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A Pig's Tale: Roger Waters Traces the History of Rock's Most

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PostPosted: Wed May 21, 2008 1:47 am    Post subject: A Pig's Tale: Roger Waters Traces the History of Rock's Most Reply with quote

A Pig's Tale: Roger Waters Traces the History of Rock's Most Famous Prop

AUSTIN SCAGGSPosted May 20, 2008 8:30 AM

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In Issue 1053, Rolling Stone tracks the story of perhaps the most famous prop in the history of rock & roll: Pink Floyd's inflatable pig. From the hog's humble beginnings on the cover of Floyd's 1977 album Animals to its recent unpiloted escape from Coachella, the creature has become a pop-culture icon (it even merited a reference on an episode of The Simpsons). The man who dreamed up the floating swine, Roger Waters, shared the tale behind the pig, from its origins in the late Seventies to its future plans.

Let's talk about the pig's beginnings. The first one was built in December 1976, and its name was Algie?
That's quite possible. The first pig was actually about eight feet long. It was a prototype that I had made in order to make a mock-up of the idea of the album cover to show to the rest of the boys in the band. I had this plastic pig made and sort of held it up in front of them on a piece of bamboo to express the idea of an inflatable pig in a power station.

When did you come up with that image?
Storm [Thorgerson] and [Aubrey] Powell from Hipgnosis had done all of our covers to date, and had come up with a bunch of ideas for Animals. We had the usual meeting and there wasn't a huge amount of enthusiasm for any of [the designs]. So I said, "Hey, let me have a think about it, and see if I can come up with an idea." I'd always loved Battersea Power Station, just as a piece of architecture. And I thought it had some good symbolic connections with Pink Floyd as it was at that point. A) I thought it was a power station, that's pretty obvious. And B) that it had four legs. If you inverted it, it was like a table. And there were four bits to it, representing the four members of the band. But it was upside down, so it was like a tortoise on its back not going anywhere, really. I had already started thinking about using inflatables during a live show. Parachuting sheep and floating pigs and all of that. And so I thought why not combine the ideas for the live show with this symbol of a decaying rock group, and put them together? Added to all that, kind of simple stuff about pigs flying, the unlikely nature of that. I did this mock-up and I took it to the band and the band all went, "Yeah, that's really good. Let's do that." So we had a big pig made and spent a few days at Battersea Power Station waiting for the right conditions to take the right photograph.

And you wound up having to assemble the photograph piece by piece?

The first day was that beautiful sky, but the pig escaped. The rope broke and it drifted off, up into the flight path at Heathrow. Then the next day, we flew another pig, and it was a bright blue sky, and so the photographs weren't nearly as interesting as they had been from the day before. So in fact we stripped the pig from the second day into the photograph from the first day that didn't have a pig in it because it had already escaped. And that is what appeared on the album cover.

How many pigs went on tour?

There were multiple pigs because on the Animals tour, I used a lot of inflatables. It was an inflatable family, a man and a woman and two and a half children. There was a refrigerator that was inflatable, and a giant Cadillac. And then there was the pig. And the pig would be tethered above the stage, and he had helium in his body and propane in his legs. Then we'd light the propane. So the pig came down in flames every night, which is quite dramatic. And helium as you know is an inert gas, it doesn't burn at all, but the propane went off nicely and so it provided a nice, but kind of controlled fireball at a certain point in the show. So we used one pig every night for Animals.

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How much did a pig cost?

I haven't any idea at all. I don't even know what they cost now. All that stuff that one does to increase the theatricality of the rock & roll show ? It's all quite expensive. And we used to have quite heated discussions, shall we say, about that. Some of us didn't want to spend any money on any of that stuff. And some of us did. So it was always a cause for contention. Anyway the pig enjoyed that tour and that tour spawned The Wall. So the pig then became part of The Wall shows. It turned from pink to black and developed a cross-hammer insignia on it. So it became more malevolent and much more representative of the forces of darkness, and it developed red eyes and a track so that it could go on a little sojourn out in the audience, I think during "Run Like Hell." Then, I suppose he had a bit of a rest: I didn't use a pig in Pros and Cons or Radio Chaos [tours]. Then he was resurrected: I think it was officially known as Pink Floyd 1987 Limited. They used a pig in 1987 on that tour and they went to great pains not to be sued by me [Waters parted from Floyd in '85, training his rights to the pig].

By putting balls on the pig?

They added balls to it apparently. I'm told. I never actually saw this pig but they thought that meant I couldn't sue them for stealing my ideas and designs. Anyway, whatever. So piggy apparently did that tour which I never saw.

