Former Pink Floyd Mastermind Roger Waters Battles the Dark Side and
Waxes Optimistic with His Long-Awaited Opera, Ca Ira

Synthesis 2005
Synthesis Magazine,
September / October 2005.

Excerpt from the magazine's introduction by Bill Fishkin:
"Welcome to the second issue... ...this issue features interviews
with a completely diverse array of talent including...
Roger Waters . Yes, Roger Waters called our office -
- that's crazy."

BY MAURICE SPENCER TIEILMANN AND GAYLAND MORRIS


LISTENING TO HIS EXTENSIVE

body of work, you might not necessarily take Roger Waters for an optimist. Themes of alienation, societal wrongs and man's natural gift for cruelty and insanity have dominated his musical works, both as Pink Floyd's primary songwriter from the late '60s to the early '80s, and on the solo albums that followed his departure from the band. This assumption could be furthered, noting that after losing a lawsuit in which Waters sued the residual members of Pink Floyd to stop them from using the group's name, they continued to great success, releasing multi-platinum selling (if lyrically and musically unambitious) records. Meanwhile, Waters remained resolute, challenging both himself and his faithful fans with ornate, brain-bending concept albums, including 1992's criminally overlooked Amused to Death. But speaking with Waters, one gets the sense that the acrimony and dread found in his lyrics have been less about expressing contempt for his fellow man than addressing and overcoming his own feelings of disconnection. His long-rumored opera, a Ira -- an ambitious work written about the French Revolution, and boasting the sanguine subtitle "There is Hope" -- will be released on September 27th and Waters took some time out of his day to talk about politics, last July's one-time Pink Floyd reunion at the Live 8 concert, and the daunting task of adapting Etienne Roda-Gil's French libretto.

Synthesis:

I was reading this rock magazine the other day, and it had a piece on President Bush meeting with [Live 8 organizer Bob] Geldof and Bono following the G8 summit. It made a quip about Bush "coming out strongly against MTV cutting into Pink Floyd's performance." I assume that was probably a lame joke, but the first time I read it, I thought to myself, wow, this is the first time I've ever agreed with Bush.

Roger Waters:

[Laughs] I haven't heard that story; I think it's very funny.



Synthesis:

How would you feel knowing your music appealed to, or had a profound effect on a political figure like Bush?

Roger Waters:

Well, I don't think anything I've ever done would have any effect on Bush. I think he's impervious to any thoughts I might have. We come from such different ends of the political spectrum, and his agenda is so different than mine. I would find it extraordinary if I actually had an effect on him in any way. Except possibly as a member of Bob Geldof's team putting on the Live 8 concert, as I was a small part of that. It's possible that we and that [concert] gave a little push in the right direction.



Synthesis:

I wanted to speak with you about your new album, a Ira. My understanding of French is limited at best. I've read a few translations of a Ira and it generally means, "there's hope" or "this will go well." What does the phrase a Ira mean to you? And apart from being the title of a song from the French Revolution, how does it relate to the overall piece?

Roger Waters:

Well, in fact the subtitle, "There is hope," is something that I invented, because that's sort of what it meant to me. I think Etienne [Roda-Gil], who wrote the French libretto, latched onto [a Ira] as a title, partly because the song emerged in 1790 and it was also popularized by Edith Piaf after the Second World War. So it has a resonance for the French and it's almost like, well you could say it's like a rallying call for the empathetic bit in all of us -- our daily fight and battle against the dark side in all of us. It seems to me that the big question facing mankind is whether or not the humane side of our individual personalities has a fighting chance against the parts of us that are greedy and motivated only by self-interest. I find myself determined in my optimism in that school. I just have this sense that it may be that the individual at some point will get a chance to wrestle the reigns of power from where it resides at the moment and express ourselves more individually. Not anarchist -- far from it -- but in order to encourage our governments to uphold the rule of the law, which at the moment... well certainly your government and my government are not, and that is something that causes me great personal pain and anguish. Because, you know in my teens and 20s, it took me a while, but I finally came to realize that the law is really all we have. Actually, I talk about it in a Ira. I talk about "cooling in the crucible, an idea forms." It forms a nugget in the hearts of the poor that in the daunting light they have a right to the law. It's something I realized that, only in law, hope for the future really resides. Which is why it's so kind of, well, sickening that we've actually distanced ourselves now from habeas corpus. This is the absolute fundamental tenet of British law and was then adopted in America. Now we find ourselves incarcerating people without trials, giving them no access to lawyers, to anything, and that seems to me to be an extraordinarily retrograde step -- one I hope people will notice more and more and protest about more and more.



