Editor's Note

About Spare Bricks


Read Guestbook

Sign Guestbook

Front Cover

Spare Bricks Exclusive!

A Rambling Conversation with Roger Waters

Concerning all this and that and a bit of the other thing, you know, the one he's so reluctant to talk about in public but you can really tell that it is eating him up inside

From its inception, Pink Floyd has used a combination of emotion-drained music, film, and elaborate live performances to present its drab, forbidding vision of the world. But one-time leader Roger Waters meant the band to be more than just the musical equivalent of a conceptual movie. Spreading his warnings about humanity's decline turned out to be easier than expected, thanks to the band's mindless, drone-like followers.

As the 80s dragged on, Waters' disillusionment spread to his audience as well, which, he finally noticed, are indeed part of the world. He eventually left the band to pursue a solo career apart from his former bandmates. But his legacy lives on. His influence has been acknowledged by successors in rock and literature. His own band tours the world year in and year out to considerable interest. We caught up to Waters on the road this summer, in the wake of one of his shows.

Spare Bricks: What are you up to these days?

Roger Waters: I live on the beautiful Sunset Strip in West Hollywood in a circular, fluorescent green building that looks a little bit like a spaceship. That's where life after rock 'n' roll takes place. That, and VH1 documentaries. Oh, and infomercials, like the one with Davey Jones. You know that one? They wanted me to do that, and I wanted to, I really did, but the tour schedule just wouldn't allow it. So I gave that to Davey, as a favor. Davey and I are old friends. We go way back. He's from Cambridge, you know, a couple of years older than me and Syd. He used to beat us up for our milk money, but it was all in good fun. I don't bear any grudges. If I can work out the scheduling, I'd love to have him record something for our next record so I can erase it.

SB: Wait a minute. Hollywood? You? Mr. Doom-and-Gloom? Mr. Anti-Showbiz?

RW: Well, what can I say? It's easier to be subversive when you are anonymous, in the sense that a lot of the people out there don't know that I was ever in Pink Floyd. That works to my advantage at times, because sometimes people have preconceived notions of what my music should sound like if they were to think of me in terms of 'Pink Floyd'. This way, I have total freedom. I'm able to work with full orchestras, metal guitarists, medium-sized orchestras, mariachi bands, accordian players, tiny orchestras. Orchestras of any size, really. Of course, I don't. But I could if I wanted to.

This opens up all sorts of new avenues. Ones I don't have to take, sure, but new ones nonetheless. The audience doesn't have these avenues I don't take filtered through that 'Pink Floyd' expectation.

SB: So you consider yourself a 'subversive' artist?

RW: Definitely. Even Pink Floyd--in our purest sense, we were always attempting for subversion. We learned something from the hippies that, unfortunately, the punks didn't learn, and that is that rebellion is obsolete. In a healthy capitalistic world, rebellion is just something else to market, like soda or digital watches or herpes cream. Even quicker than the hippies became hip capitalists, the punks became T-shirts and bumper stickers.

So we took our cues from the Viet Cong and the subversives during WWI and WWII in Europe, as opposed to from the hippies and the punks. We became a lightning rod for hostility. We would play meandering, aimless rubbish like "Set the Controls" or "Saucerful of Secrets" for 15 minutes. It was just sheer masturbation. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Rick jerked off behind that piano a few times while we were on stage performing. I mean, you can do that sort of thing when you play "Echoes" for 30 minutes at a stretch. We'd just keep going and going, and we wouldn't stop until people were actually fighting with us, trying to make us stop. Stop playing the song that is, not masturbating, though you'd have to talk to Rick about that.

But if you played long enough, directed at people in an aggressive enough manner, even the most peace-loving hippie wanted to throw fists. The best was when we would play "Eugene." First I'd whisper incomprehensibly quiet political messages, and then after a while, I'd start screaming like a nun at a Madalyn Murray O'Hair lecture. And in other songs, I would intentionally sing out-of-key, just to add to the effect. We really mastered the fine art of pissing people off. We were the epicenter of a negative-energy vortex. Some patrons to this day claim that I spat on them. I don't know. I blacked out a lot. If I did spit on them, it was because of the aggressive, deliberately off-key manner in which I sang those songs.

SB: With all these fistfights and violence erupting, were you guys able to hold your own?

RW: Oh, absolutely. David was a rather big, burly bloke, even back then, and he'd seen his fair share of pub brawls back in Cambridge. And for all the negative things I've had to say about Rick over the years, there isn't anyone I'd rather have beside me in fight. He's a vicious bastard when he's cornered. A vicious, eye-gouging, testicle-mashing bastard.

SB: And Nick?

RW: Nick and I were always mates. I remember this one time... I don't think I've ever told this story before... about this one time when Columbia Records flew the two of us down to Jamaica, and we got really stoned. Back home, we would sit around with enough pot to fill up a thimble, and we'd stare at it all day. We would tell everyone a week in advance that we were going to smoke this pot during the weekend. By Saturday night, everybody would be like, "This is that African stuff that's really hallucinogenic," when in reality it was probably just picked off the side of the road in Mexico or something. . Half of it was yard clippings. We would finally roll this pencil-thin joint, and like eight people would huddle around, all desperately try to get a little buzz off of this really bad pot. We'd all be like, "I think I'm high. Maybe I'm high. Yeah, I might have felt something. My throat's definitely feeling raw." It was that kind of thing.

So Nick and I go down to Jamaica, where we've never been before. The record company brass takes us in this little closed room with no ventilation and gets us really high with this big pile of pot. Some South Africans show up for no discernible reason, and this record company jerk-off goes, "What do you guys think of The Sex Pistols?" I go, "You know what? We just saw them last week. They came over to where we were staying after they played their last show. It's a shame that they broke up," I said, thinking I was laying it on real thick.