So you brought it out again in 1990?
I think. Or Berlin [1990's The Wall: Live in Berlin], where we produced half a pig. He was built on a top of some scaffolding at the back of the Wall in Berlin. I think the scaffolding was like 60 feet square or something. It was absolutely fucking enormous. He was blown up from underneath by huge fans and he was just the head of a pig. But he was so big that he knocked a ton of bricks off the top of the Wall when he inflated. Actually, it was a very, very impressive piece of engineering by Mark Fisher and Jonathan Park. So that was the next incarnation. He never escaped because he had no ass. He was just a head and shoulders. So he had no chance to fly, sadly.

Did you consider bringing out the pig at Live 8 when Pink Floyd reunited?

I wanted to use him again because he's still in a box somewhere, but that idea was slightly pooh-poohed and probably wouldn't have been a great idea anyway. Even before Live 8, when I started doing these shows that I've been doing for nearly 10 years now on and off, I started using inflatable pigs again. I thought to myself, "Well I should write something on the pig," so I would get to the gig, do the sound check, put on some rubber gloves and spray paint whatever I wanted to on the side of the pig, which I did personally for about 10 gigs. I have a strange memory of doing one the first time in Camden, New Jersey, which is also the first time we did "Leaving Beirut." I was doing my own graffiti and I thought this was absurd because there are people that are actually good at this, so I started looking for graffiti artists in every town we went to, and bringing them in. And not just bringing them in to write what I wanted to write on the pig, but getting them to write whatever they wanted to write on the pig. We were in New Zealand, it was covered in merry resistance talk and beautiful drawings and talk of indigenous people and how badly they had been treated
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So you had a new pig at each of these places.

Yeah. We release them. Any outdoor gig we snap the rope and up it disappears into the sun. A couple of places people will get uppity about it in L.A. l think they've threatened to put me in prison if I did it again. I'm not prepared to go to prison for the pig's sake! You know, I said, "All right, put it on a very long piece of string then and make it look like its floating away" but then bring it down to the ground again so I wont have to go to prison. We don't have any kind of valves on it as the pressure builds up inside it, it gets higher and they'll always burst and come back to earth, and usually they're just kind of a few bits of plastic rag when they land.

So what happened at Coachella, when the pig escaped, the festival's promoters offered a $10,000 reward for its return and a chunk of it showed up on somebody's driveway?
I had this idea in Coachella, and I ran it past the promoter and the local community, which was to drop confetti from an airplane onto the crowd confetti that had the word Obama written on it, and with a box with a checkmark in it. You know, just to show my support for Barack Obama, not just in this campaign for the Democratic nomination, but also for November. Because this man could prove to be something of a savior for this great nation. Anyway, they said, "Absolutely not, you can not drop confetti. You can't. You would make a mess. Forget it!" So we did it, we had planned to drop a ton of confetti I think he was a bit of a maverick, this pilot. He dropped about 70 or 80 pounds of confetti, which of course missed the site and ended up in people's swimming pools and they ended up complaining, filters and motors were clogged! And I apologized profusely because they need keep a good relationship with the local community because it's a great festival and it would be a shame if it got screwed up. So they sent out like 100 teams to clear up people's pools. I think that to some extent [the reward] was a PR thing, they said, "We'll give you $10,000 if you find the pig." I think it was a diversionary tactic, but it actually was great because these two separate people found two separate bits of pig, one draped over a bush and one was like in their dust bins, and their children said, "Have you seen any plastic around with some graffiti on it?" and they said "Yeah, we put it in the trash!" And they said, "Get it out 'cause it's worth 10 grand!" And the story that I had heard was that one of the women who found this stuff was actually wearing a Wish You Were Here T-shirt, which is quite synchronistic.

What did this pig look like?
It was particularly well-painted, this pig. The guy who painted it is a very, very good graffiti artist and the image of Uncle Sam was with two meat cleavers in his hand with the words, "Don't be left to the slaughtered" written underneath, which was quite incredible, really, in a good way. So the pig flies on at least until St. Petersburg, which is the last show we're doing on June 6th, so we'll have an extra big one. But obviously I won't write anything too revolutionary on that one or else you might get a poisoned umbrella up the bum, which is what happens to you in Russia.

How high does the pig fly until it explodes?
Well it depends entirely on the prevailing meteorological conditions. In Mumbai, for instance, it went straight up until it was a dot it was so small you couldn't see it anymore. In Coachella it seemed to go up about seven, eight, nine thousand feet. So it's always different. It travels wherever the wind is blowing. I just wish in these last three or four years that I photographed every one of them just because of how they were painted. I've received four-inch long porcelain replicas of the pig from Chile and Peru, but with all the graffiti in Spanish, exactly copied onto them. They're really beautiful. They sit on my mantelpiece, at home. I treasure them.
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