Roger Waters talks “Us + Them” tour, Pink Floyd, politics & more in BV interview
Roger Waters has had one of the most prolific careers in music since founding Pink Floyd nearly 55 years ago. Having released Is This the Life We Really Want in June of 2017 and having wrapped up a whopping 157-date world tour back in December of 2018, Waters, now 75, is as feisty and as potent as ever. His most recent record and tour found Roger surrounded by a mostly newer and younger assemblage of musicians. This posse created a sound live and in my headphones that was astoundingly refreshing. This is not to knock previous records or lineups, but by shedding tried and true old timers like Graham Broad, GE Smith, Snowy White, and Andy Fairweather Low, and putting in their place musicians such as Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig (Lucius), Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket), Jonathan Wilson (prolific guitarist and producer) (who has a show coming up at Carnegie Hall), and Joey Waronker (Walt Mink, Beck, Atoms For Peace), Roger was able to cultivate a sound -- playing on each member's strengths -- that created a new sonic chapter to add to his already staggering oeuvre. I caught the US + Them tour three times; first at a full scale rehearsal at the Meadowlands, then at Barclays, and finally at Hyde Park in London. Each time I heard them, there were discernible tweaks and modifications to the sound that showed a band who, though already on top of their game, were consciously improving and evolving.
Roger Waters is an artist I've revered for almost four decades. He's an artist whose projects I've spent considerable time discussing at length here on BV. So you can imagine the nerve-wracking surprise that coursed through me when I got a call asking if I'd like to conduct an exclusive interview with the man himself; his only post-tour US interview on the horizon. What transpired was a 90-minute conversation that covered everything from Roger's Us + Them tour and his last solo studio effort to his activism and humanitarian efforts as well as his propensity for being a lightning rod for controversy. I am no Dick Cavett, but thanks to Roger's generous and voluble nature, it was a very fruitful and revealing conversation.
Klaus Kinski: One of the big standouts for me, both in the studio for Is This the Life We Really Want and on the road, was the new musical personnel you have. It’s probably one of the best band iterations in your career as a solo artist and I wondered how it was working with such a younger group of musicians.
Roger Waters: Well, I am glad you liked this line-up because so do I. We’ve done 157 shows now all over the world and I really miss them. I know that everybody who was on that tour is going through a “what the fuck happened?” kind of period because we were a very happy circus family and what we did every night… everybody recognized that it was really special. Now, the fact that they were younger and, well, maybe there were a few less curmudgeons knocking around which is not a bad thing, I don’t know, but they were all lovely, lovely people and they’re all great musicians. It may be that the reason I decided to make a few changes personnel-wise had something to do with making the record with all of them, and with Nigel (Godrich). I would single out Joey [Waronker]. Working with Joey in the studio, Joey’s really quiet and his style is completely different than anyone else I’ve ever worked with before and I was very struck with it. And so I think that was part of the reason that I decided to make personnel changes after Desert Trip. Though, of course, at Desert Trip I was already working with Jess and Holly [of Lucius], who I adore, who are enormously talented, and who I met entirely by chance because I had gone to do Newport Folk Festival a few years before. You know, Newport said to me “Hey! Do you want to use any of the other people here?” So I said, “Yeah, I could use some background vocalists.” They came back and said there was this band Lucius, so I went on the ‘net because I don’t listen to music much so I had no idea who they were. But I saw “Go Home,” which is a remarkable video, and you only have to hear them for ten seconds to go “WOW!”
I was actually at the Newport Folk Festival for your performance and thought having My Morning Jacket and Lucius as your back up band was phenomenal.
Yeah they’re great. And of course, Bo [Koster of My Morning Jacket]! After Drew [Erickson], who was the keyboard player we had after Desert Trip, fell out the window, weirdly enough, two days after we were playing in Nashville and Patrick [Hallahan of My Morning Jacket] and Bo came to the show and I thought “Wow, I need a keyboard player. What’re you doing Bo?” And he fit in perfectly. He’s beautiful, he’s great.
I am glad you specifically pointed out Joey Waronker. On the record and live, he was such a welcome departure from, say, Graham Broad’s sort of balls-to-the-wall style. He was a perfect match for the Pink Floyd material, and I can’t imagine anyone else playing your new stuff.
Yeah, he is brilliant. Boom. End of story. And Jonathan [Wilson] and Gus [Seyffert] are both consummate musicians and great at what they do. And also lovely guys. I don’t know; what more could you want? So it’s been a very happy experience.
Your relationship to the BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) has resulted in protests calling to have some of your shows canceled. This happened with your Nassau Coliseum gigs for example. Did you have any similar experiences abroad?
