Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall
The story of British band Pink Floyd is one of an enigma that has lasted for decades. Regardless if the band has sold trillions of records and countless of books and articles had been written, still, the general audience knows very little about how the band's music was created or details about band members' private lives. Further, the intriguing and brilliant Hipgnosis designed covers also said and revealed too little about its musical journey which was so significant that it altered the entire course of late 20th century sound. During the four decades the band had actively existed it became synonymous with a magnetic edgy music in which its pervasive chilling mood is the star. Over the years the focus of fans' adulation remained the anonymous banner of Pink Floyd. But subsequent ego battles, financial problems, the inability to share credits among each other eventually has led to Waters' divorcing from the band and commencing legal battles with the remaining members, which was the subject of many tabloid headlines in the 80s and the 90s. Regardless if the group had exploded into acrimony, the legacy of its music is still a mystery that deserves to be unraveled.
The man at the center of this book's story, Roger Waters is a lyricist extraordinaire whose meditations on death, madness and apocalypse were pivotal in leading an obscure British psychedelic group to the pinnacle of commercial preeminence in rock music. Basically, Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall consists of two separate parts that gives the impression of two separate streams in one book. The first part maps the biography of Roger Waters starting from early childhood by analyzing his family background, the death of his father during WWII, his family's political background that has influenced Waters' social and political thinking that has also reflected in his work with Pink Floyd and in his solo career work, his early music interests, biographical details, education and jumps to various moments in his musical biography with Floyd where Waters had a more prominent role in lyric writing, conceptualizing the later output with works such as Wish You Were Here, (EMI, 1975) Animals, (EMI, 1977) The Wall (EMI, 1979) and eventually a dominating role, as in "The Final Cut" (when the credits wrote by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd). While doing that the author skims various important chapters in Waters' life that were part of Pink Floyd's biography and proceeds with an outlook on his subsequent post Floyd solo career, the highs and the lows, the dispute over the name all leading to the eventual last stand of the classic Pink Floyd at the Live 8 in 2005 at Hyde Park.
The second part is a detailed biography of Pink Floyd's oeuvre and the times when those records were made over the course of the several stages that the career of this band has had. Starting from the musical endeavors that each band member had participated in before Floyd, the story, that was mapped through various sources such as books and interviews (either author's or by others) is told through the records, soundtracks, song by song details that actually portray the road traversed from its early start, when the band became darling of the psychedelic scene under the guidance of the first front man Syd Barrett. Barret had been a maverick artist and a true original that had to departure prematurely from the band due to drug abuse and psychological problems, a legacy that the band had to wrestle with many times during the course of its illustrious career. What followed in the second chapter of the band's career was a series of exotic rock reveries with exotic titles such as A Saucerful of Secrets, (Columbia, 1968 ) Ummagumma, (Columbia, 1969) Atom Heart Mother (EMI, 1970) that set the scenery for the mega selling records and tours that would catapult them in the major league
Thompson's prose is never boring and is detailed as he leads the stories through the myriad of information. The good thing here is that each record gets its own equal analysis regardless if it's an obscure single or a record, shoulder to shoulder with the better known ones in their cannon. On the other hand, there is very little or nothing whatsoever about the Pink Floyd's legendary concerts which were as important as their studio efforts. The band's stage productions of the era were the forerunners of the modern rock and pop extravaganza, featuring elaborate special effects and one of rock's inaugural light shows, where among that the music was played on a quadraphonic sound system called Azymuth coordinator.
While Waters' career is anything but uneventful the author doesn't give much info about the many charity activities he has participated in. He was a spokesman for the Millennium Promise charity in 2007, he reunited with Gilmour for a charity in 2006 for the children of Palestinian refugees and in 2012 he led a benefit for United States military veterans called Stand Up for Heroes. Judging by the book, he and Eric Clapton were not on the best of terms when the tour in 1984 had ended, but then again the author fails to mention the charity events they participated in afterwards, like them performing together in 2005 on TV for the Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope when they performed "Wish you Were Here" as well as Waters taking part in a charity cricket match that Clapton had organized in 2008. Plenty of the info apart from author's own interpretation of Waters' and Pink Floyd's output doesn't reveal anything new.
The story of Roger Waters and Pink Floyd is far too complex to be told in one book just by going through various and select musical details without giving a broader picture of the cultural impact it has had since its early days and the subsequent changes and the fashions it has survived. What this book lacks is more depth and a broader picture and analysis of the band's cultural impact that goes beyond the world of music. It has no fresh conversations with Waters, his family, or his well known former band mates. Rather, it is a collocation of stale, previously published interviews and chats with former low level co-workers. And instead of working on a fine portrait, it seems like he has been working on the sketch. It is unquestionable that Waters' contribution had been pivotal for the band's success both artistically and commercially, but if there had been a better assessment of his role it could be argued that he also contributed greatly to its demise and initial disbandment after the heights reached in the 70s. Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall is an averagely good book about Roger Waters, but he and Pink Floyd deserve a better one.