Roger Waters talks about the happy 'Syd Barrett' years
Roger Waters is much more at peace now than he was 25 years ago, almost echoing Bob Dylan’s state of being in My Back Pages.
"I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now".
It was a typical London afternoon
of rain and clouds when we met. We talked about the happiest days of
our lives, the Pink Floyd-Syd Barrett years, and the eternal search for
the answer to the single question that has always been haunting him.
The band is still very much a part of him, but the idealist Roger, who
once had Pink Floyd buying a row of houses to be let out cheap to the
deserving poor, is now writing new songs of hope. The Flickering Flame
is about the indomitable spirit of man and Each Small Candle is a
tribute to the individual. On tour and ready to rock India in
Bangalore, we present the sonic force behind Floyd - live, in an
exclusive conversation with The New Indian Express Resident Editor
So ya thought ya
Might like to go to the show
To feel the warm thrill of confusion
That space cadet glow
Tell me is something eluding you sunshine?
Is this not what you expected to see?
If you’d like to find out what’s behind these cold eyes?
You’ll just have to claw your way through the Disguise.
- (In The Flesh)
Q: So, at last, India.
Roger Waters: I have never been
to India, even on a holiday. I never did the Maharishi thing. Though I
have a daughter who has spent a lot of time in India, she loves the
country. But I am really looking forward to it.
Q: Pink Floyd is really huge in India. We’ve all grown up singing We Don't Need No Education.
Roger Waters: Really? Oh yes, I can see you’ve brought along your record. It’s pretty old, more than 20 years, maybe?
Roger Waters: This record, The
Wall, and The Dark Side of the Moon and to a lesser extent Wish You
Were Here, successive generations seem to discover it when they hit
puberty and start searching around for ways at disentanglement during
their journey to becoming adults and the stuff that they find in here
serves to have a resonance.I did a tour of the United States in 2000
and another one in 1999, and I suspect the average age of the audience
was about 25, a pretty young audience.
Q: Your decision to come back
to performing and touring was sparked off by an impromptu concert with
Don Henley in 1992. How did it happen?
Roger Waters: It was one concert
and it was for charity. He was trying to raise money to buy and protect
the literary tradition of a place in the northeast called Walden Woods
where Paul Theroux did a lot of his writing. So he asked me if I could
play a few songs at an evening in LA. He also asked John Fogerty and
Neil Young. So John, Neil, me and Don did a set of songs each. I didn’t
have any show, no quadraphonic sound, just Don’s band and me on the
guitar. I remember playing Mother and I can remember feeling this
extraordinary wave of love from the audience. There I was singing this
song which they all knew, and they all seemed so happy. And in that
moment it rekindled the performer in me, I realised it was something I
needed to get back to again.
Q: So, do you see yourself now
as having come full circle from the time when you were so disgusted
with the touring circus that you even spat at an unruly fan trying to
climb up the stage?
Roger Waters: Very much so. That
incident happened in 1977. I remember it well as that was at the heart
of the spark that started me writing this piece (The Wall). Yes, I have
come a long way since then.
Q: Is Roger Waters at peace now?
Roger Waters: I am a lot more at
peace now than I was 25 years ago. And I think I am beginning to
operate from a more adult place than I have ever done in my whole life.
You know, the abandoned child component of my personality has remained
pretty powerful through most of my adult life. It's only through some
of the recent events in my life that I have come to understand it, and
started consciously to deal with it. I am 58 years old and I guess what
I am saying is that it’s never too late to grow up.
Q: What’s so compelling in the world today that is forcing you to write again?
Roger Waters: A lot of my writing
is rooted in an empathy I feel for other human beings, based upon my
own feelings of despair and alienation I feel from the things of my
life - most famously the loss of my father. It’s funny you ask me that,
for I ran into Nick Mason on holiday a few weeks ago and we arranged to
Q: You mean, your former Floydmate with whom you shared a very deep friendship?
Roger Waters: Yes, we were very close and we got estranged when the Floyd split up.
Q: Isn't he godfather to your son?
Roger Waters: Yes, my elder son.
So we were having dinner, Nick and I, and we were talking. In the light
of everything that’s going on now in the world, I find myself still
trying to find answers to the unanswerable question. I was just
focusing on this sitting in the cab last night, and the question that
came up in a flash was: On the evidence that we have now do we feel
that the human race is capable of evolving to a point where we
recognise what it is in life that gives us joy, and what it is in life
that gives us pain? Is the human race evolving towards a place where it
is likely to choose more joy and less pain? And I find that to be a
very difficult question to answer. However, the one thing that I am
optimistic about is the fact that because of the explosion of
information technology, I feel we increasingly have a better chance to
at least pose the questions for ourselves.
Q: How do you relate now to your once angst-filled songs?