And he says, "Well, I'll tell you why. We have Johnny Rotten in the next room, and he wants to be the new lead singer for Pink Floyd. That whole 'I Hate Pink Floyd' T-shirt thing was just jealousy. He loves you guys. If you guys are up for that, we have the press from England here, and they're ready to take photos and do articles if you guys want to announce right now that Johnny Rotten is the new lead singer for Pink Floyd."

Nick and I are like... this time, it's not like, "I think I'm getting high." It's like, "Oh, shit! What the fuck are they doing!?!" It was one of those horrible events where you realize you're sitting on the floor, and all these people are sitting around you, and I never realized how big this record company exec's teeth were until that moment. And he's, like, staring at me with this big smile, waiting for me to say, "Yeah, Johnny Rotten can join Pink Floyd." And all I could do was laugh. It's like when you're in school and in a situation where there's something totally absurd; it's a totally mundane normal experience that seems surreal and absurd, and you're fighting back laughter. You stifle laughter, and that just makes it worse, and then you can't help it. You're laughing so hard you can't stop.

So there we are, me and Nick, laughing our arses off in front of this guy with these enormous teeth who's a multimillionaire already, and famous because of The Sex Pistols and Mike Oldfield, and I'm going, "Oh my God, this is not the way to continue this relationship." Well, I just laughed at him. Nick, on the other hand, went apeshit and knocked the guy down and actually started jumping on his chest. I've never seen someone so high get so violent. Well, except this one time at a Bay City Rollers concert.

Things like that just made us distrust everyone around us--we pulled the wagon train even tighter. We became very insular.

SB: But you really thrived in that insular, isolated state. Didn't you?

RW: Yeah, but it was a bit of a double-edged sword. When we started, there were just the four of us. We did everything ourselves. We saw Pink Floyd as something bigger than a rock band. We thought that was the most boring thing you could do. We wanted to be a clearinghouse for concepts and ideas--that's why we did films. We wore our own clothing, and our closest friends did our artwork and graphics. We had final say over every album cover that we ever did.

But the downside of doing everything ourselves and coming up with the concepts and the ideas was that, looking back, a lot of them weren't that good. By which I mean they were bloody terrible. We didn't really collaborate a lot. We had ample opportunity. It wasn't just the record execs and Johnny Rotten. Everybody wanted a piece... Parsons, Guthrie, even old Roy Harper. I stayed at Roy's house for a couple weeks. He wanted to record on our album before we did. I was like, "Piss off, it's our record," and he was like, "Shut up, this would be so good for you." So I thumped him. Shattered his spleen or something. He was crazy during that time. We finally gave him that vocal just to shut his lawyers up.

SB: That must have been his alcohol-addled phase.

RW: Oh, man, it sure was. I have tapes of Pink Floyd rehearsing in his living room, and him grabbing the microphone from me and starting to sing wild shit over the top of our songs. I have this whole take of "Welcome to the Machine" where he's just shouting about going to the North Pole to fuck elves. It was a crazy time.

SB: So what sort of projects are you working on now?

RW: Believe it or not, after the success of this last tour and the DVD, I was asked to collaborate on some projects for McDonald's. Actually, they originally just wanted "Another Brick in the Wall" for some new burger they're launching. You know, "We all want some McChicken sandwich, we all want large fries with that." But the deal I eventually worked out with them includes a whole new song cycle and in-store merchandising for them. The theory is that I will create albums which impart the message of Ronald McDonald's rampant artery-clogging capitalism, but filtered through the mind of Roger Waters. My message would be fully intact and attached like cholesterol and antioxidants working their way into the system.

SB: What kind of subversion do you plan to unleash upon a nation of under-aged fast food junkies?

RW: The one thing I found out early on was that you could insert subliminal messages into music without too much difficulty, without the public being concerned about it or even noticing in most cases. A few times word of some of the sneaky things that I have done has gotten out--like the Wizard of Oz thing. I even told people that I did it, and they just laughed. They didn't care. It's strange. So if it's something I feel strongly about--something that awakens people--I put it in the music.

In projects that are uninspired, sugar-coated crap, maybe I'll put in subliminal messages like "Question Authority" or "Sugar Is Bad For You". I even did "Fuck Elves" once, as a tribute to Roy. Subliminal messages can be very powerful. The very first film Pink Floyd was a part of was made on a budget of something like 2,000 quid. We put the words "Submit" and "Obey" in the film subliminally, and it won every film festival we sent it to. It did quite well. We would play the songs from those films onstage. It seemed to work every time. It seemed to program people perfectly to enjoy an evening of celebrating the downward spiral of society, which is what my music has always been about, from day one.

With this McDonald's thing, I've done this whole concept piece about how Grimace is really just a normal guy like you and me, but he was corrupted by Market Forces and the pressure to succeed and the like, until all that is left is this formless purple blob. But if you look at him, and I mean really look at him, you can see the humanity in his eyes--the sorrow, the anguish, the helplessness and hopelessness. I mean, face it, he's supposed to be this happy-go-lucky character, but his name is "Grimace". Not "Smiley" or "Laughter". "Grimace", for God's sake. Now there's a heart-warming image for the young people of the world! And don't get me started on the Fry Guys! Sadists!

So anyway, in my jingle I expose all of this, but subliminally. I mean, the McDonald's people aren't stupid. You have to be careful. You can't just come out and say "The Hamburglar is a recidivist and Mayor McCheese is a pedophile." Subtlety is the key. But there's this one line that goes:

You deserve a break today
And some fresh french fries
Our hot fudge sundae
Will warm your soul

That really says it all, doesn't it?

Russ Blomstedt, Mike McInnis, and Patrick Keller are staff writers for Spare Bricks. Dave Ward isn't.