The band began to splinter during the recording of The Wall, as Waters transformed the group into a mere vehicle for his highly personal vision. Floyd collapsed during their follow-up, The Final Cut, which felt like a Waters solo album. Waters left the band in 1985 – and was astonished and then apoplectic when Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason decided to carry on as Pink Floyd. He tried to stop them in court, but they played two monster tours without him, releasing four albums, even as Waters struggled to sell tickets as he toured behind his solo LPs. "He isn't [Pink Floyd]," Waters said of Gilmour in 1987. "If one of us was going to be called Pink Floyd, it's me." They settled, allowing Gilmour and Mason to use the Floyd name but giving Waters sole ownership of The Wall.
By 2005, relations had thawed to the point where Pink Floyd's original lineup (minus Syd Barrett) reunited for a four-song set at Live 8. "I'm so thankful that we managed to do that 18 minutes together, that the four of us got to draw some kind of a line under it," says Waters. "Things have gotten better since then between David and I. We don't see each other socially – he very much lives in the middle of the countryside in England, and I very much live in Manhattan, so our paths don't cross – but a couple of times when we end up being in England, we'll probably have dinner once in a restaurant. But yeah, there's no fussing and fighting going on." Warmer relations with Gilmour mean a great deal to Waters – he's determined not to offend him.
In July, Waters and Gilmour unexpectedly reunited at another, much smaller benefit, performing for 200 people at a fundraiser for Palestinian children in Oxfordshire, England. It was Gilmour's idea, and he promised Waters that if Waters did the gig, he'd show up and play "Comfortably Numb" at one of Waters' Wall shows (London seems a good bet, at least more so than, say, Omaha). Beyond that, Waters can imagine at least one more Pink Floyd performance. "David and Nick and I might do a one-off somewhere, but there's no way we're going to do a tour," he says, suggesting that they might consider a single benefit concert – "like a Live 8 but probably just with us. It's such a shame that we didn't get around to it before Rick died [in 2008]."
Waters and Gilmour probably won't record together again either. Waters bristles slightly at the idea that there was some kind of irreplaceable magic in their collaboration. "Certainly, David had a huge influence on my writing, all that great harmonic and melodic stuff," he says. "But the idea that I'm incapable of creating something with somebody else that can stand up alongside The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here, I disagree, and living proof of that is [his 1992 solo album] Amused to Death, because it's extraordinarily beautiful in parts."
Waters doesn't think it matters that he's the only Floyd member on the new Wall tour. "If you look at the program from 1980, the first page says 'The Wall: Written and Directed by Roger Waters, Performed by Pink Floyd,'" he says. "Well, my view is that this piece could be performed by anyone. I just happen to be directing this production and performing in it, same way I did in the other one. But some of the other performers are different."
For this show, he's replaced Gilmour with two separate performers – an L.A. session singer named Robbie Wyckoff handles his vocals, while the virtuosic Dave Kilminster (Waters calls him "the Killer") handles most of his guitar parts. The rest of the band ranges from former SNL bandleader G.E. Smith on guitar and bass to Waters' 33-year-old son, Harry, a jazz musician who has played keyboards with his dad since 2002 (his first contribution to Waters' music was recording the child's voice at the beginning of the Wall track "Goodbye Blue Sky," which will still echo through the arena every night).
The Wall tour, which sold out most of its dates within hours, is the final stage in Waters' reclamation of the Floyd legacy – which began with his first successful solo tour in 1999 and continued with his Dark Side of the Moon outing in 2006. He's finally found a connection with fans – "I'd rediscovered the idea of it being OK to be in an auditorium and accepted something of a love affair between me and the audience" – and escaped his resentment of losing control of the band name. "It's very likely that if I couldn't do these tours, I might still be bitter," says Waters. "People are acknowledging the work that was mine."
Waters is so comfortable being in charge that it's difficult to imagine him as anything other than a solo act. "You can't do something like this democratically," he says. "And that was probably the absolute central reason why I had to part company with David and Rick and Nick. Because it was becoming increasingly uncomfortable for everyone. Really, this is my natural state. This is how I'm happiest. I love working with other people, and I have enormous respect and love for the musicians I'm working with. I want to hear everybody's ideas all the time, but I don't want votes or anything. I feel for writers who work in the film industry – where the producers have all the power and the writer just has to do what they're told, really. I would just go, 'Fuck you! Write your own fucking script!'"
Around the time Waters turned three, in 1946, he started to see other children's fathers return from the war to his hometown of Cambridge. His own father, Eric Fletcher Waters, had died two years earlier in Italy, in the Battle of Anzio, but Roger was unable to process that fact. "My mother told me I said to her, at age three, 'I'm going to go to Italy and get my father in a tractor.' 'You've never seen quite so fierce a little boy as you were,' she told me. She tried to explain that I couldn't go get my father in a tractor. Apparently I looked at her and narrowed my eyes and said, 'In that case, I'm going in a double-decker bus,' and stomped off. Which is kind of funny, but it's very sad, as well."
That loss defined Waters' life in many ways. "I use his heroism almost daily," he says. "Although I don't lead a blameless life by any means, and I'm not always nice to everybody, I'm not claiming to be a fucking saint, but I use my father's heroism as a foundation." As he explains in a poem included in the tour program, he believes his grief connects him to everyone who's suffered a similar loss in a war – which was the key to broadening The Wall's message. The damage Pink suffers from the violence of war stands in for all such damage: At several points, the wall is covered with photographs sent in by fans of loved ones lost in conflict, as requested by Waters on Facebook (he's enamored with the idea of social networking – maybe Pink wouldn't have been so bummed if he'd had Twitter).
Waters knows that lacing a beloved classic-rock artifact with a political message may trouble fans. For the program, he drafted an essay suggesting Christianity, Judaism and Islam are equally invalid: "The time has come to put aside the notion of an omnipotent presence."
"Do you think I can get away with this in a rock & roll program?" he asks with a smile. He ultimately decided the answer was no – and cut the essay.
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