Synthesis:

I hadn't realized fully the implications of Guantanamo Bay until I watched a Canadian news broadcast to know the extent of what we're doing.

Roger Waters:

Well, it's a fundamental abuse of the power of this American administration that throws all international law out of the window and says, we don't care about the law, we're not interested in the law, we will do what we do." It's exactly what they're pretending to be fighting and it is, of course, in its own may, an act of terror -- in the same way that somebody straps a suicide bomb to themselves and kills innocent people, which of course is against international law. As soon as you start breaking international law, you're putting yourself on the same moral low-ground of bin Laden or anyone else in my view.



Synthesis:

Do you believe human beings have the capacity to first start a violent revolution and then relinquish power back to the people once the fighting is over?

Roger Waters:

Well the French did, the Americans did. I don't know if it's quite happened in Algeria yet. As far as in a parliamentary or republican democracy, the power can develop with the people. Americans are at heart good-natured, kind and given half the chance, one would expect them to be happy to adopt the moral high-ground. By that I mean doing the right thing -- not getting involved in debates about gay marriages, but actually providing some kind of moral leadership for the rest of the world. There is an enormous amount of sensitivity in America for that kind of leadership and it's desperately needed, I think. It's certainly not coming from Great Britain anymore.



Synthesis:

I'm suspicious that the power truly hasn't been handed back to the people, or if it's ever stayed in the people's hands. I'm more suspicious that politicians have just gotten better at fooling the people into thinking they have power.

Roger Waters:

Clearly you have a point. One would need to supersede the current system here and you would need to find something to put in its place, and that has proved difficult in the past. One hates to use the words "more socialist model," because "socialist" is such a dirty word in America, so I prefer to say towards a more humane model where the extreme between the wealthy and poor is narrowed rather than being widened as they have been during the last seven or eight years. What I find extraordinary is if you are the poor, why do you vote for an administration that gives themselves huge tax breaks and does nothing for you, except to pretend to fight terrorists... and getting the population to focus on that and only on that. Then you can pursue any policies you want depending on what your agenda is... They have alienated an entire generation of young Muslims around the world. Where it will end, God only knows, but wherever it does end, it doesn't seem like a very happy scenario going into the future.

We are not listening to the minds of the people who might be able to help us get out of this hole. Because surely to goodness, if you ask any sane person, "Is this what we want? For the extremes of various religions to lock horns across international and religious boundaries and have a religious war?" I don't think so. Well that's what is happening and it's not all their fault. I'm sure George Bush would say, "well we have to respond, you know, and we didn't start it..." I'm sorry, but you did. It's not a one-sided thing. The fact is that you are not right, all right, and they are not all wrong. It's really a question of understanding the opposite position and being prepared to compromise.

I mean, I went to my rehearsals with Pink Floyd ready to roll over at every possible moment. I did that. Day one, the first rehearsal, if something comes up or there's some musical difference or whatever with Dave [Gilmour], I'm going to roll over immediately and I did. And it worked great [laughs], it worked perfectly! I'm not saying I could roll over the rest of my life, but then we're not going to work together so, it's cool, it doesn't matter.

We've all got to find the place where we can roll over even if we disagree with the other guy. Rationalize as much as possible even with wildly different points of view. You just have to care more about the other guy's kids than about your own entrenched position. You have to care about your kids and his kids. You have to care about the children. We have to care about that more than we care about the oil or our Gulf Stream or whatever it might be. Then there is a possibility that we can start making more humane decisions and judgments and display more humane actions.



Synthesis:

Considering the historic animosity between you and David, it's refreshing to hear that you both made compromises to be able to work together.

Roger Waters:

Well I didn't say that. I said I rolled over.



Synthesis:

Oh, you rolled over, he didn't make the compromise.

