Roger Waters - The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking
After the disappointing The Final Cut album all die-hard Floyd fans knew for sure: Pink Floyd was breaking up. There was no tour to support The Final Cut and both David Gilmour and Roger Waters spent most of 1983 in the studio recording solo-albums. Gilmour was the first to release his solo effort (his second to date) which didn't get a warm reception from neither press nor fans.
On May 8th Waters' first solo album hit the shelves and the first reactions were exactly the same as to Gilmour's album: It failed to impress the general public neither did it burst the charts and even the die-hard Floyd fans didn't know what to make of it.
The biggest problem for everybody was that although it sounded like a Floyd album, it lacked something. Something which couldn't be explained just easily with "Gilmour doesn't play on it". The seemingly sexual content also shook many people in mid-eighties prudish Britain and feminist groups organised to rip down Pros and Cons posters, on grounds that the picture of the hitchhiking nymphet amounted to a virtual advertisement for rape.
That same album cover was banned for its American release and Water's refusal to change it caused the album to become censored with a lovely black bar over the girl's arse.
But despite all the fuss, was the album that bad at all?
The album was produced by Roger Waters himself, together with Michael Kamen, who had already co-produced The Final Cut and played on The Wall. The drums were played by Andy Newmark, who had already taken over from Nick Mason on The Final Cut. The artwork was designed by Gerald Scarfe - of The Wall-fame - and even the Holophonics made a reappearance.
Apart from Kamen and Newmark the assembled all-star band consisted of Andy Bown on organ, Ray Cooper on percussion, Raff Ravenscroft on horns (all three had also played on The Final Cut) and David Sanborn on saxophone. With these men Waters already had a stunning backing band, but his secret weapon had yet to come. In order to ensure that no one would miss Dave Gilmour on the record he brought in the husband of his wife's friend: one Eric Clapton. Clapton's virtuosity was however somewhat constricted by Waters' decision to record all the basic tracks first before inviting Clapton to record his guitarparts (All the songs - apart from the title-track - have been recorded that way). But, constricted or not, Clapton gave the album a much warmer and bluesey atmosphere, which many Floyd albums had lacked before.
True, the album is not easy to review, mainly because there is hardly any melody on the album (apart from the title track and 5:06 AM (Every stranger's eyes), which are the only straightforward songs), it is more a collection of recurring musical fragments. Many of these had already appeared on the last two Floyd albums, therefore the album sounds a lot like a Floyd album.
A salient detail: Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton collaborated again in 1987 on the movie soundtrack for Lethal Weapon, which, in it's turn, sounds a lot like Pros and Cons...
But through the years opinions have changed. The same critics who slagged off the album back in '84 ranked it among "the wordiest albums in the history of Rock 'n' Roll" years later. And also the Floyd diehards, who were let down at first, appreciated the album later on. Suffice to say it's an album that needs time to grow on you.
The 370 lines of lyrics can almost be read as a book. Unlike for instance The Wall, or Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, where you need at least an analyst, a philosophy professor, and someone who has studied British literature for at least a lifetime before you get a vague idea of what the lyrics are all about. And then still the authors will tell you that you are all wrong.
With Pros and cons that is not the case. I am not saying that my interpretation is the right one, but at least the lyrics tell a sensible story.
The main character on the album is an English man who's married to an American wife. (sounds familiar?) They're never introduced by name, only "man" and "wife". In fact, none of the characters on the album carry a name. The album enters the bedroom of this couple as the man is having a nightmare. We follow his dreams for 45 minutes.
I will explain the story on the basis of the lyrics with some additional information taken from descriptions of the live shows. Reg the dog for one, is a character, which was initially not introduced on the album, but it played a main role in the live show. However, if you observe the lyrics and the sounds on the album closely, then you do find the references to Reg.
At some parts the lyrics speak better for themselves than my dodgy explanations.
4:30 AM (Apparently they were travelling abroad)
The album starts the sound of a ticking alarm clock, heartbeats and a newsreader saying "Apparently they were travelling abroad and they picked up some hitchhikers…"
You hear drilling sounds and a lot of other noises. We enter the man's nightmare as his wife wakes him up. "Wake up, you're dreaming"
"We were moving away from the border"
The song slowly starts with organ chords and haunting guitarplay by Clapton. The man shifts back to his dream, where he and his wife drive around Europe with two hitchhikers in the back - a serial killer and a gorgeous girl.
