Pink Floyd's Roger Waters Gets Political With the Chronicle
He should be a prime-time news analyst. Televisions would melt.
Pink Floyd fanatics be warned: This document contains NO music. Every word, 7,900 or so, concerns politics. And not by some wonk.
Interviewed by phone Feb. 19 in London on the occasion of a keynote appearance at the subsequently canceled SXSW, Roger Waters should analyze global news on prime time. Televisions would melt. So, no soundtrack here, save for a mention of Meddle and its side-long "Echoes." And The Wall.
And all right, every single album he conceived and composed after The Dark Side of the Moon.
In fact, line by line, word by word, expletive by expletive, THIS is every song Waters ever wrote: "Money," "Welcome to the Machine," "Another Brick in the Wall." Every emphasis equals an accent note on the recording – not one of its 72 minutes shrill or hysterical.
Cue it up, then, and to paraphrase another standard our subject wrote, set the controls for the heart of the sun, 2020.
Austin Chronicle: What's on your mind these days, sir?
Roger Waters: Just trying to save the world, man.
AC: [Laughs] How's that going?
RW: You know, I dunno. I think we make baby steps forward and then some asshole makes huge steps backward, and you have to start crawling forward again. The world is divided into people who actually are interested in, I dunno, the planet, human rights, love, daylight, sunshine, butterflies – all that shit – and people who don't give a fuck about any of it. They're only interested in other things, like ruling the world or ... .
AC: There's all this smoke and fire about your support for the BDS, the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.
RW: I've been actively involved in BDS for about 15 years now, and it's occurring to more and more and more people as the years go by that the attacks on me and others that support basic human rights for the people of Palestine are increasingly viewed through exactly what you just described, a smoke screen. When somebody criticizes the Israeli government, if they call them an anti-Semite loudly enough and long enough, it may just divert people from paying attention to the fact that that person you're calling an anti-Semite is almost certainly an advocate of basic human rights for all our brothers and sisters all over the world irrespective of their religion, or color, or nationality, or anything else.
They don't want us to focus on that, which is what I focus on. My whole platform is tiny. If I wrote it on a postcard and stood on it, I would say this is my platform: Do you or do you not subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from Paris in 1948? Interestingly enough, that's the same year as the Nakba [the Palestinian expulsion from the West Bank] and the same year as the settler colonial Zionist movement started in Palestine.
Because if you do [subscribe], the question is entirely black and white. There are no gray areas. Either you believe in that and that's the foundation of where you stand, or you don't.
You know what I was so happy about today? John Legend, finally in an interview with someone, came out. He didn't say, "I'm joining BDS," but he did say, "Palestinians should have human rights too." And that's amazing, because there's not many of us in this industry that are prepared to even go that far.
AC: Somehow this reminds me of a time in the music industry when it became fashionable to say Jews ran the music industry and ripped off all their artists, a common accusation leveled at Chess Records. In that situation too, antisemitism clouded the real dialogue: widespread artist abuse – fiscally.
RW: Ripping off artists? This is ripping off an entire people. This is stealing the whole land from the people that lived there. That's a completely different issue.
But what you bring up, I remember. I remember those days. I remember back in the Sixties, talking to people from various record labels, who would sit drinking their beer – good ol' boys working for record labels and who had worked for Chess – and they would say if they ever paid a single penny to a Black artist, they'd look on it as a defeat. They'd give them a Cadillac to ride around in, but they didn't own it. Or they'd buy 'em a hooker or give them some blow, but they never gave them any cash.
Now I'm not saying all that's completely true, but the fact that some drunken A&R guy could sit in a bar and say that back then is [unbelievable]. I, as a young Englishman, sat there with my fucking mouth hanging open, going, "How could they even be speaking like this?" But they were.
AC: In watching your Russia Today television interview on the BBC yesterday, I was struck by how effective a phrase like anti-Semitic can be. People lob that on you and it's as if you've been sprayed by a skunk: The stink is on you and then you spend the rest of time trying to remove that smell, never mind the real issue.