Yeah! Abroad, well, they threatened to throw me in prison in Brazil because I was sticking my oar into their election by joining the #EleNão movement which failed. You know Bolsonaro, the fascist Bolsonaro, was elected notwithstanding the resistance to him. I wanted to go and visit Lula [former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva] when we got down south to where he was in prison and the local judge denied me that opportunity. Because it was a very sensitive time, it was coming up to the election… obviously the only reason Lula is in prison is because he would have won the election standing on his head with both hands tied behind his back IF he could have stood, which he can’t, because they’ve got him in prison on trumped up corruption charges. In the West people just go, “Oh yeah, another corrupt politician.” No he’s not. He is not a corrupt politician; he is in prison on trumped up charges put there by the powers that be in Brazil… So, um, where else… I implored them to lock me up in France where they have Draconian anti-BDS bills, and where they have prosecuted young people for standing outside grocery shops with placards saying “Don’t Buy Food From The Settlements.” In fact, I wrote a long letter to the republic about two years ago asking them what they were doing and why they were doing that. It’s quite difficult for somebody who isn’t French to even understand it. So I am not going to try and understand it myself and reiterate it to you but suffice it to say that picketing a shop that sells stuff from the settlements is considered a hate crime. In France. You can’t believe it. Remember “Des Droits De L’Homme” 1789? Remember universal human rights?
On the BDS front, I did many moderated talks in theaters to groups of people up to about 1000. Maybe Vancouver was the biggest one with maybe 1200 people there. And they were always very interesting and deeply moving and hopefully bore some fruit and had some effect. It’s been a long hard road. I’m a fairly new addition to the BDS scene. I’ve only been doing it since 2006, which is only 12 years. And of course, the problem has been there since 1948, so it’s a long long hard struggle. Even the last 12 years have been. But, we are making great progress and it’s coming to a head, particularly with the new bill that’s gone through the senate 77 votes to 24 or whatever it was. Things are really coming to a head and people are being almost forced to actually address the question which has been right in front of them all through all of this, and certainly over the past 12 years, which is the denial of human rights to the Palestinian people and the ignoring of international law, and all the rest of it. Again, I won’t bore you with chapter and verse and detail because I am sure that’s not why we’re really here.
Were there every any violent protests out there? Did you ever feel you were in any real danger? Like after your anti-Bolsonaro comments in Sau Paulo, did you feel like you really whacked the hornet’s nest?
My security were trying to get me to move hotels and not stay in Rio and blah blah blah and I went, “No. I am not gonna change hotels. I understand that you are professionals and that you are doing your job, but, no.” Maybe I am being extremely naïve, because I have actually been warned a number of years ago in New York. I had a meeting with a man who shall remain nameless but who runs a big international security company and who used to drive the Middle East Desk for the CIA for many years. I keep wanting to spit his name out, but I’m not going to! Anyway, I had a long conversation with this man who was introduced to me by a mutual friend of ours. He sat in my house and he tried to convince me that it is better to be Martin Luther King than Malcolm X, and could I not move my politics a bit closer to the middle and be a bit more inclusive and whatever. And then he started almost suggesting that I was like a suicide bomber. He said, “The thing is, if you go on and strap explosives to yourself and you’re explosive and you sort of blow things up, you maybe give up your potential to change minds and to be effective in the battle for hearts and minds and blah blah blah blah…” And I sort of argued gently with him about his theories, like “I am not religious, so being Martin Luther King is kind of different, but I take your point. But Malcolm X was deeply understood and it’s not a bad position” and so on. At the end of all of this he looked at me and he said “Hm, I just wouldn’t want to see anything happen to you.” And I thought, fuck me, I am being threatened in my own home, by the CIA.
How did we get onto that? Oh yeah! The people that worry me are the deranged fans. It’s the only worry I take really seriously. I am sure if Mossad thought they could kill me they would have done it by now. I know I am seriously on their radar and must find me very irritating. I am a thorn in their side. And I think if they could just get away with killing me they would, because they have very little respect for human life as we know. But, it’s the Mark Chapmans of this world that I think are a bigger worry.
When you said “deranged fan” my mind went straight to Mark David Chapman or John Hinckley Jr.
Because that’s just so tragic. Chapman had been hanging around the Dakota and getting John Lennon’s autograph for months by all accounts. I mean, I haven’t read the full history but that’s the one; it’s the crazy person who thinks they love you so they become a jilted lover in some way. OR they’re just crazy and they want celebrity or notoriety and they’re crazy enough to point a gun at you and pull the trigger. That’s not something I crave.