While driving the man is seducing the girl through his rear view mirror and he suggests to pull over. The wife and the other hitchhiker disappear (it's a dream remember) and the man is alone with this gorgeous girl ready for sex.
4:33 AM (Running shoes)
In his dream he impresses the girl with his looks and his family car is now a green Lamborghini. They go for a drive in the car and he seduces her. While Clapton plays a gorgeous solo on acoustic guitar you can hear the girl getting excited.
But when he's ready for the big jump he gets frightened and he hears something.
He wakes up within his dream…
4:37 AM (Arabs with knives and West German skies)
… to find himself in a nightmare again. He is back in his bedroom but there are Arab terrorists at his bed and they threaten him. He sees his wife and he is struck with guilt, while the hitchhiker turns to him saying: "Come on now kid it was wrong what you did. You got to admit it was wrong what you did"
The man realises this is still a dream and he forces himself to dream about this gorgeous girl again. (the nightmare still echoes in his mind and he shouts "Leave her alone.. get out… out of my house")
He shifts to a hotel in Köningsberg, Germany. He is having dinner with her in this fancy hotel, with partying Germans all around him. They are invited to join the Germans, but this is still not what the man wants. He forces his dream to be alone with this girl again (once more you hear him scream "Leave her alone") and they leave the Germans and go to their room.
4:39 AM (For the first time today, part 2)
Finally he is alone with the girl and they make love. In his sleep the man grasps his wife in the reality of his bed and wakes her up again. His wife wakes him up and he wakes, horny. He wants to make love to his wife, but she rejects him.
"Stay with me"
"Stay with me"
This bit is accompanied some excellent saxophone playing and haunting stringed basses.
4:41 AM (Sexual revolution)
Drums kick in again and a more uptempo rocksong starts. Dream and reality get mixed up now. The man is frustrated about his rejection and he tells his wife what he wants (half while dreaming about the girl and half in reality)
The nightmare returns:
I awoke in a fever, the bedclothes were all soaked with sweat
She said "You've been having a nightmare and it's not over yet"
This is the point where Reg the dog comes along. It is a cartoon character, portraying the man, who in his turn is Roger Waters himself.
The man dreams how he, as Reg the dog, is being eaten by his wife as a sandwich
Then she picked up the doggy in the window (the one with the waggeling tail) and she put him to bed between two bits of bread
4:47 AM (The remains of our love)
He wakes again (or does he?). Especially with this song the lyrics can be read as a book:
I just cowered in the corner
My pyjama coat over my head
And she smiled as she finished her sandwich
And he cold eyes fixed me to my dark history
As she brushed the remains of our love from the bed
The love is over, he thinks his wife is leaving him, but:
When she had turned back the covers
When all of the prayers had been read
She said "Come on over here you silly boy
I was only joking"
At this point at the live show you saw Reg de dog getting pinned up at the wall, and knives being thrown at him. If you listen closely to the album you can actually hear the knives hitting the board. This once more shows how extremely detailed the album actually is.
"Let's leave behind the city grime
Let's not compete
It could be fine in the country"
They decide to leave the city and start a new life in a cabin in the mountains of Wyoming.
This is where side one ends - they're driving into the countryside, playing the most stupid games with their children "Let's see how many Volvos we pass on the way to our new life in the country"
Strange things like these suggest that he is in fact still dreaming.
4:50 AM (Go fishing)
On the second side of the album we meet the man on the roadside as a hitchhiker. In flashbacks he tells the story about living in the country with his wife and how the experiment failed.
It started out perfectly in the spring - the perfect couple with the perfect kids living in the perfect world. They live almost completely cut off from the outside world for half a year and pretend to be happy. However, it turns out to be not as perfect as it seems, as the man is clearly a drug addict (smoking a joint while reading bedtime stories to his kids.)
When the seasons change things go from bad to worse. By the time it's winter they are stuck with sick children, a broken down heater, no food and worst of all his wife turns out to have an affair with a friend from the East.
I said "Fuck it then
Take the kids back to town
Maybe I'll see you around
His wife leaves him and the man is left behind on an empty road as a hitchhiker.
Go Fishing is the longest song on the album and musically also one of the most interesting. Very atmospheric, many time signature changes and a really effective drum-fill which surpasses Phil Collins' In the air tonight. Needless to say this is my favourite on the album.