RW: That's the intention, of course. But it's beginning to rebound, which is so cool since I've never wanted to do anything except shine some light [on the situation], because I have been to Palestine. It wasn't until 2006, but I saw what was going on. And if you see it up close and with your own eyes, once you get involved with the movement, people are constantly sending you updates. Every single day, the Israeli government is murdering the people of Palestine, quite blatantly and openly, particularly now that the oaf Trump is supporting them in the way he is, and his idiot son-in-law, Kushner, who's completely out of his mind with support for the Zionist dream. It's gotten worse and worse.
In some ways, that might be quite good, because they are being so blatant now that people are taking notice. So is the Jewish community in the United States of America, which there and the campuses as well is where this battle is going to be won and lost. Because without the support of the United States government, Israel cannot pursue its apartheid policies. It can't do it.
So it will be decided in America and Jewish Voices for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine and other arms of the BDS movement are winning the battle for hearts and mind. And you know why? Because they're right. History will be seen that we were on the right side of it.
[Israel] cannot hide. They're coming close to an attempt at genocide. What they're doing is attempting 100% ethnic cleansing of the occupied territories so that they can settle them completely and that the whole of Palestine can become a Jewish state with no Arabs in it. That's their dream. Well, slowly this is all coming to the fore and people are saying, "Hold on a minute. That just ain't right, brother. That is not right." John Legend said it today. He may be one of the first few.
I'm sure you can imagine the letters I've had from people I've approached in the music industry in the States, who say, "Well ... it's a very gray issue, and it's complicated, and it's not like South Africa." Yeah, it is. Yes, it is. It's an apartheid, racist, settler-colonialist situation exactly like South Africa was. So slowly, slowly the light is beginning to dawn.
Have we, human beings, since the Enlightenment and since 1789 in Paris and since 1776 in the colonies (i.e. in what became the United States), and since the idea that possibly the divine right of kings is not something that should stand forever, have any rights at all, individually? That idea is very new. It's only 200 or 300 years old.
Will it survive? Is that how we really feel? Has the human race developed enough that it can empathize with others? Do we care about other people's children as well as caring about our own? And these are questions that obviously go through the whole of every society on the globe. Two hundred years ago, did we believe in the divine right of kings? Did we believe that a god handed down the scepter and orb to one bloke, who was the king and had all the power?
Well, now we're having to confront the notion that is there a God and does he give the scepter and orb to the oligarchs? Is it okay that Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos rule the world? And fucking Bloomberg, who's out there buying it now. He spent $200 million already buying a possible place in history. It certainly has nothing to do with freedom, nothing to do with democracy, nothing to humanity, and it certainly has nothing to do with human rights.
So, we the people, at some point, are going to have to stand up. And I'm just one, and I sense you're standing up, too, but will we need millions of us to stand up and go, "What!? Fuck you! This is wrong."
Piper At the Gates of Dawn: American Policy
AC: Was it better or worse when Pink Floyd started coming to the U.S. in the late Sixties? Segregation equaled apartheid, and on top of that the country rallied equally sexist, ageist, war mongering, you name it. What did you think then, and have we changed at all 50 years later?
RW: You know, it's such an interesting question that you asked me. We came in 1968, the first time. And you know what? I really wasn't aware of it – or the depth of it. To this day, I can't really [fathom it]. As the years go by and I've read more books about it, and lived in America the last 20 years and have witnessed it, I get to understand a little bit more as each day goes by.
My partner now, my blessed missus, is an African American, so living with her as I have, I understand more as well.
I go back and I read, for instance, a biography of Thurgood Marshall or somebody like that, and discover what was actually going on in the Sixties and what people went through – what Harry Belafonte went through, taking money money down to Selma and going to Montgomery and how unbelievably dangerous it was. You were seriously taking the risk of being murdered if you went anywhere near those centers in the South.
And how endemic the ideas still are, that some people are inferior to others by virtue of their DNA or their racial profile or blah, blah, blah, whatever it might be. This is what Trump's insane policies about migration are all about – the Muslim ban, the this, the that. It's how he keeps power. He keeps power by persuading people and now it's not African Americans, it's the Muslims. It doesn't matter who it is. It's whoever, so long as you identify somebody, and you can get blue collar, white voters to vote for you on the grounds that they're superior to these people.