Somewhat related with that, Us & Them was a narrative concert. It was not a “greatest hits” concert…
What’s interesting, sorry, I am going to interrupt you… it’s interesting that you say that because certainly the first 20 minutes of the show IS greatest hits AND it’s narrative. The narrative is my work. The greatest hits of Pink Floyd are my work. That IS the narrative. The fact that the narrative expresses itself through some of my later work, for example, the four or three songs in a row that I do from Is This the Life We Really Want is actually, it couldn’t be otherwise really. It’s the same man writing the music and thinking the show through and figuring out how to put a show together and all that it was in the '70s. I haven’t changed, I really haven’t. The narrative has always been there.
I do think the narrative created in set 2 with “Dogs”, “Pigs”, “Money”, “Us and Them”, and “Smell the Roses” was particularly politically scathing, especially alongside the visuals. With such a massive back catalogue, how difficult was it to curate a setlist that achieved the message you were trying to convey?
Well, not very because the seeds were in Desert Trip. They came to me and said they were going to be doing this thing in the Autumn that’s like Coachella but not for young people, it’s different. They said to me that they’d been desperate to get me back to Coachella since whenever I did Coachella, which was 2007 or 2008 I think. And they “sorta can’t fit you in, so would you do THIS idea, and the idea is we get the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd as headliners.” And I went “They’re all dead! You can’t do that!” and they went “No, no, no hear me out. We can get other great acts as well." And he mentioned Dylan, and Neil Young and The Who. And that’s it. It’s six acts and we do it for three nights, there’s an opening act and a closing act each night and “would you be prepared to be one of the closing acts?” And I said “Who do I get!” And he said “The Who” and I went “Ah great, I can’t fucking wait to be there.”
So I thought I’d been given the mantle for one day. Although I am still called me, it’s obvious what they were doing, and they got Macca and they got the actual Rolling Stones. And they’ve got Bob Dylan and Neil Young and The Who. So, I’ve got to do stuff from the Pink Floyd catalog. So I didn’t do ANY of the new songs. It was all material from when I’d been in Pink Floyd. We had already opened with “Breathe“ and done “Time” and so on and so forth. When I went back on the road I had subsequently finished making the record, and I had to decide how much of the new material I could put in because I think Nigel Godrich did an amazing job producing the record. I think it’s very strong in terms of its politics and its melodic and musical nature, and I am really proud of it. So I thought “How many of these songs can I squeeze in?" We got four of them in the end. And they worked; they worked like a dream. It was seamless. You’d never have thought, “Oh, that’s a new one” you just go “It’s another of his songs.”
The flow of the show was fantastic.
Obviously in the second half “Dogs” and “Pigs” and “Money” go by and “WOW!” Everybody’s filled with awe because there’s a huge Battersea Power Station in the middle of the auditorium, or it has grown behind the stage. And suddenly you get "Us and Them" and there is not a dry eye in the house. Quite rightly because we are talking about killing little kids for money and a lot of people get moved by that. Killing people for money is the story of our fucking lives unfortunately. But of course her song, the Yemeni girl whose image is over the first line of “Us and Them,” she is the subject of “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” from Is This the Life We Really Want whose story I still haven’t uncovered. She’s in Jeremy Scahill’s film Dirty Wars and I have been trying to figure out what happened to her ever since and I have failed in that endeavor. I’ve called him, and I’ve called his production department but somehow we’ve missed each other and I’ve failed to find the answer. So, “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” is about a bomber’s drone program and all of that, about the Tuesday Meetings… every Tuesday Obama would sit there and they would decide who to kill. It’s pretty weird.
And frightening and showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.
No it’s not. It is very frightening, yeah. It’s even more frightening if you’re out there in the desert getting blown up by hellfires that are miles away. That’s what’s so wonderful about Sonia Kennebeck’s movie National Bird. It goes into such intimate and subtle and incredibly moving detail of the predicament of the people who are in the USAF who have to do the killing from 4000 miles away and how much it affects them and what a terrible… I mean, it doesn’t affect them as much as the poor fuckers who get blown up but it’s still impossible to deal with.
This is a subject you addressed back in 1992 with “The Bravery of Being Out Of Range.” That detached, long-distance violence.
Yeah it is. It is my oeuvre because it’s not something I’ve ever been able to turn my back on. Since I was a young man it always really worried me, desperately, this idea that if people don’t fall into line, well, we’ll just kill ‘em. What?! I thought we were supposed to be civilized? You mean if they get upset because we’re stealing their rubber, or enslaving them or whatever it might be that Whitey has done all over the world… if they get upset about it, well we just kill them? And THEN produce the narrative in the homeland that it’s ok, that it’s not really evil. That we’ve been chosen by God to rule the world. This “chosen by God to rule” thing doesn’t belong only to the Israelis. It kind of belongs to Mike Pence as well. It’s what they believe. They believe that they were chosen by God to rule the world.