Roger Waters:

He didn't roll over, and I didn't think he would for a minute. That's why I made the decision to roll over at any point, which I did. That's not to say he couldn't, or Dave isn't capable. Of course he is. I'm sure he is. He's a grown man, he's not stupid, and he can understand that it's important to make compromises. It's absolutely essential and it's only in compromise that we can create a world that's fit for our children to live in.



Synthesis:

Getting back to Ca Ira, I understand you're considering staging it as a concert performance in Rome with a full symphony this year. Is this something you're personally going to be directing?

Roger Waters:

Yeah, I will be, and we're not considering it: it's going to happen on November 17th. It's in an auditorium in a park, in a beautiful place in the middle of Rome. The promoter is a big fan of mine and he loves the work, so through his help and with the help of a few other people, we're putting it on with the orchestra, the big chorus with the kids, eight soloists. I've had my arm twisted a little so I've agreed to conduct the overture, after which I will leave it to a professional. I don't know if there are enough beta blockers in the world to calm me down for that one. It will be fun anyway.



Synthesis:

You've been working with orchestral arrangements since Atom Heart Mother and you brought to fruition an operatic piece on The Wall. Do you consider a Ira a culmination of your desires to create something that transcends pop music?

Roger Waters:

I wouldn't call it a culmination. It's been enormously hard work and it's been enormously rewarding, and I'm really glad with Sony's help and, well, everyone's help. It's come to fruition and it now exists as a record. I guess it is a culmination in a sense. It's a milestone along the road. I certainly hope to do more things in the future.



Synthesis:

Do you hope Ca Ira will appeal to an entirely new audience, one that may have been ambivalent towards your music before?

Roger Waters:

Yeah. It would be great. I think the piece has merit. It's very melodic, it's very emotional. The libretto was extremely passionate, and I stayed very true to the libretto. I think it has some important ideas in it. I think the narrative that finally evolved with reference to the friendship between Marie Antoinette and the Revolutionary Priest is an interesting one, and it sort of pits opposing political positions within a historical context that, eventually at the beginning of act three, comes together as a duet between the Priest and Marie Antoinette just before she's about to be beheaded. So, um, yeah I think it sort of hangs together and has some merit.



Synthesis:

I've been listening to Ca Ira, and I haven't detected your voice or instrumentation.

Roger Waters:

If you hear somebody shouting, that will be my voice. But no, I didn't sing on it at all.



Synthesis:

At the end of the Animals tour you had a really bad incident with an audience member at the end of a show, where you spat at them. This helped you create the idea of The Wall, of putting up this barrier between you and the audience.

Roger Waters:

That's right, yes.



Synthesis:

Have you dealt with your issues of contempt for your audience?

Roger Waters:

[Laughs] Yeah, absolutely! That was in 1977 and actually had nothing to do with contempt of the audience. It was the contempt I felt for myself, and I redirected it onto this poor kid in the audience. It had nothing to do with him or his behavior or anything he did. It was because I realized I was involved in an operation that had become mechanical and monetary, and so I was disgusted with myself because of that. I suddenly realized that Pink Floyd by 1977 no longer had [anything] to do with music and communicating with an audience, it had to do with cash by and large. So it was sort of self-loathing that caused that. I realized it at that moment and after that moment, lying awake that night in a hotel room, I thought, "Wow, what's happened to me?" It was appalling behavior and it was at that moment that the genesis of the idea to do The Wall came, and I wrote a bit of a blurb. In fact, if you go to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, they built a bit of wall there. On it, there is some graffiti that I wrote for them to put on it. I can't remember it verbatim, but it basically says that The Wall is something I did to try and discover who I was and where I fit. I was faced with the question whether to accept that kind of enslaved position, being enslaved to profit, or would I take the risk of the road less traveled and not be enslaved to that very cozy position? It's apparently cozy to have a powerful brand name and sit under it. But it's actually deep beyond uncomfortable to deny one's creativity in that way. That was the question that was posed in The Wall and writing The Wall was sort of my way of discovering the answer to those questions.



Synthesis:

I always found it highly amusing that the punk rock generation in England at the time considered your music pompous, yet your spitting at the audience was perhaps one of the most punk rock things recorded at that time in musical history.

