Roger Waters (June 1987)
By C. Salewicz
Radio KAOS was released June 15th, 1987. It is thought this interview took place shortly afterwards and before the KAOS Tour kicked off at Rhode Island, August 1987.
CS: When was the last time you had a single out? It must have been "Another Brick In The Wall."
RW: No, it was the "Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking." And the only other significant single in my career was "Money" from Dark Side Of The Moon. That was the only other one that made any impact at all.
CS: What about the early hits, Arnold Layne and See Emily Play?
RW: Well, they were Syd's.
CS: Do you really look on them as that?
RW: Oh yes. They were his songs. Actually, we did release one of my songs as a Pink Floyd single short after he had left, a thing called "Point Me At The Sky." And there was a Syd Barrett failure before that called "Apples And Oranges." But I remember that by the time we reached the elevated heights that we did not long after, our sense of snotty purity (laughs) was so great that we wouldn't even have a single out.
CS: It was very 'uncool' in those days to release singles. Led Zeppelin always refused to put them out.
RW: Oh yes, it was very uncool. That's why we wouldn't do it. But we all get older.
CS: When did you assume the leadership of the Pink Floyd? Was it when Syd went?
RW: Yes, It was straight after we had split up with Syd. I'm sure you would get arguments about that from the other 'boys', but I simply took responsibility, largely because no-one else seemed to want to do it, and that is graphically illustrated by the fact that I started to write most of the material from then on, I'm perfectly happy being a leader. In fact, I know I can be an oppressive personality because I bubble with ideas and schemes, and in a way it was easier for the others simply to go along with me. We rarely used to see each other socially, although I used to get on with Nick Mason alright. For a limited time, in the early days of the group, we did mix socially. Because there is something rather appealing about a group together on the road. But that soon palls. And things like families make sure that cycle comes to an end.
CS: Was it difficult replacing Syd as a leader of the Pink Floyd? Did you feel very much in his shadow?
RW: Well, replacing Syd as leader of the Pink Floyd was OK. But Syd as a writer was a one-off. I could never aspire to his crazed insights and perceptions. In fact, for a long time I wouldn't have dreamt of claiming any insights whatsoever. But I'd always credit Syd with the connection he made to his personal unconscious and to the collective, group conscious. It's taken me fifteen years to get anywhere near there. But what enabled Syd to see things in the way he did? It's like why is an artist an artist? Artists simply do feel and see things in a different way to other people. In a way it's a blessing, but it can also be a terrible curse. There's a great deal of satisfaction to be earned from it but often it's also a terrible burden. In spite the fact that he was clearly out of control when making his two albums,some of the work is staggeringly evocative. Dave Gilmour and I worked with him on the first one [The Madcap Laughs]; there was a backlog of material he'd written before he flipped. It's the humanity of it all that is so impressive. It's about deeply felt values and beliefs and feelings. Maybe that's what Dark Side Of The Moon was aspiring to. A similar feeling. That's what I get from the musicians who I really care for: Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young - that intense passion.
CS: What is Syd Barrett doing now?
RW: I last saw him about ten years ago. But my mother still lives in Cambridge and I get to hear about him from time to time. He's not doing very much at all. What happened with Syd was that we were being managed by Andrew King and Peter Jenner of Blackhill Enterprises, for whom I still have a very soft spot. When Syd flipped I had this theory that we could go on with Syd still being a member of the group if he could become Brian Wilson and simply be a backroom boy. But Syd had other ideas: he wanted to get in two sax- players and a girl singer. To which we resolutely said no! But Peter and Andrew both thought it couldn't happen without Syd and stuck with him. Which is how the Pink Floyd came to be managed by Steve O'Rourke. Bryan Morrison was our agent when we were with Blackhill, and Steve O'Rourke was a booker who worked for him, Bryan Morrison wanted to sell the group to NEMS (Brian Epstein's Company), but we'd never had an official contract with him. So the night before the deal with NEMS was to go through, he persuaded us to sign a contract: "just a legality, boys - we won't be able to legally book the American tour otherwise, so you'll never tour the States." The next day he sold the agency. One lives and learns. Steve O'Rourke went to NEMS as part of a package. He ran a management department at NEMS, and when we left NEMS we took Steve with us. After all, he was about ten times cheaper than a Robert Stigwood - those were the days when managers would try and get forty per cent of the gross.
