How did it go again? “We dahn nee nur edercayshun…” Yes, that was it! “We dahn nee nur fort corntrawel” It’s good to know that in these days of silly disposable pop rubbish, there remains one man brave and brilliant enough to address the Really Big Questions. Questions, suggests Tom Hibbert, like…
Who the hell does ROGER WATERS think he is?
“So how’s Syd these days?” If one happened to bump up against an existing member of the legendary rock combo Pink Floyd in some “social situation” (cocktails at Brands Hatch, probably), that’s the only thing one would be inclined to say. “How’s Syd?” one would go and the existing member of Pink Floyd – whether Dave Gilmour or Nick Mason or the other one – would, no doubt, blink briefly, pop a cheese’n’pineapple-savoury-on-a-toothpick into his mouth, bray “What? Cor! Frightfully good, these canapes!” and wander off to hob-nob with Nigel Mansell or somebody really interesting.
“Syd” is, of course, Syd Barrett, original member of Pink Floyd, beautiful boy who wrote extraordinary things like Apples And Oranges and Astronomy Domine and flipped his cork and disappeared. But there is another original member, no longer in the legendary rock experience that was “Floyd”, who appears to be a degree off beam: Roger Waters. He’s the one who invented giant inflatable pigs, the one who tortured schoolyards of children by making them sing his catchphrase (“We dahn nee nur edercayshun, we dahn nee nur fort corntrawel”) all out of tune, the one who once recorded a “song” called Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave Grooving With A Pict, the one whose doomy sound “anthems” about “alienation” and how awful everything is have worried listeners all over the world for several years.
In the guest lounge of a genteel hotel in the picturesque town of Stockbridge, Hampshire – where Waters has a home because the fishing is excellent down here, apparently – the lofty rock icon sits gazing at the cover of an ancient Country Life, a pint glass of local ale before him. He’s got jeans on. He’s got long hair. And he’s wearing exactly the same T-shirt (well, it’s a different shade – pink not black – but of identical cut) that he was sporting on the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1969 LP Umma Gumma. One has to ask. “How’s Syd?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him for 10 years… more than 10 years, probably. I don’t know what went wrong with Syd because I’m not an expert in whatever it is, what they call schizophrenia. I don’t know a lot about it. Syd was extraordinarily charming and attractive and alive and talented but… whatever happened to him, happened to him.”
Roger Waters is thought, by many, to be the gloomiest man in rock. The Wall was gloomy and his solo LPs, The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking (1983) and Radio K.A.O.S. (1987), were gloomy, and his latest work, Amused To Death, is frightfully gloomy. Waters’ voice drones along to warn us that: a) there’s a squaggly Jeff Beck guitar solo coming up any minute; b) everything is horrible, especially television, war, the entire universe and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
In recording Amused To Death, Waters has utilised a snazzy new scientific recording concept that’s called “Q Sound” (nothing to do, I hasten to add, with this magazine, which should immediately sue) and with this natty new technique, if the listener sticks his/her head in the correct place betwixt the speakers, all sorts of amazing things happen! Isn’t technology fab? I tried this at home. It didn’t work that well because I have a deafness problem, but standing and forking my neck at an uncomfortably angle, I could clearly detect (I think) the sound of a peacock rattling pencils inside an old electric kettle (or something). Marvellous! More discernible still was the gloomy groan of some who was saying how ghastly everything is… Roger Waters folds his arms and defies his beer as I compose a second question. Which is: “Are you or are you not the gloomiest man in rock?”
“You can’t expect me to take a question like that seriously,” he says, in his posh, soft voice. “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it is stupid.” Immediately I warm to the man. He has such a chip on his shoulder it’s a wonder his arm doesn’t drop off.
“I’ve been reading the nonsense that’s been written about Amused To Death. Adam Sweeting [music journalist who said, in The Guardian, that the LP wasn’t much cop], well, he’s a complete prat. Always was, always will be.” I protest. Adam Sweeting is not a prat; he’s entitled to his opinion and a very nice man to boot, I say. Waters will have none of this.
“Sweeting is not a nice man. I don’t know him but I know him. He says I write twaddle. He’s wrong! He’s one taco short of a Mexican meal. Sweeting is not the only arsehole: there’s other cunts like Andy Gill and Charles Shaar Murray.” Andy Gill and Charles Shaar Murray. They write for Q.
“Do they? Who gives a fuck who they write for when they can’t fucking write?” This man is argumentative. This man is, er, several bass guitar short of a decent tune. “It is extraordinary that Andy Gill and Adam Sweeting and Charles Shaar Murray didn’t notice The Wall. They are supposed to be music journalists; how could they not have noticed this extraordinary well constructed, deep and meaningful and moving and important piece of work? What the fuck’s the matter with these arseholes? And now, with Amused To Death, they’ve missed another one, Adam Sweeting and Andy Gill and the other fucker and all the rest, they should be in hospital. I am confident that I am really clever and that I am really good at what I do so I’m not going to have prats like Sweeting and Andy Gill and Shaar bloody Murray telling me that I’m no good because they’re wrong. Amused To Death is fucking, fucking good. Isn’t it?” He fixes me with a steely eye and I say that Amused To Death is probably magnificent but I can’t really tell because, due to my “technical problems”, I cannot appreciate the superb and magnificent benefits of “Q Sound”. He accepts this weedy excuse. He says: “Well, anyway, I am one of the best five writers to come out of English music since the War.”
