A Roger Waters Interview, September 22, 1982

DALLAS: How much of Pink is in you, or how much of you is in Pink?

WATERS: My father was killed in the war, at Anzio. I did find the scroll and the uniform in a drawer one day. The play­ground stuff, I don’t remember that, that’s something that I wrote just to keep the scene going, that might have to do with the character.

DALLAS: Was your childhood as unhappy as The Wall seems to suggest?


Why does The Wall seem to suggest a very unhappy childhood? Because of the school, you mean? And being rejected in the playground by the man?

DALLAS: And also his relationship with his mother, which…

WATERS: No, my relationship with my mother wasn’t like that. In fact the mother is one of the bad areas of characterisation in the film, I think. She’s full of contradictions, that character, really. Not very well drawn. I think that may have something to do with the fact that I didn’t draw very much on my own experience for that area. I mean I did find a dying rat on the rugby field and take it home and try to look after it, and my own mother did make me put in the garage, but not like that. She wasn’t a crazy, over­weight, hysterical woman. I think that’s a very crude por­trayal of that response. It’s a cliché . . . it’s not the way. . . I think it’s wrong.

DALLAS: Is she still alive?

WATERS: My mother? Yeah.

DALLAS: Have you explained this to her?

WATERS: Oh yeah, yeah. When the record came out – she hasn’t seen the film yet, in fact I’m going to take her to see it in a couple of weeks when she comes up to town – when the record came out, I talked to her about it, and warned her what it was about.

DALLAS: What about specific incidents, like smashing up the hotel room?

WATERS: No, I’ve never done that. Again, no I’ve never done any of that, but again, that’s something borrowed from other people’s experience.

DALLAS: I also suspect that not only was your childhood not as unhappy as the album and the film suggests but slightly more privileged. I think you come from a slightly sort of better social background than that, don’t you?

WATERS: Um, well we never find out in the film what she does, do we? That’s another thing. You never find out who they are, really. It’s a perfectly nice house that they’re living in and he’s very well dressed in his little mac and his . . .

But that’s the other thing about that bit of the film: one was never quite sure where it was or who they were or what the background was, in fact, or I wasn’t, watching it. It skimmed over the surface rather of all that.

My mother was a school-teacher, in a university town, in Cambridge. I mean, Cambridge was a very nice place to live. I had a fantastic time. I didn’t like school, I didn’t like my grammar school. I hated it. But I enjoyed life at my primary school, a lot. I actually went to a very good primary school. It was just that immediate postwar period where enormous strides were made in primary education in this country, where it started to be focussed far less about, you know, “sit still, shut up, and learn to read and write” and more about centres of interest and projects about things and . . . But my grammar school was pretty dreadful.

DALLAS: One of the things that struck me is that a lot of the kids who go to see it won’t ever have experienced being treated that way in the classroom.

WATERS: Mind you, I think quite a lot of people who are going to see the film aren’t kids, in fact.

The idea behind all that really was to suggest that as far as he was concerned, the character, that it may only take one isolated incident, with one bad teacher, to affect the way the person responds to people maybe for the rest of his life. I believe that.

I can remember being really very badly upset, even when I was quite old, by people suddenly giving vent to their personal frustrations at my expense. But it is a bit confused, that area.

DALLAS: So the teacher is probably more modelled on your real-life experience than your mother.

WATERS: Yes, oh yes. Without question.

DALLAS: I mean, is there a teacher in your mind, when you . . . ?

WATERS: Not one specific one, but we had a number. We had some good teachers as well, but we had a fair number who were serving their time and who were extremely bitter about all sorts of different things and who as I say were so frustrated and bitter about their lives that they treated the kids at school abominably.

And they would often pick on the weak ones as well and make their lives a misery for them.

It was a war, it was a real war with lots of them. And a real battle, and sometimes the battle was won by the kids and I can remember teachers at my grammar school having nervous breakdowns.

One guy one afternoon just went and got on the train. Nobody knew. He was found wandering about in the early hours of next morning a hundred miles away, which seemed incredibly funny at the time.

