“I don’t know how this will go down in Kansas City, frankly,” Roger Waters says to me of the highly political messages that pepper his Us + Them tour, which begins this Friday, and his new album, Is This The Life We Really Want?, out June 2. “I’m going everywhere, and the message will be the same, that the resistance began January 20 and it’s up to us to stand up, together.”
Is This The Life We Really Want? is certainly an album for our times. Waters put the finishing touches on it after his controversial appearance at Desert Trip in October, where disgruntled Trump supporters reportedly walked out in the face of Waters’ anti-Trump message. In the wake of the election, he tweaked the already politicized lyrics—which keen ears will notice pick up in many ways where Pink Floyd’s Animals left off in 1977—to more directly address the ascendance of the man Waters prefers to refer to as “that nincompoop.”
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“Do you know where the word nincompoop comes from?” Waters asks as we begin our conversation. “It’s Latin—non compos mentis, meaning “not of sound mind.” That describes him perfectly, so that’s how I refer to him.”
As controversial as Waters’ Desert Trip performance was, his most biting commentaries were left on the cutting room floor.
I wrote a long speech that I was going to make at Desert Trip about the election and about Trump. It was about how it was understandable that people felt betrayed, because they had been. But they also had to understand that they had been betrayed by Donald Trump and his kind, not by the Mexicans or the Chinese or whoever he was telling them was the enemy. Because they’re not the enemy. He is! This guy who is trying to get you to vote for him… is your enemy! This is the guy who is destroying your lives. He keeps telling you that your jobs are being stolen by the Chinese and the Mexicans, but they’re not. They’re being stolen by him. It is all part of his shell game, and what they were voting for was a kleptocracy. But it wasn’t the right time. People wouldn’t have listened. You can’t make a long speech like that in the middle of a rock and roll show. It was two full pages and it would have taken me several minutes even to read it. It would have been wrong… So it didn’t do it.
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Regardless, the most biting part of Waters’ shows in California and Mexico—”Pigs (Thee Different Ones)” from Animals—remains the centerpiece of his Us + Them tour.
That music is as timely now as it was in 1977. Perhaps even moreso. And I think it conveys the same message as what I was going to say. Trump wants to back his pantechnicon up to the Federal Reserve or Fort Knox or whatever it might be and load it up and leave you destitute. That is his plan and we’ve fallen for it. And when he does his supporters will go, “Hang on I thought you were going to get my job back. You’re just stealing my money. How the fuck did that happen?” Well, you watched it happen.
His new music is as powerful as anything he did with Pink Floyd.
It’s not just about Trump. It’s about resisting all the bullshit and lies. That message, like I say at the end of (new song) “Broken Bones”—”We can say fuck you, we will not listen to your bullshit lies”—is all over the new album. And on the tour I’m still having kids from the poorest environment that I can get, dressed in orange jumpsuits and black fucking hoods, singing with us. And when they break free [from those outfits] they will be wearing t-shirts that say #resist.
He pities other artists who bend to commercial or corporate demands.
The record company did say, “You’re going to have to do a sanitized version [of the album] to sell this in Walmart.” What do you mean sanitized? “Well, you can’t have the F-word, for instance, they won’t sell it.” So? Well, fuck you… Fuck them! Don’t sell it in Walmart. Fuck them. I feel sorry for any artist who caves to that pressure. Because you are either in love with Mistress Liberty or you’re not. Either love is a transcendental experience—and not just love for a woman or a man, but love for liberty and your fellow man, for everything—or it’s not. It’s like Jessie Owens in Berlin, or Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City doing the Black Power salute: When it’s a question of human rights and justice, you’re either in or you’re out. And that is true for everything. And I’m in.
As politically mindful as he is, Waters doesn’t have time for social media and prefers instead that his art do the talking.
I haven’t got time. Every moment of every day is taken up with the work that I do. Though I did manage to go fishing for two days about three weeks ago, and I can’t remember the last time I did that. Look, Trump is obviously gripping, but I can’t watch it, because if I did I’d never have time for anything else. He never takes his foot out of his mouth. He’s obviously an appalling person, and dreadful in every possible way, but we all knew that all along. You know, the thing is that clearly a lot of people in this country did not recognize that. Or they’re okay with it. They maybe kind of like it. When Trump says you can’t be too greedy, he means it. I pay tax here. So I’m part of it. Although I don’t accept that we could end up living in a kleptocracy.