Lunch with Roger Waters, founding member of Pink Floyd.

Stories from the Financial Times. 
April 3 2011 7:49 AM

Lunch With Roger Waters

The Pink Floyd founding member orders a lime cordial.

1_123125_2274791_from_ft_logox562px
Roger Waters. Click image to expand.
Roger Waters

Oh no. Roger Waters isn't hungry. "I'd like some gravadlax, and that's all I'd like, thank you," he says having inspected the Berkeley hotel's three-course menu, which he then briskly pushes away as if rejecting an autograph request.

The waiter wonders if we'd like an aperitif. "Beer?" I pipe up, having read somewhere that the Pink Floyd founder is an ale drinker. But, no, it turns out he isn't, not anymore. If he were drinking at lunch, he might have a bottle of lager. But not today; a lime cordial will be fine.

My hopes of a long convivial lunch are dashed. Well, a long lunch anyway. Conviviality has never been a trait widely associated with Waters, writer of brooding songs on the wretchedness of the human condition and perpetrator of rock's most titanic feud when he fell out with the rest of Pink Floyd in the 1980s. He's currently restaging The Wall, the Floyd's Waters-penned, semi-autobiographical concept album about a rock star who feels alienated, goes mad, and becomes a fascist demagogue. Since its release in 1979 the album has sold more than 25 million copies and led to one of the most famous live tours in rock history, involving a 40-foot wall being constructed between the audience and the band—a remarkable exercise in stadium rock theatrics, like Bertolt Brecht with guitar solos.

Advertisement

Our venue is a private room in the Berkeley, a swish Knightsbridge hotel that he favors when he's visiting London from his New York home. We face each other at a large round table laid out with elaborate formality, alone but for two service staff who periodically ghost through the door. Waters, 67, is tall, dressed in black and has leonine white hair and grey stubble. When one of the waiters lingers, standing behind the rock star in the manner of a footman attending an 18th-century aristocrat, there's a flash of irascibility.

"If you're bringing something in, that would be great; otherwise would you mind not standing there, it's slightly alarming," Waters says. The hotel employee explains, in a defensive tone, that he's waiting for us to order from the wine list—"I need to do some service"—before beating a retreat clutching said wine list, leaving a faint tang of resentment hanging in the air.

Waters has a reputation for being overbearing. Nick Mason, Pink Floyd's drummer, wrote in his autobiography: "Once he sees a confrontation as necessary he is so grimly committed to winning that he throws everything into the fray—and his everything can be pretty scary." Gerald Scarfe, The Wall's illustrator, has described Waters (admiringly) as a "megalomaniac."

His self-belief certainly seems immense. During the meal he has occasion to compare himself with Shakespeare, Woody Guthrie, and Richard Dawkins. Yet there's another side to Waters, which emerges with a mischievous grin that often sneaks over his features, bringing an amused, lopsided look to his long face. This Waters is relaxed and discursive: convivial, even.

"There's nothing I like more than lunch," he says when I remark on his lack of appetite. "Particularly with my beloved. Nothing better than lunch with the beloved; hopefully, sun and a little bit of sea, somewhere foreign. And then sex in the afternoon, perfect." Out comes the mischievous smile.

Right, I say, wrong-footed by this unexpected insight into Waters' life with his fourth wife, Laurie. So, um, foodwise, nothing too heavy then for these lunches, no big roasts? "No, I like that too, the English family roast thing. Roast chicken with proper bread sauce is very, very good. I also like big family lunches where it's hot. I used to spend a lot of time in Greece. That sort of big Greek or Italian family lunch with kids down one end, adults at the other, and it goes on for five or six hours."

Talk of sex emboldens me to ask about drugs. It was on the Greek isle of Patmos, in the 1960s, that Waters had one of his few LSD experiences. "There was nothing culinary about that trip, as I recall. That was when acid came out of proper laboratories and was beyond powerful. In later years people would talk, not least my kids, about dropping acid and going off and doing things and I'd go, 'No, that's not what I'm talking about.' " He chuckles. "There was no question of 'going' anywhere or 'doing' anything. The idea of standing would have been completely wrong. So I stopped all that quite quickly." There is a gurgle as the waiter, who has crept back in again, pours sparkling water into his glass.

Hallucinogens play a tragic part in the Pink Floyd story. The band formed in 1965 in London, but its core members grew up in Cambridge. Waters' school friend Syd Barrett was the leader of the group, overseeing their 1967 debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. But Barrett's heavy LSD use triggered a mental breakdown and he was ejected from the band in 1968.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 18 2014 10:42 AM Scalia’s Liberal Streak The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 11:25 AM Gays on TV: From National Freakout to Modern Family Fun
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM Where Pregnant Women Aren't Allowed to Work After 36 Weeks  
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Music
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM Where the Girls At? Jhené Aiko, Marsha Ambrosius, Ledisi, and the other brilliant women of R&B who aren’t getting their due in 2014.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 10:07 AM “The Day It All Ended” A short story from Hieroglyph, a new science fiction anthology.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?