Well, they're beginning to catch on. Trump promised them that he would revive the coal industry and they believed him. So all those poor people have been crushed in West Virginia by this and previous administrations, because there is no responsibility in American politics or in corporate America to provide care for the citizens. That is what I hope will eventually cause the great eruption in this country. Those people will finally recognize that the dream doesn't exist for them.
They're fodder. They're kept starving in order to keep them weak, so they will not rise up and say, "We do not want to be ruled by Donald Trump and Mark Zuckerberg and Mike Bloomberg [and Mitch McConnell]. We want this country to be ruled for the benefit of all its citizens, notwithstanding their background or whether they're from a European background or an African background."
After all, human beings are all African in background.
We know from evidence, the paleontological evidence, that all human beings stem from sometime in the last 200,000 years from Africa, from north Africa – all of us. Every single one of us. We're all brothers and sisters. We look slightly different because we went to different places and inter-married and adopted those characteristics, but we know from recent developments in the studies of genetics, that there is no such thing as race.
There's only one race and it's the human race, and we all belong to it.
AC: Can music somehow play the equalizer here or become a bridge or effect this in any way?
RW: No. I don't believe it is or can. The only thing that is the equalizer here is whether one is lucky enough to either have inherited or to discover empathy with your fellow human beings. So, I think music is really neither here nor there.
You could say, if you subscribe to my views, "Oh, isn't it lucky that Ledbelly or Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan" – though he actually disavows his political connections – "or me, who does have empathy with other people, is also a musician and in consequence can find an audience, because people like to whistle a tune or bang their foot or whatever it is people like to do."
In that case, yeah, that's kinda cool.
But most people in the music industry either couldn't give a fuck about other people or it never crosses their mind. Or it does, but they're scared to say anything because it speaks against the status quo. It speaks against the plutocracy, the kleptocracy, the oligarch-cracy or whatever the word it might be, under which we live – the system under which we live. The crushing weight of the capitalist, neoliberal system under which everybody lives.
I'm alright. I make a ton of money. I'm fine, I'm whatever. But most people live on the fucking breadline, even in the United States of America. The richest country in the world by a long, long way has crushing poverty – through all levels of society. And it's not just a few homeless bums on the streets. Everybody is under pressure. You cannot live on a normal wage.
If you live in Manhattan, where I live, and you do a job – I don't care if it's a good job; you could even be making what on paper looks like a decent living – you can't find anywhere to live. It's a struggle, a huge struggle – for everybody. You think, "Why? Why is this so badly organized?"
Well, the answer is, it's written into corporate law. The people who run everything have literally only one responsibility: maximize the returns of their shareholders. That's it. They have no social responsibility and no responsibility to their workers, which you think would be obvious to all those out-of-work coal miners in West Virginia, who are dying, mostly of diabetes because all they can afford is shit food and because nobody's told them that there's a better life.
They've been told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and if they work hard, they can be Jeff Bezos. No you can't, guys. It's the lie you've been fed all your fucking lives. Like the lie that America is great and is spreading good all over the world, and if only everybody subscribed to the same values you are expected to live under, everything would be fine. No it wouldn't.
It's a desperately rotten, corrupt system and you're causing untold misery. Not just with your neighbors in Central and South America, but all over the world with this vast army that eats up 57% of every tax dollar. I pay taxes in America, so I feel that's one thing I can talk about: 57% goes toward killing brown people in foreign countries – in order to remain powerful, in order to maintain the status quo, so that these old men can go on building their huge, huge piles of cash and continue increasing the margin of inequality between the very rich and starving. Or even the very rich and the just-getting-by. All those people who never have $100 in their pocket ever, but they have credit cards, so they live in debt their entire lives. So, these things need addressing.
Will they ever get addressed? I have no idea. I won't see it in my lifetime, but I hope they don't destroy the planet before a generation of younger people come along.
Maybe this is the promise of the internet generation: Now that we can communicate one with another, we can support one with another and we can organize, so that we in the United States or England or Germany or France or Thailand or Australia can support the people of Bolivia, who've just had their country destroyed by interventionism from the United States and the overthrow of their chosen, duly-elected, Democratic, free government.
Evo Morales was their president. He now has to live in Mexico or Argentina, because they'll kill him if he goes back. So we – not me, not you, but the United States government – has engineered a situation in Bolivia now where all the Indigenous people have to go back to living in terror. They have to go back to the slavery they've already endured 500 years. No wonder they're fighting back. And do you know why they're fighting back? I know you know why: lithium. Lithium. That's why. We all know that.
