Politics: Would Roger Waters’ Explosive Comments About Israel, Ukraine, Russia, and U.S. Sink $500 Million Pink Floyd Catalog Sale?

Roger Waters
Michael Buckner/REX/Shutterstock

While there’s been no official word, legendary British rockers Pink Floyd have been shopping their recorded-music catalog and other assets for several months, seeking as much as $500 million, according to the Financial Times, with both major music companies and investment firms as the top bidders.

But explosive new interview with founding member, main songwriter and stakeholder Roger Waters — in which he makes extensive remarks about Israel, Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and other political matters that one could politely characterize as controversial — is giving at least one potential buyer cold feet and seems likely to lead others to rethink their positions.

For years Waters has sounded off about politics in the press and at his concerts, most controversially Israel’s policies. But the new interview in Rolling Stone raises (or lowers) the bar considerably. While interviewer James Ball does his best to challenge some of Waters’ more far-fetched statements, the former Pink Floyd singer argues emphatically that some Jewish people in the U.S. and U.K. bear responsibility for the actions of Israel “because they pay for everything”; that well-documented accounts of Russian war crimes in Ukraine are “lies, lies, lies”; that the United States is “the most evil [country in the world] of all by a factor of at least 10 times”; that Russia’s brutal military involvement in Syria is justified because “they were there at the invitation of the Syrian government” (which is led by one of the world’s most murderous dictators, Bashar Assad), and more. (See a 12,000-word transcript of the interview here).

 

On a purely business level, the Pink Floyd recorded-music catalog, not to mention its merchandising rights, is one of the most valuable in contemporary music, with classic albums like “Dark Side of the Moon,” “The Wall,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Animals,” “Meddle,” “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” “More” and more. And after the sales of catalogs by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen (both for around $600 million), Neil Young, Stevie Nicks, James Brown (all around the low nine figures) and many others, it is one of the most lucrative and desirable known to be on the market. (Song publishing is not included in the prospective Pink Floyd deal.) The principals — Waters, Nick Mason, David Gilmour and the estate of late keyboardist Rick Wright — are all in their late 70s and presumably thinking about estate planning, but sources say various considerations, including tax issues, rising interest rates, the sinking value of the British pound, global recession concerns and the prospect of getting an even bigger price, have delayed the process.

In the past, prospective buyers, which include Sony Music, Warner Music, BMG, Primary Wave and Blackstone-backed Hipgnosis Songs Capital — presumably either overlooked or dismissed Waters’ comments while focusing on the prospect of owning the recorded-music rights to songs like “Money,” “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2,” “Wish You Were Here” and dozens more. (Reps for those companies either declined or did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.) But it’s hard to imagine that Waters’ comments will not alienate if not eliminate some prospective buyers — sources say at least one may pull out because of them — and at the very least, it would certainly seem to lower the value of the catalog.

The members of Pink Floyd, which first formed in 1965, always have had fractious personal relations, even as they became one of the most commercially successful rock acts in history. The group initially split in 1983 after Waters increasingly became the band’s dominant songwriter over the preceding decade (Wright had left a couple of years earlier). In the mid-‘80s Gilmour reunited the band under the Pink Floyd name without Waters, toured stadiums and released several albums, while Waters pursued a solo career and played considerably smaller venues.

Over the decades the bandmembers have argued about virtually everything — the recent release of a remastered edition of the group’s epochal 1977 “Animals” was held up for months over disagreements regarding Waters’ liner notes, which he eventually published on his website with a snarky note about the other members — yet the band was always savvy about the value of its catalog and were very far-sighted about its ownership: Although the group participated in the boxed-set mania of the 1990s, they held back most of the vast amount of archival material in their vaults until the rights to the catalog reverted to them, and in 2016 began a lavish reissue campaign that includes dozens of unreleased songs, alternate versions, live recordings and videos. The first of these, “The Early Years 1965-1972,” was released in 2016 as both a 2-CD set and a gargantuan 33-disc, $699 deluxe edition. Although many expected the next set to feature the band’s commercial peak years of 1973-80 — which include “Dark Side of the Moon,” Wish You Were Here,” “Animals” and “The Wall” — instead the group released a collection of less-popular material from the ‘90s. Why? Because the catalog is much more valuable with that peak-era material still in the vault, which would enable the buyer to release it.

Sources say that the rights to the band’s name and likeness are also included in the deal, which also dramatically raises the value. The rights to the name “Pink Floyd” presumably would enable the new owner to stage any number of events and experiences under the name — fans of a certain age will remember the popular “Laser Pink Floyd” light-show events of the ‘80s and the like. And although the intentionally low-profile bandmembers’ likenesses (faces) are much less recognized than, say, those of the Rolling Stones, sources also say the rights to the band’s album artwork is also included in the deal. While the details of this are uncertain (artist Gerald Scarfe, for example, would seem to retain at least some rights to his work for “The Wall,” for example, which was also featured in the 1982 film of the same name), ownership of the pyramid artwork of “Dark Side of the Moon,” the pig floating over London’s Battersea Power Station on the cover of “Animals,” and the burning man on the cover of “Wish You Were Here” would seem an exciting prospect for anyone with the knowledge and ability to market it effectively.

How much will Waters’ comments devalue those assets?

Although great art can be made by people who do or say horrible things, the impact of Waters’ statements may be less about the general public than the entity that decides it’s worth giving dozens of millions of dollars to a person who would make such comments publicly.