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Roger Waters: A Brief Glimpse into a Tortured Soul
“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 wanna find out what's behind these cold eyes, you'll just have to claw your way through this disguise!” You may remember this as the cold invitation to Pink Floyd's rock opera The Wall , specifically the song “In The Flesh?”, an album which was influenced most of all by Roger Waters, like many of the Floyd albums beforehand.
Roger Waters, born in London in 1943 to a father who was a member of the Communist Party and a more passive mother (though hinted at as being over-protective), lost his father as a baby when he was killed as a soldier in the British Army upon settling down from his activism days. Waters grew without a father figure, which became much of the focus in The Wall .
Just before forming Pink Floyd, Waters met Nick Mason and Rick Wright in college, having been childhood friends with Syd Barrett and David Gilmour already in Cambridge. Being relatively lackluster in college (as most artists were), Waters took off with Mason and eventually met up with Barrett and Rick Wright to form Pink Floyd, with Syd Barrett becoming the front-runner of the band, helping to establish the band's psychedelic sound and nature. Unfortunately, this proved to be too much for Barrett, as his own psychedelia and pressure overcame him as he succumbed to mental illness from too many bad trips and other issues, many of them most likely stemmed from the sudden rise to fame after The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and the ensuing Saucer Full of Secrets . He reportedly stood on stage during a concert in the late 60s, just standing on stage with his guitar around his neck and his arms dangling uselessly. Due to his issues, Barrett had to leave the band. Gilmour replaced him, with much disturbing resentment on Barrett's part. He even often stood in the audience from time to time, eyeing Gilmour angrily as he performed as if to say, “That was my band.”
Waters took charge of the band for the most part, producing lyrics for the Floyd's next albums up to Atom Heart Mother . The band continued to experience success in its career. Dark Side of the Moon became the band's key to success in America in the early 70s (with Alan Parsons as the sound engineer) and Waters's lyrics on songs like “Money” caused an explosion in the charts. Waters allegedly became harder to work with after this point, especially according to Gilmour.
Having felt the departure of Barrett harshly, Waters's personal connection influenced the album Wish You Were Here , an essential ode to Barrett, with a sincere song composed regarding his fall and loss called “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, which was split into two parts in the beginning and end of the album. Barrett apparently showed up to a studio recording of the song, Waters spotting him in the background, unrecognizable because of a bald head and jumping up and down eccentrically while brushing his teeth. It was apparent his psychosis had taken control, sadly.
With Waters essentially being the new leading figure of the band next to Gilmour, both had considerable creative conflicts in their next albums, still working on Animals together, an album mostly based on the novel Animal Farm by George Orwell, with Gilmour himself producing the lyrics and composition on “Dogs”, my personal favorite on the album. The album focused on the main animals featured in Orwell's novel, dogs, pigs and sheep, and showed a large literary interest on the part of Waters and the rest of the band.
Once The Wall came, it was obvious Waters wanted to explore his own past in a semi-autobiographical form, and he revealed much of his own demons and personal life in the LP's musical-like storyline. The album was initially created as a result of financial issues the band was facing, and Waters's character Pink was inspired by his own life. The album follows Pink in his endeavors in both drug-addiction and his psychological issues with fame, money, and even his mother and especially the lack of a father. This album can be considered the closest to an autobiography Waters would ever produce beside the ensuing Final Cut. Gilmour of course contributed to the songwriting, but Waters, in his own increasingly exasperated frustration, considered letting Rick Wright go from the band for lack of contribution. Gilmour helped produce songs like “Comfortably Numb” and “Young Lust” on the album, providing the lyrics and vocals for both, but at this time the tension between he and Waters was growing to the boiling point (made very apparent in their recorded concert at certain points), and Gilmour claims it was one of the last times the two could really work together without overwhelming conflict.
The Wall was instigated by the idea Waters had of constructing a wall between himself and his fans who often grew unruly during performances, and he even drew up some images which inspired him, drawings Waters claims he still has stored. This personal need for isolation and then its ultimate pain-buildup became the main story arc for the entire album.
Waters's lyrics on 1979's The Wall are the most profound, in my opinion, of what he's produced in the past. While for the most part fairly selfish, Waters managed to capture what it's like without a father figure (I can relate to this somewhat as a kid), and of course his own rise to fame and fortune and the costs it can ensue. There's of course a huge reference to Syd Barrett's mental problems and eventual burn out in the character of Pink, which is made ever-present by the almost-uncanny resemblance of Bob Geldof to Barrett as Pink and the drug use the character goes into. The ideas of breaking from conformity (especially from teachers) were also visibly the influence of transgressive author William Burroughs (one of my favorite authors), as Waters has cited him as an influence in his music. The album also detailed many of Waters's relationships (he seemed to have a thing for redheads) and his tumultuous relationship with his ex-wife, the phone call at the end of “Young Lust” being an actual recording of a phone call Waters made to her, part of a wholly frustrating relationship. The Wall, really introduced to me last year by a roommate, still remains my favorite of Floyd's.
Waters went on to produce The Final Cut in 1983, many of the songs on this (another rock opera) omitted from The Wall album like “When the Tigers Broke Free”, which was only previously featured in the film version of The Wall. The album contained somewhat of a mixed fan base, some liking it while others found it unnecessary, and it marked the last album Waters would partake in as part of Pink Floyd. This album focused mainly on the issue of turmoil at war.
Waters would go on to produce solo albums since, but furthering disconnect from Gilmour, as Gilmour had stated in an interview that “I think Roger Waters has my phone number. But I've no interest in discussing anything with him.”
Many believe Waters has had fame and fortune go to his head over the years, with a certain hostility dictating himself and an overbearing ego. At the same time, a certain mellow has seemed to overcome Waters as he's aged. His disconnect from Pink Floyd has also since given rise to a solo tour, bringing back The Wall on his own. This tour gave rise to a lengthy in-depth interview in Rolling Stone in late 2010, and another interview on Conan O'Brien, in which his humor is noticeably lacking, though not entirely. Waters may be serious-minded and perhaps kind of a “dick” as many people believe, but it's almost understandable why he'd be cynical given his past, and he's still most likely the tortured artist with a heart, as is made apparent in the new “fallen souls” montage shown in The Wall during his last tour. Sure, the tour may be over now, but I'm sure Waters has other plans for his own musical future, hopefully not only exploring his own Wall again, but maybe contributing to other artists' work or continuing a solo career.
Roger Waters still remains a bit of a mystery to even his biggest fans, and despite his losses and even his reported issues with his fellow band members, Waters still leaves a mark on the music industry and continues to make his influence felt in our society today, a lyrical and musical influence I hope still holds for years to come.