AC: You said earlier that when you first came to the States you weren't quite aware of the situation here. At what point did you become so politicized?
RW: Oh, believe me, brother, I was already politicized. My parents were both communists. Let's put that out on the wires and then I can be dismissed like they're trying to dismiss [Bernie] Sanders just because he's faintly left of center. It's not like Bernie Sanders is a socialist or a communist. He's the only candidate who's left of center.
There's one other candidate who's anti-war, which is Tusli Gabbard, but the rest of them are bullshit. ‘They are lackeys of the grocer’s machine,’ as I call it [chuckles]. They're bought and paid for.
Forget them – all of them.
Some of them are worse than others. The idea that Bloomberg is ... running ... for ... President of the United States is the most sickening and deadly thing I've heard since I heard that Trump was running for president [chuckles again]. Imagine if Bloomberg became the Democratic candidate. You'd have exactly the same raging racist, homophobic asshole heading both of the only two parties that are allowed to take part in politics in the United States. Bloomberg is the same animal. He's a little bit shorter and doesn't have daft hair, but apart from that, he's a dead clone of Trump.
They're the same person. Except – to give Bloomberg his due – he's a successful businessman and Trump's a failed, fat prick, whose father gave him a ton of money, which he lost a number of times. They're different in that way, but essentially they're not. They want to maintain the plutocracy.
Sanders, I believe, cares about the working man. I believe he actually has real feelings for the working class in this country, so I would support him 1,000 percent in the upcoming election. That's if the Democrats don't railroad him like they did the last time. I believe he would've beaten Trump in the last election if they hadn't destroyed him, which is one of the great things that Julian Assange did – was to expose the chicanery in the Democratic party and the fact that they stole primaries from Sanders by cheating. It's beyond belief.
By the way, the reason I'm here in England is because I came over here to do a gig with Eric Clapton. We did it the other night as a tribute for Ginger Baker. What a lovely night. I had such a good time and I met lots of really good old friends, but I'm staying here because I'm marching to Parliament Square to speak and attempt to get the English judiciary to end their farce of the kangaroo court that they're proposing to hold in Boris Johnson's UK to have Julian Assange extradited to the U.S. so the U.S. government can treat him like they do in Guantanamo. There's no way he could possibly get a fair trial, and he'll be incarcerated and allowed to die.
He's committed no crime of any kind under any law: American law or English law or international law or Australian law. Not a single crime ... except a tiny bail violation when he was in political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy up until recently. He broke some kind of small bail regulation, which is why they put him in Belmarsh Prison for 300 days. He's now served that, but he's still there and they're holding him. His trial starts next Tuesday, but it's a total charade. It's just Donald Trump telling Boris Johnson, "We want this bloke. Send him over here so we can kill him."
What!? What happened to law!? What happened to Magna Carta? What happened to habeas corpus? What happened presumed innocent until proven guilty? It's all disappeared down the pipe of government and corporate propaganda, unfortunately.
I've experienced this in North American when I talk about Julian, who's one of the great heroes of our time and the greatest publisher of the 20th and 21st century. He's banged up in solitary confinement in Belmarsh Prison, 20 hours a day locked in a cell. He committed not one crime. What did he do? He revealed war crimes – among many other things. And not just in the United States. He revealed all kinds of difficult shit, about the Russians, anything. No fear or favor. He's a proper journalist, who printed the truth about things.
Obviously, when Chelsea Manning – an unbelievably important and brave woman – released the collateral murder footage from Bagdad, WikiLeaks gave it to The Guardian and to other publications, who all printed it. Why aren't they all in prison? Hmm? Why aren't they all out in the streets? How much have you seen fellow journalists coming out into the streets to defend Julian Assange, the great hero of their profession? Precious fucking few. Why? Because they know they'll never get given another good assignment thanks to word coming down that, "We want Julian Assange's dead body on this table, and if you do anything to prevent that, you'll never go anywhere."
It's a bit like BDS and the music industry.