And it all worked very well for quite a long time. Steve is an effective hustler, a man in a man's world. And we should be jolly pleased with each other. And to give him his due Steve O'Rourke never gave up his job of trying to get me to fill stadiums. But his attitude was rather summed up when I saw him giving an interview on TV, when he was still managing me. He'd taken on the task of managing a British Le Mans racing team. Steve said (adopts Arthur Daley-like voice), Management is management. It doesn't matter whether it's a pop group, a motor-racing team or biscuits. I thought, 'Oh, you arsehole.' He'd obviously got a little carried away with his role.
CS: Why do you think Dark Side Of The Moon was such a colossally successful record?
RW: It's very well-balanced and well-constructed, dynamically and musically, and I think the humanity of its approach is appealing. It's satisfying. I think also that it was the first album of that kind. People often quote S F Sorrow by The Pretty Things as being from a similar mold - they were both done in the same studio at about the same time - but I think it was probably the first completely cohesive album that was made. A concept album, mate! I always thought it would be hugely successful. I had the same feelings about "The Wall". Towards the end of the studio work, at about the time I'd be putting the tracks together, there was a very good feeling of satisfaction on both records. You'd stand back from them and they'd each feel very complete. But of course, Dark Side Of The Moon finished the Pink Floyd off once and for all. To be that successful is the aim of every group. And once you've cracked it, it's all over. In hindsight, I think the Pink Floyd was finished as long ago as that.
CS: Apart from that, what were the main problems associated with such immense success?
RW: Mainly the one of what to do with all the money! You go through this thing where you think of all the good you could do with it by giving it away. But, in the end, you decide to keep it!
CS: How comfortable are you about making solo records? Does it concern you that you will probably not be as successful upon the same immense scale as the Pink Floyd?
RW: Yes, but it's a concern I try to resist. But I confess that I harbor a fantasy that there might be enough in my writing - because my writing is so passive - that has something to do with some sort of group unconscious that I might make another record that would appeal to millions. I always feel it is a kind of extraordinary coincidence that it happened twice with the Pink Floyd, with Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall.
CS: You didn't see that as a logical continuation?
RW: Well, no . I mean, yes I do, I see it very much as a logical continuation in terms of the writing involved. But the fact that those records got to far more than the 8 to 14-year-olds that are supposed to be the record market, that they both reached some part of human beings that made them rush out and buy them in unbelievable quantities, is extraordinary. And you can't explain it simply by the fact that each had a hit single and that they had some good tunes. There are masses and masses of records that have good tunes. But very occasionally you get a record that strikes some chord that transcends generation gaps. Rock 'n' Roll is growing up, and its original audience is getting older with it. And if you can provide stuff that is simulating enough for grown-ups to buy then they'll buy it.
CS: I find it interesting that you define your work as "passive": that certainly is one of its dominant qualities - it doesn't bludgeon you around the head.
RW: I wouldn't say the work is necessarily passive, but the act of the writing is extremely passive. And at certain points on each record that passivity seeps through. The activity is certainly passive. I never come steaming in here and say (Basil Fawlty- like voice), 'right, I'm going to write a song about Margaret Thatcher.' If I get up in the morning and I'm lying in the bath and I can feel myself going into a strange, detached, glazed- over state, then I know it's worth coming in here and sitting quietly with the biro and pad, and whatever instrument - well, it's always a piano or a guitar. And I just sit here until the song appears. I can write at almost any time of day. But it's almost never late at night. It can be difficult for the people who are around you, because you have to be very blank as far as anyone else is concerned.
CS: You were talking about how your "passive" writing comes from the unconscious. Do you read much philosophy or psychology?
RW: No. I'm quite interested in those areas but I was put off books early on, and I find it very difficult to read. As a child I never got into the habit of reading. I went through a period when I was a teenager of reading people like James Joyce, because it was hip to do so. Then I got a very basic grounding of what there was in literature that might be enjoyable. But now, if I'm sitting on the beach I'd rather be reading A Ship Must Die or something of the nature. I'm fond of those very involved English Second World War naval stories in the Hornblower tradition.
