Transcript of interview conducted in Sydney, January 21, 2007. Mark Sainsbury of Television New Zealand's Close Up interviews Roger Waters, legendary Pink Floyd lyricist, singer and bass guitarist.
Mark Sainsbury: What is it about rockers of
your generation that makes you so enduring?
Roger Waters: Ah, I don't know that's a very good question. You see successive generations, we won't know if they are enduring or not. I guess so long as we go on being enthused about communicating through the great medium of rock and roll some of us carry on.
Mark Sainsbury: What modern-day music do you
think might last the test of time?
Roger Waters: Do you know to be perfectly honest with you I don't really listen to very much music and certainly not much contemporary pop music anyway. It's not to say that I don't think it's any good. It's just my interest lies in other areas. I still listen to music and I listen to a lot of classical music and I have my few favourite sort of song writers who, when they produce new work, I'll sort of listen to it. So I always buy the new Dylan album and the new Neil Young album and the new John Prine album and I'll sniff around one or two other things if I catch something on the radio. But by in large I'm not really interested in it.
Mark Sainsbury: But opera you're interested
Roger Waters: Yeah I like opera.
Mark Sainsbury: And your opera isn't just a
rock opera is it, it's a traditional opera?
Roger Waters: My opera - you're talking about Ça Ira? [ Mark: yes]. It's a big orchestra and a big chorus and lots of kids singing and eight soloists and we've done several full productions now in eastern Europe. The Poles latched onto it first because it's about revolution and it's about freedom and change and it's about an attachment to the ideas of right and wrong and it's anti-authoritarian and rather anti church. I think for some of those reasons they thought it would be a good way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the workers' uprising against the Russian occupying forces in 1956. And from there it's gone on and there's going to be a full production in Moscow in March and another in St Petersburg in May. So it least it has a life which I'm enormously happy about.
Mark Sainsbury: Did you get a different kind of
satisfaction out of writing that than you do out of any of the
Roger Waters: Not really no. You know it's a funny thing, what I do is kind of automatic so whatever I'm working on I arrive at work in the morning and I don't ever have to think about what to do. Like putting on this rock n roll show that we've come here to do... I'm still working on it. I'm changing it all the time and this afternoon we're going to start rehearsing with the band and I've got a tonne of ideas of what we should do different. We've already done this show 80 times or something. We're going to do it another 62 times this year and it's sort of automatic. So whether I'm working on the opera or whether I'm doing this or whether I'm writing something, it's not an intellectual exercise. It's just 'oh now I'll do that and then I'll do that'.
Mark Sainsbury: But you still enjoy it?
Roger Waters: Oh god yeah. I mean I'm having an absolute blast. I mean this tour that we've been doing is terrific fun. The band is great. I don't know if people know this but the story behind why we do the whole of the Dark Side of the Moon was brought about by the French Grand Prix organisation last summer called up and said "We want Pink Floyd to do Dark Side of the Moon at ze French Grand Prix" (French accent) and everybody was saying f*** off you're insane and they went "oh what about Roger Waters" (mock French accent) and they said 'well dunno we'll ask him'. And so they did ask me and I thought 'oh what a strange idea but I thought why not? I can't why I didn't think of that myself a few years ago!' It's a piece I'm really attached to and then they asked if I'd take Nick Mason so I said 'Hey do you want to go and do Dark Side at the French Grand Prix. And he is an enormous aficionado of motor racing anyway so he said 'yeah I'd love to' so we did it and then it seemed daft for it to be a one-off so I said hey let's do a couple of festivals in Europe and then that turned out to be 20 dates in Europe. And we thought 'oh well are up and running, we might as well go to the States. And then it was great, it was such good fun. We thought maybe next year we should go to the Southern Hemisphere and go and do some there...
Mark Sainsbury: But I mean Dark Side of the
Moon is one of the most phenomenally successful albums of all time
... it's just so iconic. Does that become a weight?