Let us turn the clock back. Let us go a-whizzing away to the 1960s when the world was young and Pink Floyd were wearing preposterous neckerchiefs and singing about Arnold Layne, a character given to stealing women’s underwear, on drugs in clubs like UFO. What grand times those must have been.
“No, they weren’t,” says Mister Gloomy. “I don’t want to go back to those times at all. There wasn’t anything ‘grand’ about it. We were laughable. We were useless. We couldn’t play at all so we had to do something stupid and ‘experimental’.” This is too much. Pink Floyd’s first LP, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, is an absolute monument of, er, a record that’s quite good.
“Well, that was Syd. Syd was a genius. But I wouldn’t want to go back to playing Interstellar Overdrive for hours and hours.” Waters doesn’t seem to like being in pop groups very much at all. In 1973, his group recorded Dark Side Of The Moon and billions of people bought it (even though it was useless) and, naturally, this commercial success cheesed off Roger enormously.
“We’d cracked it. We’d won the pools. What are you supposed to do after that? Dark Side Of The Moon was the last willing collaboration: after that, everything with the band was like drawing a teeth; 10 years of hanging on to the married name and not having the courage to get divorced, to let go; 10 years of bloody hell. It was all just terrible. Awful. Terrible.”
Yes, Waters, the Mister Glum who refuses even to sniff at his brimming beaker of beer, is the gloomiest man in rock. He’s enough to depress a gadfly. Perhaps I should jolly up the proceedings by telling you, soaraway-twingo-bingo-Sun- style… 20 Things (Trimmed Down To A Handy, Fun-Packed Eight) You Didn’t Know About Roger Waters, probably:
* He doesn’t much care for Radio One! “Radio One won’t play my fucking single (What God Wants) because they know it’s no good. They know it’s not as good as Erasure or Janet fucking Jackson. They know that the British public shouldn’t be listening to it. It makes my blood boil! If you’re not 17 with a baseball hat on back to front, they don’t want to know.”
* He’s crackers!
“It is very important, in our current predicament, that we try to give each other the chance to confront our feelings about things. There’s some branches of the medical profession that now agree with me, saying that it’s vital to hang on to what you felt when you were 16 or 17 or four, retaining a grasp on that stuff we had when we were children, when we saw the picture of the world in bright colours and strong sensations before it was turned into a grey, uncaring mush by Adam Sweeting and Andrew Lloyd Webber.”
* He doesn’t (unlike other people) much care for war!
“What irritates Adam Sweeting and Charles Shaar Murray and Andy Gill and all you journalists is that I gloomily and boringly enough find that my concern with war as big business doesn’t diminish as the years go by. I feel just as gloomy about it at the age of 49 as I did when I was 17. I’m sure that my hatred of was has spurred on by the death of my father (killed as a pilot in World War II). I find myself compelled to feel for everyone’s father or son who is killed in a war – and for what?”
* He’s crackers!
“It’s important for people to grasp sensations, like the kind I get when I am fishing. Some of us are gatherers and some of us are hunters. I’m a hunter. I need the mud of river oozing between my toes. It’s like Proust.”
* He doesn’t much care for Sinead O’Connor! (Ms O’Connor appeared at Waters’ 1990 performance of The Wall in Berlin, in aid of Leonard Cheshire’s Memorial Fund For Disaster Relief.)
“It was very, very hard work organising that Wall concert but everyone was fabulous to work with – Bryan Adams, Van Morrison, Cyndi Lauper, bloody brilliant. All brilliant. Except for Sinead O’Connor. Oh, God! I have never ever met anybody who is so self-involved and unprofessional and big-headed and unpleasant. She is so far up her own bum it’s scary. With The Wall, she was so worried that there weren’t any other (adopts Irish “brogue”) ‘young people on the show’. I and everybody else were old farts in her opinion so she was worried that she was doing something that wasn’t ‘street’ enough. And because it wasn’t ‘street’ enough, she came up with this brilliant idea: she said that I should employ Ice-T or one of those people to re-work one of my songs as a rap number! I am not joking! And neither was she fucking joking! That’s the sad thing – she was serious! And then a couple of months after the show, when the record was out, she did an interview on American television, millions of viewers, and she rubbished the whole thing, said the Wall concert was a load of wank. I don’t give a fuck what she though about it but she should have kept her fucking mouth shut because it could only hurt the charity, the memorial fund and everything that Leonard (Cheshire) had done. She doesn’t understand anything. She’s just a silly little girl. You can’t just lie in the corner and shave your bloody head and stick up your arse and occasionally pull it out to go (“brogue”) ‘Oh, I tink this is wrong and dat is wrong’ and burst into tears.”
* He doesn’t much care for “stadium rock”!
