Lunch With Roger Waters
The Pink Floyd founding member orders a lime cordial.
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.
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.
Ludovic Hunter-Tilney is the FT's pop critic.
Photograph of Roger Waters by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images.