Rock legend Roger Waters speaks to us about music, the role of artists in today’s society and his activism for justice around the world, including in Palestine.
- Recorded 04/12/2013
Frank Barat: When did you make the decision to make the « Wall tour » (that ended in Paris in September 2013) so political ? And why did you dedicate the final concert to Jean-Charles De Menezes ?
Roger Waters: The first show was October 14th 2010. We started working on content of show with Sean Evans in 2009. I had already decided to make it much broader politically than it had been in 1979/80. It could not be just about this whinny little guy who didn’t like his teachers. It had to be more universal. That’s why ‘fallen loved ones’ came into it (the shows are showing pictures of people that died during wars) trying to universalise the sense of grief and loss that we all feel towards family members killed in conflict. Whatever the wars or the circumstances, they (in the non western world), feel has much lost as we do. Wars become an important symbol because of that separation between ‘us and them,’ which is fundamental to all conflicts. Regarding Jean-Charles, we used to do Brick II with three solos at the end and I decided that three solos was too much, it was boring me. So sitting in a hotel room, one night, I was thinking about what I could do instead of that. Somebody had recently sent me a photograph of Jean-Charles De Menezes to go on the wall. So he was in my mind and I thought that I should sing his story. I wrote that song, taught it to the band, and that’s what we did.
FB: A lot of artist would say that mixing arts and politics is wrong. That their goal is only to entertain. What would you say to those people?
RW: Well it’s funny you should say that because I just finished yesterday the text of a new piece which will be a new album of mine. It’s about a grandfather in Northern Ireland going on a quest with his grandchild to find the answer to the question: “Why are they killing the children?”, because the child is really worried about it. Right at the very end of it, I decided to add something more. In the song, the child tells his grandpa: “Is that it?” and the grandpa replies “No, we cannot leave on that note, give me another note”. A new song starts and the grandpa makes a speech. He says: “We live on a tiny dot in a middle of a lot of fucking nothing. Now, if you’re not interested in any of this, if you’re one of those “Roger I love Pink Floyd but I hate your fucking politics”, if you believe artists should be mute, emasculated, nodding dogs dangling aimlessly over the dashboard of life, you might be well advised to fuck off to the bar now, because, time keeps slipping away.” That’s my answer to your question.
FB: When will album be out?
RW: I’ve got no idea. I’m working away furiously on lots of old projects. I’m going to give a first listen to this to Sean Evans. He’s coming to my house tomorrow to listen to it. I’ve made a demo which is one hour and six minutes long. It’s pretty heavy I confess, but there is also some humor in it, I hope, but it’s extremely radical and it poses very important questions. Look, if I’m the only one doing it, I am entirely content. I mean, I’m not, I wish there were more people writing about politics and our real situation. Even from what could be considered extreme points of view. It’s very important that Goya did what he did, same for Picasso and Guernica and all those anti-war novels that came out during and after the Vietnam war.
FB: You’re talking about yourself being one of the only one, in your position, taking radical political positions. When it comes to Palestine, you are very open about your support for a cultural boycott of Israel. People opposing this tactic say that culture should not be boycotted. What would you answer to that?
