound sample. Others think that Kubrick refused because Pink Floyd had not allowed him to use music from Atom Heart Mother in his film A Clockwork Orange. Waters has since then used audio of HAL describing his mind being taken away when performing the song live (as an intro, specifically during his “In the Flesh” concert tour, after Kubrick’s death). There is a backmasked message on Amused to Death that appears in the song “Perfect Sense Part 1”, in which Waters’ backmasked voice says, “Julia, however, in light and visions of the issues of Stanley, we have changed our minds. We have decided to include a backward message, Stanley, for you and all the other book burners.”
BBC Radio 1 refused to play “What God Wants”, on the album, due to its lyrical content, outraging Waters. Two other singles besides “What God Wants”, “Three Wishes” and “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” (also on the album), were released in Europe. These two singles (as well as a video for “Three Wishes”) were slated for release in the US but were eventually cancelled.