Roger Waters: The songs are
authentic. They authentically express the feelings I had then. So I can
still identify with those feelings. So when I am in the song the whole
thing comes back. When I sing Wish You Were Here now, for me it’s
fresh, a revisiting of the feelings. And the anxiety or angst never
goes away. There’s a new song I am performing this time. It’s called
Flickering Flame. It’s partly about part of the journey that I have
made towards the freedom of contentment. It has bookends and it starts
When my neurons conspire to direct my thoughts
Away from divorce to competitive sports
Back to the place where all rivers run to the sea
Then I should be free...
My synapses pause in my quest for applause
When my ego lets go of my end of the bone
To focus instead on the love that is precious to me
Then I shall be free.
Then in the middle of the song is
a piece about a friend of mine who died a few years ago. His name is
Phily Constantine. He worked for a record company in Paris. We were
On an African plane on a thorn tree,
My old friend Phily sits waiting for me
Surpass surpass whatever will be will be
When a friend dies and the tears rise
From that deep well that never runs dry
And women break their bracelets
And the men take their whiskey outside
I get chills even saying this now. I am transported back to the time when my friend died, which was five, six years ago.
We never get over loss. Loss is
deeply important to me. In some ways, in experiencing loss, to some
extent, it defines our humanity. I don’t know... I’m rambling - but
that’s my work, it is kind of rambling. That’s what I do. That’s how I
work. I try to arrive at a state where I am open to experiencing an
emotion and then allow the words to come.
Q: Do you write first and then put a tune to it?
Roger Waters: No, it’s usually together.
Q: Each Small Candle is about the individual, about how one candle can light up a dark corner.
Roger Waters: The genesis of that
song lay with some lyrics that was sent to me by an Italian journalist.
The first verse is written by a South American and a victim of torture.
I don’t know who he is. I have been trying to find that journalist.
Apart from anything else I owe him royalty. If I never find him, I’ll
have to give his royalty to Amnesty, I guess that would be a good
Q: Will you be performing this song?
Roger Waters: Yes, I will.
Actually, I have been doing it as the last song. And a lot of people
have said, "No, you can’t do that. You’ve got to leave people on a
high". And there's a case to be made for that. But it kind of smacks of
rabble-rousing to me. (Laughs).
Q: Maybe that’s what Pink Floyd would do in the 70s.
Roger Waters: Maybe. You do a
very well-known song in the end and everybody goes, "Oh, that one!".
But I kind of like the fact that, "OK, now we are going to do a song
you've never heard before and it is quite a difficult song, too. It’s
about personal responsibility." So they then go away slightly confused
- and I am quite happy with that idea.
Q: During his last tour with
the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen ended with a new song, 41 Shots,
and before he begins it he says: "I want some quiet in here."
Roger Waters: It sounds like (mine is) a similar idea.
Q: Tell us something about Syd. What was he like?
Roger Waters: I play Shine On
every night when I am doing concerts. So the memory of him is very much
there in that song. Actually, I have images of him on the screen as
well as a tribute. But I also experience the loss of a friend that I
experienced in ’68 when he became schizophrenic.
I never see him. He doesn't like
any contact with any of that part of his life. There was a documentary
made about him on British television last November. It’s quite
informative, I learnt some stuff. Particularly about this painter
called Duggie Fields with whom he shared a flat. And I began to
understand certain very important things about Syd.
For instance, Syd used to spend
an awful lot of time after he became ill in bed. And Duggie felt
that... as long as he was in bed doing nothing he had the potential to
do anything. But as soon as he got up it became apparent that he wasn't
doing anything - so this potential fulfilment that he could feel in his
life went away and so he would spend more and more time in bed. And I
found a kind of romance in that idea somewhere and I know it was a
manifestation of his illness. But it's an interesting idea for us all
in a strange way: If we don’t open ourselves up to the possibility of
discovering where our limits are, we never do anything. And in some
ways it’s easier to do nothing than to try and do something.
Q: When you look back, which were the best Pink Floyd shows in terms of stagecraft?
Roger Waters: I think The Wall was pretty special. It was very well crafted and in all it was a great show. Well put together.
Q: Yes, the animations were particularly spectacular. I can still remember the march of the hammers.
Roger Waters: Yes, that was Jerry
Scarfe. I had identified the idea in the lyric. But hammer as you know
is a potent symbol of oppression and Jerry came up with the drawings.
There will be some of that
animation in my show this time. We are actually projecting the video -
it was still projectors in America then - and so, it means we can show
some film this time.
Q: Last question, this one I have to ask. What is your relationship with David Gilmour now?
Roger Waters: David and I haven’t spoken since 1985.
Q: But the title of Floyd's
latest compilation, Echoes, was yours, isn't it? Apparently, Gilmour
suggested Sum of the Parts, which you didn't like.
Roger Waters: Yes. I must say that it was pretty poor.
Q: OK. That’s all. Thank you very much for your time.
Roger Waters: Thank you, it was a pleasure talking to you.