RW: I would say that I understand their opinion. Everybody should have one. But I can’t agree with them, I think that they are entirely wrong. The situation in Israel/ Palestine, with the occupation, the ethnic cleansing and the systematic racist apartheid Israeli regime is un acceptable. So for an artist to go and play in a country that occupies other people’s land and oppresses them the way Israel does, is plain wrong. They should say no. I would not have played for the Vichy government in occupied France in the Second World War, I would not have played in Berlin either during this time. Many people did, back in the day. There were many people that pretended that the oppression of the Jews was not going on. From 1933 until 1946. So this is not a new scenario. Except that this time it’s the Palestinian People being murdered. It’s the duty of every thinking human being to ask: “What can I do?”. Anybody who looks at the situation will see that if you choose not to take up arms to fight your oppressor, the non violent route, and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S) movement, which started in Palestine with 100% support from Palestinian civil society in 2004-2005, a movement that has now been joined by many people around the world, the global civil society, is a legitimate form of resistance to this brutal and oppressive regime. I have nearly finished Max Blumenthal’s book “Goliath: Life and Loathing in greater Israel”. It’s a chilling read. It’s extremely well written in my view. He is a very good journalist and takes great pains to make sure that what he writes is correct. He also gives a voice to the other side. The voice, for instance, of the right wing rabbinate, which is so bizarre and hard to hear that you can hardly believe that it’s real. They believe some very weird stuff you know, they believe that everybody that is not a Jew is only on earth to serve them and they believe that the Indigenous people of the region that they kicked off the land in 1948 and have continued to kick off the land ever since are sub-human. The parallels with what went on in the 30’s in Germany are so crushingly obvious that it doesn’t surprise me that the movement that both you and I are involved in is growing every day. The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was trying to shed light on this when we met, I only took part in two sessions, you took part in many more. It is an extremely obvious and fundamental problem of human rights which every thinking human being should apply himself to.
FB: The scary thing is that the extreme Rabbinate you were talking about with the extreme right wing views about the Palestinians and the non-Jews are having a more and more prominent place in terms of the Israeli society, regime and power structure and that is very scary.
I wanted to follow up on the Cultural Boycott and about the fact that you are one of the only ones who take such a stand. You could, as many others do, I guess enjoy the benefits of your success and lead a quiet, at least politically, non-controversial life. Why do you do it but more importantly why do you think not more people are doing it? Why a lot of artists who often take position against wars, why don’t they touch Palestine?
RW: Well, where I live, in the USA, I think, A: they are frightened and B: I think the propaganda machine that starts in Israeli schools and that continues through all the Netanyahu’s bluster is poured all over the United States, not just Fox but also CNN and in fact in all the mainstream media. It’s like a huge bucket of crap that they are pouring into the mouth of a gullible public in my view, when they say “we are afraid of Iran, it is going to get nuclear weapons…”. It’s a diversionary tactic. The lie that they have told for the last 20 years is “Oh, we want to make peace”, you know and they talk about Clinton and Arafat and Barak being in Camp David and that they came very close to agreeing, and the story that they sold was “Oh Arafat fucked it all up”. Well, no, he did not. This is not the story. The fact of the matter is no Israeli government has been serious about creating a Palestinian state since 1948. They’ve always had the Ben Gurion agenda of kicking all the Arabs out of the country and becoming greater Israel. They tell a lie as part of their propaganda machinery whilst doing the other thing but they have been doing it so obviously in the last 10 years . For instance, even after when Obama went to Cairo and made that speech about Arabs and the Israelis, everybody was like “Oh, this is a step in a new direction at least”. But as soon as he visited Israel, they said. “Oh by the way, we are building another 1200 settlements”. Exactly the same when Kerry went last year saying, “Oh I am going to try to get the sides together and talk peace”. Netanhayu said “Fuck you. We are going to build another 1500 settlements and we a going to build them in E1, this is our plan.” This is so transparent that you’d have to have an IQ above room temperature not to understand what is going on. It is just dopey.
You know I read some piece the other day where it said “apparently only the Secretary State of the United States, believes that these current peace talks are real, no one else in the world does”.
It is a very complicated situation which is why you and I and all the other people in the world who care about their brothers and sisters and not just about the people of our own faith, our own colour, our own race or our own whatever, have to stand in solidarity shoulder to shoulder. This has been a very hard sell particularly where I live in the United States of America. The Jewish lobby is extraordinary powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry and in rock’n roll as they say. I promise you, naming no names, I’ve spoken to people who are terrified that if they stand shoulder to shoulder with me they are going to get fucked. They have said to me “aren’t you worried for your life?” and I go “No, I’m not”. A few years ago, I was touring and 9/11 happened in the middle of the tour and 2 or 3 people in my band who happened to be United States citizens wouldn’t come on the next leg of the tour. I said “ why not? Don’t you like the music anymore?” and they replied “no, we love the music but we are Americans and it’s too dangerous for us to travel abroad, they are trying to kill us” and I thought “Wow!”.
