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The Spitting Incident

6 JULY 1977
Stade Du Parc Olympique
Montréal, Québec, Canada

The night's opener, Sheep, was greeted with enthusiasm as soon as Waters belted out the first vocal line. The band seemed to be enjoying themselves but when Waters began to strum Pigs On The Wing part 1, the audience was noticeably talkative. Not more so than any other ballad you might hear at a concert, but you can just barely hear a couple firecrackers going off during the song. Waters played through the minute and a half song without incident and there was a brief pause before the next song, Dogs. This was greeted with more of a mild reaction than might be expected but Pink Floyd still sounded great. Unfortunately once the song ended, the night turned sour. Waters played the opening G chord of Pigs On The Wing part 2 once then stopped, then a second time, then stopped again. Just then a pop pierced the silence and the audience began murmuring about the self-indulgent fireworks. Waters was persistent and began a third time, this time making it to the lyrics. No sooner he'd gotten out the first line "you know that I care…" the air was split by a loud crack. Waters had had enough.

"Aww, for fuck's sake, stop lettin' off fireworks and shouting and screaming, I'm trying to sing the song!" This outburst was met with an approving roar from the audience, but he wasn't finished. You can tell from his tone that he had simply grown tired of the whole experience, as if he was a weary mother speaking to his spoiled, ill-mannered kids. "I mean I don't care…if you don't want to hear it, you know. Fuck you. I'm sure there's a lot of people here who do want to hear it." The audience cheered in agreement as Waters continued. "So why don't you just be quiet. If you want to let your fireworks off go outside and let them off there, and if you want to shout and holler, go and do it out there…I'm trying to sing a song that some people want to listen to. I want to listen to it." He then slowly began the song a fourth time, to which the audience quieted down some but after that kind of interruption it was impossible for things to be as quiet as Waters had hoped. The band played on reasonably well (they were, after all, professionals) but the audience murmuring and intermittent whistles can be heard over his straining voice.

Exactly when Waters spat at the fan is impossible to discern but just as Pigs (Three Different Ones) begins, you can clearly hear another fan's surprise. "Oh wow, did you see that?" It's possible he was reacting to a part of the show but this comment was only moments after Waters' outburst. Although he later described himself as "shocked" by his own behavior, he certainly did not show any remorse during that set. Towards the end of Pigs (Three Different Ones), during the keyboard solo, he yelled out "Come back! All is forgiven! Come on, boy! Come on, son!" The scathing tone of his voice was sarcastic as the song itself is, and he seemed to be relishing in his own misconduct. The whole ordeal was made even more macabre by the sinister drones of the music in the background. After the song finished he simply said "Thank you, we're going to take a break. We'll be back in vingt minutes [20 minutes]." As if there were any doubt as to what had happened, during the opening keyboards of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, you can hear people talking about the incident: "…some asshole kept letting off those fireworks..."

After a chanting of "encore, encore, more!" the setlist closed with Us and Them. Waters tried to make peace with the audience by saying, "OK we're gonna do another tune…just cause there's a few assholes down the front here, there's no need for everybody to get upset. This tune is called Us and Them, it's from Dark Side of the Moon…" He seemed to specifically mention the beloved album so the crowd would accept it, but quickly added, "And it's very quiet, so let's keep quiet…try to end this thing peacefully." The crowd was far from silent as you can clearly hear people chanting, "hashish, hashish…" and yelling during Gilmour's opening arpeggios. At this point in the show, however, one could hardly expect the crowd to keep quiet. After the obligitory "Thank you very much, goodnight," Waters addressed the crowd personally. "Thank you--take it easy. Don't worry about it! I don't…well I do, but I wish I didn't." Whether intentionally or not, his last four words had a bizarre echo repeat that was an approriate cap on a strange evening. The show actually closed with a blues jam, but this was cut short by Gilmour leaving for the mixing desk and roadies disassembling their gear, perhaps trying to put the whole tour behind them.

So why did Roger spit in that guy's face?

In short, it was pent up frustration that had been building for a long time. Problems with Pink Floyd and their audiences were nothing new, dating back to their earliest shows in England. Former manager Peter Jenner witnessed several of these shows, and perhaps the beginning of Waters' animosity for the crowd. "I remember Floyd played a jazz club in Ealing, and someone threw a big old penny at Roger Waters because they weren't playing proper blues music, and it hit him in the teeth... People knew that Floyd were psychedelic, so they were expecting something weird, but there were occasions when audiences would get upset because they weren't getting a nice set of songs that sounded exactly like the single. I think it was in Dunstable that someone up in the balcony above the band poured a pint of beer over Roger in protest. Somehow it was always Roger who ended up as the target!" I don't know whether cases like this really did add up for Waters, like bricks in a wall, but by the mid-70s his attitude towards touring and the music business in general had undoubtedly soured. In 1975 he admitted, "I've been through a period when I've not wished to do any concerts with the Floyd ever again. I felt that very strongly, but the last week I've had vague kind of flickerings, feeling that I could maybe have a play. But when those flickerings hit the front of my mind, I cast myself back into how fucking dreadful I felt on the last American tour with all those thousands and thousands and thousands of drunken kids smashing each other to pieces. I felt dreadful because it had nothing to do with us--I didn't think there was any contact between us and them…I don't like it. I don't like all that Superstar hysteria. I don't like the idea of selling that kind of dream, 'cause I know it's unreal 'cause I'm there. I'm at the top…I am the dream and it ain't worth dreaming about. Not in the way they think it is anyway."