Roger Waters: No absolutely not. Maybe if it was the only one it would but of course but it was in 1973 or 4 and then there was The Wall in 1979 and that was much bigger than Dark Side and it's probably just as well. Since then I've done what I think is an important album of my own in 1992, called Amused to Death. So no really at this point I'm pretty relaxed about the whole thing. I've got tonnes of songs that I've written and half recorded and whatever and there's a couple more albums in the old dog yet and I will make them at some point. But they need to be coherent in some way. I am stuck with my attachment to the idea that records being whole pieces of work that have a beginning and a middle and an end so the concept album as it's sometimes rather derisively called is a format that I'm pretty well stuck with.
Mark Sainsbury: You're a person with strong
views in terms of the war... Tony Blair and George Bush. All those
things come out of your work&
Roger Waters: I mean they don't come out through my work they come out because I come from a very political background. My mother was very politically motivated and so I guess we get a lot from our parents in terms of our politics but I still have a deep fundamental adherence to the idea of good and evil and what's the right and the wrong thing to do and it still makes me inordinately angry when my government does the wrong thing. Like Tony Blair attaching himself to G.W. Bush and invading Iraq. That's one of the biggest tragedies and travesties of English foreign policy since the Second World War. I'm not saying that the Second World War was but certainly since Suez. It would be impossible for me not to express some of those political ideas in my work.
Mark Sainsbury: You talked about your mother
and I mean you lost your father, of course, when you were very,
very young so having your own son on tour with you, is that because
it was something you missed out on or because you rate him as a
Roger Waters: No he's a very good piano player and he's a good keyboard player so I started going out again in 1999 and I needed two keyboard players and I had one in mind so I asked Harry if he'd like to go and he said 'no I'm doing my own thing' and whatever but a couple of years later when I went out again after 9/11 one of the keyboard players dropped out and I said 'you've got a second bite of the cherry here if you're interested' and he went 'yeah well I'd like to do it' and he does a good job and it's nice to have him on the road with me. It's good.
Mark Sainsbury: And that's something that you
never had with your own dad.
Roger Waters: Yeah obviously I was 5 months old when he was killed so I never had anything. I had the legacy of his politics& and his heroism has dogged me throughout my life. It's very hard to live up to the dead hero thing. Because my father was a hero, he was a fairly devout Christian so at the beginning of the Second World War he was a conscientious objector and then he became very political working in London during the Blitz and he joined the Communist Party and decided that his need to fight the Nazis trumped his Christianity so he went back to the board who'd said yeah if you drive an ambulance or something you're cool and said he'd changed his mind. He did his basic training and then his officer training and then went out to Italy and was killed a couple of months later. So he was obviously a man of extremely high principle you know and prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in light of what he believed was right and wrong. And that is something that without question has moulded me and my life and also i think has been a very important factor in allowing me to empathise with people who lose family members whether it's parents or children or cousins or uncles in war in general but particularly in senseless wars like what's going on in Iraq which we know has nothing to do with spreading democracy or helping people or freedom or any of those things. I'm not quite sure with exactly what it does have to do with. The cynical part of me thinks it's only about oil and about the bottom line and about Halliburton and about making profit but maybe it's actually about some kind of misguided religious notions that the neo-cons and the religious right in north America have.
Well actually when they went it in they said it was about some weapons of mass destruction and about Saddam Hussein being a threat to North America and Great Britain, which he clearly wasn't. And when they went in they didn't even say he was harbouring terrorists which he clearly wasn't but something that came up.