FB: Yes, the brainwashing works!
RW: Obviously it does, that is why I am happy to be doing this interview with you because it is super important that we make as much noise as possible. I’m so glad that this right wing newspaper in Israel, Yedioth Ahronoth, printed my interview with Alon Hadar. At least they printed it. Although they changed the context and made it sound different that what is actually was but at least they printed something. You know, I would expect to be completely suppressed and ignored.
You know that Shuki Weiss( preeminent Israeli promotor) was offering me a hundred thousand people at hundred dollars a ticket a few months ago to come and play in Tel Aviv! “Hang on, that’s 10 million dollars”, how could they offer it to me?! And I thought Shuki are you fucking deaf or just dumb?! I am part of the BDS movement, I’m not going anywhere in Israel, for any money, all I would be doing would be legitimizing the policies of the government.
I have a confession to make to you. I did actually write to Cindy Lauper a couple of weeks ago. I did not make the letter public but I wrote her a letter because I know her a bit, she worked with me on the Wall in Berlin which is why I found it super difficult to understand that she is doing a gig in Tel Aviv on January the 4th. apparently, quite extraordinary, reprehensible in my view, but I don’t know her personal story and people have to make up their own mind about these things. One can’t get to personal about it.
FB: For sure but you can help them, I guess by what you are doing, by writing to them. You can open their eyes because that’s what they need I think.
RW: Yes but if their eyes were going to be opened they would need to either visit the Holy land, visit the West Bank or Gaza or even visit Israel or any single checkpoint anywhere and see what it’s like. All they would need to do is visiting or, read, read a book! Check out the history. Read Max Blumenthal’s book. Then say “Oh I know what I am going to do, I am going to play a gig in Tel Aviv”. That would be a good plan! (sarcastic tone).
By NENAD GEORGIEVSKI, Published: December 6, 2013
Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall
The story of British band Pink Floyd is one of an enigma that has lasted for decades. Regardless if the band has sold trillions of records and countless of books and articles had been written, still, the general audience knows very little about how the band's music was created or details about band members' private lives. Further, the intriguing and brilliant Hipgnosis designed covers also said and revealed too little about its musical journey which was so significant that it altered the entire course of late 20th century sound. During the four decades the band had actively existed it became synonymous with a magnetic edgy music in which its pervasive chilling mood is the star. Over the years the focus of fans' adulation remained the anonymous banner of Pink Floyd. But subsequent ego battles, financial problems, the inability to share credits among each other eventually has led to Waters' divorcing from the band and commencing legal battles with the remaining members, which was the subject of many tabloid headlines in the 80s and the 90s. Regardless if the group had exploded into acrimony, the legacy of its music is still a mystery that deserves to be unraveled.
The man at the center of this book's story, Roger Waters is a lyricist extraordinaire whose meditations on death, madness and apocalypse were pivotal in leading an obscure British psychedelic group to the pinnacle of commercial preeminence in rock music. Basically, Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall consists of two separate parts that gives the impression of two separate streams in one book. The first part maps the biography of Roger Waters starting from early childhood by analyzing his family background, the death of his father during WWII, his family's political background that has influenced Waters' social and political thinking that has also reflected in his work with Pink Floyd and in his solo career work, his early music interests, biographical details, education and jumps to various moments in his musical biography with Floyd where Waters had a more prominent role in lyric writing, conceptualizing the later output with works such as Wish You Were Here, (EMI, 1975) Animals, (EMI, 1977) The Wall (EMI, 1979) and eventually a dominating role, as in "The Final Cut" (when the credits wrote by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd). While doing that the author skims various important chapters in Waters' life that were part of Pink Floyd's biography and proceeds with an outlook on his subsequent post Floyd solo career, the highs and the lows, the dispute over the name all leading to the eventual last stand of the classic Pink Floyd at the Live 8 in 2005 at Hyde Park.
