Roger Waters On His Childhood

Musician Magazine, May 1992


Something is triggered off in each of us when we listen to certain songs, a feeling so intangible that it might only whisper, yet is recognized. Roger Waters explained how he thinks music does this: "As an audience, we look at the painting or hear the music and recognize truth of some kind that affects us deeply. It explains our universe to us in some way that is reassuring. It is that which makes me feel there may well be something to be in tune with."

Roger's description of his school illustrates how the traditional educational process seems designed to squash creativeness, a theme that he later explored artistically in The Wall. "My father was killed in the war when I was three months old, and I was brought up in Cambridge, England, by my mother, who's a school teacher. She didn't encourage my creativity. She claims to be tone deaf, whatever that means, and has no interest in music and art or anything like that. She's only interested in politics. I didn't really have a happy childhood. I loathed school, particularly after I went to grammer school. Apart from games, which I loved, I loathed every single second of it. Maybe toward the end when I was a teenager, going to school was just an 'us and them' confrontation between me and a few friends who formed a rather violent and revolutionary clique. That was alright, and I enjoyed the violence of smashing up the school property. The grammer school mentality at that time had very much lagged behind the way young people's minds were working in the late '50's, and it took them a long time to catch up. In a way, grammer schools were still being run on pre-war lines, where you bloody well did as you were told and kept your mouth shut, and we weren't prepared for any of that. It erupted into a very organized clandestine property violence against the school, with bombs, though nobody ever got hurt. I remember one night about 10 of us went out, because we had decided that one guy - the man in charge of gardening - needed a lesson. He had one particular tree of Golden Delicious apples that was his pride and joy, which he would protect at all costs. We went into the orchard with stepladders and ate every single apple on the tree without removing any. So the next morning was just wonderful; we were terribly tired but filled with a real sense of achievement."

"Syd Barrett [the cofounder of Pink Floyd with Roger] - who was a couple of years younger - and I became friends in Cambridge. We both had similar interests - rock 'n' roll, danger and sex and drugs, probably in that order. I had a motor bike before I left home, and we used to go on mad rides out into the country. We would have races at night, incredibly dangerous, which we survived somehow. Those days - 1959 to 1960 - were heady times. There was a lot of flirtation with Allen Ginsberg and the beat generation of the American poets. Because Cambridge was a university town, there was a very strong pseudo-intellectual but beat vibe. It was just when the depression of the postwar was beginning to wear off and we were beginning to go into some kind of economic upgrade. And just at the beginning of the '60's there was a real flirtation with prewar romanticism, which I got involved with in a way, and it was that feeling that pushed me toward being in a band. I used to go with friends on journeys around Europe and the Middle East, which in those days was a reasonably safe place. How much all that experience had to do with my eventually starting to write, I've no idea."

"The encoragement to play my guitar came from a man who was head of my first year at architecture school at Regent Street Polytechnic, in London. He encouraged me to bring the guitar into the classroom. If I wanted to sit in the corner and play guitar during periods that were set aside for design work and architecture, he thought that was perfectly alright. It was my first feeling of encouragement. Earlier, I had made one or two feeble attempts to learn to play the guitar whan I was around 14 but gave up because it was too difficult. It hurt my finger, and I found it much to hard. I couldn't handle it. At the Polytechnic I got involved with people who played in bands, although I couldn't play very well. I sang a little and played the harmonica and guitar a bit. Syd and I had always vowed that when he came up to art school, which he inevitably would do being a very good painter, he and I would start a band in London. In fact, I was already in a band, so he joined that."


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