Author Dave Thompson Reveals the Roger Waters Behind The Wall

Roger Waters performing The Wall at Toyota Center in 2010
Roger Waters performing The Wall at Toyota Center in 2010
Photo by Jim Bricker

Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall By Dave Thompson Backbeat Books, 288 pp., $27.99

It is one of classic rock's pillar albums -- and not even the only one from its creators. But Pink Floyd's 1979 opus The Wall has definitely taken on a life well outside of just headphones and head trips.

And while indeed all four members contributed to the musical portion, the genesis of The Wall's story concept of death, alienation, repression and rock-star sleaze sprung mainly from the tortured mind of singer/bassist Roger Waters.

In this new bio, music journalist Dave Thompson (Hearts of Darkness, as well as tomes on Cream, Judas Priest and Deep Purple), uses The Wall as the springboard to tell the personal and creative story of Waters.

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That stretches from his earliest days as a fatherless child (his dad died in World War II) to his current world tours during which -- not surprisingly -- he presented his most ambitious (and up-to-date) prop-heavy staging of The Wall for audiences around the world.

Recently Rocks Off emailed with Thompson about the new work and his own surprising opinion of The Wall.

Author Dave Thompson Reveals the Roger Waters Behind The Wall

Rocks Off: What made you decide to tackle a Roger Waters bio? Dave Thompson: Mainly, the fact that there has never been one -- and because his solo career (which has now lasted twice as long as the Floyd did) deserved it.

Of course it's been mentioned in books about the band itself, but the waters are always muddied by the other band members' presence (if you'll excuse the pun). By concentrating the book on Waters alone, it gives the reader an unimpeded view of what has actually been a single, solid career arc.

RO: What surprised you most about his life while doing research? I think it was discovering that his reputation for being... shall we say... a little brusque with people is a lot more complicated than the headlines and anecdotes like to say.

If he's a perfectionist, he's an equal-opportunity one. In a band situation, in the studio, or onstage, he expects everybody to have the same high standards as he does. And if they don't, then what are they doing in the band?

RO: He has this image of a mercurial malcontent perfectionist. But is that reputation deserved, or has it been blown up since the other three Floyds seem more laid-back? Ah, I think I just answered that one. But yes, his reputation did "worsen" once he left the band, with the media taking the other musicians' side and painting things even worse than they were.

A lot of Waters' "complaints," both before and after he left, were justified. And to go back to your last question...yes, that was probably the biggest surprise for me.

Interview continues on the next page.

 

RO: To you, what is the lasting appeal -- both musically and narratively -- of The Wall to make it still so popular enough for Roger to do two world tours of it? I really don't have a clue; I've never liked it! But in simple terms, it was created as "an event," it was staged as "an event," and people like events. It's a lot like when a classic movie or stage show is revived; people go along so they can say they were there.

There is more to it than that; The Wall does have an underlying message that a lot of people either agree with, or have placed their own interpretations upon. It's almost become a political manifesto for the underdog, and there's a lot of people who need that. Personally, I'd prefer him to be touring new music, but...well, that gives us something to look forward to.

RO: If I read the book right, he first offered the Floyd name to the other three if they would let him out of the group, but then tried to sue when they went out for tours/records on their own. Was that the case? The whole legal thing became very complicated and, for much of the time, it really seemed to be turning into one of those standoffs where it didn't matter what one party said or did, the other would object.

Ultimately, what Waters wanted was...again...to ensure high standards, and to receive public acknowledgement of his work--which he very realistically understood wouldn't happen if Floyd toured at the same time as he did. So he tried to stop them, as I think anybody in that situation would.

Rocks Off: Finally, have you heard anything from Roger or his camp about the book? I assume he did not want to cooperate. No, I've heard nothing.

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