The second part is a detailed biography of Pink Floyd's oeuvre and the times when those records were made over the course of the several stages that the career of this band has had. Starting from the musical endeavors that each band member had participated in before Floyd, the story, that was mapped through various sources such as books and interviews (either author's or by others) is told through the records, soundtracks, song by song details that actually portray the road traversed from its early start, when the band became darling of the psychedelic scene under the guidance of the first front man Syd Barrett. Barret had been a maverick artist and a true original that had to departure prematurely from the band due to drug abuse and psychological problems, a legacy that the band had to wrestle with many times during the course of its illustrious career. What followed in the second chapter of the band's career was a series of exotic rock reveries with exotic titles such as A Saucerful of Secrets, (Columbia, 1968 ) Ummagumma, (Columbia, 1969) Atom Heart Mother (EMI, 1970) that set the scenery for the mega selling records and tours that would catapult them in the major league
Thompson's prose is never boring and is detailed as he leads the stories through the myriad of information. The good thing here is that each record gets its own equal analysis regardless if it's an obscure single or a record, shoulder to shoulder with the better known ones in their cannon. On the other hand, there is very little or nothing whatsoever about the Pink Floyd's legendary concerts which were as important as their studio efforts. The band's stage productions of the era were the forerunners of the modern rock and pop extravaganza, featuring elaborate special effects and one of rock's inaugural light shows, where among that the music was played on a quadraphonic sound system called Azymuth coordinator.
While Waters' career is anything but uneventful the author doesn't give much info about the many charity activities he has participated in. He was a spokesman for the Millennium Promise charity in 2007, he reunited with Gilmour for a charity in 2006 for the children of Palestinian refugees and in 2012 he led a benefit for United States military veterans called Stand Up for Heroes. Judging by the book, he and Eric Clapton were not on the best of terms when the tour in 1984 had ended, but then again the author fails to mention the charity events they participated in afterwards, like them performing together in 2005 on TV for the Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope when they performed "Wish you Were Here" as well as Waters taking part in a charity cricket match that Clapton had organized in 2008. Plenty of the info apart from author's own interpretation of Waters' and Pink Floyd's output doesn't reveal anything new.
The story of Roger Waters and Pink Floyd is far too complex to be told in one book just by going through various and select musical details without giving a broader picture of the cultural impact it has had since its early days and the subsequent changes and the fashions it has survived. What this book lacks is more depth and a broader picture and analysis of the band's cultural impact that goes beyond the world of music. It has no fresh conversations with Waters, his family, or his well known former band mates. Rather, it is a collocation of stale, previously published interviews and chats with former low level co-workers. And instead of working on a fine portrait, it seems like he has been working on the sketch. It is unquestionable that Waters' contribution had been pivotal for the band's success both artistically and commercially, but if there had been a better assessment of his role it could be argued that he also contributed greatly to its demise and initial disbandment after the heights reached in the 70s. Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall is an averagely good book about Roger Waters, but he and Pink Floyd deserve a better one.
Waters talks with Billboard's Ray Waddell about Pink Floyd's first U.S. gig, the music business today and the monumental success of The Wall tour.
Dystopia: “Are There Any Paranoids in the Theatre Tonight?”: Roger Waters’s The Wall as Dystopian Spectacle
November 29, 2013
By Ana Malinovic
Roger Waters, the Easter Island-headed prophet of Pink Floyd, recently revived the band’s seminal 1979 albumThe Wall on a worldwide stadium tour. Just why did Waters return to The Wall? On his official website, he says:
The story of my fear and loss …provides an allegory for broader concerns: nationalism, racism, sexism, religion, whatever! All … are driven by the same fears that drove my young life.
|Roger Waters performs the entirety of Pink Floyd’s The Wall at Wembley Stadium. Photo by Chiazi Nozu.|
While Waters acknowledges that the album initially arose from his own highly personal tale, in recent years he has recognised its potential to relate to a wider socio-political context. Indeed, The Wall is nothing if not a searing dystopian narrative. The OED defines a dystopia as “an imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible”, but more specifically, the following elements are pervasive: constant state surveillance; a widespread lack of freedom and dehumanisation of the masses; corruption and injustice; prolific propaganda within a system of indoctrination; a “personality cult” figure. Each of these elements was very much present in the performance of The Wall I attended in September at Wembley Stadium.
