Music News

Roger Waters the Grownup Versus Syd Barrett the Kid

Roger Waters began playing in the earliest incarnation of Pink Floyd right around the time he turned 20 years old. At the time, the music was an innovative reflection of youth culture. It featured psychedelic, experimental sounds, prominent (often dissonant) guitar, and sweet vocal harmonies.

We are reminded of this with the recent release of An Introduction to Syd Barrett, a recently released collection that features songs written by the late Pink Floyd founder, including early Floyd material. Barrett, who later went insane, then disappeared to private life in a cottage, is known for his trippy tunes with nonsensical lyrics. Despite (or perhaps partially because of) his disappearing act, he's remembered fondly in pop culture and by hardcore Floyd fans who say his early material was some of the best work the band did, even though the group's later albums received much more commercial and critical success.

Perhaps part of Barrett's charm is his association with the band's early days. What is it about Pink Floyd and your turbulent teen years that fit so well together? Since the release of that first Pink Floyd record in 1967, teens have been seeking out the band's music for solace. It seems that no matter the generation, teens, particularly those not really cut out for popularity (or the music that accompanies it) turn to increasingly old Pink Floyd recordings. That's why Dark Side of the Moon never really disappears from the charts.

Since Barrett disappeared shortly after his own adolescence, he's more or less frozen in time in the public mind. That's perhaps part of his charm, too. The same can't be said about Waters, who is responsible for the majority of Pink Floyd's later material. Waters is definitely a grownup. He has a deep interest in music that spans genres far more diverse than the one he's famous for. He's a listener to classical, choral, and opera music. His most recent full-length album, Ça Ira, which came out in 2005, is a three-act opera based on the French Revolution.

Of course, Waters has long shown maturity in his work. Consider The Wall. Ultimately, it's an elaborate and deeply thought-out concept record about pain and suffering.

At the same time, Waters hasn't lost all his youthfulness. He has long been outspoken politically — a characteristic that is historically more common among youth. While The Wall has always had social and political connotations, Waters is making special efforts on this particular tour to highlight anti-war sentiments and create personal connections with the listener. His current show features an elaborate stage performance of the double album in its entirety, along with companion contributions on his Facebook page, including public art projections that he created, featuring an anti-war quote from Dwight Eisenhower.

There's something about the ability of Pink Floyd — and Waters' compositions, in particular — that reaches out to the misfits in the world. This is especially true of younger generations, for whom '60s psychedelia is not popular music. (Rather, it can easily be the subject of ridicule.)

So it's simultaneously tragic and wonderful that Waters has such a grip on painful experiences. It's what makes him relatable and a solace for youth no matter what decade. His music (like aging) is a growth process that is universal to all generations. Which is why he's still selling so many seats and records.