Because of the way we felt and the fact that we felt it was a battle, in fact, we behaved in the same way. We followed their example. The nasty sarcastic ones that picked on the weak kids, that affected us to the extent that we picked on the weak teachers.

But I’m sure, in fact I know, there are all kinds of troubles in schools all over the country, but I think the atmosphere has changed to a certain extent. I don’t think they attempt that absolute exercise of power in the same way that they did when I was at school.

The thing is that if I’m writing a song something like that, it’s not like conducting a reasoned argument or writing an essay or conducting a debate or something, it’s just about expressing my own particular, ultimately, inevitably, biased feelings, and getting them out in a song, if I can, and if people pick up on them, that’s good. But I wouldn’t claim, you know, that the picture that [Gerald] Scarfe and myself between us painted of this character’s schooldays, I wouldn’t claim it was not a caricature. It is a caricature.

We weren’t trying to remake Kes, which was beauti­ful and poetic and real, apparently. One had a great feel­ing that those situations were real. The Wall is a very stylized work, and it is a work of satire and caricature.

DALLAS: And are you also satirized and caricatured in it?

WATERS: M’m, yes. I mean the character is. Because what happens is that the character recognizes, within himself, a lust for power and a lack of caring for other people’s feelings and other people’s needs, which he then projects into a fantasy of himself as a kind of fascist demagogue.

I’m not sure if that’s satire, but it’s an attack on parts of myself of myself that I disapprove of, a sort of exercise in self-flagellation, I suppose. No, that’s wrong, that’s the wrong image.

The film gets so odd at hat point, halfway through, the way that the characters examination of himself is portrayed – because that’s what it is – that I don’t know what I’d call it.

DALLAS: I can think of a lot of people it’s more obviously like, rock stars, who are in fact fascist demagogues, in the way they behave on stage, their relationship with the audience.

WATERS: Well, clearly, it’s pointing to all that, and pointing at them. Mind you, nobody seems to have spotted that, really. And the whole thing about the relationship between musicians and their audiences is something … in the very first draft of a screenplay that I wrote, that area was dealt with more adequately, more deeply. There was more screen time devoted to it.

DALLAS: Do you regret that change of emphasis?

WATERS: Yes, partially. I think there’s a bit too much kind of wandering up and down misty railway embankments and things. I think all that childhood stuff got a bit drawn-out in the end and I think the first 20 minutes is pretty slow, really. And, yeah, I regret that that feeling of mine isn’t expressed more strongly in it. Some of it is expressed as strongly as I could have hoped for, really, you know the kind of self-destructive instincts of the whoopers and hollerers . . .

DALLAS: In the audience?

WATERS: Yeah. That kind of crazed rush into an empty auditorium is something that I used to watch from time to time in big, big places like the Cow Palace in San Francisco, that crazed rush to the front of the stage, to stand crushed against the barriers for hour after hour after hour.

DALLAS: The cross-cutting in the movie, with the Anzio landings, don’t you think that’s a little far-fetched?

WATERS: Not really, no. I don’t. Because there seems to me to be something . . . well, it’s strange, because it’s not a direct parallel. Clearly, the motivation behind people jumping off DUKWs and running up beaches in Anzio is that they’ve been bloody well ordered to do it, you know. And they thought, and they were probably right in thinking, they were fighting a war that needed to be fought.

Whereas the motivation for the kind of involvement in rock shows that I’m pointing at is a masochism. It’s some­thing I don’t understand. I do not understand that thing of people going to rock shows and apparently the more painful it is the better they like it.

There are lots of shows where the sound is just so awful and so loud that it’s painful. And it becomes a kind of religious exercise almost, it seems to me. It’s a bit like being a whirling dervish or something, you achieve ecstasy through continual repetition of some simple movement.

Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe it’s a response to a lack of religious involvement. It’s a bit like walking on hot coals or something. Certainly you see people sometimes at shows where they’ve gone to be in the presence of their gods and whatever happens, really, they’re going to bloody well make all the right responses in all the right places, come hell or high water.

