A case could be made for Radiohead being the Pink Floyd of their generation. Both bands never compromised their experimental leanings and unexpectedly found success way beyond their wildest dreams. However, it’s safe to say that Roger Waters and Thom Yorke don’t see eye to eye on a personal note.
Their feud isn’t related to anything musical, however, and it would be somewhat surprising to uncover that Waters or Yorke had an issue with either’s musical output. In fact, the Radiohead frontman even teamed up with Sparklehorse for a spine-tingling cover of ‘Wish You Were Here’, which confirms his appreciation for the band’s work.
However, things turned sour between both musicians when, in 2017, Radiohead performed a show in Tel Aviv, Israel, despite many artists boycotting the country due to their current conflict with Palestine. Run The Jewels, Rage Against The Machine, Patti Smith, and The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas were among the 600 names alongside Waters, calling for a cultural boycott of the Middle Eastern nation.
Many artists have announced gigs in Israel before cancelling them due to pressure, such as Lorde. “Been speaking to many people about this and considering all options. Thank you for educating me. I am learning all the time, too,” she wrote in 2017.
Radiohead didn’t cave into the external pressure from their peers telling them to cancel their show, following a lead set out by Nick Cave. The Oxfordshire group ignored the criticism and performed the concert anyway, much to Waters’ disgust. The singer made it clear that he disagreed with the actions of the state, and it wasn’t an endorsement. He passionately noted: “We’ve played in Israel for over 20 years through a succession of governments, some more liberal than others. As we have in America. We don’t endorse Netanyahu any more than Trump, but we still play in America.”
Adding: “Music, art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds and not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression. I hope that makes it clear Ken (Loach).”
Waters was incensed by Yorke’s reluctance to cave in, and later, he revealed a private discussion, one that resulted in the Pink Floyd founder coming to the conclusion that Yorke is a “self-obsessed, narcissistic, drippy little prick”.
Speaking at a pro-Palestinian conference in Australia in 2018, Waters scathingly commented: “Thom Yorke said that Ken Loach and I were throwing mud at him. No we weren’t. We were trying to engage him. I had a long email exchange with Thom Yorke and in the end he said ‘that’s it I’m giving up the music business, you have finally convinced me’.”
He added, “He was just being sarcastic. He is a prick. At least have a conversation. He is just a self-obsessed, narcissistic, drippy little prick”.
Debates around nuanced issues like this are emotional and can turn heated, which explains why Waters spoke in such visceral terms about Yorke. He felt personally hurt that Radiohead planned to go ahead with this gig, despite the ruthless actions of the Israeli government.
Of course, one debate has more than one opinion. Yorke stated that the show was in no way an endorsement of Israel and likened it to playing Trump’s America. Truth be told, there isn’t a clear cut correct answer on such a difficult subject where both men believe they are doing the right thing, leading to tempers getting frayed and insults being thrown.