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(Credit: Andrés Ibarra)

Music

The horrific incident that inspired Roger Waters to write Pink Floyd's 'The Wall'

@josephtaysom

The Wall is arguably Pink Floyd’s magnum opus, a record that depicts the story of a burnt-out rock star who has turned his back on civilisation to become a recluse. However, before the group even stepped foot in the studio to make the record, Pink Floyd already found themselves on the ropes. Roger Waters was inspired to create The Wall after a shocking incident on tour, which would be a low point in his life and cause him “eternal shame”.

The group first decided to take on the concept in July 1978, a period in time when Pink Floyd reconvened at Britannia Row Studios, and Roger Waters gave his bandmates two new ideas for concept albums. The first option was a 90-minute demo with the working title Bricks in the Wallwhich the band decided to roll with and allow Waters to follow his creative vision. The project arrived at a curious time for Pink Floyd and, even though they were one of the biggest bands on the planet, they were drained mentally and physically, with The Wall being the perfect mechanism to explore these emotions.

1977 saw Pink Floyd spend the first half of the year on a non-stop cycle of playing stadiums across the world, starting to play with Roger Waters, who was slowly becoming more mentally fragile as the tour went on. It spilt over in the most distressing circumstances on the final night of the run at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. It was during this show that the band decided to give fans a second encore of ‘Drift Away Blues‘ to round off the set. Meanwhile, their roadies dismantled the stage before the band had the chance even to finish the song. Things went from bad to worse when David Gilmour decided to sit out the final encore after failing to hide his annoyance with the band’s performance that night.

Touring guitarist Snowy White filled in Gilmour’s place, but that wasn’t even the only shameful shenanigan to take place over the evening. Not only did a riot break-out at the front of the stage before the band finally left, but Waters disgraced himself earlier that night by spitting in the face of a rowdy fan.

It wasn’t all bad, though, as the occasion gave Waters the food for thought required to create The Wall, exploring how he now felt estranged from the audience thanks to the growing stardom of Pink Floyd. The Wall offered a perfect metaphor to explain how Waters felt and plant the seed that would gift the world with one of the finest concept albums of all-time.

Years later, Howard Stern explored the deeper meaning behind the inspiration. During a conversation, Stern asked if the Pink Floyd man if he wanted to build a wall between the audience and the band because he used to get so viscerally irate on-stage that he was overcome with a want to spit on the audience. While the topic sounds like another rock ‘n’ roll legend, with a granular amount of truth at the core, Waters did remarkably confirm to Stern that it was wholly factual. “It is (true), to my eternal shame,” Waters laughed. Stern then asked why he spat on a member of the audience during that fateful night in Montreal, and Waters jokingly aggressively stood up to shout at the radio presenter, “Because he was coming at the front of the fucking stage,” Waters bellowed before bursting into laughter and revealing that he “can’t remember” the reason why he spat on a fan.

Waters had lost sight of himself after the tour had played games with his head, and The Wall represented the change that had gradually taken place. The album was a revolutionary one and the live show that accompanied it was even more pioneering. Even if the inspiration from it derived from a dark place, Waters channelled this energy into his art to deliver a masterpiece that perfectly depicts the pitfalls of fame.

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