Somebody told me yesterday, as a fresh statistic, that 28% of America believes that Jesus is coming back next year. They believe not just in the second coming but they believe it's happening next year. I think within the framework of all that weird evangelical recidivism there's a strange kind of attachment to the idea of the rapture which is really worry, desperately worrying... and in fact to the point that I think that most of my work in the future may be joining in the small but growing voice that believes that the maligned influence on mankind is the attachment from our various faiths that we have to the holy scriptures that were created some time in the last 2000 years. Whether it's the gospel or whether it's the Koran ... it seems to be causing an enormous amount of suffering and grief to an enormous number of people and unfortunately i think it's politically and economically convenient to allow the powers that be to allow this to continue, in fact to encourage it
Mark Sainsbury: So what do you see yourself
Roger Waters: I'm gonna save the world. Well, I'm going to start with English cricket. [laughs]
Mark Sainsbury: Saving the world might be
Roger Waters: Well you might well be right about that. Damn I said I wasn't going to talk about cricket.
Mark Sainsbury: But you want to do something.
You feel the need to do something?
Roger Waters: Well I'm involved in a certain initiative a friend of mine Geoffrey Sacks is involved in, and has started in Africa where he's trying to end extreme poverty by the year 2025. So I'm involved in that a little bit by sort of adopting a village but I think anything altruistic that one can do is better than not doing anything. But it's the battle of hearts and minds that is more important. And whether I can have even a small influence on the possibility that we may be able to communicate with each other and attach empathetically with each other across boundaries of national self interest and religious doctrine or not I don't know. I like to think I might have already done that in some small way. But I certainly don't want to go and sit on an island and say 'thank you very much I'm done'.
Mark Sainsbury: Is it true though in terms of
what you're thinking of doing that you're having a go at rewriting
Roger Waters: I am. I'm working with a nice man and a very good writer called Lee Hall. He's done a lot of radio work in England and he wrote a movie called Billy Elliott then he wrote the musical that developed from that. And he and I are working on a stage version of The Wall. It is a project I've been leaning towards for a number of years only on this ground that both the record and the movie were entirely devoid of laughs. Say what you like whether you like the record or like the movie, there's no laughs in there. Well maybe on the record if you dig for them, and that's always been something of a regret to me because humour's always been a big part of my life and the way I lead my life and I always regret that side of my personality was not expressed at all.
Mark Sainsbury: But isn't that what people
relish in that, they relish the bleakness and the dourness and they
immerse themselves in that.
Roger Waters: Well that may be but I think if you use humour you can get closer in fact to some of the more difficult truths... difficult personal truths. I think we are going to get closer to in the Broadway musical version than in the movie or on the record. And I think that's only possible through the use of humour.
Mark Sainsbury: Syd Barrett dying last year,
how did that affect you?
Roger Waters: Sort of not very hard you know because Syd kind of died 40 years ago for me. When we spent months and months and months going 'what's happened where are you?' and he'd kind of gone and he'd stayed gone. So obviously I was very sad to hear that he was sick I heard he was sick about three days before he died. I finally got Rosemary's phone number and was just about to call when I heard he'd died. I've thought about it since on a number of occasions and I think about it still and I find myself going back to the Saturday morning painting classes we did together when he was 11 and I was 10 back in 1954. I find myself going back to those times but the kind of distance I experience with Syd is an extraordinary thing. It is real and I had tonnes of emails from people saying 'I'm sorry for your loss and this and that and the other' but I'm not really half as moved as I thought I would be. Having said that, his illness in a way was the greater tragedy because he was the most extraordinarily loveable companion and friend and fellow band member and everything so when he developed schizophrenia at that very young age that was deeply depressing. And that's kind of what I wrote about in Shine On You Crazy Diamond and I still feel that sense of loss. I guess part of me thought when he died in some sense it was a release I think he was deeply unhappy I really do however much people said well he was pottering about in his garden building odd bits of furniture in his house. I can't help feeling there's a part of the extraordinarily creative bit of the psyche that remembers what it was like to be able to function on that level and is distressed by it. Not being able to do it anymore.
Mark Sainsbury: No doubt in your mind that it
was the drugs?
Roger Waters: No I have no doubt that it wasn't. I have no doubt that the drugs exacerbated the condition. I mean if you have leanings towards schizophrenia the worst thing you can do is smoke dope and take acid - it can only exacerbate the symptoms.
