Book Review: Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall

Roger Waters by Dave Thompson

Roger Waters: The Man Behind the Wall by Dave Thompson is a history of Pink Floyd centered on bass player and song writer Roger Waters. Thompson is no stranger to the music industry. He has written over one hundred books, mostly covering rock and pop music. Most notably his has written on U2, Depeche Mode, Phish, ZZ Top, Bowie, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Also included in his work is one of my favorites Dancing Barefoot, a Patti Smith Biography. Thompson is well versed on the topic of Rock and Roll and to his credit he presents an honest view on his subjects and avoids the sensationalism usually associated with Rock and celebrity biographies.

Roger Waters is basically a two part book. The first part is a Waters-centric biography of Pink Floyd starting with The Walland ending with the the band breaking apart after The Final Cut. Rogers is tired of the “Space Rock” tag, guitar solos, extravagant keyboard work, and fans who preferred to get stoned and watch the light show and listen to the music rather than rising to his lyrics. The book then regresses back to his childhood and brings the reader to the beginnings of Pink Floyd.

Rogers can’t seem to catch a break musically. He puts togetherThe Wall and with it Pink Floyd releases a single, something they had not done before. “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” was a commercial success, but the stand out song was not originally intended for the album. David Gilmour’s Comfortably Numb was added for need of an extra song and turned out to be “the king of the castle.” This happens again to Rogers on The Final Cut; Gilmour performs vocals on only a single song (Not Now John) and that turns out to be the most memorable song on the album.

The second part starts with the birth of Pink Floyd. It covers the problems and the eccentricities of Syd Barrett and the making of all the Pink Floyd albums. Thompson provides a detailed history and account of the band. This section reverts back to Rogers after covering Barrett. Rogers is certainly a complex person and artist. I took a particular interest in reading about my favorite Pink Floyd album — Animals. Thompson describes the album in a way that I never saw before, and perhaps the explains the reason it remains my favorite Pink Floyd album. The album came out at the beginning of the British punk movement. Animals has the Pigs (war mongers), Dogs (corporate greed), and Sheep (people blindly lead to slaughter). The album was well received by the American punk community and may have had something to do with Johnny Rotten losing his “I Hate Pink Floyd” shirt. A comparison is made of the reception of using the 23rd Psalm in “Sheep” by Pink Floyd and the controversy around Patti Smith using it in “Privilege”… of course, Smith does follow up the Psalm with repeatedly “taking the Lord’s name in vain”.

Roger Waters gives a detailed history of Pink Floyd and Roger Waters role in the band as well as touching on Water’s solo ventures (Gilmour’s solo work is practically ignored). This is an excellent book for anyone wanting to learn more about one of the greatest bands in Rock and Roll. There is no muckraking or sensationalism in the book. If anything, the author may have believed David Gilmour’s famous quote. “…Some people think of us as a very drug orientated group. ‘Course we’re not. You can trust us.” All in all an excellent read.

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