People in the music industry, who I won't name because I respect their confidence, have written to me and said, "You're crazy. This is the end of your career. You can't fight the Israeli lobby." Well, I'm happy to say they're wrong. The stories I could tell you about what they attempted you wouldn't believe, but luckily we're still in the business and I will not be muzzled.
Broken Bones: Revisiting a President Worse Than the Current One
AC: When did you decide your voice needed to join the political dialog?
RW: There's a song on the Pink Floyd record Meddle. I think it's the whole of one side, a song called "Echoes." There's a verse that goes, "Two strangers passing in the street/ By chance, two passing glances meet/ And I am you, and what I see is me." That's the seminal moment. You either recognize others as being as important as you are or the same as you are. I often like to transcend it by generation: Is your child as important as my child? Because as parents we have feelings for our children.
If you come to the conclusion that the answer is yes, then you have an absolute duty and responsibility to act as a collective part. In the spirit of the beehive, I guess, you have to say, "Listen, we're all in this together. I'm just a bee, but I have an absolute responsibility to make sure that the queen isn't a fucking asshole who's going to destroy us all. And that we all look after one another as best we can."
I know we can't really extrapolate to beehives. I'm sorry, I didn't really mean to go there.
But that's where it starts. And, in fact, if you look at my work since then, it's all about this. Nothing happened suddenly. It's all about this. It's all through Dark Side of the Moon. It's all through Wish You Were Here. It's all through Animals. It's all through The Wall and then it's all through The Final Cut. It's all through Pros & Cons [of Hitchhiking], all through Radio Kaos, all through Amused to Death, and it's all through Is This the Life We Really Want?
It's all through all of my work. It's not a surprise.
AC: Feels like we're living on The Dark Side of the Moon right now.
RW: What you have to understand and I know you do is that we're talking about a nanosecond. My life is the tiny blink of an eye [makes a popping sound], "Oh, that happened." In terms of the history of the human race, we're coming toward the end of it faster than we should be, because – because, because, because. I think it's because the ruling class has figured out how to own the media and how to use propaganda, and how to prevent those of us who can imagine a better way of living and how to communicate one with another in order to wrest power from their strong but disastrously wrong hands.
I go back to some of those songs I wrote about [President Ronald] Reagan. We had to suffer through those years of Reagan and yet he's still held in this sort of weird reverence in the United States of America. The guy was a complete prick in every possible way and he was a hugely malign influence on the lives of millions and millions of people.
Here, this is interesting: I'd recently agreed to do an interview with my old friend Jim Ladd on Sirius and he'd come back to me and said, "Just one thing: You can't say anything political." And I went, "Fuuuck me. It's difficult for me to say 'Good morning' without being political. What are you talking about?" We did it, though, and it turned out fairly political. It was a lovely interview and I adore Jim. He's great and very political himself.
But when his call came through, I was watching a documentary that was made about the murder of four Dutch journalists in El Salvador in 1982. They were gunned down by the El Salvador Army when they were going to try and speak to guerillas somewhere out in the countryside. Obviously, in 1982, what we're talking about is a fascist dictatorship completely supported both financially and in terms of rhetoric by the United States of America.
And this film, there's Reagan going on about what wonderful work he's doing in El Salvador, spreading freedom and democracy [laughs unbelievably]. And there's death squads, going all over the country murdering people. They estimate they might have killed 35,000 people. Okay? And this is at the behest of Reagan and Dr. Strangelove. What was his name? Kissinger, Henry Kissinger. It hasn't been swept under the carpet, because it's never been acknowledged. Never been acknowledged. But it's the reality.
If you read any kind of history of the period, you would know that's the reality. The Dutch journalists making the documentary discovered there were American soldiers embedded in the barracks that the soldiers that went out and murdered the Dutch journalists were from. And they were involved. They found one and he clammed up as soon as he realized what they were after. Hopefully the poor bastard has had to live with his conscience all these years, but maybe not.
Let me say this about that. I've worked quite a lot with vets from Iraq, not so much Vietnam, but from Iraq and Afghanistan in a music program I was involved in. That made me look into veteran affairs a little bit. Three or four times the number of American service men and women who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, three or four times that number have committed suicide in the U.S. since they came back. They have to live.