Roger Waters:

I guess it was. I never really took that punk attack on Pink Floyd very seriously.



Synthesis:

Your work on Ca Ira began almost 15 years ago, during the bicentennial of the French Revolution. Has this been a continual project for you or one that you've set aside and revisited over the years?

Roger Waters:

I worked on it in 1988 and I made a demo with an engineer which went to Paris on a cassette, and someone took it to President Mitterrand and he listened to it and he loved it. And that was me singing all the parts and playing all the instruments. It was rather crude, but it had something... and me singing in French was kind of strange. So he wrote a letter to Pierre Berge, who was the director of the Paris opera, saying that he thought this piece should be a part of the bicentennial celebration. I got very excited and I thought, "How am I going to lick this into shape in six months?" So they stopped talking about it being the inaugural work of the Bastille and then about six months after that, Nadine Roda-Gil, who illustrated the libretto and was very much a part of the whole process, died of leukemia. So we did nothing for another five years. We just put it away on a shelf. In 1995, I spoke to Etienne again and said, "Let's pick up, you know, it's time," and he agreed. That's when I started the orchestrations and started working on finding a recording company, making a record and doing everything properly.



Synthesis:

How do you think shelving it for those years affected the end results?

Roger Waters:

I think probably for the better. It's five years older and maybe five years wiser. It was a good thing. I don't think it would have been goad to leave it much longer, and I'm glad it's done.



Synthesis:

Personally I think one of your strongest artistic traits is your ability to craft thought-provoking and poetic lyrics. How difficult was it to adapt Etienne's original French libretto?

Roger Waters:

It was hard work. It wasn't until I was trying to translate it that I realized that it was a bit narrative-like and a lot of the French was based upon archaic terms which a literal translation couldn't even begin to express. In consequence, I had to search in my own craft for new ways of expressing things, sometimes changing things almost entirely while staying true to the spirit of the original text. I added a lot of prologues and added narrative pieces which Etienne translated back into French. It became very symbiotic and a collaboration. I only did it because the record company was desperate that I provide them with an English version as well as a French version. But I'm very glad they did.



Synthesis:

Would you indulge me for a couple of super-fan questions?

Roger Waters:

Sure.



Synthesis:

When was the last time you thought of [Pink Floyd's founding member] Syd [Barrett]?

Roger Waters:

Well, obviously during live 8. I mentioned him on stage and of course the papers, stupidly as they always do, sent reporters off to find him in Cambridge, and of course he never answers the door, and he won't. They did manage to unearth Rosemary, his younger sister, and she just said, "Leave him alone, he's not interested and he hasn't been for the last 35 years and he will never will be. So stop badgering him, you know?" But, I think about him regularly and I sort of keep tabs on him. My mum is still alive and well, living in Cambridge, so I occasionally ask her if there's any word and if he's okay. He does, you know, he putters around. He's got his own house where he lives. Royalties come through, so within the context of the discomfort of being schizophrenic, I think he's as comfortable as he can be.



Synthesis:

What about old rumors that he had a lobotomy?

Roger Waters:

Oh absolutely not! That is completely untrue.



Synthesis:

Great, I'm glad to clear that up. Here's a fun one. Dark Side of the Moon and Wizard Of Oz: Brilliant preplanned combination of mixed mediums, amusing coincidence or complete load of rubbish?

Roger Waters:

It has nothing to do with us, that's for sure.



Synthesis:

I have one more question for you... How will the world end?

Roger Waters:

Oh, it will. Isn't it supposed to slowly cool off? Though they do say they're worried about global warming. But my thought is that it will go quietly and get cold, or there will be some supernova nearby and it will go with a bang! I think those are two possibilities [laughs], but I don't think it should concern any of us. It's not going to happen for a few million years... unless we get hit by a giant asteroid or something, which is always a possibility. But I think these kinds of cosmic questions are, I don't know... One experiences life from one grain of sand that is one's own feeling about things. I'm more concerned about how people feel than what's happening in the great "out there."



*** THE END ***


Regards,Lostin70s http://www.geocities.com/lostin70s.geo/index.html


Posted: 7 September 2005

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