CS: You studied Architecture. Were you good at Art?
RW: Not at school, no. Now I can draw a bit. I feel quite strongly about education. I went to school in Cambridge, one of those grammar schools that Thatcher is going to bring back, where I was considered without question to be a complete twat at almost everything, particularly English. And the Art teacher was so ineffectual that he was practically not there at all. Most of the teachers were absolute swines, and the school was only concerned with University entrance, particularly Oxbridge. It was a real battery farm. I hated it. All they would do was look at your most obvious aptitude and cram you into that pigeon-hole. I found Physics and things like that quite easy to cope with and so I was pushed down that road. When I left school I was all set to go to Manchester University to do Mechanical Engineering. But suddenly the thought of another three years of the sixth form was more than I could stand. So I took a year off. My career choice was made by the National Institute of Industrial Psychology where I took a whole bunch of aptitude tests - so I was completely passive about that as well. They told me I would do well at Architecture, which didn't sound as dull as Mechanical Engineering. So I said OK. Then I had to learn to draw, because they wanted a portfolio of drawings for your interview.
CS: They didn't say anything about music?
RW: Oh no, they didn't spot that. But music is only mathematics anyway. It is another way of interpreting maths. Musical intervals are also mathematical intervals. If you double the frequency of a note it rises by an octave. We call it music, but our brain is going, Oh, that's twice as fast as that! But let me say that I never saw any music in maths. It was all complete drudgery to me. I was completely uninterested in it. I could never see the beauty of mathematical relationships. I started studying Architecture but they slung me out after two years for refusing to attend History of Architecture lectures. I was very bloshie. I must have been horrible to teach. But the History lecture that I came up against was very reactionary, so it was a fair battle. I said I wouldn't do exams because the guy refused to talk to me. He'd tell us to sit down and copy a drawing off a blackboard. And I asked him if he could explain why, because I couldn't see the point in copying something off a blackboard that he was copying of a textbook. It was just like school. I couldn't handle it.
I'd hoped I'd escaped all that. When you go to university, you expect to be treated like little grown -ups. But there are architects who are involved in natural materials and in domestic architecture, especially in America where there is that woodsy thing which has developed from the California A- frame mentality, which is very easy to sneer at but is actually very good. I mean (he touches the wooden frame of the mixing desk), this piece of mahogany here, for example: it would be very nice to be in this house for twenty years and watch its wear and tear. You can derive great pleasure from looking at a piece of wood if you live with it all the time. That's what is so attractive about bread-boards hanging in kitchens - they really look very nice as they begin to gradually get hacked and worn. There's something very nice about the human body slowly eroding a piece of timber. I always like pieces of wood that are worn from having had horses tethered to them and that have become lovely and smooth, allowing you to see the grain.
CS: There's a rather obvious connection to be made here- the architecture student who went to compose The Wall...
RW: Well, maybe. Maybe the architectural training to look at things helped me to visualize my feelings of alienation from rock 'n' roll audiences. Which was the starting point for The Wall. The fact that it then embodied an autobiographical narrative was kind of secondary to the main thing which was a theatrical statement in which I was saying, "Isn't this fucking awful? Here I am up onstage and there you all are down there and isn't it horrible! What the fuck are we all doing here?"
CS: I thought that, as a theatrical work, The Wall was marvelous. When I saw it at Earls Court, I thought it was the first rock 'n' roll show I'd seen that made full and proper use of one of those arenas.
RW: I put it together with Gerry Scarfe, who designed all the puppets and made the animation with me, and of course with Mark Fisher and Jonathan Park, who did all the detailed design work of the set. They designed the brick; they built the wall; they designed the man lifts that went up and down at the back so that people could actually build the thing. Mark designed the way it fell over, and Jonathan did all the engineering, Gerry's puppets and animation were half of the show. We were all working furiously up until the first night. And first time we had the wall up across the arena with some fill on it was four days before the first show. I went and walked all the way around the top row of seats at the back of the arena. And my heart was beating furiously and I was getting shivers right up and down my spine. And I thought it was so fantastic that people could actually see and hear something from everywhere they were seated. Because after the 1977 tour I became seriously deranged - or maybe arranged - about stadium gigs.