ESPECIALLY Pence, yeah. Pence is a scary motherfucker. He just stands there behind the throne, looking steely.
When it comes to your activism and human rights, you’re often in the defensive position. I wondered if it ever just gets torturously mundane or if you enjoy the challenge of political jousting?
No, I don’t like it. It’s bloody hard work. But, in a way, to be forced to know what you’re talking about is not a bad thing. You could see it as part of the education process, and I’m 75 years old. I’m glad I’m still learning stuff. The ad hominem attacks that I receive every minute, and I get them every minute on the internet from the Israeli lobby trolls, are particularly irritating. The really bad thing about social media is that if you post anything anywhere on social media, you open yourself up to having a quasi-dialog with people you would be far better off not talking to at all. Because they’re fucking idiots and they’re vile and they’re vicious and they’re stupid and they’re beneath having a conversation with. I am happy to have conversations with people who have an opposing point of view but have an IQ above room temperature and can have a proper conversation about the pros and cons of Zionism or whatever. And you CAN have that conversation about the pros and cons of Zionism and at the end of the day however intelligent people are you may come to an impasse, usually because the almighty comes into it in some way. It’s very difficult to square faith with human rights. Which is one of the complaints that we make about the extreme end of Jihadist activity. You think “These people are crazy,” and even Mike Pence will believe that. Unfortunately, Mike Pence can’t see that he’s no different than Jihadis; he’s the same, it’s just a different faith. To be attached to your faith in a way that is inhumane, sociopathic, insane, like Isis, it’s exactly the same with the Christian Evangelicals in the United States who want the world to end, who want the end of times. And that’s why they support Zionism. It would be funny if it wasn’t tragic.
Your affiliation with the BDS movement coupled with the overtly anti-Trump content of your live shows has caused sort of a rift within your fan-base. Does it surprise you that your so-called die-hard fans can be surprised by the scale of the political content?
It used to but it doesn’t any more. You know, it’s funny you should say that because there is a Facebook page called “Pink Floyd” and it has 30-million followers or something like that. I don’t have any access to it. But it has surprised me that they wouldn’t wonder why. If you’re a lifelong Pink Floyd fan and I was to ask you what your favorite songs were they would be almost certainly somewhere between Meddle and The Final Cut. They just are, that is what it is, and that’s how people feel. But people who don’t ask that question and think “Oh, he was an angry autocratic asshole and he broke the band up and we hate him” are completely missing the point. Completely. It’s just crazy. So that’s the thing about the Facebook thing; you have to accept that you... well, this isn’t a very bright congregation. So when people go “I didn’t come here to listen to his politics” it’s like, well “Then why did you come?” You don’t have to agree with the politics. It all started back in the days of Amused to Death and “Leaving Beirut” and people were walking out of the shows in North America, complaining or demanding their money back. Just because they had really never had any idea who I was or what I did or what it was about. They just thought they knew, and they found out they didn’t. Which is cool because I do have a base, and they write to me as well, people who absolutely get it. People who came to the Us and Them show and burst into tears during “Us and Them”. They completely get it. They understand that my work is about the fact that I burst into tears when I see a child die. I can’t fucking bear it. Every child that is shot by the Israelis in Gaza on the border; I burst into tears. I can’t stand it. There are millions and millions of people who are developed enough in terms of their attachment to their capacity for empathy who burst into tears when a child dies. And I’m really happy about that. I am really happy that I also have that community that I can attach myself to and I am part of that community and it is a big community. Whether it will succeed in having any effect on the more powerful establishment community that just wants make more and more weapons and kill more and more people and make more and more profit I have no idea. But all we can do is keep trying. I know BrooklynVegan does because I’ve read some of it. But that’s all we can do; keep raising our voices and going “No, there is more to life than lucky strikes and some unlucky ones, and folded flags and pipes and drums.”
I don’t mean to interrupt here, but I have to say I am really glad you just quoted your song “Folded Flags” from the When The Wind Blows soundtrack from 1986. That is such an incredible song that could easily fit into one of your setlists.
Listen, there is no reason why it shouldn’t. I was singing it the other day to myself, “I stood in the wings with you, our lives in the hand of a second-rate actor, holding the on some old stage…”
And then that great sax solo…
I can’t remember, is that Mel Collins or David Sanborn? It’ll be one of the two. It’s an amazing solo anyway, you’re completely right. And also Paul Carrack sings on it! Well not all of the songs, but he sings all the choruses and he plays electric piano. He was in my band for a while, you know, when I was thrashing around in the early 2000’s. What a lovely fellow he is.
