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Back To The Wall: Rolling Stone's 2010 Profile of Pink Floyd's Roger Waters

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There are multiple references to Israel's West Bank wall in the show, including a flash of a Star of David at the climax, as voices chant, "Tear down the wall." The animation that plays during "Goodbye Blue Sky" shows planes dropping bombs in the shape of various symbols, from Muslim crescents to the Shell logo; at one point, Jewish stars drop from a plane, followed by dollar signs. When I suggest that the juxtaposition could be construed as anti-Semitic, Waters shrugs it off as unintentional.

"There are huge, huge profits to be made from war, and that, by and large, is why they happen so often," he says. If you get him started on this subject, he enters lecture mode and can go on for quite a while. "This show is unashamedly about all those big questions – and the success of the work I did with Rick and Dave and Nick gives me the power to have a platform. Some people think that people shouldn't use the platforms that they have because of their celebrity or success. I don't subscribe to that view at all, I always loved Hanoi Jane. I love it when Sean Penn comes out and says something or takes part and John Lennon or any of the other people who stood up to be counted... I have the same responsibility to put on this production as Picasso did to paint 'Guernica.'"

Nine days before the tour's September 15th debut, Waters is standing in the middle of an empty arena in New Jersey, looking hard at his partially built wall, which stretches 240 feet across an entire rear of the venue. Suddenly, the lights go out, angry red lights blanket the arena, and a guide track of Pink Floyd playing "In the Flesh?" roars: There's no one onstage, but the show has begun. There's still a lot to do, but as he stands in the reddish darkness, Waters can't help looking pleased.

Rehearsals have been going well. A week earlier, in a studio near Waters' house in the Hamptons, the band made it through nearly the whole second half of the album before hitting any snags: The rhythmic transitions and guitar sounds in "Run Like Hell" proved tricky. "No," Rogers says, gently. "And by no, I mean no." And Waters wasn't quite satisfied with the backup singers' repeated "run, run, run" part: "They should be full-on quarter notes," he says.

As the band watches from folded chairs on the floor, the entire first act unfolds: Puppets – the wicked teacher, the monstrous mother – inflate and stalk the stage, the uncannily bright and vivid video projections turn the wall into one of the world's biggest movie screens, and the barrier itself expands, cardboard brick by cardboard brick, thanks to workmen behind the stage. Not everything is ready: The pyro isn't set up, and a plane prop is lying forlornly in the cheap seats.

The video, which combines spruced-up versions of Scarfe's animation with creative director Sean Evans' new imagery, is projected at a resolution well over that of an Imax screen – the production-studio servers needed up to half an hour to render each frame of animation. The video projection is so precise that the bricks don't light up until they're fully in place.

Each brick is actually a hollow cardboard box, attached to telescoping columns that can be activated by computer, pulling the wall down in a single moment – which should make it easier than in 1980, when Mark Fisher had to manually activate the collapse. "I was condemned forever as the man who had to sit at the back and flip the switches while everyone else stood 'round the front giggling at it," he recalls.

In real life, Waters says, the collapse of his wall was never so dramatic. "It comes down brick by brick," he says. "That's what growing up is. I would suggest it's a dismantling of our wall, brick by brick, and discovering that when we let our defenses down, we become more lovable." Waters is planning his fourth wedding, to his girlfriend of 10 years, Laurie Durning. "I'm not saying I've discarded my wall or walls entirely, but over the years, I've allowed more of it to crumble – and opened myself to the possibility of love," he says.

As the show continues, Waters prowls the arena – with his slightly curved posture and lurching walk, he bears a vague resemblance to one of his puppets. He offers the occasional tweak into a microphone – "Paint that B-3 organ black. Everything has to be black" – but mostly just takes the whole thing in.

The final brick locks in, ending the first act. The musicians applaud, as does Waters. "Well done, the carpenters," he says. A few minutes later, the crew gathers on the arena floor, and Kilminster brings out an acoustic guitar. Today is Waters' 67th birthday, and the tour's singers have a surprise for him: a lushly harmonized version of the Phil Spector oldie "To Know Him, Is to Love Him," which Waters recently performed with Gilmour at their benefit reunion. The lyrics have been tweaked slightly and filled with inside jokes: "For him, we love to sing/Until he changes everything... Just to see him smile/Makes this tour worthwhile."

Waters accepts a gift of a Tabasco T-shirt – he uses the sauce on everything – puts it on over his standard black tee and clears his throat. "Thanks, everyone," he says, sounding choked up for a second, before delivering a pre-tour pep talk. "It's gonna be a piece of piss," he says. "It's the easiest thing in the world. Thank you for everything you've done." He pauses and offers a smile. "Now, back on the stage."

Related
Video: 30 Years of Pink Floyd in 17 Minutes
Roger Waters Bringing the Wall Tour to American Baseball Stadiums
Nick Mason: I Can't Let Go of Pink Floyd
Alan Parsons on 'Dark Side': 'Roger Knew Something Great Was in the Making'
Storm Thorgerson: How I Designed the Cover of 'Dark Side of the Moon'
Erykah Badu, Billy Corgan and More on Legacy of 'Dark Side of the Moon'
Behind the Scenes of Pink Floyd's 2011 Reunion
Inside Pink Floyd: Rolling Stone's 1987 Cover Story
The Madcap Who Named Pink Floyd: Rolling Stone's 1971 Interview with Syd Barrett
The Dark Side of Pink Floyd: The Illustrated History of the Band's Last Days and Bittersweet Reunions
Rolling Stone Readers Pick Their 10 Favorite Pink Floyd Songs
Photos: Roger Waters Rehearses For the Wall Tour
The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Pink Floyd, 'The Dark Side of the Moon'

This story is from the September 30, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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