So that is something that I found depressing in rock ‘n’ roll and that’s what I found depressing in the tour we did in ’77, just that it seemed to me to not be anything about musicians and audiences enjoying being in each other’s company – just one group of people performing and the others listening or watching or whatever – but a series of situations where the response was conditioned and automatic and where all it was about was money, or very, very little else.

I mean I can say this because I believe it, on a tour like the Stones’ last tour, this world-wide tour that they’ve done, the money is so much more important than anything else that it completely overshadows, as far as I can see anyway, anything else that’s going on. It has become absolutely the central issue in that situation.

And the media picks up on it, everybody picks up on it. That’s all the media are interested in, is how much money they made, how many T-shirts they sold.

DALLAS: Isn’t that partly because what the Stones are doing musically, at the moment, is not very interesting, so that’s all there is to write about?

WATERS: I don’t know, that may be so. That may be so, yeah.

But you know, the Stones’ music has never been very interesting, with a capital I. You know. It’s been fucking good, it’s been great.

When I was a kid . . . (laughs)

DALLAS: How old are you now, Roger?


When I was a kid, they were g-r-eat! I was an incredible Stones fan. I still am, actually. I still think some of the stuff that they do is really good. I just think their shows are a joke, all those fucking people crammed into those big stadiums, I think they’re just as much of a joke for them as they were for us.

DALLAS: You use the past tense. Does that mean you think that your later shows aren’t a joke?

WATERS: Yeah. Well it’s only The Wall. That’s all we’ve done since then. We did those, I thought, under much more controlled conditions, ie 15 thousand people instead of 80 thousand people. All that makes a hell of a difference. You can cater to 15 thousand people, with the technology that’s available now. If you take it seriously enough and get the right people in to help an spend enough of their money on it, because it’s the punters’ money for God’s sake. So if you spend enough of it on sound systems and on what you do, then you can at least take care of the technical aspects of the thing and provide a decent return for whatever it is that they have to pay, and still do some­thing that you find interesting yourself, obviously. I thought, The Wall shows were … I know they were very expensive, they were eight quid or something, the tickets were, but that’s how much they cost. That’s what it cost. You could make out a case for saying well, people would rather have paid two quid and not have any of that show, well, that may be true, but that was what I was interested in doing. It was a gamble, obviously.

DALLAS: Because a lot of the time in The Wall, people thought they were listening to you and they weren’t, were they? They were listening to the surrogate musicians.

WATERS: Well at the beginning, yeah, at the very beginning. Actually, the idea was that they were, clearly they were meant to be what we became, ie at that juncture Pink was like a gestalt figure, the whole band turned into this kind of Nazi apparition towards the end of the thing, and that was really a kind of theatrical shock tactic, because people would assume that it was us and ask “Why are they dressed in those weird clothes? What’s going on?” And wonder about things.

And then suddenly realise that it wasn’t actually us. I just wanted to create a sort of confused atmosphere at the beginning so that people could start to sort it out slowly as the show went on. It may be that it was too confusing, but what I liked about doing The Wall and why it was different from touring in ’77 which we did with Animals and Wish You Were Here, which were also fairly rigidly constructed pieces, was that in The Wall we provided the audience with enough stuff so that it was almost impossible not to be involved in it, if you were in the audience, I think. And that was what the intention was, really, to do a rock show which didn’t have to rely necessarily on the feeling of being in the presence of divine beings, or getting some contact-high from being close to power and wealth and fame. . .

DALLAS: You don’t think that the very construction of it in fact made that even more so? Here’s a guy who’s so big that he can afford to put a wall between him and the audience?

WATERS: Well, that’s the point it was making. But I mean it was making the point, yeah, about us as much as about other bands, except it was something that I personally had become very aware of. So if you like I was really, at that point, sharing my awareness of the situation with other people. I know a hell of a lot of people picked up on it. I’m sure there were a hell of a lot of people who didn’t, who came to the show and went away thinking “What the fuck was all that about?” And aren’t interested, anyway. There’s no reason why everybody should be interested in the same things I am, at all.

DALLAS: I found it rather oppressive. I was quite pleased I didn’t actually have to review it because I did not have a good time.

WATERS: Really?

DALLAS: I felt as if I’d been attacked, not a personal attack, like “You, yer bastard”, but just that I’d been under psychic attack.

