Roger Waters Talks Tuesday’s One-Night-Only Film Event, 'Roger Waters The Wall'

Roger Waters
Pink Floyd bassist and co-founder Roger Waters. Radu Sighetti/Reuters

Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters’s new film, Roger Waters The Wall, opens in about 2,700 theaters around the world Tuesday night and will be shown only once. Part concert, part road movie and part anti-war film commemorating Waters’s father, a British soldier in World War II who died in Italy when Waters was an infant, the film is a potent mix of rock spectacle, intimate artist portrait and history lesson. It will also act as something of a revival, providing insight into the original 1979 Pink Floyd album, The Wall, as well as its 1982 film adaptation-of-sorts, Pink Floyd—The Wall, directed by Alan Parker and starring Bob Geldof.

Clad in a black T-shirt and jeans, Waters talked to a small group of journalists and film industry guests at an early screening in Manhattan on Monday. After kicking things off by reading a poem about his father’s legacy, Waters took questions, some moderated by Huffington Post TV anchor Alyona Minkovski, about politics, rock music and how the two combined can create real change. 

(Some of the questions below, asked by journalists and attendees, have been edited for length and clarity.)

This is a surprisingly more heavily political, anti-war experience than The Wall was when it was released. Why?
I’d only been through two or three divorces at the time. Nevertheless, I was wounded and whiny [laughs]. To be serious, one has seen our glorious leaders screw up the way this small, weak planet is organized in ways that have caused enormous distress to many—if not most—of our brothers and sisters around the world. It can be seen as a metaphor for broader issues about different walls—not the personal walls I might have built around myself, but the walls we build around nations and ideologies and religions.  I’m talking about killing people.

You know you could sleepwalk through life. We live for a very, very short period of time. It would be quite easy—and it is, apparently—for some people to be born, learn nothing, screw everything up and then die. Listening to the [U.N.] speeches today...apparently the woman from Brazil was great. I will look at that speech later. Apparently she told these people that this was not a cocktail party because they were all chatting and not really listening.

Your work has remained popular through the generations.  How do you feel about that?
If even for an hour or two we can divert people from staring at Kim Kardashian’s bum, you know, and pay attention to the predicament of others and to develop a political awareness and to start thinking and encouraging our children to think about the way we organize the affairs of the world, then we will have done a good thing. Because, by and large, we are encouraged to do nothing but stare at bums.

Why did you write that poem about your father?
We do have a voice. We are many. There is a documentary coming out called We Are Many. It’s very moving. It’s about February 15, 2003, when 50 million people around the world demonstrated against the invasion of Iraq. Their voice was not heard, but they were many. And we are many now, and we need to be heard, and we need to divert our leaders from [the] paths of folly from which they seem intent on traveling.

Are any wars justified? World War II was considered justified.
Not since then. Most of the conflicts since then seem to be colonialist, imperialist, driven by narrow national self-interests, economics, protecting national interests abroad. And in consequence, in my view, are entirely unjustified.

I’m a great fan of the essay by [U.S. Marine Corps Major General] Smedley Butler [1881-1940]. He was one of the most decorated men in American military history, a four-star general, having fought in many campaigns. He decided after his retirement that "war is a racket," and that is the title of the essay that he wrote. And I think it should be required reading in all of our schools.

What has happened to the music business?
We could rattle on about that for days. I am very concerned about the music industry. This idea [of] Spotify and Pandora and that music should be free—I believe in intellectual copyright and that these things have value. There is an attempt to take music away from musicians and to give it to advertisers. Music is available to all people around the world, but it actually now belongs to Colonel Sanders or Volkswagen. You will find that, slowly but surely, people won’t be making music. It’s like we will end up in a world populated entirely by Simon Cowell and his awful boy bands.

You [talked] about walls that separate nations and people. In your view, where are the walls most dangerous to our bonds as brothers and sisters?
You sure you couldn’t have found a more loaded question to hand me? The obvious answer is the separation wall in the occupied territories in Palestine. All those years ago, when I was doing this, the wall in Berlin was the big symbol of the way we were separated from each other, by ideology and commerce. And today the biggest symbol, obviously, is Palestine. We have to hope that Palestine and Israel will have their 1989.

I assume you’re a bit upset that Donald Trump has appropriated your title [Trump's proposed wall separating the Mexican and U.S. borders] for his presidential campaign.... Do you have any thoughts on the campaign? Do you support any candidate?
Bernie is one and Sanders is another. No other candidate is making any sense. It is the most bizarre charade anywhere on earth, this weird thing that goes on when you guys have a presidential election campaign. Particularly because of Citizens United. You have abrogated your responsibilities as citizens of a republic and given them to anybody who is rich enough. To the rest of us, it is beyond belief. [Waters later clarified that he doesn’t vote in the U.S., he only pays taxes.]

Your generation of musicians seemed to have had more of a social consciousness than the generation now. Is anyone in the younger generation picking up the mantle?
I think there probably is a difference. We grew up in the Vietnam era, where there was a big protest movement going on everywhere. It was one voice. People had figured this stuff out. More recently, there isn’t that kind of unanimity about protests, even though 50 million people protested the Iraq invasion in one day. You can see the recoil when you talk about it. It’s like a snail when you touch its eyes. They recoil, particularly when you talk about the American government. The media, especially. Don’t tell me about the left-wing media—it doesn’t exist. For instance, if you are the White House correspondent and you start asking the wrong questions, you never get invited back.

I first tried almost all the drugs I ever did either while listening to Pink Floyd albums or at your concerts. How do you feel about that? Do you repudiate that?
I’m not really interested in it. I am interested in the war on drugs. It’s like the war on terror—it’s absolutely ridiculous. It's hugely counterproductive. The war on drugs has promoted crime and the criminalization of poor black people in this country, and created this fact that in the United States of America, you have more people incarcerated than in any other country. You should read Johann Hari, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.

Is a wall ever a proper response to any situation?
I don’t know. I’d have to think about that. Offhand, I can’t think of any. I hate that poem by Robert Frost: You build a fence and make better neighbors. It can’t be done.

The United Nations is meeting here across town today. What do you make of the current crop of leaders and how they are addressing problems?
Well, obviously, the United Nations needs reforming in very big ways. The fact that policy is controlled, to a large extent, by the Security Council is absolute nonsense. It’s almost 100 years since the founding of the League of Nations, and we are still floundering around, allowing one or two nations to determine policy on a lot of things.  I actually spoke about Palestinian statehood here a few years ago. The vote was 139 to 9, and the 9 were obviously the United States, Israel, Germany and, weirdly, the Marshall Islands. So there is a pattern to this. Unfortunately, the U.N. is toothless. [There should be] a body of world opinion where we all have a voice and where we could come to reasonable conclusions about the way the globe is organized—and not just what the most powerful nations want.

For more information on the film and for showtimes and participating theaters, visit RogerWatersTheWall.com.