“Rock’n’roll in stadiums is genuinely awful. These concerts are just like Tupperware parties – held in honour of the Great God Tupper – with 50,000 people, only they don’t buy Tupperware, they buy hot dogs and T-shirts and occasionally look up to watch those disgusting video screens that are all out of sync and make you feel sick and torture you. It’s funny how people try to work their way around the greed of it all. Like U2 whose rationale is (feigned Irish accent) ‘Ooh, we have to play in stadiums ‘cos all our fans want to come and see us’. Well, fine; give your fans a really shitty show in a stadium – but for fuck’s sake don’t charge them 25 quid for it!”
* He’s a wag!
“Michael Jackson performs in stadiums, too – but he’s not doing it for himself, he’s doing it to save all the little children in the world.”
* He’s crackers! But not that crackers because he doesn’t much care for Andrew Lloyd Webber! (There’s a lyric on Amused To Death which runs thus: “Lloyd Webber’s awful stuff/Runs for years and years/An earthquake hits the theatre/But the operetta lingers/Then the piano lid comes down/And breaks his fucking fingers.”)
“Andrew Lloyd Webber sickens me. He’s in your face all the time and what he does is nonsense. It has no value. It is shallow, derivative rubbish, all of it, and it makes me very gloomy. Actually, I’ve never been to one of his shows but having put that slightly savage joke on the record, I though I’d better listen to some Andrew Lloyd Webber and I was staying in a rented house in America this summer and the people who owned the house had a whole bunch of his rubbish so I though I’d listen to Phantom Of The Opera and I put the record on and I was slightly apprehensive. I though, Christ, I hope this isn’t good – or even mediocre. I was not disappointed. Phantom Of The Opera is absolutely fucking horrible from start to finish.”
Yes, the music of “Sir” Andrew Lloyd Webber is rather horrible – but has not Waters, in condemning Phantom Of The Opera as “fucking fifteenth rate from beginning to end”, as he does, missed something? Has he not noticed something uncanny about Phantom Of The Opera, the title song, something about the opening notes that go “DAAAA-da-da-da-da-da”?
“Yes, Echoes!” he booms. (Echoes was an LP-side-long, and rather-good- actually, track on Pink Floyd’s Meddle.) “Echoes. Yeah the beginning of that bloody Phantom song is from Echoes. (He sings) DAAAA-da-da-da-da-da. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. It’s the same time signature – it’s 12/8 – and it’s the same structure and it’s the same notes and it’s the same everything. Bastard. It probably is actionable. It really is! But I think that life’s too long to bother with suing Andrew fucking Lloyd Webber. I think that might make me really gloomy.”
Waters has spent many years of late in a suing situation. This is because what he does not much care for most of all is the new so-called Pink Floyd. In 1983, after the Final Cut LP, Waters flounced from the band. Four years later, the others, Gilmour, Mason and Wright, assembled, called themselves Pink Floyd, played lots of Waters songs on stages before huge and enthusiastic audiences, and made pots of money. Meanwhile, Waters toured to promote Radio K.A.O.S. but he wasn’t called Pink Floyd so nobody gave a hoot. This made Roger gloomy. Lengthy litigation ensued. The animosity lingers.
“When those people went out calling themselves Pink Floyd, it made me very, very gloomy. And it made them very happy. Well, I don’t know if it did make them happy. I don’t think they are happy, actually. You should ask them. Ask them: ‘Are you happy? You sold out. You sold out everything. Did it make you happy?’ I mean, how can they find it within themselves to go on stage and do my songs – songs from The Wall? I wrote The Wall as an attack on stadium rock – and there’s ‘Pink Floyd’ making money out of it by playing it in stadiums! Oh well, that’s for them to live with. They have to bear the cross of that betrayal. They have to live with the denial of what the work was about. But when all that nonsense started, it made me fucking gloomy. I stood by a river and stared at myself in the water. Pathetic, I said. They despoiled my creations and there was nothing I could do about it.
“My one pathetic victory was that they had to put testicles on the pig (ie the blow-up pig he designed for the cover of the Animals LP, the pig that broke loose from its moorings at Battersea power station and ran amok through the Home Counties’ skies). If the pig had been exactly the same as the pig that I designed, I could have stopped them using it in their shows. So they put balls on my pig. Fuck them. Gilmour and Mason now own the name ‘Pink Floyd’. They keep it in a box.”
Waters chuckles a chuckle born of loathing and self-pity. If only I had a shiny sixpence, I might press it into the old man’s palm. Earlier in this conversation, Waters “pointed out” that he was one of the five best writers of music since the War. So who could possibly rank above him, I wonder? With furrowed brow he ponders the question. “John Lennon,” he says. “I’m trying to think,” he says. “Er, I can’t think of anybody else. You see, I don’t much like listening to records. I’m a bit isolationist and insular. I’d rather be fishing. The list of great writers is very, very short but I am definitely in it. Er, who else is there that’s better than me? I really don’t know. Freddie Mercury, maybe…”
Roger Waters stares into his untouched pint pot. Then he picks it up, apparently toying with the idea of putting it to his lips. He smiles to himself and then he grins at me. He does not take a drink. Careful, as they say, with that axe, Eugene…