I sort of missed Robbie Wyckoff on the Us + Them tour. His vocals sort of remind me of Paul Carrack’s on “Folded Flags.”
Yeah, he has got a beautiful voice. Robbie sort of fell by the wayside because I realized that I could figure out how to do the vocals with somebody playing the guitar rather than standing there like a lemon. With The Wall tour it was alright because we built a wall and you could have people standing around behind it. And also there were lots of men singing cause the Lennon’s were all there, bless them. Kip, Uncle Pat, Markie…
Speaking of vocals, I loved how Holly and Jess of Lucius handled the vocal solo of “The Great Gig in the Sky” on the Us + Them tour.
I love it! Obviously at the beginning they said to me “Do we really have to sing all of Clare [Torry's] parts?” And I went, “No, let’s figure something out.” We spent a lot of time together the three of us figuring it out and figuring out how we could do it, because we needed to give a nod to it, we needed it to be bluesy, and it needs to be a bit this, that, and the other, but yeah. “You need to put your stamp on it.” And what they’ve done is brilliant.
And it certainly evolved. It was different at Hyde Park July 2018 than it was at your rehearsal gig at the Meadowlands in May 2017.
It continued to evolve. You know, when you said Hyde Park was the last show you saw, that was sort of in the middle of our tour. We went on evolving after that. And I changed the show every day. Not a single day goes by where I don’t watch it and make notes, even if it’s lighting or quite often it’s musical as well where I’ll go “Hang on a minute” and I’ll go into one song and say “What were you playing over those two bars” and it’d be “Ahhh, I see” and the we’d figure it out. It’s great.
And the band, they were good with adapting?
Oh yeah, sure. Absolutely. I think it’s that sometimes, when people are new to me, sometimes it takes a little while because I am not a virtuoso bass player or guitar player or singer or anything. They know the work, they’ve heard the work, so there must be something going on between my ears, and that I HAVE ears. But when we get into it they’re all “Oh fuck me, he doesn’t miss anything! He hears everything.” And a respect develops. I respect them, otherwise they wouldn’t be with me. So we get into a really symbiotic working relationship based upon mutual respect in all our musical and human capacities. You can’t do what we do if you’re an arsehole.
Was Nigel the driving force in assembling this crew of musicians?
Joey and Gus and Jonathan. He turned up with these three guys. They were there. I would go in and he would say “I really want you to work with this drummer” and I’d go “Ok.” So that was Joey who was very quiet, and we started working. Then “I think you’ll like this guy alright. Gus. Plays the bass.” And man does he play the bass. He is fantastic. Hugely accomplished, he is also a producer and he writes. And Jonathan, who’s a real performer and great guitar player and a lovely fellow. And a great singer as well. He really came through. I wasn’t sure if it was gonna work, but it did.
On a superficial level, I thought Jonathan was great and had an incredible stage presence.
He’s a hippie! We made a joke of it, but then it stuck. And I introduced him as that for all of the rest of the shows. Every band should have a hippie, and this is ours. Mr. Peace and Love from Southern California. And he can fucking play. You know what we did, I’ll tell you something because you’re interested in music. As the tour went on, at the beginning we used to do either “Vera” and “Bring The Boys Back Home”, or “Mother” as a quasi-encore before "Comfortably Numb." As the tour went on we started doing other things so by the end we would say “What should we do tonight?” “Uhhh, ‘Gunner’s Dream’? Or ‘Two Suns in the Sunset’” Slowly but surely I was introducing other songs from my oeuvre. I am thinking of making a record actually which would just be called The Encores. Bringing the band together, using live recordings from the road, and/or recording them live. We started doing ‘The Bravery of Being Out Of Range.’ There are about 11 songs that we did as encores and they are such fun to do.
‘Two Suns in the Sunset’. I’d love to hear Joey on that.
He’s great. Of course, on the record [The Final Cut], it’s [Andy] Newmark. I played it to Nick [Mason] and he went “I can’t play this. What, are you insane? Every other bar is 5/4, isn’t it?” Well bless him, Nick. He just said “I can’t play it.”
The temperature at the Hyde Park show was about 90 degrees, and even more out in the field under the direct sun. You guys played in the afternoon in the direct sunlight. How was that? You and the band looked and sounded as solid as ever, but man that must have been awful.
It was unnerving. The heat was not relevant. It was super unnerving for me. It’s my show, and we are having to do it in the bright sunlight. So you can’t really see the show. It had to rest just on the songs, the music… the pizzazz. It was hard for me to play in broad daylight. That’s the only place in the world that we did it in broad daylight.