They have to live with the awful knowledge that they were sent abroad to commit war crimes for no reason – and illegal wars, completely illegal invasions of foreign sovereign countries and that they were there expected to kill civilians indiscriminately and they can't fucking bear it, so they kill themselves.
Somehow, this isn't generally accepted knowledge – even though we all know it to be true. And even though we know that was the reality in Vietnam all those years ago. The narrative control that the corporations and the government that want the status quo to continue is such that is not generally accepted in society as a whole in the United States of America.
People might sort of half accept that Vietnam wasn't a great victory, but they can't accept that it was a devastating war crime from beginning to end. Not just misguided, it was a guided war crime, and so are all these other war crimes. But they can't shake off Ronald Reagan and the gilded city on the hill, or whatever he called the idea that somehow the United States is about freedom and liberty.
When you listen to the "Broken Bones," that song of mine off Is This the Life You Really Want?, that's meant to be expressing some of the feeling of the World War II veteran, who is sitting in a bar one day and is supposed to be from one of the beaches in Normandy, and he says, "I'm not sure what we were doing there, though I have a pretty good idea the Nazis were a pretty bad bunch. But I do know this: We did not fight that war so we could be killing the children. Why are we killing the children?"
Bring the Boys Back Home: Veteran Affairs
AC: Here in Austin, one of our veteran songwriters, Darden Smith, runs a program called SongwritingWith:Soldiers, where they grapple with PTSD through the process of collaborating with musicians.
RW: Who is that? What's his name, sorry? I'm writing it down.
AC: Is that the sort of work you've done?
RW: Alright, since you asked, I'll tell you. My work with the veterans was through Bob and Lee Woodruff, who are a lovely couple. Bob was a journalist who had half his head blown off by an IED in Iraq. They run a charity and every year in New York they put on a concert called Stand Up for Heroes. Bruce Springsteen would play on it. It had been going on a couple years around 2010, 2011, and they asked me if I'd go and play at the show.
It's a little too rah-rah and flags for my taste, but veterans are not. They are to my taste. I don't care what their motivations were or whatever. They paid a huge price however misguided they might have been. So I told them, "I'm not all that comfortable when there's a lot of people with no arms and legs standing on a stage saying, 'Look at me, aren't I cool.'" So they said, "Will you come to a drinks and meet some of the men at the Natural History Museum?" "Yeah, 'course I will." So I did. I met Dom. His name is [in a perfect Spanish accent] Juan Dominguez, but they call him "Dom."
So I'm wandering through this thing and there's lots of uniforms, and there's this one bloke in a wheelchair. It was Juan Dominguez. He's got no legs and only one arm. And he's a bit bored, I think, and he's in Marine dress blues. Anyway, I thought, I might as well [indecipherable], so I did. I half bent, half squatted, whatever, and I said, "'Ello, are you having a nice time?"
He went, "Ehheeahhrrrroooo" [laughs]. I said, "Can I get you anything?" Then suddenly his eyes opened wide and he went, "You're, you're, you're," and he recognized me. "You!" So we started talking.
He went, "Wow, wow, wow." He wowed for a bit. Then he went, "Yeah, I play the guitar." I looked at him and thought, "There's a bit of a fucking stretch." He's only got one arm! [Laughs] And he could see the doubt in my eyes. He went, "Oh. Yeah. Well, I don't actually play the guitar anymore." And I thought, "This is too fucking sad." Then his face brightened. "Now I play the fucking drums."
[Both of us break into long, sustained laughter.]
And he does!
So I went, "You're fucking kidding me, how do you do that?" And he said, "Well, I have prosthetics, specially made. One of them fits in a bass drum." He said, “Look,” and pulled up the sleeve on the only arm he's got, which comes up to just below his elbow, and he's got a prosthetic on it with a circular hole in the end that he can put a drum stick into.
AC: Oh my god.
RW: Exactly, "Oh my fucking god." So I had a long chat with him and then I wandered around and spoke to a few other people. I went back to Bob and Lee, and I had lain awake a couple of nights thinking it through.
I said to them, "Hey, I've had an idea." "What is it?" "I've heard of this bloke called Arthur Bloom and he runs a program at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] where he uses the playing of instruments to rehabilitate these guys in some way. I'll perform at Stand Up Heroes – if you want me to – but only if you let me put a band together of these guys."
