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Roger Waters on wheat-pasting over the Elliott Smith memorial wall: "We had no intention to cover up something precious"

May 5, 2010 |  5:30 am


Roger Waters of Pink Floyd knows the artistic potency of an image on a wall.  But his recent campaign to wheat-paste an anti-war quote from President Eisenhower across American cities to promote his touring revival of the Floyd staple “The Wall” unexpectedly proved his point, after his employees pasted the quote over the storefront of Solutions speaker repair in Silver Lake. The wall has served as an impromptu fan memorial to the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith for nearly a decade.

Smith passed away in Los Angeles in 2003, and fans have left personal messages and quoted lyrics on the wall, the backdrop to the cover art of his album “Figure 8,” ever since. But as of Monday night, fans noticed that the wall also featured Waters’ image of a soldier cradling a child with the Eisenhower quote nearby.

Though the oft-abused wall has also been a favorite target for taggers and is frequently overwhelmed by non-Smith-related writing, local reaction to Waters’ wheat pasting, including an L.A. Weekly blog post,  was swift and critical. In a phone interview Tuesday evening, Waters apologized to any Smith fans who found his choice of walls callous.

“It was absolutely an accident,” Waters said. “I didn’t want to disrespect Elliott Smith’s fans, and I’ve instructed (the team) to remove the wheat paste immediately. It was a random pasting in the normal course of this, and I want to make it public that we had no intent to offend or cover up something precious.”

Waters, who said he was unfamiliar with Smith’s work until this incident, said the national wheat-paste campaign is being coordinated from his New York offices and that the street art team based there didn’t know the wall’s importance to L.A. music fans.

A multimillion-selling artist accidentally using a memorial to a beloved local singer to promote the revival tour of a classic album is unfortunately ironic.  For Smith fans, it could underscore a cultural generation gap where a small independent album like “Either/Or” is as canonical to them as “The Wall” is to the mainstream.

Waters, who headlined Coachella in 2008 and brings his "Wall" tour to the Staples Center on Nov. 29, wrote a similar apology on his Facebook page Tuesday. He hoped his team wouldn’t be singled out among many others who have regrettably used the wall for non-Smith-related art or tagging.

“It’s not like this was some pristine monument and Roger Waters is the Big Bad Wolf who covered it up,” Waters said.

The pasting is made of biodegradable material, he said, and will be easily and quickly removed out of respect for Smith fans. But in hindsight, Waters felt the Eisenhower quote, about both the personal, economic and social costs of waging warfare, wasn’t too far afield from the work of Smith, a singer who articulately documented intimate emotional pain.

“That’s why I was so incensed when I read that article that said I paid someone to disrespect Elliott Smith,” Waters said. “I admit I didn’t know his music, but I’ve talked to people who do and it’s clear he was a young man who felt deeply, and any empathetic person wouldn’t have an issue with publicizing that quote.”

“I would guess, and this is only a guess,” he said, “but it’s my guess that he would have been sympathetic to that message.”

-August Brown

Photo: LA Times

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