Roger Waters is an undeniable pioneer thanks to his work with the progressive rock Pink Floyd. Against the odds, the band became one of the most influential bands of their generation who have left a permanent marker on music that will never disappear, just like the work of Leonard Cohen.
Pink Floyd ended up as a drastically different outfit to the one that Waters initially dreamt up with Syd Barrett during their formative years. In fact, this has been a theme that has run right through Waters’ career from the get-go. He’s approached every venture in his career with the same vigour and forward-thinking enthusiasm, a mentality that helped cement him as one of the most engaging artists of his era in the first place.
One of the many differences between him and Cohen is that his Canadian counterpart came into the music scene later in life while he was in his 30s, and it was never his lifelong ambition. However, for Waters, that’s all he’d ever dreamt about, and still to this day, it provides him with the fuel to wake up in the morning.
While the louder, kaleidoscopic soundscape where Pink Floyd operated is a world away from Leonard Cohen, the mercurial way that the Canadian has with words has always left Waters gasping in awe. When the former Pink Floyd man reflected on his career with BBC Radio 4 as part of their Desert Island Discs feature to pick out eight songs that he holds dearly, he talked about his love of Cohen and even named his favourite song by the late wordsmith.
It’s impossible for us to over-sell the importance BBC’s Desert Island Discs has in the dense tapestry of British pop culture. It’s a time-honoured tradition that has seen Prime Ministers and rock stars alike walk through its studio doors. Created by Roy Plomley way back in 1942, the format is always the same. Each week a guest is invited by the host to choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island.
“Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan were the two men who allowed us to believe that there was an open door between poetry and song lyrics,” Waters said during the programme. “This song of his, ‘Bird On The Wire’, is so simple, so moving, so brilliant. I love it,” he added.
Waters left Pink Floyd in 1985, citing creative differences with David Gilmour, and the two of them barely agree on what day it is, let alone anything else. However, one thing that they do have in common is their shared love for Leonard Cohen. Speaking with Rolling Stone, Gilmour revealed that he is now not only a fan of Cohen’s lyrics and songwriting but his guitar playing, too. It may have been the reason for the extra attention he paid to the covers as he told the publication, “One thing I did learn is how bloody good he is as a guitar player,” he said. “You tend to think of singer-songwriters as people who are just using the guitar accompaniment to carry the words that they’re doing,” the guitarist continued, “but Leonard was an absolutely brilliantly accomplished guitar player in fingerstyle things that I just cannot do. And of course, he’s about the best lyricist that I know of.”
Leonard Cohen perhaps hasn’t been an influence musically on either member of Pink Floyd, but the admiration they both hold the late singer in is unquestionable. He was an avant-garde outlier just like each member of the now-iconic British band, artists who simply refused to operate on anybody else’s terms.