And there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
It was brutal. But it was a good show. It came off really well, but I fully understood the fans’ chagrin, going “Why are you only doing an outdoor show in London, it’ll be broad daylight!” And I was thinking the exact same thing myself. My alternative would have been to do six shows in the O2 which I’ve done before in London. At that particular point in the tour, the workload was beyond all imagination. We were in Dublin, Glasgow, Hyde Park, Birmingham… it was unrelenting, and then we were in Europe. Around Bologna, Milan, whatever, I think we did eight shows in 12 days at one point. And that’s brutal.
I was part of the local crew when you guys played Barclays and I gotta say that the amount of trucks we had to unload was insane. For a tour of this size, is one crew setting up one venue ahead of time while you’re playing and then tearing down the current show?
When we play outdoors, yeah. We have one local crew building all the scaffolding before we arrive. Indoors, no, the whole thing can go up in a night. I mean it is a lot of 18-wheelers for Us and Them, but it was nothing like The Wall. In South America when we did The Wall, I think we had sixty-one 18-wheelers. I know, but what can you do?
I’d like to talk about the recent rescue of Ayyub and Mahmud Ferreira. Their father left for Syria from Trinidad to join Isis, taking his boys with him. When he was killed, they languished there until you physically rescued them and reunited them with their mother. How long did it take for that mission to come to fruition?
I am trying to think from beginning to end. Well, I can tell you exactly because I remember it. I finished the tour in either Monterrey or Guadalajara. Either way it doesn’t matter. We were hubbing out of Mexico City on the 10th of December, and I then stayed for a couple of days and then got on a plane and went back to England to go to my house to have my family on Boxing Day. I was there and at some point I thought, “What shall I do before Christmas?” because here I am in London. I thought, I know, one of the things I want to do is see Clive Stafford-Smith. I had been in contact with him quite a lot over all sorts of things, mainly to do with people on death row, that sort of stuff, the sort of legal work that he does. I called him up and I said “Hey Clive, let’s have dinner or lunch or something if you’re in London. How about Friday?” He told me he couldn’t do it on Friday because he was in Iraq. “What are you doing in Iraq?” “Well, it’s a long story.” “When do you get back?” “I get back on Saturday morning.” So I said, “Alright, I’ll stay in London an extra day. Can we have lunch?” So we did. I asked him what he was doing in Iraq, and he was actually in Syria and he began telling me the story and blah blah blah. And I had a glass of wine and then said “Go on.” Then I had another glass of wine. And then I said well, we gotta go and get these kids. And he said it wasn’t as easy as that. And I asked why. The Trinidadian government have no interest in getting them back. They cannot travel without passports, without documents. Well where do they come from? Either the International Red Cross in Geneva or they have to be issued by the Commonwealth Office in London. Who can organize all that? He told me the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. He said that what I could do was write an op-ed for the local paper in Trinidad. So I did. Then I said, well, if we get these documents how would we get them? And he said well, I’d go to Vienna and then fly from there to Erbil in Northern Iraq and then drive to the border and go about 30 minutes across the border. Having just come off tour, I confess, ah Christ, I can’t do that. What I’ll do is I’ll pretend I’m still on the road and pretend I still have access to a private airplane, it’ll only cost a few quid and we’ll all go together, it’ll be fun. We’ll go with Felicia, the mother. We started to get the government in Trinidad moving. I had front page op-eds on Newsday in Trinidad, and the Prime Minister said “OK!” Three days later they produced the passports in London, two days after that we flew Felicia from Trinidad to London. By this time I was in Switzerland. We were going “When are we going? Are we going at the weekend? Next weekend. OK.” Then they said, “No we’ve got to put it off” because then my team had stepped in and said “You can’t go, they’ll kidnap you. It’s ridiculous. Don’t be so stupid. You can’t possibly go to Syria. You’re insane.” And I went “I am fucking going and that is the end of it.” We had to get insurance, you know, anyway, it turned into a huge bugger’s muddle, as you can imagine. But I wasn’t to be dissuaded. Long story short, eventually I flew Felicia to London, and I flew them all to meet me in Zurich, with Kamilah, my better half. I, Clive, Felicia, and a couple of security people, and a journalist from NPR and a journalist from Trinidad, and next morning we all got in a plane and flew to Iraq. We spent several days there persuading the local officials to allow the children across the border. Actually, there’s an NPR thing which I heard for the first time today, and in it, I am proud to say, you can hear me shouting at some people from the Prime Minister’s office in the restaurant of the hotel in Erbil because they would not allow me to get into Syria, that they could not behave like this, that they had to issue the permits for the children to cross the Tigris to get out of Syria. Which I am happy to say, they did. And I am also happy to say that people have told me it was because I was shouting at them in the restaurant.
It’s amazing; this is about children, yet there’s all this bureaucracy that serves to do nothing more than stymie your mission at every turn.