Because I do think they are awful. They are about statistics. For the public, it seems to me, the enjoyment comes from two things. I think it's partly that they are in the presence of the legend - whether it's Bruce Springsteen or another proven brand name doesn't really matter so long as it's the presence of someone you can identify as being 'legendary'. There's also the statistical thing of being able to say, Yeah, there were 85,000 of us here: you couldn't move. You couldn't get to the bar (guffaws with laughter). We all had to piss standing up, crushed together. It was fucking great!
And, of course, onstage and backstage all that's going on is, Do you know how much we've grossed, boys, how many T-shirts we've sold? That's absolutely it. That's all it's about - money. And you go down in the Guiness Book Of Records for having played before the biggest audiences ever blah-blah-blah. And...oh dear, fuck that, I mean, alright, I can understand that motivation. But I don't like it.
CS: When was the first time you ever played stadiums?
CS: How did that actually feel? Which was the first one that you ever played?
RW: I honestly can't remember, (pause). We did Anaheim, JFK, Philadelphia...a whole load of them. And the final one was the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Before that we did Soldiers' Field in Chicago. Before the gig started I went up and stood on the bleachers at the back of the stage and looked down at the audience. And Steve O'Rourke came up and stood beside me and he said, Guess how many people are in here? I said, I dunno. And he said, sixty-three thousand. But by this time I'd done enough big shows to know what sixty thousand people looked like, And I looked down and said, No. There's at least eighty thousand, if not a hundred thousand. He said, I'll go and check. And the box office told him it was completely sold out to an audience of sixty-three thousand.
So we immediately rented a helicopter, a photographer and a attorney and photographed it from the air, with affidavits from the helicopter pilot and the attorney, sworn, sealed and delivered. And it turned out that there were ninety-five thousand people there. So where were the thirty-two thousand people? Six hundred and forty thousand dollars!
CS: But I heard that the rest of the Floyd wanted to do The Wall tour in stadiums. And that was one of the reasons you ultimately knocked the Pink Floyd on the head...
RW: Yes, in 1980 when we finished in New York, Larry Maggid, a Philadelphia promoter - I remember him promoting us there at The Electric Factory when we were supporting Savoy Brown - offered us a guaranteed million dollars a show plus expenses to go and do two dates at JFK Stadium with The Wall. To truck straight from New York, where we'd been playing Nassau Coliseum, to Philadelphia. And (laughs) I wouldn't do it. I had to go through the whole story with the other members. I said, "You've all read my explanations of what The Wall is about. It's three years since we did that last stadium and I saw then that I would never do one again. And The Wall is entirely sparked off by how awful that was and how I didn't feel that the public or the band or anyone got anything out of it that was worthwhile. And that's why we've produced this show strictly for arenas where everyone does get something out of it that is worthwhile. Blah-blah-blah. And, I ain't fuckin' going!" So there was alot of talk about whether Andy Bown could sing my part. Oh, you may laugh - this is what's happening now, isn't it? And in the end they bottled out. They didn't have the balls to go through with it at that point.
CS: So that was presumably a crucial incident in terms of the ultimate break-up of the group.
RW: Ummm...I didn't see it as that at the time. It was just the way the band was. I always made those decisions, so it didn't seem strange at all. Now, of course, you can see the irony of it. But at the time it seemed perfectly natural.
CS: In fact, the live Wall show did seem like a real piece of conceptual art, which would have been impossible to reproduce in a larger setting.
RW: Certainly that's how I saw it. There was an attempt made to put it on to video, and I have consistently stamped on any moves to get that video out because it does not do justice to what was a very theatrical event. Maybe in twenty years time, as sort of archive material, I might be prepared to release it. But I quite like the fact that the people who went to the shows copped it for what it meant to be, where it was meant to be, and nobody has been allowed to sell a third-rate, tacky version on video.
CS: Of course, almost from the very start the visuals, the total presentation, were part of the Pink Floyd's live presence.