During the live-performances of the album, this song was completely backed by a cartoon starring Reg.
4:56 AM (For the first time today, part 1)
We're back with the man hitchhiking along the empty road. The realisation that he is on his own now sinks in slowly.
4:58 AM (Dunroamin, Duncarin, Dunlivin)
He is picked up by a truck-driver, who turns out to have a ready ear for all the man's misery. That is, until the man gets so abhorred with his own stories that he nearly throws up. "Not in my rig you don't boy… get the hell out of hear!"
The truck-driver throws him out of his rig
5:01 AM (The pros and cons of hitchhiking)
Both musically as lyrically this song is a bit out of place in the album. It tells about the encounters the man has while hitchhiking. It hasn't got much to do with the story, except for Ooh babe, I must be dreaming again. It is still a dream after all.
Nonetheless this title track is a great fun-rock song, with hilarious lyrics.
5:06 AM (Every strangers eyes)
The man finds himself in a roadside café, where a waitress with a heart of gold sympathises with him. When looking at the people around him he realises that he is not alone, that he is not the only one. I recognise myself in every stranger's eyes.
And then he wakes and experiences a moment of clarity:
It's oh so easy now
As we lie here in the dark
Nothing interferes, it's obvious
How to beat the tears
That threaten to snuff out
The spark of our love
He feels one with the world. He has the answer?
5:11 AM (The moment of clarity)
But the moment fades. He reaches out for his wife and is afraid that she won't be there after all.
I had a little luck you were awake
I couldn't stand another moment alone…
And then the story is over, the man falls asleep again and nothing has really happened. "An every day story", Waters would explain in interviews. Albeit not quite an everyday album...
Personally I think that this is the closest rock music and story-telling can come together without using narrative. In one word: Brilliant!
After the release of the album Waters, Kamen, Clapton and Newmark went on a 20 date tour, together with saxophonist Mel Collins, Tim Renwick on guitars and three backing vocalists. The show consisted of an hour of Floyd classics: Set the controls for the heart of the sun, Money, If, Welcome to the machine, Have a cigar, Wish you were here, Pigs on the wing, In the flesh, Nobody home, Hey you and The gunners dream. No real crowd-teasers, but mainly the more lyric-based songs of the Floyd era. "I won't do Another Brick in the wall pt 2, that's for sure!"
The second half of the concert consisted of Pros and Cons in its entirety and an encore of Brain Damage and Eclipse.
Especially the Pros and Cons part of the show was most impressive. The stage was designed as a huge bedroom, including a forty-foot working TV. It gave the audience the feeling that they "were" the main character of the album, living his dreams, which were projected on various screens by no less than three 35mm projectors, either live-action film or Gerald Scarfe cartoons (like Reg the dog).
Waters' persistence to abolish all Floyd references from the promotion for his album and subsequent tour was probably the main reason for the major losses the tour caused. In interviews Waters claimed that "There's certainly a huge gap in communicating the fact that my 'Pros and Cons' show is a Floyd show except Eric Clapton is playing guitar and Andy Newmark is playing the drums instead of Dave Gilmour and Nick Mason. But everything else is the same: same team doing it, same guys building the sets, same sound system." But the same or not, the advertisements only said "Roger Waters Live in Concert" which was a pity as nobody seemed to have a clue who Roger Waters was anyway. This led - especially in the USA - to half-filled auditoriums, which were with a capacity of 10,000+ too big anyway. The high costs of the show and the low attendance caused an estimated loss of £ 400,000. Years later Waters would admit that including the name "Pink Floyd" somewhere on the advertisement could have doubled the attendance.
Nonetheless the band went on another tour in March 1985, for another 16 dates in the USA, although in smaller venues this time. Eric Clapton thanked for the honours and he was replaced by Andy Fairweather-Low. The setlist also changed and more classic Floyd stuff was added, including the song he had vowed never to play again Another Brick in the wall part 2.
Despite the losses and the low attendance the Pros and Cons shows must have been one the most dazzling shows ever in rock-history. And reading the raving reviews about the show, while writing this article, I wish I'd been there.
Written by Bart Jan van der Vorst
• Various Pink Floyd fanzines (Echoes: issue 5 and Amazing Pudding: Best of issues 1-5 and 6-10)
• Reg, the Roger Waters fanclub
• Tom Bowers' description of the Pros and Cons live show
Special thanks to Ed Sander: The immaculate source for all things Floyd