Roger Waters’s Latest Controversy Suggests He’s Forgotten the Lessons of an Album He Made 40 Years Ago

And this time, the police are involved

Roger Waters
Roger Waters is in the spotlight again.
Angelika Warmuth/picture alliance via Getty Images

In 1979, Pink Floyd released The Wall, arguably one of the band’s two best-known albums. Three years later, a film adaptation, directed by Alan Parker, was released in theaters. The album told the story of a rock star whose isolation from the world eventually leads him to adopt a fascist worldview and turn horrifically reactionary. It is, in retrospect, a very odd record.

Still, it’s not hard to see where the album was coming from. Roger Waters — who was, at that point, the primary songwriter in Pink Floyd — drew on some of his own life for the album. And in telling the story of a pop icon who succumbed to the unsettling allure of fascism, The Wall both feels like a mirror of what was happening in rock during the time (seriously, read Simon Reynolds’s Shock and Awe; Bowie wasn’t the only rocker with an unfortunate fascist period) and an uncanny anticipation of both incels and Kanye West’s remarks about Hitler

The Wall was meant as a cautionary tale. Unfortunately, one of its primary architects — Waters himself — doesn’t seem to have heeded its lessons. Waters’s comments about geopolitics in the last few years have headed into crankishness, and he’s now the subject of a police investigation for his onstage behavior at a recent concert in Germany.

As Stereogum reports, Waters performed two concerts in Berlin on May 17 and 18, which are now the subject of the aforementioned investigation. Why? It has to do with Waters’s onstage attire, which echoes the SS-inspired looks of the fascist movement in The Wall, but also echoes the uniforms worn by actual SS. Which the German government, understandably, frowns upon from both a moral and legal perspective.

Apparently, Waters began the concert with a message stating that he was not an antisemite. And songwriters absolutely have the right to inhabit a fictional character in their songs. That said, Johnny Cash also did not act out the process of shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die in his live performances, and some of Waters’s peers in the rock pantheon have revisited their more contentious material.

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The musician also said he will no longer perform the controversial track live

As for Waters, he seems to be doubling down. Which is unfortunate — especially since, over 40 years ago, he and his bandmates wrote an entire double album about what happens when rock stars isolate themselves from the world. The Wall showed then that the results aren’t pretty;  it begs the question of why he’s forgotten those lessons now.

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