RW: It's always been there. I remember the Games For May concert we did at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in May 1967. I was working in this dank, dingy basement off the Harrow Road, with an old Ferrograph. I remember sitting there recording edge tones off cymbals for the performance - later that became the beginning of Saucerful Of Secrets. In those days you could get away with stuff like chasing clockwork toy cars around the stage with a microphone. For Games For May I also made "bird" noises recorded on the old Ferrograph at half- speed, to be played in the theater's foyer as the audience was coming in. I was always interested in the possibilities of rock 'n' roll, how to fill the space between the audience and the idea with more than just guitars and vocals.
CS: Then there was the giant inflatable pig in 1977 that slipped its moorings at Battersea Power Station and was spotted by an airline pilot at 40,000 feet.
RW: The pig was specifically for the concerts that went with the Animals record. Actually, I think the 'boys' thought I'd gone the way of Syd when I said that we needed a giant inflatable family and a load of inflatable animals.
CS: You've always been perceived as a bit miserable...
RW: I don't think the humor of the work has ever really escaped in the way it might have. The political subject matter on top of it has been generally dour. I suppose I have always appeared as a rather melancholy person. But I'm not. My situation is like the opposite of the cliché of the comedian who when he's not performing is a miserable sod. Hopefully this Radio KAOS show will have a similar effect to The Wall. It's the same team, although Gerry Scarfe isn't involved in this one. I've toyed with the idea of playing in a legitimate theatre but I've shied away from it because I suspect that to me rock 'n' roll would seem just as uncomfortable in a 1,500 seater with a proscenium arch as it does in an 80,000 seat stadium. The arena feels like a good place to be.
You can put a decent-sized sound system in and make it loud without hurting people. It's going to be a traveling radio show. So it will be like being in Radio KAOS with Jim Ladd providing links between all the songs, and my Bleeding Heart band being the live band inside the radio station. We hope to have a dialogue with the audience who'll be able to make calls to the stage from phone booths in the auditorium.
CS: What is the central theme of the Radio KAOS album?
RW: Included in this program is a map of the northern hemisphere, showing all the western listening devices, where they are and what they are, and including an exploded map of South Wales where BILLY, the main character, comes from, and an exploded map of LA, where he goes to. It's a bit like the map in the frontispiece of Winnie The Pooh, in that it has dotted lines showing Billy's route, where great-uncle David's house is, and where Radio KAOS is in Laurel Canyon. It is lend credence to the idea that in there somewhere is a story, if you care to search for it.
To answer your question of what the main themes of the record are, Ian Ritchie, who produced the record, is quite distressed that I didn't call it Home, which for a long time was the working title, because one of the things that the record is about is what home is. Is home keeping out of the weather? Being reasonably well fed? Being safe? Is home doing those things in the context of a family? We all think we understand what we mean by the idea of home. But is home the most important thing to a human being in the sense of belonging to a certain thing or person? Having that sense of security and the feeling you are not going to be moved on or blown to pieces? The feeling that you have the right to a continuous existence within the context of the society to which you belong from the moment you are born to the moment you die in order to arrange yourself into a good shape to die in?
I don't know. I know there is a utopian idea that the possibility exists for communities to exist where people try to look after one another, and co-operate with one another, in the hope that they can get from the cradle to the grave, and at some point along the way feel fulfilled. And that we can reduce the percentage possibility of some truly appalling trauma, be it the Bomb, AIDS, a minor invasion, or simply being told you have no worth, we don't need you, piss off. I just feel we could be doing a lot better than we are if we off-load the idea that the only route to progress, the cause of human happiness, is competition. I'm concerned with the idea in this piece that rampant, unrestricted market forces are trampling over everybody's fucking lives and making the world a horrible place to live in and also increasing the potential risk of us all blowing ourselves up because we've become so frustrated in our efforts to compete with each other. Which is why I have great concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and why I think it essential that Europe becomes a nuclear-free zone. Because one of these people who think they're not getting a fair slice of the cake is going to get hold of these weapons and fucking well let them off. What's Reagan going to do if one of his frigates is blown up by Gaddafi using a nuclear weapon? I hate to think. They've already gone out and quite happily bombed Tripoli. In the preamble to this record I talk about that, because one of the other parallel concerns in the record is the idea of politics as entertainment. The idea that by isolating the high- profile enemy like Gaddafi you can entertain the electorate into polling booths to put the X in the right place is what I call the soap opera of state.