They went, "Are you fucking insane?" "No, I'm not insane. That's my deal." So they said, "We'll put it to the board" and they did. They came back and said, "All right, you have the board's approval.'"
So I flew down there with G.E. Smith and we met them. That was 2011. We worked with them and we did a gig at the Beacon Theatre in 2012, with about five or six of them. I still know all these guys. We became quite close friends, as you can imagine. The next year, we did it again, but we went to the theater upstairs in Madison Square Garden, which is about 6,000 people, and we had a slightly bigger band, because we had all the people from the first band. They live at fucking Walter Reed. These guys are never gonna get completely better.
We did the second gig in 2013 and it was hugely successful as well. I continued to work with them a bit and then 2014, I think it was, came 'round. It was summer and I was in the Hamptons having a holiday. I kept expecting the phone to ring because the gigs were always held the first weekend in November. And it didn't, which made me think, "Something's wrong here." So I started putting out feelers and I smelled a rat. I called a lovely man called Andrew Fox, who produced the shows.
He went, "Oh hi, man." I sensed it: "There's something going on." Silence. I went, "Get the fuck over here," 'cause I knew he was out in the Hamptons as well. "I need to talk to you," I said, so he came out. To cut a long story short, I said, "Who's the main sponsor this year for Stand Up for Heroes? What's going on? Why haven't I gotten the phone call? What are we gonna do this year?"
Well, the main sponsor was Steven Cohen, the criminal fucking billionaire whatever who paid a billion-dollar fine to keep himself out of prison. "Yeah," I said, "And what's that got to do with the price of cheese?" "Uh, they don't want you to do it this year." "What?" They included the phrase, "If Roger Waters does this gig, you will never see a single cent from any of us ever again." This is 2014.
I thought, "Fuck me." I went, "What about the men?" "No, the men can't do it either, because if they do, people will go, 'Where's Roger?'" "Okay." So they didn't.
I told the men that we weren't doing it, but that I wanted to come down at Christmas. I rented a studio so we could all play together and took them out for a meal. I told them what had happened. I said, "Listen, I'd like to do a gig next year, but we can't do it in New York and it won't be for Stand Up Heroes, 'cause I don't want to tread on Bob and Lee's toes. They're lovely people doing great work, all right." I said, "I will produce this show and we're going to do it in Washington D.C. We'll find somewhere."
We found Constitution Hall, which is about 3,500 seats [run by] Daughters of the Revolution, interestingly enough. And I said, "There won't be any flags. I'm sorry. I can't do it. What there will be is we're changing the name of it. It won't be Stand Up for Heroes. It will be called Music Heals and the symbol of our show is a fucking wheelchair with a guitar lying in it. That's what I wanna do. If you wanna do it, too, we'll do it."
And we did it, sold it out. And it was great. I had a couple guest artists. Tom Morello and Billy Corgan both came and played with us. Sheryl Crow gave us a video we could play along to. And it was really beautiful.
To my eternal shame, I haven't done it again since. But I have kept in touch with everybody. Four of them now live in the woods together somewhere in Pennsylvania and they've got a band and they're working.
Whenever I see somebody lying in the street, I know because I've checked out the statistics, that the chances are about 5-to-1 on that it's a vet. Because we don't look after them and they've all got Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Their lives have been destroyed by being sent abroad to destroy other people's lives – for profit. Which is the only reason they're there, which is heartbreaking obviously.
The Wall: Addressing the Oaf in the Room
AC: With your sights set on these bigger issues, I assume it's frustrating when people say, "We don't want to hear about this. Play something from The Dark Side of the Moon again."
RW: Hey, guess what? I'm still subject to those pressures. I'm going out again this summer, but I'm going on the road and putting on a whole new show. It's called This Is Not a Drill and it's a call to arms – a wakeup call. It's saying, "This is not a drill. They're killing you now. Every single day they're killing you. Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are killing you and so is Donald Trump and so is Mike Bloomberg, and so is the rest of that whole, huge corporate machine.
They're killing you and your children. And everybody else in the world and their children!