From the outset Waters made clear that this spectacle was intended as a deeply felt protest against injustice and outrages perpetrated by governments and state machinery worldwide. Before performing a sombre and altogether darker version of Another Brick in the Wall, he said: “This concert is dedicated to Jean Charles [Menezes] and victims of state terrorism all over the world.” Waters’s critique didn’t stop there. He continued to hammer home his protest against excessive state power with the songs that followed, without exception.
Prior to this show, I always saw Mother as one of the most personal songs on the album, about a stifling and overprotective mother who nonetheless wishes the best for her son: “Mother will check out all your girlfriends for you,” sings Waters. “Mother will always find out where you’re been.” (Though there remain disturbing overtones: “Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true… Put all of her fears into you.”) However, in this stage incarnation, Mother was taken from the personal sphere and propelled into the expressly political. A giant, sinister-looking Mother came to life on the stage. Cold probing lights radiated out of her eyes, surveying the audience, with a security camera positioned by her. On a screen the words “Big Brother” appeared - so evocative, of course, of the most iconic dystopian novel of them all - with the “Br” in “Brother” crossed out and replaced with an “M”. This represented how dangerous our need to feel secure as a society can be - a need that can be used to manipulate us. The leaders who claim to have our best interests at heart are invariably to be the most distrusted. Such leaders justify the surveillance state by citing increased security, but in fact they rob us of more and more of our freedom.
After Waters sang the line “Mother should I trust the government?”, big red letters were projected onto The Wall, spelling out “no fuckin’ way” - drawing a great reaction from the audience. It’s no surprise that this sentiment had no such resonance: in addition to longstanding political disaffection, this is a country which has between 4 and 5.9 million security cameras (according to a report in July ). That is approximately one camera for every 11 people in the UK – a very disquieting statistic and one that makes Waters’s surveillance state Mother seem all the more plausible.
The larger the state, the more it can impose into our everyday lives. Heather Brooke’s The Silent State is one such exposé of just how much data the government has built up about us in recent years, the extent of which is kept largely hidden from us. If we are kept unaware of what is happening with governmental legislation and the way in which the state uses our data, the state can go ahead even with oppressive laws and experience less opposition than it should rightly have. In light of last week’s revelations that the US and UK governments struck a secret deal to allow the NSA to “unmask” our data, Brooke’s arguments hold greater weight than ever.
Goodbye Blue Sky’s projected animation - which has previously attracted considerable controversy - was a very explicit critique of corruption and abuses of power within corporations, ideological belief systems and organised religion. The crucifix, star of David and star and crescent fell from aeroplanes like bombs, alongside the corporate logos of Mercedes, Shell and McDonald’s - as well as communism’s hammer and sickle and capitalism’s dollar sign.
Such anti-war and anti-profiteering messages were iterated again and again during The Wall. Nobody Home’s animation illustrated the individual’s powerlessness against nefarious military planes flying overhead, while during Vera Lynn, a damning quote by Eisenhower was projected onto The Wall: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies… a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”
Again, Waters was focusing on the human fallout of cold, calculated military actions. Malala Yousafzai, the extraordinary campaigner for girl’s education, has drawn renewed attention to the fact that the world’s most powerful nations spend so much on their forces but shamefully little on education. As she defiantly said at the UN in September: “Instead of sending weapons… to Afghanistan and all these countries which are suffering from terrorism, send books.” Unsurprisingly, the 2013 Global Peace Index shows that the world has become less peaceful .
