Roger Waters, 78, is currently touring North America with his This is Not a Drill arena show, a politically charged spectacle presented in the round. The British rock legend and former Pink Floyd front man talked to The Globe and Mail via Zoom about hope, his complete ignorance of the Weeknd and being literally spitting mad.
Forty-five years ago at a concert in Montreal you spat on a concertgoer, an incident that led to you writing an album, The Wall, about the alienation between artists and fans. I attended one of your concerts last week in Toronto, where you basked in the crowd’s applause. How do you account for the change in your relationship with audiences?
Maybe it’s just that I’ve woken up a bit. You’ve been to the show and seen what I have to say in The Happiest Days of Our Lives and Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 and Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3, about how restrained we are by what the government and the ruling class want us to believe. I think that’s more open to scrutiny than it was in 1977, when I famously spat on some poor bloke in the audience in Montreal.
What’s your relationship with audiences today?
Audiences are far more attentive to what I have to say now than they were then. And, also, I say it more coherently and clearly now than I did then, because now I’m not constrained by the rock group that I was with then. They were always trying to drag me back from my natural instinct, which is to tell the truth. What’s interesting about you being here with me now is that none of the newspapers in Toronto sent anybody to review my shows. What I’d like to know, what I’d like you to ponder on, and maybe ask your readers, is if they have any theories as to why that may be?
I hate to get in the way of a good conspiracy theory, but your concert wasn’t the biggest in town that night. I was assigned to cover the Weeknd’s concert at Rogers Centre.
But the Weeknd was cancelled. And my show was for two nights. I have no idea what or who the Weeknd is, because I don’t listen to much music. People have told me he’s a big act. Well, good luck to him. I’ve got nothing against him. Would it not have been possible to review his show one night and my show another night?
Speaking for The Globe, I can tell you that we don’t do as many concert reviews as we used to. I didn’t cover your show, but I did put in for an interview with you before the concerts and it wasn’t granted. And I’m speaking with you now.
Good, I’m glad to hear that, and I look forward to reading this in the pages of your newspaper. I’m not trying to make a personal attack. I’m just saying it seemed odd. And, by the way, with all due respect to the Weeknd or Drake or any of them, I am far, far, far more important than any of them will ever be, however many billions of streams they’ve got. There is stuff going on here that is fundamentally important to all of our lives.
I understand you’re participating in a pro-Palestine event in Montreal.
Yes, I’m doing webinar in support of and in solidarity with the students of McGill because attempts are being made to shut down the pro-Palestine voice at the university. I’m used to this. It happens everywhere. But I’m happy to say the voice is growing as the minutes go by. It’s not anti-Semitic, let’s get that out of the way. It’s the voice of the people saying, “We hear a lot of rhetoric about human rights but we don’t see evidence that our leaders [care about] human rights.” In fact, we hear a lot of evidence that they don’t. Your government, for instance, is more interested in its mining interests and the oil and the tar sands and all that stuff than it is in the basic human rights of your Indigenous people and people all over the globe.
These are politicians. They want to be elected. They can’t make the waves that somebody like you can.
Well, this is why the system is so corrupt and so disgusting.
You present your politics and voice your opinions on stage. What about the fans who just want to hear The Dark Side of the Moon?
You were there, so you know I played a lot of The Dark Side of the Moon, to some extent against my better judgment. I am under pressure from all of those people to actually deliver some of that to them. And I enjoy it, because I wrote the songs and I still like them and I stand by what I said in Us and Them and Money and Eclipse. I have no problem performing those songs and Comfortably Numb and Wish You Were Here with this band.
Walking out of the venue, I heard a woman say the concert wasn’t as upbeat as she wanted it to be.
Well, thank you madam. I don’t know who you are, but I thank you for noticing that it wasn’t just a sing-along party of old hits. I don’t go to those kinds of shows, because I don’t like them. The old bands go out and trundle through their hits year after year after year.
Some of those bands are your friends.
Yeah, some are my friends. And do you know what I noticed? The audiences are all 100 years old. They’re listening to Layla and they’re almost a dying breed. My audiences aren’t. If that lady you mentioned wanted to come to a rock and roll show and listen to old Pink Floyd songs and be comfortably numb, it shows that she never understood the work I was doing in Pink Floyd back then.
A review of your concert in Boston cited hope, anger and Pink Floyd classics. We’ve talked about your anger and your Pink Floyd songs, but is there hope for us?
Of course there is. A number of years ago I was working on my opera, Ça Ira, with Étienne Roda-Gil. I must have asked him a philosophical question, because he looked at me and said, “Roger, I was here, I felt something, and I was not alone.” I feel the same way. It gives me hope. That’s the sense of community that I described to the audiences in Toronto, that perhaps we’re not alone. And that’s perhaps the community that I sensed the existence of in that room in those people that night.
Turns out you can be upbeat after all.
Well spotted! [Laughs] Yeah, I can.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Roger Waters’s This Is Not A Drill tour plays Montreal July 15; Quebec City, July 17; Edmonton, Sept. 13; Vancouver, Sept. 15.