Wish you weren’t here: Pink Floyd goes to war over Ukraine
The members of Pink Floyd didn’t need another reason to hate one another — but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine gave them one anyway.
David Gilmour and Roger Waters have been at loggerheads for four decades, far longer than they spent in the same band, and things aren’t getting any better.
Earlier this month, Waters gave an explosive interview to CNN in which he described U.S. President Joe Biden as a “war criminal” who is “fueling the fire in the Ukraine” (note use of the outdated “the Ukraine”); and slammed NATO for “pushing right up to the Russian border.” Oh, and for good measure, he said that “Taiwan is part of China.”
Sticking with Russia for a moment, Waters has been inconsistent on the subject these past few months. A week before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, he told an interviewer on Kremlin mouthpiece RT that talk of an invasion was “bullshit … anybody with an IQ above room temperature knows [an invasion] is nonsense.” By early March, he was writing on Facebook that he was “disgusted” by Vladimir Putin’s invasion, which he dubbed a “criminal mistake” and the “act of a gangster.” In the same social media post, he said that Western governments were “fueling the fire … by pouring arms into Ukraine.” A couple of weeks later, Waters used a podcast — also featuring the musician Brian Eno and former Greek Cabinet minister Yanis Varoufakis — to condemn “propaganda to demonize Russia.”
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Waters, 78, a founding member of Pink Floyd but who left the band in 1985, has yet to meet a political issue he doesn’t have an opinion on. He’s labeled Israel an “apartheid state;” hit out at Brexit voters (“I thought we were better than that. I was wrong”); dissed Donald Trump (“The sewers are engorged by greedy and powerful men”); and battered the “ruling class” for locking up WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Waters’ former bandmate Gilmour — who joined Pink Floyd in 1967, shortly before the departure of founding member Syd Barrett — has a very different take on the Russian invasion, and in April released Hey Hey, Rise Up!, a new single under the Pink Floyd banner that samples Andriy Khlyvnyuk, frontman of Ukrainian rock band BoomBox, with the proceeds going to humanitarian relief efforts. Gilmour told Rolling Stone that he was alerted by his Ukrainian daughter-in law to a social media clip of Khlyvnyuk singing.
Gilmour told the Guardian that “the practicalities of having an extended Ukrainian family is part of this. My grandchildren are half-Ukrainian, my daughter-in-law Janina is Ukrainian — her grandmother was in Kharkiv until three weeks ago. She’s very old, disabled, in a wheelchair and has a carer, and Janina and her family managed to get her all the way across Ukraine to the Polish border and now they’ve managed to get her to Sweden.”
The song was a big deal for the band’s fans as it had been 28 years since the last new Pink Floyd material, 1994’s The Division Bell (2014’s The Endless River album was a mostly instrumental affair crafted from The Division Bell outtakes) and came after Gilmour had pledged that “this is the end” for a band that has sold some 250 million albums.
Gilmour’s take on Waters (in the interview with the Guardian, after his former bandmate’s February/March comments) was simply: “Let’s just say I was disappointed and let’s move on.”
The dark side of the band
Tensions within Pink Floyd are nothing new.
After the increasingly erratic and drug-dependant Barrett — primary songwriter and frontman in the early years — left Pink Floyd (named after the American bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council), Waters began to shape the band’s creative vision as it reached its commercial zenith on albums such as 1973’s The Dark Side Of The Moon and 1979’s The Wall.
By 1983’s The Final Cut, Waters had had enough — later saying the working environment at the time was “toxic” — and believed that without him, Pink Floyd would be no more. But the others wanted to carry on, leading Waters to sue Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason in an attempt to prevent them from using the name Pink Floyd, claiming the group was “a spent force creatively.”
Two years later, the two sides settled out of court, and Pink Floyd, with Gilmour at the tiller, carried on. In 2013, Waters told the BBC of the lawsuit: “I was wrong! Of course I was. Who cares?”
The enmity between Gilmour and Waters subsided enough for a one-time reunion for the charity event Live 8 in 2005, though there were still clashes, with Gilmour refusing to play Waters’ Another Brick In The Wall, saying its anti-education message was inappropriate at a gig raising awareness of poverty in Africa, and adding “anyway, I don’t like it much.”
They finished the Live 8 gig with a somewhat awkward bow, likely never to be seen together again.