If Syd had never done acid would he have developed the symptoms? I think he would. I'm not a neurologist. I'm not a great expert in it I was thought it was too simple an answer there were tonnes of other people who did tonnes and tonnes of acid and all sorts of other things and they didn't... it doesn't follow on.
Mark Sainsbury: You were saying before that
when the French Grand Prix said we want Dark Side of the Moon, we
want Pink Floyd. Who or what is Pink Floyd?
Roger Waters: Now you've gone all sort of metaphysical on me. Well it isn't anything really. It doesn't really matter. It's just a label that can be appended to all sorts of different things.
Mark Sainsbury: But different people tried to
grab that label at different times didn't they?
Roger Waters: Well I tried to retire it at one point and failed in that endeavour. I never tried to grab it and I never would try and grab it. So people have different views about these things and it doesn't really matter
Mark Sainsbury: But for a lot of people you are
Roger Waters: My view is this. And it's only my personal view. There were sort of two bits of Pink Floyd that I thought was important. One was Syd Barrett and his extraordinary most weirdly wonderful songs that he wrote in 1966, 67 and maybe even a little of 68. And after Syd developed his disease we carried on without him and we struggled and struggled and eventually did some really compelling work between 1968 and 1982. And there was all the argy bargy and other people would say then there were the two big tours that the boys did, and two albums that they made. I don't really think that work holds up, that's just a personal opinion of mine. It would have been better if they'd called it something else. But they didn't and they took that decision and I promise you I have no problem with it.
Nick and I have rekindled our friendship and we've become good friends again which is great because he was always my great buddy and when there were four of us Dave, Rick, me and Nick was always by good pal so it was a great sadness that in all the fussing and fighting we drifted apart.
We're great pals again now and that's a gift for our declining years or to put it another way as we move into our prime! Pink Floyd can be anything you want to anyone you want. Who knows? The Floyders might get back together and do something who knows.
Mark Sainsbury: So you're not opposed to
Roger Waters: No of course not. I'd do it in a heartbeat. I don't think Dave wants to do it all. I think he sort of regretted Live 8 a bit so who knows [Mark: why?] Well because it was his band and suddenly it wasn't any more. Suddenly this is what it was, this is the sort of thing it actually is - it's Dave and Roger and Nick and Rick. And he said afterwards it would have been just the same if Roger hadn't been there, but it's not the same.
Mark Sainsbury: But you could work with him
Roger Waters: Sure, why not?
Mark Sainsbury: It would be a dream wouldn't
it? People would fall over themselves.
Roger Waters: I think it would be great. I mean I thought even doing those three numbers that evening [Live 8, 2005] was great. And the recordings of it afterwards sounded pretty good.
But if it ever happened, and I've no idea how it would happen, it would just be very problematic. Live 8 was great, I loved it. I'll say no more than that.
Mark Sainsbury: In terms of what you are doing
now. Is there a difference between theatre and music or is it
impossible to separate them in performance?
Roger Waters: You're just gonna have to come to the show! You know, I've been doing rock n roll shows for a long time now and the show we are doing now is very coherent and I can't really say more about it than that. It's got some interesting ideas in it...working with some young guys in New York with all the visuals, with a big LED screen and one or two other little gags and the quadraphonic sound that I've used ever since the mid 70s on my solo tours. It was always something that was interesting and something I'm still interested in. I don't know what else to say. The show's quite theatrical.
Mark Sainsbury: And as you say there is only
one way people are going to find out is to go and see the Dark Side
of the Moon Roger Waters show?
Roger Waters: Yeah i think it's probably the last chance I think to see it. Who knows, I might tour some time in the future but when I get to the end of this, which is July 14, I've got so much other work to do it will be a long time before I go out on the road again. And whether Pink Floyd will ever do any gigs or not, I have no idea.
Mark Sainsbury: Thank you very much for your time and a pleasure to meet you.