Open fire. Polly Samson, wife of guitarist David Gilmour and occasional Pink Floyd lyricist, takes a shot at the most visible of the group’s founders, Roger Waters. In a tweet that begins by accusing Waters of being “anti-Semitic to your rotten core” and “an apologist for [Vladimir] Putin,” she portrays him as “a lying, thieving, hypocritical, tax-evading, lip-synching, misogynistic, sick-with-envy megalomaniac.” They are accusations backed by Gilmour, who says they are all “demonstrably true.” Waters refutes the accusations, however, and has stated he is reviewing his position, suggesting that he is thinking of taking the matter to court – something that in the United Kingdom, with its peculiar libels laws, is no trifling matter.
This is the latest episode in a feud that began in 1984, when Waters announced that he was leaving the group. Having dominated the band since 1978 with autobiographical albums such as The Wall (1979), as far as he was concerned, his departure automatically implied the end of Pink Floyd. But, to his surprise, the other two band members, Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason, decided to press on without him, even bringing back keyboardist Rick Wright, whom Waters had thrown out.
In the almost 40 intervening years, the conflict has played out through lawyers and in the media, with discussions as Byzantine as the sex of the inflatable pig that appeared on the cover of Animals (1977): since it was his idea, Waters wanted to ban its use by the new Pink Floyd, prompting his old band mates to add male genitals to what was originally a female sow. True, there have been moments of truce, such as the reappearance of the classic lineup in 2005, in London’s Hyde Park, as part of Live 8, a series of benefit concerts organized by Bob Geldof for famine relief in Africa. And Gilmour was also persuaded to perform alongside Waters on a couple of subsequent occasions.
Having said that, Waters and Gilmour regularly quarrel. In February 2006, Gilmour publicly announced that Pink Floyd had ceased to exist, after turning down monstrous sums in the region of $150 million for a final tour. Waters discovered too late the potential of his control over the trademark; even without his presence, Pink Floyd was filling stadiums but the audiences were dwindling when it came to the new material. The group’s historic recordings, however, remain a gold mine, with ever more lavish reissues, at increasingly exorbitant prices.
Meanwhile, Waters’ political profile has become more sharply defined. He actively supports the BDS movement, which calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the State of Israel until the Palestinian issue, which he describes alternately as “genocide” and “apartheid,” is resolved. He also claims that Beijing is within its rights to invade Taiwan, because according to him, “China is more respectful of human rights than the United States and has the backing of the international community.”
But what is more shocking is his attitude to the war in Ukraine. When the invasion took place, in February 2022, Waters called Putin a “gangster.” Now, however, he has performed a 180º turn and aligns himself with Russia. He considers the Kremlin’s action to be the legitimate response to NATO’s increasing provocations and, beyond geopolitical considerations, he believes Russia is morally justified because of the repression of the Russian-speaking population within Ukraine and the abundance of Nazis in Kyiv. Putin, he says, has never occupied foreign territory; neither Crimea nor Chechnya are on his radar.
Waters explains that his about-turn is due to information provided by a Cypriot podcast, but also acknowledges that he felt insulted when his former colleagues resurrected Pink Floyd’s name for their song Hey, Hey, Rise Up!, which features vocals by Ukranian pop star Andriy Khlyvnyuk, the proceeds of which were given to charity. According to Waters, referencing the Ukrainian patriotic song and having it performed by Khlyvnyuk is an invitation to prolong the war.
Waters is now facing vetoes – for example, he cannot perform in Poland – though in March he will play in Madrid and Barcelona. And he has resigned himself to living off his past: after having milked The Wall, he will soon return to the celebrated Dark Side Of The Moon, which he has re-recorded with lines that promise to clarify his politics – and without Gilmour’s “horrible guitar solos.”
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