It’s unbelievable. Yeah, oh really? They’re terrorists are they? Is that why they can’t go home to their mother? They’re 11 and 7 years old. We got two more now that I am beginning to talk to Clive about. No idea what we can do, but there’s two whose mother has just died of some unknown chronic illness and malnutrition. And she was married to an Isis fighter and shes from Zwolle in the Netherlands. She has left a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old in the camp in freezing weather with nobody. They’re orphans now. So what do you do? Go, “Oh, somebody else’s problem”? I have no doubt that Clive and I will somehow have to figure out how to persuade the powers that be to not let these children die. They’re Dutch. Two little Dutch kids, 4-years-old and 2-years-old. They need to be in Holland. They need to be in the care of the state or the care of a foster family or hopefully, eventually, they will be adopted, because the Dutch are very warm, kind, and loving people by and large. I have no doubt that if one can clear the bureaucracy and the paranoia out of the way that between us all we should be able to come up with a way of getting these two little tiny children somewhere safe.
Would you physically participate in this rescue as well?
I have no idea. I never know what I am going to do. I know what I am NOT going to do. I am not going to spend the rest of my life renting private planes to do what the government should be doing. But I can become part of the conversation. I have no idea. I may well have to go. I just don’t know, I just can't answer that question.
The Kurds are currently holding over 1000 children at the moment.
That is absolutely correct. In northeastern Syria there are three camps. Tragically, the second story Ruth Sherlock has just recorded and is posting on NPR has sound effects that are very very deeply distressing. It described the tragic death of a 7-year-old girl in a tent fire in a refugee camp. And they happen a lot. The only way these people have of not freezing to death is with kerosene stoves and they’re very dangerous. And they cause fires, and people die… burn to death. And this little kid did last week. And it’s so easy to solve. If you imagine the cost of one hellfire missile you could solve all of this. Saving peoples’ live is incredibly cheap compared with killing them. Killing them is the expensive thing. That’s why it’s so popular with the military industrial complex. Killing people is perfect. It’s unbelievably expensive, and everything in it is obsolescent very quickly. So for every 10 billion pound insane killing machine airplane you can guarantee it will be obsolescent within a few years. And you have to build another one. And every time you drop a bomb it depreciates to zero. Bang. Gone. Perfect. Huge profits for everyone and huge amounts of money for the Raytheon, Lockheed, lobbyists. It’s disgusting and unfortunately true. This is done in our name. Somebody says in the Tuesday Meeting “we’re gonna kill al-Awlaki’s 15-year-old boy. He’s got a cellphone, he’ll be easy to find, just a drone and a hellfire.” And they did. He was sitting outside a café. He was a US citizen? “Well, what’s he done?” “Well his father was an Imam who preached dissent. He was against our hegemony and our foreign policy. He was a Muslim.” “Oh fuck it, alright, let’s kill the kid. Kill his friends too, why not. If they’re stupid enough to be sitting having coffee with him.” No, it’s sick. It’s unbelievably sick. And nobody turns a hair. Anyway, I shall continue as much as I can to not ignore. And if I can help to get a few more little children out of Syria, I will. But equally, if I could in some way help to push the needle of US foreign policy away from destroying Syria, they’ve already destroyed Iraq and Libya, and Syria pretty well… I am in trouble now because my facebook page is covered in “Hands Off Venezuela”. You can imagine how much flak I’m getting for that.
Oh yeah, Adriana Kohlofer’s open letter to Democratic Socialists on Medium.
Oh, you read it. You read her letter and my response to her letter?
I did. The musings of a private wealth manager for Goldman Sachs…
You couldn’t make it up. Of course, I got told this afternoon, a few hours before I called you, she lost that job, or has not had that job, since 2017. They asked if I wanted to print a rebuttal or this or that and fuck no! She should tell Google to keep her profile up to date. She doesn’t like being called that. Frankly, my view would be, once a Goldman Sachs Wealth Manager, always a Goldman Sachs Wealth Manager.
[By this point we had been talking for an hour when he got a phone call.]
Sorry, that was one of my sons.
Oh, should we start wrapping this up?
Well, we’ve been going an hour. I can do another 10-minutes maybe if that’s ok with you. I mean, as you probably gathered by now, I am the kind person who, if I am talking about the things I care about, I can go on all day and night. Because I care about this shit. So, what have you got on your list that if we finish you’d go “Shit! I wish I’d have asked him that.”
Well, one of the things on my list, and maybe this is more of a question for Alan Parker, has there ever been talk of The Wall being remastered and repackaged for bluray?
I am certain it’s bluray’d.
Isn’t it? Well I’ll have a word with Universal and tell them, fuck, get the bluray out!
