Still Waters runs deep

By Mark McCord
Published February 28, 2007

The Washington Times

HONG KONG — Few rock stars past their prime think twice about taking their biggest hits from decades gone by on the road to extend their careers.

For Roger Waters, the enigmatic former songwriter for that most willfully erudite of ’70s bands, Pink Floyd, it took more than 20 years for such an idea to sink in and for him to take the megaselling masterpiece “Dark Side of the Moon” on tour.

“It had never crossed my mind at all,” Mr. Waters, 63, says by telephone from Australia, part way through a jaunt that has seen him play his magnum opus on stages around the world for the first time since he quit the British band in 1985.

In the end, it took a proposal from the organizers behind Formula One racing, who wanted him to re-form Pink Floyd for a gala show at the French Grand Prix last year, to get him to even consider it.

“I’m glad the French thought about it because it’s been great to play,” he enthuses. “I love the music, I love playing it — I think it’s terrific.”

The sprawling “Dark Side of the Moon” tour, currently passing through Asia before moving on to South America, has seen Mr. Waters re-create, almost note for note, the 1972 album that spent more time on the British and American charts than any other.

With sales of 34 million so far, the album that spawned the iconic tracks “Money” and “Great Gig in the Sky” still sells a healthy half-million copies each year in the U.S. alone.

The show, a two-hour extravaganza that includes hits from other albums, such as the controversial “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2,” has played to full houses despite the absence of the Pink Floyd name in any of its marketing.

It comes at a turning point for Mr. Waters — who for much of the past 20 years has remained largely elusive as frictions over the dissolution of Pink Floyd have ground on. In the past year, he’s been seen on TV and in the press expressing regret for his part in the series of ugly legal wrangles and personal spats with his former band mates.

Most important, though, he showed he’d buried his hatchets by taking the stage with guitarist Dave Gilmore, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright for the first time since the split at 2005’s Live 8 gig in London.

“I felt it was very important for me to do Live 8, and I thought it was great to get onstage with the other three guys. I had nothing but positive feelings about that,” Mr. Waters says.
Another positive is that the experience rekindled his friendship with his old friend Mr. Mason, who along with the late psychedelic icon Sid Barrett helped Mr. Waters form Pink Floyd in the late 1960s.

As for his friendship with Mr. Gilmore — the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist with whom Mr. Waters shared a love-hate rivalry — he is less equivocal.

“I think it would be very cordial if we ever spoke to each other, but we don’t inhabit the same world socially,” he says. “Rick and I were never really friends, and Dave and I were never really friends, so the fact that we are still no longer really friends is kind of irrelevant to all of our lives.”

Which all boils down to a full-blown Pink Floyd reunion looking more and more unlikely.

“I would do something else (like Live 8) in a heartbeat — but if it was for anything more than a few songs, then I think there would be difficulties,” he adds.

The often prickly relationship between Mr. Waters and Mr. Gilmore was one of rock’s great rivalries gone wrong; two talented but egocentric characters whose competitive natures helped them produce some of rock’s greatest moments.

But following the split, Mr. Gilmore took the rest of the band on the road as Pink Floyd while Mr. Waters seethed and issued legal writs to prevent it.

The rows have since been settled, although not in Mr. Waters’ favor.

Still, time has been good to him and his contrition — displayed notably at the time of Mr. Barrett’s death last year — has given Mr. Waters a chance to redress the ogrelike image he’d acquired.

“I don’t think any of us came out of the years from 1985 with any credit, really,” he says. “It was a bad, negative time, really. And I regret my part in that negativity.

“I was actually more attached to the philosophy and politics of Pink Floyd than the others were — certainly more so than David was. In a way, whatever I did I did in a way to protect the integrity of what I saw as being important about the work that the four of us did together.

“I realize now that move was doomed to failure … and why should I have imposed my feelings about the work and what it was worth on the others if they didn’t feel the same? I was wrong in attempting to do that.”

The resolution of some of the “schisms” (as he calls them) of the past 20 years has given Mr. Waters the latitude to reapproach his work during the Floyd years. He has, for instance, been reworking his brutal 1979 observation on the decaying nature of fame, the ambitious “The Wall,” adapting it for what he hopes will be a Broadway theatrical production.

And then there’s the “Dark Side of the Moon” tour.

After seeing Mr. Gilmore and the rest of Pink Floyd tour the album in the late 1990s and a raft of other bands — including American jam band Phish — make elements of the album an integral part of their live set, there is a sense in which Mr. Waters is reclaiming the songs for their writer.

“Certainly, there is a little bit of that feeling,” he says, “but it’s a good feeling to stand and sing those songs. I feel a very direct communication with the audience, and they do with me when I do the show.”