Long before Donald Trump was our omnipresent, problematic president, he was New York City’s omnipresent, problematic gadfly. He flexed his supposed billions to attend any number of events around town, from WWE WrestleManias at Madison Square Garden to baby-boomer rock concerts. In 2008, he went to so many Neil Young shows that my colleague Andy Greene interviewed him about his Young fandom. “[Neil has] performed for me at my casinos over the years and he just brings it down,” Trump said. “I’ve met him on occasions and he’s a terrific guy. … Whatever the hell ‘it’ is, he’s got it.”
So it was no real surprise when I spotted Trump at one of Roger Waters’ concerts at Madison Square Garden, where Waters performed all of Pink Floyd’s monumental 1979 album, The Wall. It was early November 2010, a few days after the midterm elections, and Trump was still known best as the host of The Apprentice and a rich loudmouth. When he came in, he had people escort him to his seat with pomp to spotlight his VIP status and then just settled in. I was sort of shocked to see him there — and I was excited that I had a better seat than him — so I took a photo. Strangely, I think he saw me.
He sat there and watched the first half of the show, as Waters played a fictionalized rock star who gets seduced by fascism and starts blasting the pillars of education (“Another Brick in the Wall Part 2”), taking advantage of groupies (“Young Lust”), and dropping bombs on foreign countries (“Goodbye Blue Sky”). As he sang, a physical wall was constructed around him until the final brick was put in place just before the intermission.
It was a jaw-dropping piece of rock theater — I loved the show so much I saw it three times. But Donald Trump apparently didn’t agree. As the second act started, I looked again and his seat was empty; he never returned to it. He had seen the wall go up, but he missed the second act, where Waters’ character faces a trial and finds redemption, tearing down the wall and renewing his faith in humanity. The second act, of course, is why The Wall, which turns 40 on November 30th, is a classic work of art — you need the empathy to give the rock opera balance.
Within a few months, Trump started his birther campaign against President Obama, and a few years later, he launched his presidential bid, sowing division with fascistic ideologies and, yes, promises of a wall on the Mexican border.
Now, of course, I’m not saying that seeing the wall get built but not topple inspired Trump’s dogma or worldview, and I’m not saying that seeing Roger Waters play a character that became a demagogue cheered on by an arena influenced his future path — I don’t want to try to parse his psyche. But I did find the whole thing ironic when he ran for president.
A couple of years back, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roger Waters, a man who has called Trump “pig-ignorant” and a “nincompoop,” and I told him my story of seeing the president of the United States of America completely miss the point of The Wall. Waters just laughed. “That’s interesting in its symbolism,” he told me. “I’m glad you told me that. I had no idea he was there.”
It’s doubtful that Waters would ever welcome Trump to one of his concerts: Waters’ most recent tour emasculated Trump during “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” among other indignities, and he told me he’s planning a 2020 tour especially to rail against Trump during election year. But if the president does show up again, let’s hope he hangs around long enough to see the wall come down. He just might learn something.