There’s a good thematic relationship between Amused to Death and Is This the Life We Really Want. Is there room for the final piece of a trilogy in there somewhere.
I hope so. I have no intention of stopping working. I think my stop gap might be Encores? I love that idea because it’s simple and I don’t have to write anything. However, I think there is another…. There was a lot left over when I finished with Nigel. For instance, the most important verse of 'Déjà Vu' didn’t make it onto the record.
I remember reading something about that. Was it too controversial?
No, I think he was being editorially aesthetic. I think it was an aesthetic thing. Do you know what the verse is? I’ll tell you:
If I had been God, I would not have chosen anyone.
I would have laid an even hand
On all my children, every one.
Would have been content to forgo Ramadan and Lent
Time that is spent in the company of friends
Breaking bread and mending nets
Yeah, so, it was a pretty bold move to leave it out, to leave it off the record. In fact, there’s a previous verse in that that I could understand why he would want to leave it off because it was full of polemic.
If I was a Muslim and you were a Jew
If I was a something and you were a Hindu
Would we exchange the weight of these chains
And the carnage on the trains to turn over a new leaf
Or something like that. OK, I can understand, that’s a bit of a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. “If I had been god I would not have chosen anyone.” That is important.
It’s definitely in the pocket with the rest of the "Deja Vu"….
Yeah, it is, that’s why I wrote it. Anyway, I don’t mind that it’s not on the record because it means I get to tell it to people. There’s also another song that was on the record that I wrote, there’s LOTS of songs that I wrote. Nigel only really responded to ‘Déjà Vu’, the beginning of it anyway, and to “sometimes I stare at the night sky” [from" Broken Bones"] which I love as well. This is all part of a theatrical narrative that I wrote as a radio play, so that character is meant to be an ex-WWII serviceman sitting on a barstool somewhere on Second Avenue and reminiscing his experience of D-Day. You know, “There were dead fish and shit in the water” and then it goes “Sometimes I stare at the night sky” and then the rest of that song could have been born in and all of that stuff follows on from that. But then after that there’s a couple of songs that are not on the record and one of them is called 'Hell No' and it’s a conversation I think with a Vietnam Vet. It’s another Vet thing about, you know, it has lines like:
Did you humiliate the enemy in front of his wife and kids
Did you pile up bodies in the orderly room
Did you think it was a free ride?
Did you think you were a virgin bride?
Did you think it would be easy?
Did you think it would be a breeze?
And it sort of goes on in that vein, but it’s very edgy and I kind of like it. I like it musically. “Were you Rocky, were you John Wayne, were you lucky, or were you just fucking insane?” I love that line!
It’s got a very Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking storytelling style.
Yeah, I am bound to be repetitive sometimes.
No, no, I don’t mean to reduce it in any way, believe me. I love the storytelling of that album, and this reminds me of something like that.
I had to listen… well, I didn’t HAVE to listen, but somebody sent me a link to The Final Cut about two weeks ago. And I started listening to it and I got more and more and more gripped. This may seem totally narcissistic, but I went “Fuck, it’s so good.” Every song that came up, song after song… there was only one song I don’t like which is called 'Not Now John' and it should be called 'Fuck All That' because that’s what it was called. It’s pretty ordinary. But all the ballads, all the narrative stuff is brilliant. 'The Gunner’s Dream' is obviously the diamond in the cluster.
One last question. Do you have plans to write a proper autobiography?
Yeah. I do. I write from time to time, and I’ve been writing short stories and anecdotes and bits of this and that. Sometimes when I just sit down and start writing I’ll go back a few days later and check it out and I have come to the conclusion that, contrary to what all my fucking asshole teachers at my grammar school told me, I can write. And I can write prose as well as poetry and songs. I actually can write prose. I recently reread a trilogy of short stories I wrote about being in Beirut. One of them really struck me, only because the idea is so important. I won’t read you the thing because I can’t get it, but it’s not much, just a few thousand words. But the story is this….
[At this point Roger told me this story from memory, but as this story may become a published work I won’t share it here. After the story Roger continued...]
Yeah, keep that for yourself, but that’s an insight. So in answer to your question: yeah, I am writing and it’ll be pretty fucking weird. I promise you Random House and one of the others never stop beating at my door.
[At this point the interview had run its course. As we wound down the conversation, which at this point was approaching the 90-minute mark, and were about to part ways, Roger fired off one last line.]
It’s a common misconception that the other guys were the musicians in the band. That’s just… what a crock of shit that is.
Below are some video and audio bits that were pertinent to the conversation with Roger, including the two NPR pieces by Ruth Sherlock, one of which features Roger shouting in the background during the rescue of Ayyub and Mahmud .