Roger Waters
Photo by Victoria Will

Roger Waters: “We are on a knife’s edge”

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Short Profile

Name: George Roger Waters
DOB: 6 September 1943
Place of birth: Great Bookham, England, United Kingdom
Occupation: Musician

Mr. Waters, your songs have long been used as protest anthems and as messages of hope during times of political and social struggle. Is it disappointing that today they are more relevant than ever?

I have only been working for 50 odd years. Pink Floyd turned pro in 1967, and we didn’t release Dark Side of the Moon until 1974 — and since then, well, that’s a heartbeat, it’s a nanosecond, it’s nothing in comparison with history. I feel very lucky to be able to do what I do, but I am also very surprised that there aren’t more people making a bit of a fuss about what is going on.

But there are still so many people who come to your shows and support your messages. Does that give you hope?

Oh God, yeah. Particularly during this song “Déjà Vu,” I remember there was a young woman in the front row singing along and… It was very moving. I feel incredibly lucky that people are attaching to the ideas and the feelings that are in the songs. They somehow resonate with their lives and their beating hearts, which is fantastic. Unlike some of my contemporaries I don’t have to keep jogging out there to make a few quid and watching the audience getting as old as I am, it’s thrilling to me that I have a young demographic of people coming to the shows because politics and the exchange of love is deeply, desperately important to all of our lives, including theirs.

“Speaking up about politics came long before the writing of songs if it’s part of your life and part of what you are and what you do.”

So you are optimistic about the future?

It’s easy to run away with the idea that you can change something overnight or that this can happen or that can happen, but there are patterns that happen and we are just hoping that we can develop in ways that will save the planet and save all the species from absolute destruction. In the moment we are on a real knife’s edge. But to wake people up to that reality is difficult.

Are you talking about the political climate in Europe?

That’s one thing, yes. It seems like the resurgence of Fascism is with us and it’s a terrible threat to all of us. You know, from 1930 to 1934 in Germany, it happened so quick. Even in the United States, once they start rewriting laws… The Patriot Act straight after 9/11, the Bush administration, legalizing torture, and then the amendments to it. There is no longer any habeas corpus. And yet people get on the bus every morning and they go to work and they take no notice. You can be arrested and locked up forever without even making a phone call. No Miranda rights, none of that shit that people believe exists. It can happen so fast. One minute you are free and the next minute you are against the wall and they are shooting you, legally, because they changed the law.

Have you always been outspoken where your politics are concerned?

Well, speaking up about politics came long before the writing of songs if it’s part of your life and part of what you are and what you do… When I was 15, I was chairman of the Young Socialists in Cambridge so I went on all the marches, I listened to Bertrand Russell making his speeches. Also, my mother was Communist until 1956, and we would go to political meetings in the evening. I remember once my mom took me to the Friends Meeting House, you know, where the Quakers meet. It’s a Christian religious sect, and she said to me, “I can’t subscribe to their metaphysical meanings because I am a radical atheist. But never forget this: They are very, very good people.” That’s a very important thing to teach a child. So it was inculcated into my political being that the only thing that was really important was to do the right thing.

Do you wish other artists and musicians would be more engaged?

I don’t listen to today’s popular music, so I am not an expert. But it seems to me from what I have listened to, the main drift for most of the people that call themselves artists is completely narcissistic and completely consumer-orientated. They don’t touch any really part of their capacity to feel love or joy. That’s how it seems. And I am surprised by that. As far as my contemporaries, I am monumentally surprised how fucking scared my fellow musicians are to stick their heads out.

A Roger Waters performance of Pigs (Three Different Ones) in Mexico City in 2016 featuring his infamous inflatable pig.

When you performed in Poland, you spoke about what the government was doing to the press in the country. How do you keep yourself informed on local issues?

When I arrive places, I ask people questions. It’s a habit I got into years ago when I used to travel quite a bit. I still travel with an inflatable pig! For years when I did shows, I would always write something on the pig, usually something local. It started off with me writing things; I’d get up on a scaffolding and I would graffiti the pig before the show. And then I started asking the driver of the cab: “We are playing tonight in Stadio Nacional, what should we write on the pig?” And they would translate something for you. We did a gig in Bogota while George Bush was visiting at the same time, and the driver wanted us to write: “El Pedron Bush Visita el Rancho Colombia.” And when it came out, people went insane because it was eloquent — I couldn’t have written it but I could understand the context.

You are still touring internationally quite a bit — how do you have the energy for so many shows, and for your political fight?

I actually have not got the energy! Next year I’ll only do 50 or 70 shows. I am not going all over the world again, that is hugely draining. I don’t know what I am going to do with the time I’ve got left of being alive, and the energy I’ve got left to engage musically, politically, emotionally with friends, lovers, family or foreigners, immigrants, Fascist dictators, whoever it might be… I don’t know.