WATERS: Well, you had, I suppose. You had. It wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t meant to be a sort of wonderful, “God isn’t it wonderful, here we are all together let’s have a good time” concert, that’s obviously not what it was about.

And clearly the film isn’t, either. You don’t go to the film and come away thinking “Christ, that was wonderful”.

DALLAS: But both the show and the film end on an up-note.

WATERS: Yes. That’s true. That final song is saying, “Right, well that was it, you’ve seen it now. That’s the best we can do, really. And that wasn’t actually us. This is us. That was us performing a piece of theatre about the things that it was about and we do like you really.” I mean we do need that human contact, that’s just making a little bit of human contact at the end of the show.

The backwards and forwards about how to end that show, the different kind of things that we went through!

I mean originally, in the very, very first version of it, the plan was just to build the wall and leave it. But that was too tough, really, too kind of alienating, and didn’t feel right at the time.

We didn’t not do that because of the worry about how people would respond. We didn’t do that because it was too tough, it was too “Fuck you”, which wasn’t the inten­tion at all.

Anyway, it’s not something that I’d care to do again, but it’s something that I’m glad to have been part of.

DALLAS: That means we’re not going to see The Wall live again?

WATERS: I wouldn’t have thought so, no. I can’t imagine that, the aggravation of getting it together. You never know. We won’t be certain about that for another few years when one will know that everything has rotted and all the machinery is rusty. If you haven’t seen it again in the next five years then you’ll know you’re not going to, because everything will have been stolen or rusted away, the cardboard will all be soggy.

DALLAS: The film ending is also upbeat, but it seems to be saying something different but equally in contrast with the aliena­tion of the earlier part.

WATERS: M’m. (pause) Yeah. What do you think it’s saying?

DALLAS: It seems to me – I’ll answer your question this way – that the movie is much more politically orientated. It’s not merely that it uses images of rioting, but I mean that final image, kids playing . .

WATERS: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. That final image, if it’s saying anything at all, it’s suggesting that when we’re born, we don’t like Molotov cocktails, and that we learn to like them as we grow older. We learn to want to burn stuff and break things. But then we’re that age . . . you know, children don’t like the smell of petrol and they don’t like the taste of whisky. These are tastes that one acquires.

DALLAS: Don’t you think that’s a rather sentimentalized view of childhood?

WATERS: M’m. Well, yes it is, but nevertheless it’s true. Children don’t . . . well, actually children do like Molotov cocktails, of course, they do. They love Molotov cocktails. I don’t know why I said that. It’s clearly nonsense. They like guns and fireworks and bangs and . . . but they don’t like killing. Well most of the children I know don’t, anyway. Certainly my children don’t. They really, really, they don’t even like it in nature. They don’t like it when Jon-Jon our cat kills a bird, they don’t like it. Because they identify with the bird. Killing is very worrying I think to children, and it’s something that we get hardened to as we grow older. Some of us get more hardened to it than others.

DALLAS: Can I ask this about your children: Do you think you’ve succeeded in protecting them, or not doing to them the sort of things that you depict in The Wall?

WATERS: Er. So far, yeah. It depends what you’re talking about. I haven’t gone away and been killed in a war. Equally, you known, we’ve been as careful as we can to make sure that when they leave us and go away to their schools, because they both go to school now, that they’re not maltreated. And also we try as much as possible to explain things to them.

The things that are done to the children in the film, well to the main character, is that his father is killed and that clearly is being done to a hell of a lot of children all over the world, apparently more and more. I mean the pace at which carnage in the world is apparently growing. There was a little bit of a lull after the end of the Vietnam conflagration but it seems to be just rising and rising and rising now. I don’t know, maybe I’m becoming more sensitive to it, maybe it’s not, maybe it’s something that goes along on a level, but it seems to be so, clearly there are an enormous number of war orphans being created now.

DALLAS: How did you feel, when the kids in Soweto were singing “We don’t need no education”? I wondered what your reac­tion to that was?

WATERS: I was very pleased. I think when people are protesting about something, it’s good if they’ve got a nice, kind of catchy tune that they can all remember, to use. To use as a sort of weapon.