Clearly the band's hearts and minds were not on touring or recording, and it showed up on their current album, Wish You Were Here. The first post-Dark Side album was filled with lyrical and symbolic references to their malaise, stemming from an overwhelming tour and disenfranchisement with the music business. As Waters described it, "It was all very mechanical," while Mason called it "a difficult record to make." Even the album cover showed two men in suits shaking hands with one getting burnt. So going into the Animals era, the band had become very jaded from both internal and external pressures. Perhaps then it was only a matter of time before Waters snapped and lashed out during a show. In hindsight, Gilmour links the spitting incident directly to the Dark Side of the Moon tour. "It started from the first show in America. People at the front shouting, 'Play Money! Gimme something I can shake my ass to!' We had to get used to it, but previously we'd been playing to 10,000 seaters where, in the quiet passages, you could hear a pin drop. One always has a bit of nostalgia for the days when we could perform without compromise to that level of dynamics. I think that tendency is what culminated for Roger in the famous Montreal incident…"

One thing that should be cleared up-- the Pink Floyd vs. The Audience controversy isn't necessarily the fault of Americans. That should go without saying because the spitting incident took place in Canada, but the problem wasn't the audience's nationality, it was a certain percentage of the crowd. Even before Dark Side of the Moon, the band was relatively well known, but their shows were attended by a core fan base. Many of these fans were Americans, and Floyd certainly played venues in the US as well. For example, at one 1971 show in Washington, D.C. the audience was incredibly polite, clapping only between songs or occasionally after a long solo piece. Incidentally, I've been to that same theater (at George Washington University) and it is about as intimate as you can get. If the audience wanted to yell anything out, the band would certainly hear it, yet everyone was well behaved. Clearly the "rowdy and uncivilized" Americans were capable of sitting through an entire show without ruining it. However...once Pink Floyd had radio hits and a popular album, the casual fans started appearing and wanted to see a rock concert instead of the audio/visual experience that Pink Floyd provided and their devoted fans thrived on. Perhaps the American tours only exacerbated the problem because of the many stadiums and arenas around. The more seats available, the more tickets are sold, which means more money in the pockets of managers, agents and promoters.

It should also be noted that this problem does not exclusively belong to Pink Floyd, nor to the 1970s. Every band that sells out a stadium began playing bars or coffee houses, and for whatever reason hit it big. Of course the irony is that as an unknown band you aspire to have a huge hit, but once you're popular it's impossible to go back to the way things were. You either fade out into obscure mediocrity or ride the wave of success into the future. Perhaps the difference between other bands and Pink Floyd is that the Floyd had never bought into the superstar mentality. Surely they led oppulant lives and indulged in many of the hedonistic trappings of rock stardom, but they have always avoided excess publicity and kept their personal lives very private. As musicians, they appreciated their fans and loved performing live but they preferred to keep a safe distance, both figuratively and literally.

Every popular band experiences some problems with fans or audiences, but Pink Floyd had come to expect a certain decorum in their shows that erroded as their popularity rose. A Pink Floyd concert is more than just a string of songs played live--it's a musical and visual presentation of ideas, concepts and themes. This was most true during the 70s when the band abandonned their "hits" and were intent on performing an entire album (or albums) in sequence. Even in the post-Waters era, the shows still retained the imagery, sounds, and overall feeling of their previous shows, preserving continuity. As good as shows may be, and as loyal as the fans were, the fall out between the band and their audience was inevitable. Ultimately, Pink Floyd's fans should have shown more respect for the band they worshipped, but some blame must be shared by the band members. One can't sell millions of albums, book stadiums with flying pigs and lasers, then expect 80,000 fans to sit quietly in their seats. I have to confess...I couldn't do it either.

I'll give Roger Waters the last word:

"There's an exhibit based on The Wall at the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and they asked me for a quote to put up as graffiti on it. And this is what I wrote: 'In the Old Days, pre-Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd played to audiences which, by virtue of their size, allowed an intimacy of connection that was magical. However, success overtook us and by 1977 we were playing in football stadiums. The magic was crushed beneath the weight of numbers. We were becoming addicted to the trappings of popularity. I found myself increasingly alienated in that atmosphere of avarice and ego until one night in the Olympic Stadium, Montreal, the boil of my frustrations burst. Some crazed teenage fan was clawing his way up the storm netting that separated us from the human cattle pen in front of the stage screaming his devotion to the demi-gods beyond his reach. Incensed by his misunderstanding and my own connivance, I spat my frustration in his face. Later that night, back at the hotel, shocked by my behavior, I was faced with a choice. To deny my addiction and embrace that comfortably numb but magic-less existence or accept the burden of insight, take the road less traveled and embark on the often painful journey to discover who I was and where I fit. The wall was the picture I drew for myself to help me make that choice.' That's a good summation of it."

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