"I probably was rather scary," says Waters. "I had a tendency to lash out." (He has really changed: Digging into a plate of lasagna backstage at one rehearsal, he bites a large metal Phillips screw that his caterers have somehow managed to serve him. After looking aghast for a moment, he handles the situation quietly and with good humor – at least while I'm around.)
Waters would eventually begin two decades of therapy and come to terms with his past. But in the meantime, he addressed his problems like a proper rock star: He sat down with a synthesizer and a mixing board in a secluded house in the English countryside and wrote a rock opera. With additional songwriting contributions from Gilmour, it would become their generation's last great concept album. "I was trying to make sense of my life," Waters says, "and to some extent, I did."
Always a visual thinker as much as a musical one – vocational testing had pushed an aimless 18-year-old Waters toward architecture school, where he met future Floyd members Rick Wright and Nick Mason – Waters based his idea around a sketch he drew: It showed a giant wall built inside a sports arena. The live show was built into the concept from the start, though his original idea was to construct a wall in front of the band as Floyd played, and end the show as the final brick was laid. But as his story developed, he realized that the wall would have to come down.
"Clearly, there was a reason that I thought of the idea of building a wall between me and the audience in the first place – somewhere at some unconscious level, I recognized how frightened I was," he says. Waters is sitting at a glass conference table in the downtown Manhattan production studio where he has been preparing for the tour. Before he sat down, an assistant cleaned the glass with Windex. This is where he's been spending much of his time since January – several of the office windows open onto a brick wall, a coincidence Waters enjoys. His feet are bare – his laceless Converses get hot, so he tends to kick them off. He's wearing the same outfit he nearly always wears: thin black T-shirt, pale jeans, platinum Rolex. He seems to be hard of hearing, and he may or may not be aware of it: Charmingly, he tends to say "What?" with an edge, as if it's your fault for mumbling.
"All of the pushing away of people that went on in my young life and all the aggression and all the spikiness and difficulty all came from the fact that I was absolutely terrified every waking moment of being found out," he says, "of people discovering that I wasn't who I wanted to be. I had built this wall that I then described in theatrical terms around myself, all kinds of sexual insecurities, huge feelings of shame."
He unloaded everything in this set of songs: his grief over his father, his hatred of England's regimented schools, his frustration with his wife's infidelity, his own dalliances with groupies. In their id-baring frankness, the songs had less in common with, say, Tommy than with one of Waters' favorite albums, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (it may not be coincidental that both that album and The Wall have songs called "Mother"). For good measure, Waters added elements from the life of original Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett, whose combination of drug abuse and mental illness led his bandmates to force him out in 1968. Waters filled that leadership void, pushing what was once an arty cult band to record The Dark Side of the Moon, one of the bestselling albums of all time.
For all the spacey elegance of Floyd's music, Waters was an instinctual songwriter who considered himself a musical primitive – his favorite artists include Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Lennon. "Roger's a folk guy," says Bob Ezrin, who co-produced The Wall. "The music goes where the lyrics take it."
As Waters composed the music, he began lingering on an ominous three-note theme – it's best known as the chorus melody of "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)" but recurs in multiple contexts throughout the album. He now acknowledges that the tune is a recasting of a riff he wrote a decade earlier, in the 1968 Floyd tune "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" (which, rather eerily, contains the line "Witness the man who raves at the wall?").
Before Pink Floyd recorded a note of The Wall, Waters recruited cartoonist Gerald Scarfe to begin designing the ornately grotesque inflatable puppets and cartoons that would largely define the look and feel of the work. He brought the demos over to Scarfe's house one day. "When he'd finished and he turned the tape off, it was kind of like an awkward silence," Scarfe recalls. "Because anything one would say was inadequate. And I said, 'That's great.' And there was another awkward silence, and Roger says, 'Well, I just feel as though I've pulled my pants down and shit in front of you.'"
Waters is sitting very still, watching a young Gilmour play the celestial guitar solo to the Wall track "Comfortably Numb," perhaps the single greatest Pink Floyd song. The clip, playing on a huge Mac monitor in a video-editing suite, is from long-lost, newly restored footage of the original Wall shows, which fans will no doubt have a chance to buy someday. Waters didn't intend to play this segment. He wanted to see a secondary solo taken by backup guitarist Snowy White, who, unlike Gilmour, will be coming along on the new Wall tour. But Waters takes in every second of the solo, saying only, "That's not Snowy."
There's a lot of competition, but Pink Floyd probably had the single ugliest breakup of any major rock band. Waters came up with the concepts, wrote all the lyrics and a good chunk of the music – as far as he was concerned, he was the band's unequivocal leader. Gilmour wasn't so sure – he had the stronger singing voice, was one of rock's most distinctive guitarists and created plenty of music. "This was mainly about David and I," says Waters. "We had grown in different ways. I didn't want to argue with him about things anymore, and just because we had different opinions about things – musically and politically and philosophically – it became inevitable that it would become combative."
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