Roger Waters is much more at peace now than he was 25 years ago, almost echoing Bob Dylanís 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 Shantanu Datta.
Q: So, at last, India.
A: 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. Weíve all grown up singing We Don't Need No Education.
A: Really? Oh yes, I can see youíve brought along your record. Itís pretty old, more than 20 years, maybe?
A: 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?
A: 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 didnít have any show, no quadraphonic sound, just Donís 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?
A: 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?
A: 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 itís never too late to grow up.
Q: Whatís so compelling in the world today that is forcing you to write again?
A: 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. Itís funny you ask me that, for I ran into Nick Mason on holiday a few weeks ago and we arranged to have dinner.
Q: You mean, your former Floydmate with whom you shared a very deep friendship?
A: Yes, we were very close and we got estranged when the Floyd split up.
Q: Isn't he godfather to your son?
A: Yes, my elder son. So we were having dinner, Nick and I, and we were talking. In the light of everything thatís 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?
A: 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 itís fresh, a revisiting of the feelings. And the anxiety or angst never goes away. Thereís a new song I am performing this time. Itís called Flickering Flame. Itís partly about part of the journey that I have made towards the freedom of contentment. It has bookends and it starts like this:
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 very close.
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 donít know... Iím rambling - but thatís my work, it is kind of rambling. Thatís what I do. Thatís 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?
A: No, itís usually together.
Q: Each Small Candle is about the individual, about how one candle can light up a dark corner.
A: 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 donít 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, Iíll have to give his royalty to Amnesty, I guess that would be a good choice.
Q: Will you be performing this song?
A: Yes, I will. Actually, I have been doing it as the last song. And a lot of people have said, "No, you canít do that. Youíve 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 thatís what Pink Floyd would do in the 70s.
A: 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. Itís 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."
A: It sounds like (mine is) a similar idea.
Q: Tell us something about Syd. What was he like?
A: 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 í68 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. Itís 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 donít open ourselves up to the possibility of discovering where our limits are, we never do anything. And in some ways itís 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?
A: 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.
A: 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?
A: David and I havenít 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.
A: Yes. I must say that it was pretty poor.
Q: OK. Thatís all. Thank you very much for your time.
A: Thank you, it was a pleasure talking to you.