The power resides here. It would be so easy not to save the world. That's difficult now because it's been left way too late, but at least to change direction and show each other a little bit of respect and love. You could do that, but you have to stand up and say that's what you want. You're not going to get it by going, "Oh, but they say Julian Assange smeared cat feces on his cell, so he deserves to be shot." That's how it's done. Or "Oh, Roger Waters is a hate-driven anti-Semite. Don't listen to him."
They say that, but it's not true, obviously. Somehow one has to get it through to people that it's bullshit. And that actually they have a huge amount of power, which they don't know about. They have to close their ears to the corporate message, to the narrative clamor, to the belief that the Chinese are trying to get us or the Muslims or the this or that we need a wall or that immigration is bad or whatever.
What do you think fucking America is? Everybody's a fucking immigrant except three or four Native Americans that you haven't slaughtered. Everyone's an immigrant. And so were they back in the day when they figured out how to get across whatever the straits are called between Russia, where they must have come from, and Northern Alaska, which is the only way they could have gotten here. They didn't row across the Atlantic in fucking canoes [laughs]. They came over land, from Africa.
It's so hard, the idea of being able to explain any of this to people. And this, of course, is assuming Trump doesn't bomb us all to death with nuclear weapons, which we shouldn't have. The idea that we still have them and that they're now putting billions and billions and billions of dollars into the military budget, the Pentagon, to develop them further? And there's a lot of talk or really working hard on tactical nuclear weapons.
Are you fucking insane?
Are you really, seriously talking about having a war in Europe with Russia. Wot? This is so crazy. And the Russians aren't interested in it. Why would they be?
When Gorbachev brought an end, almost single-handedly, to the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics back in 1989, the only thing that he asked of the West and of the Allies – and it was agreed to, unequivocally – was that they would not advance one yard further East beyond the borders of East Germany and Poland, and whatever the other sphere of influence. Well, they totally reneged on all those agreements. And the Russians, pouring billions of dollars into a coup d'etat in the Ukraine, which used to be part of Russia? And to be threatening the Crimea and Sevastopol, and the Black Sea, and to have Russia completely surrounded by missile sites and military bases. It's all just so disastrously wrong in every way.
AC: And you in this singular position: The man who wrote The Wall and all it represents against such things lives to see Trump building a wall – right here in Texas.
RW: Mmm hmm. I was so happy to hear it blew over the other day [laughs joyously]. Fucking blew over. A new bit that they just built blew down in a gust of wind. The whole thing is insane. We all know that, but just 'cause it's insane doesn't stop it from happening. This is somebody who, when he comes to town, surrounds Trump Tower, where he has an apartment on the 100th floor, all the way around with dumpsters full of sand to protect him from blasts [laughs deeply].
What a buffoon.
I have a friend who was a well-known dope dealer in New York back in the days of Studio 54, you know, all that clubbing and blow in Seventies. He told me, "You know, I used to go around to all those clubs. When Trump was little and had just inherited the money and was starting to dip his toes into the real estate market in New York, he would always go out to the clubs. He would always be surrounded by a team of acolytes. Whenever he came into a club, because he was so loud, there would always be a buzz."
And my friend said, "When you looked at him, you could see him thinking: 'Oh my god, that's Donald Trump. He's fucking amazing. And he's just built this and done that.'" Right. And there always was a big hum of conversation. What was actually going around: "Oh fuck. There's that fucking prick Trump. What a wanker."
And all the women in the party would be going, "Oooo, he makes me shudder. Can you imagine him laying a finger on you? Disgusting. It would make me throw up." And he would be preening, thinking everybody thinks he's great. He's still doing it.
Unfortunately, quite a large number of the great unwashed do think he's great, just because he's a bully, and a prick. He's exactly the kind of person you would always know is an absolute non-entity and always would be. And yet he's President of the United States.
AC: The Wall. The Wall!
RW: I know. You know, one of the great images that sustains me through my dotage is – and I mean that sarcastically – is some fucking idiot fascist woman who had a Wall frock made for the Oscars one year. For him! The Wall. With the bricks and everything, and The Wall written on it and probably "Trump" written on it somewhere.
Listen, I've probably said enough, haven't I? If you print all this, they'll be somebody standing in the street waiting for you. I assume Austin has a dusty main street, where people–––
AC: Where Gary Cooper stands at High Noon waiting for the baddens.