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Roger Waters
Columns
Opinion articles written in the style of their author. These texts are to be based on verified facts and must be respectful towards people, even though their actions may be criticized. All opinion articles written by individuals from outside the staff of EL PAÍS shall feature, along with the author’s name (regardless of their greater or lesser renown), a footer stating their office, academic title, political affiliation (if any) and main occupation, or the occupation related to the topic being assessed

Roger Waters’ new wall

The former leader of Pink Floyd leaves a trail of controversy wherever he goes

Roger Waters
Roger Waters performing on March 21, 2023, at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona.Enric Fontcuberta (EFE)

I met Roger Waters in the spring of 1979: we coincided at the Cannes Film Festival, at an evening party held on the lawn of a lavish rented mansion. I imagine that the evening was an initiative on the part of the producers of Quadrophenia, the film adaptation of The Who’s album: movie and rock stars abounded. True, some guests — Roman Polanski, for example — evaporated if you identified yourself as a journalist. But not Waters: he seemed happy to have attentive ears around him.

He dodged, of course, issues such as the catastrophe of Norton Warburg, the investment fund that squandered most of the millions of dollars generated by The Dark Side of the Moon. I understand that would be equivalent to citing the noose in the hangman’s house: the person mainly responsible for the disaster, Andrew Warburg, came to manage Pink Floyd’s finances by the hand of Waters himself.

No. That night what interested Roger was to talk about Ça Ira, his opera about the French Revolution. A project that took decades to materialize; with the glacial speed to which Pink Floyd had accustomed us, Ça Ira would not appear on disc until 2005. By then, we had already witnessed one too many of Waters’ skids. In the mid-1980s, he announced that he was leaving Pink Floyd, convinced that the group would disintegrate without his input. It didn’t: the commercial power of the brand, above and beyond its captain’s hook, was evident; Waters’ efforts to throw spanners in the works of his former bandmates were pathetic. Indeed, there was plenty of embarrassment on both sides: according to the dissolution agreement, Waters had exclusive use of the inflatable pig from the cover of Animals; the others sidestepped that inconvenience by turning the blow-up creature into a female pig.

A note of caution. In fact, Ça Ira had a partial premiere in 2002, during a London event staged by the Countryside Alliance, an organization initially created to fight legislation against ritual fox hunting; it was surprising to find Waters surrounded by the cream of the British aristocracy. But he made no secret that he was a hunter. I interviewed him in a suite at the Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville, after what he described as “a few happy days” killing partridges in an Andalusian game preserve.

Coming from a rural area, I wasn’t shocked by that hunting frenzy; I was shocked by Waters’ defiant tone. I tend to be reminded of that cocky attitude when he wades into successive international puddles, from supporting Chinese claims on Taiwan to excusing Putin’s actions in the Ukraine war. Although the biggest shocks come from his attacks on the Israeli state, starting with criticism of fellow musicians — Nick Cave, Radiohead, even Bon Jovi! — for breaking the BDS movement’s boycott by performing in Israel.

In recent times, Waters has approached conspiracy theories typical of anti-Semitism. The other side has also increased its stridency, attempting to veto his concerts in German cities; in Argentina and Uruguay, he has been turned away from hotels where he intended to stay. They even labelled him a Nazi because of a dictator’s uniform like the one used in the movie The Wall (1982). I have the suspicion that all this reaffirms his fantasy of being the Noam Chomsky of rock. And not.

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