CS: Your first record after Pink Floyd was The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking. How did that sell?
RW: The record sold six hundred thousand copies. But the Hitchhiker tour sold appallingly in Europe. Even in London I had to use almost all the money in advertising to get people to buy tickets. I canceled loads of shows. And my budget was based on selling out loads of shows. So I was about four hundred grand down at the end.
CS: You had that tax problem with the Pink Floyd. Did that severely hit you?
RW: Oh yes, It was a company called Norton Warburg, run by a guy called Andrew Warburg. The idea was to take gross income and run it through a finance company to protect it from the immediate payment of tax on the grounds that it was being used to finance venture capital situation. It was all legal. But what Norton Warburg did was to move money from account to account and take huge management fees each time they moved it. We were going bankrupt. We lost a couple of million quid - nearly everything we'd made from Dark Side Of The Moon. Then we discovered the Inland Revenue might come and ask for us 83 per cent of the money we had lost. Which we didn't have. So we had gone from fourteen-years-olds with ten quid guitars and of being rich and famous, and made the dream come true with Dark Side Of The Moon, and then, being greedy and trying to protect it, we'd lost it all. So on those grounds we decided to go abroad to make the next record, The Wall, and try and get some cash to pay this potential tax bill. Mind you, Rick Wright left in the middle of that, in mid-1979. That was the decision of all three of us. I see that he's back with the others now, to make it all seem kosher, like a proper group. But he's on a wage.
CS: There was a story that I heard that was used to illustrate the differences between yourself and the rest of the Pink Floyd. Supposedly, during the making of The Wall, the rest of the members were in the studio somewhere, whilst you stood on a hill in the south of France, playing your instrument which was bounced by satellite into the studio.
RW: That's apocryphal, I'm afraid.
CS: You say you felt very satisfied after completing Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall. But do you generally feel reasonably pleased with what you've done?
RW: I think Radio KAOS is some of the best stuff I've ever done. Pros And Cons was bitty. The Wall I was very happy with. The Final Cut was absolutely misery to make, although I listened to it of late and I rather like a lot of it. But I don't like my singing on it. You can hear the mad tension running through it all. If you're trying to express something and being prevented from doing it because you're so uptight....It was a horrible time.
We were all fighting like cats and dogs. We were finally realizing - or accepting, if you like - that there was no band. It was really being thrust upon us that we were not a band and had not been in accord for a long time. Not since 1975, when we made Wish You Were Here. Even then there were big disagreements about content and how to put the record together.
CS: When did you realize it was finally the end?
RW: Well, there are those who contend it's not over, of course (laughs wryly). But making The Final Cut was misery. We didn't work together at all. I had to do it more or less single-handed, working with Michael Kamen, my co-producer. That's one of the few things that the 'boys' and I agreed about. But no-one else would do anything on it. It sold three million copies, which wasn't a lot for the Pink Floyd. And as a consequence, Dave Gilmour went on record as saying, "There you go: I knew he was doing it wrong all along." But it's absolutely ridiculous to judge a record solely on sales. If you're going to use sales as the sole criterion, it makes Grease a better record than Graceland. Anyway, I was in a greengrocer's shop , and this woman of about forty in a fur coat came up to me. She said she thought it was the most moving record she had ever heard. Her father had also been killed in World War II, she explained. And I got back into my car with my three pounds of potatoes and drove home and thought, good enough.
CS: What was your favourite period of the Pink Floyd?
RW: It's hard to remember that far back. But I think probably pre- Dark Side Of The Moon. In those days it was a band. I'm sure that at that point we all agreed about the same things, like, We'll only play the new material. We won't play any of the old material anymore. We'll only do this album and the one before, and that's it. There was a certain integrity and what was important was the work. And that is still exactly how I feel now, although I do confess I do old tunes onstage now. Nevertheless I feel exactly the same about the work. I just don't (laughs) have to argue with anyone about it now. I can just get on with it.
CS: What is your artistic purpose?
RW: There is no purpose. We do whatever we do. You either blow your brains out or get on with something.