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Not Now John

November 11, 2012

Inspiration comes from many areas of life. No man is an island; no great thinker or leader was influenced by just one small part of life; after all, why is visual art such an enduring feature within our culture? Or indeed, art in general; music, literature, paintings, theatre, and I would argue comedy is also another aspect, at least in the modern world. I think the man who exemplifies such tendencies is Keynes: a man of significant intellect and kindness who keenly supported the arts, and well understood the treasures of art and reading, and even simply being surrounded by books.

Which, in a long-winded manner, brings me to Pink Floyd’s (at this stage, really just Roger Waters’) Not Now John, which to me is one of the more insightful songs put to record, and acts as a highly emotive repudiation of much of the modern world, just as it was coming to be reshaped, in the early 1980s.

Fuck all that we’ve got to get on with these
Gotta compete with the wily Japanese.
There’s too many home fires burning
And not enough trees.
So fuck all that
We’ve go to get on with these.

Can’t stop
Lose job
Mind gone
Silicon
What bomb
Get away
Pay day
Make hay
Break down
Need fix
Big six
Clickity click
Hold on
Oh no
Brrrrrrrrrring bingo!

Make ’em laugh.
Make ’em cry.
Make ’em dance in the aisles.
Make ’em pay.
Make ’em stay.
Make ’em feel ok.

Not now John
We’ve got to get on with the film show.
Hollywood waits at the end of the rainbow.
Who cares what it’s about
As long as the kids go?
Not now John
Got to get on with the show.

Hang on John we’ve got to get on with this.
I don’t know what it is
But it fits on here like this
Come at the end of the shift
We’ll go and get pissed.
But now now John
I’ve got to get on with this.

Hold on John
I think there’s something good on.
I used to read books but
It could be the news
Or some other abuse
Or it could be reusable shows.

Fuck all that we’ve got to get on with these
Got to compete with the wily Japanese.
No need to worry about the Vietnamese.
Got to bring the Russian Bear to his knees.
Well, maybe not the Russian Bear
Maybe the Swedes.
We showed Argentina
Now let’s go and show these.
Make us feel tough
And wouldn’t Maggie be pleased?
Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah!

“S’cusi dove il bar
(What?)
Se para collo pou eine toe bar
s’il vous plait ou est le bar
(Say it in English!)
Oi, where’s the fucking bar John?
(Oh, now you’re talking!)”
Oh! Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the day
Down!
Go, Maggie!
Hammer, Hammer, Hammer, Hammer, now!

To give some context, this is the second-last song on The Final Cut, and the only real upbeat song on the album, and what a contrast it provides. Waters throughout the whole album laments at the destruction of what he calls ‘the post-war dream’; this idea that the sacrifices of World War II actually meant something, that after the horrors mankind had seen in the twentieth century, that we would progress beyond them; a hope that Waters saw completely dashed by Margaret Thatcher, who he calls out by name several times on this album. Not Now John represents the increasingly ignorant tendencies of mankind and our devolution into a reactionary, unthinking, unquestioning society, overwhelmed by our consumerist, nationalist concerns, rather than actually questioning the broader social picture – Waters particularly was concerned with nuclear war and ecological damage.

The reason why this song is so resonant, at least to me, is because it so effectively captures the mindset of the modern world. Our world is more and more about trying to be competitive with other nations, for no real purpose except the theoretical void which is economic growth. Too often we never really question the nature of our world; it is just assumed that it’s how things are – essentially, ‘fuck all that’. Our governments create false conflicts with other nations, to satisfy a jingoistic nerve which they gleefully play upon, whether it be against the Soviet Union, the Vietnamese, or as Waters jokes, the Swedes. The ‘maybe not the Russian bear’ line is demonstrative of Waters’ complete cynicism of the notion of national enemies/rivals. Such lines of thought are easy to draw back to Orwell – we’ve always been at war with Eastasia. These sentiments are particularly sharp on the back of the Falklands war, with Waters ridiculing the idea of national toughness and the horror of war as a vehicle of national unity, for him no doubt far too reminiscent of World War II.

Of course there remains Waters’ idiosyncratic humour and style within the lyrics, which explains much of the last verse. Ultimately, the piece remains as a channel for Waters’ utter despair at what he is seeing unfold in the world; everything he had once loved going to hell in a hand-basket, with his fellow Britons cheering it on. For a man whose life has been so irrevocably defined by his father’s sacrifice in war, Waters realises that indeed, it had all been for nothing.

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From → Music, Political

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