I didn’t see him spit on the fan. I was too far back. But I did see the kick in the face.
Roger Waters, bass player for the British rock band Pink Floyd was back in Montreal last week, reliving the 1977 concert at the Olympic Stadium that gave birth to the band’s 1979 epic The Wall. There’s going to be an operatic version of the record performed in Montreal in 2017.
I remember the show fairly well and disagree with the way Waters remembers it. There’s a display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, that also features Waters reminiscences from that night. That’s the one where he mentions the kick.
The Wall is a reflection on alienation, about a band wanting to separate itself from its audience by building a wall between the two. Waters says it was inspired by the 80,000 at Olympic Stadium that night, a crowd he dismisses as being collectively drunk. His memory is flawed, not surprising perhaps because the wall had already been erected by the band. Waters has no idea what the crowd was like that night.
I hadn’t planned on going to the concert. I enjoyed Pink Floyd’s music, but not enough to travel two hours in each direction and get wedged in with all those people. But I had a friend who was a huge fan of the band, and he had just become a Christian. He told me he’d buy me a ticket if I would come with him as a chaperone, to ensure he didn’t give into the temptation to use illegal substances to enhance the experience. So I can testify that there were at least two of us who weren’t drunk. More than that actually – the people I saw seemed to be using marijuana rather than beer to alter their consciousness.
So what made the crowd unruly? What about the experience so affected the band?
The crowd was in my opinion justifiably rowdy. I have been to thousands of rock concerts in my life. The sound quality has varied from excellent to atrocious. Pink Floyd at Olympic Stadium in Montreal in July 1977 may have been the worst.
The first set was the Animals album in its entirety. I know that because each song had its own animal dirigible that floated above the stage. The sound was so bad that was the only way to tell what was being played.
The band didn’t seem to care. They didn’t know the sound was bad, they were all wearing huge headphones. They couldn’t hear what was going on in the stadium, and I’m sure the music mix in their ears was perfect. They didn’t know that the audience could only hear industrial level noise. And when a fan did manage to cross the barrier and get on to the stage to tell them he was kicked and spat on. (Somehow the sound techs did manage to fix whatever the problem was. The second set, featuring tunes from Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon, was much more recognizable, though the sound wasn’t perfect. Back then you didn’t expect perfect in a stadium.
Roger Waters may have written The Wall later as he reflected on that night, but for me the wall had already been erected. Pink Floyd chose to isolate themselves from their audience, the only ones in the stadium who could actually hear the music, therefore the only ones who enjoyed it. What they saw as rudeness from the audience was only a frustrated crowd trying to connect with the band somehow, trying to make them realize their music was unintelligible. The band didn’t get the message. And Roger Waters gave us The Wall as a result. I don’t know if that means I should forgive them for the bad sound.