Another Brick in the Wall: Part Three, meanwhile, began with footage of a French newscaster projected onto one of the bricks in the centre of the screen. The surrounding bricks then rapidly filled up with footage of newscasters speaking different languages: a potent Chomsky-esque critique of the way the media gives us a particular slant on certain events, depending on where we live. Tracking back to Another Brick in the Wall: Part Two, this is a continuation of the way we are taught to think in school. We are expected to conform to a particular ideological mindframe (“we don’t need no thought control”), actively prevented from attempting to form our own potentially subversive opinions.
Goodbye Cruel World ended on a particularly disturbing note: as Waters sang in a mocked-up living room from the last brick that was yet to be covered up, he was being targeted by the red dot of a sniper rifle. As the song ended, all went startlingly black - a highly laden critique of the military and political sphere intruding into the personal and domestic.
The finale of The Wall, segueing fromWaiting for the Worms into The Trial, was the most visually arresting projection in a concert loaded with spectacle. The sheer perversion of the judge was highlighted through snippets of cartoonish video, while Waters inhabited the role of megalomaniacal dictator, equipped with a megaphone and wearing a uniform. The song was also accompanied by quotations from 1984 - most notably “he loved Big Brother” - and the opening of Kafka’s The Trial.
The Wall was a forceful, resolutely spectacular reminder of just why dystopias hold such power over the imagination. While they show us a vision of the worst future possible, they simultaneously reveal disturbing and uncomfortable truths in our present. They act as a warning. They are often an attempt on the part of their creator to urge us into action, so that we feel moved to change the things that we see are deeply wrong with our world - a motivation that clearly courses through Waters’s veins.
Waters’s stadium tour coincides with a cultural dystopian turn: Black Mirror on the television; The Hunger Games in the cinema; Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam in the bookstores; Headlong’s acclaimed 1984 on the stage. The sheer variety of The Wall’s multidisciplinary spectacle, and the scope of its concerns, make it a powerful, pounding distillation of this trend. Just before Run like Hell, Waters wryly asked: “Are there any paranoids in the theatre tonight? This song is for you.” As he had shown us repeatedly throughout the evening, we have plenty to be paranoid about.
Ana graduated from Warwick University with a BA in English and American Literature in 2010. Her dissertation was centred on dystopian elements in the fiction of Kafka. She enjoys uncovering innovative works of fiction by a diverse range of authors. She also spends much of her time roaming around London’s arts and culture scene overexcitedly.
By ANDY GREENE
NOVEMBER 13, 2013
Concept record is 'a quest,' says the Pink Floyd co-founder
|Roger Waters performs in Paris.|
Roger Waters wrapped up his three-year Wall tour in September, and since then he's turned his attention toward his first rock album since 1992's Amused to Death. "I finished a demo of it last night," he tells Rolling Stone. "It's 55 minutes long. It's songs and theater as well. I don't want to give too much away, but it's couched as a radio play. It has characters who speak to each other, and it's a quest. It's about an old man and a young child trying to figure out why they are killing the children."
He's not sure if he'll support the disc with a tour. "I'm suffering a little bit of withdrawal after ending the Wall tour," he says. "It's sort of a relief to not have to go out and do that every night, but they're such a great team. There were 180 of us together everyday. That piece was very moving every night."
The massive show was staged 219 times at stadiums and arenas all over the globe, grossing upwards of $458,000,000. "I can't top that tour," Waters says. "First of all, you have to accept the fact that I'm not going to live forever. I'm 70 years old. You just have to accept that when you do something as enormous as that tour. The hardest thing in the world is thinking of something to do, so going and doing it is a reward in itself."
The memory of the tour still brings a big smile to his face. "I found that the loudest fans in the world are in Istanbul," he says. "I remember standing there with the band during 'Hey You.' We were behind the wall, so nobody could see us playing. We started looking at each other going, 'What is that sound?' When they sang 'Don't give in without a fight,' you could feel it. It was like the roof was coming off, even though there was no roof. It was amazing."
With that in mind, he refuses to rule out the possibility of reviving The Wall tour at some point in the future. "I'm not thinking about that right now," he says. "But that's not to say I won't. I think there's an audience there. We did do 219 shows, which is a lot."