I’ve just given permission to some people who are doing a CND thing to use the tune, to write their own words to it. The Germans used it, as well, the German anti-nuclear lobby wrote their own words to it, and used the tune on marches and things. I was really pleased. I like that.

DALLAS: Can we talk about some of your earlier work, before The Wall, because it’s a big frustration to me that we never had a chance to talk about Animals, which I found a very, very interesting work, and I thought the characterization of it in that Rolling Stone article particularly crass, saying that you wrote people off as pigs and sheep and dogs, but it seemed to me that was a very humanitarian statement, and I found it a very moving album.


DALLAS: The thing that interests me, it seems to me that Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here are like a double album that came out in two sections. They seem to be very related to each other in theme. You may not accept this division, it may be purely artificial, but I found myself listening to Animals and trying to decide whether it was the last part of that trilogy or the beginning of The Wall because there’s elements of both in it. Are you able to distance yourself from your past work, to look at it and say . . .

WATERS: I think Animals is more to do with The Wall than it was to do with Wish You Were Here. In fact when I started jotting ideas down, strange ideas for a film, at one time, I did a lot of drawings using animal masks and things.

DALLAS: This was after The Wall album but when you were work­ing on the movie?

WATERS: No. No, no, no. I was working on ideas for the movie even before I started writing music for The Wall. You see I actually bought a book and learnt how to write screenplays so that people could actually understand it who are in film. Clearly, this was after conversations with Scarfe and with [Alan] Parker.

DALLAS: How many pages is it?

WATERS: 39 pages.

DALLAS: You were too young to do any kind of national service, weren’t you?

WATERS: I was in the cadet force at school, Combined Cadet Force. I spent weekends at HMS Ganges.

DALLAS: You were a naval cadet?

WATERS: Yeah. I was absolutely horrified by it. I couldn’t believe it.

I don’t know if you know about HMS Ganges, it’s for train­ing boy sailors, kids when they’re 14. Phew!

I also spent weekends on Vanguard before she was scrapped, and that was pretty weird. I don’t like the sea, though, at all. I get seasick.

DALLAS: So why did you become a naval cadet?

WATERS: I couldn’t bear the itching of the army uniform. I couldn’t bear it. And so I got into all that and became a Leading Sea­man and things.

DALLAS: You did quite well, then?

WATERS: Well, yeah, I dunno why, quite. I dunno why. I liked guns, I liked firing guns and all that stuff, in fact I used to shoot for the school, small-bore shooting, and then I think there’s something in me that makes me want to kind of dominate people anyway, so I did all that in the cadet force and was I think roundly hated by most of the people involved.

In fact, one weekend I was set upon by a bunch of enraged schoolboys and dealt with.

DALLAS: Who were under you?

WATERS: Yeah, and I learnt a lesson then, a bit. It’s not a terribly good thing to throw your weight around too much. And then I left.

DALLAS: But don’t you have a position of great authority in the Floyd orbit?

WATERS: Yeah, and I still abuse it sometimes.

DALLAS: Do you still get set upon?

WATERS: No. Well
(a) I tread more warily than I did when I was 14, and
(b) I think I probably protect myself more efficiently than I did then.
I stayed on for a third year in the sixth form, because I’d failed one of my A levels, Applied Maths or something, Pure Maths. Anyway, I failed something so I stayed on for a third year, and I was the only boy in the school in living memory who’d stayed on for a third year in the sixth without being made a prefect, for which I’m quite proud. My final school report said, this was all it said, it said: “Waters never fulfilled his considerable potential and was dishonourably discharged from the cadet force.”

DALLAS: Is that so?

WATERS: Oh yeah, I was dishonourably discharged.

DALLAS: What, after this fracas?

WATERS: No, no, no, nothing to do with that. I just suddenly decided I didn’t want it, and you couldn’t leave, it wasn’t in the rules, you weren’t allowed to leave. I just handed my uniform back in and said I wasn’t going any more. So I was dishonourably discharged, turned out in disgrace.

Extracts from an interview with Roger Waters, September 22 1982


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