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Behind the wall

Behind the wall — What happened backstage at Roger Waters’ ”Wall”

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”Warning: You will be shot!” Less than nine months ago, that sign meant death for many who tried to get over the Berlin Wall. But when Sinéad O’Connor passed the same notice on the door of the VIP area near the stage between East and West Berlin where The Wall was to be performed, she faced a different sort of danger. As she left the fenced-in VIP area, she stepped into a no- man’s-land, mined with dozens of journalists recording the event. The singer walked a few steps safely. But her shaved head, baggy purple shirt, pegged black pants, and loose high-tops weren’t exactly camouflage. Click! An overeager photographer snapped her in plain sight. ”I’m not a piece of meat,” O’Connor complained, scowling. ”You should ask if you want a picture.” Luckily, the only injury was to her sense of propriety. The show could go on.

If the chaos, the thrills, the hassles, and the socializing had taken place anywhere else, it would have been just another monster rock concert. But as O’Connor and a few dozen other stars learned, performing at the Berlin Wall puts an absurd twist on even such mundane activities as dodging photographers, rehearsing, or getting to the VIP area. As the stars gathered there on the Wednesday before the show, a detachment of soldiers, trying to provide better access, drew lines on a remaining segment of the inner Berlin Wall, wrote ”door” in the middle, then simply knocked out an opening. ”It’s peculiar,” said Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), who was to play the Prosecutor in the rock opera. ”We’re literally right in the middle of history.” The Hooters’ Eric Bazilian, standing just a few yards from the bunker where Hitler died, put a finer point on it. ”A year ago they would have shot us for being here.”

For Roger Waters, such scenes were particularly potent. He had convinced the governments of East and West Berlin to put his concert on the agenda at their first reunification meeting in November and lobbied for six months to get it approved. Before he was through, Waters had created the largest outdoor set in history, employing thousands of cast members, stagehands, and security guards. ”I never saw anything like this in my life and I’m not exactly a country bumpkin,” said Cyndi Lauper.

A few of Waters’ initial casting choices turned down his offer for various reasons, and others required some coaxing. Joni Mitchell, who had never met Waters or listened to The Wall, didn’t want to perform the song he had originally chosen for her. But he finally wooed her with a different song, ”Goodbye Blue Sky,” and a backing tape that she could use to practice back home in Los Angeles.

The day before the show, Waters sipped champagne backstage, showing no signs of wear and tear from his labors. He sat quietly, wearing mirrored sunglasses, with his wife, Carolyne, who helped organize the show and who had brought along their son, 13, and daughter, 12, to see it. ”The pressure at home has been very difficult for both of us,” said Carolyne. ”But it was worth it.”

On the day of the show, as thousands jostled for a better view of the stage, life was easier backstage for VIPs, though not without absurdities. While nearly 600 journalists — all of whom paid for their tickets — sucked up a catered meal of smoked fish, cold cuts, and mousse, the stars chowed down on lesser fare: vegetarian and beef hamburgers served up in a portable branch of the Hard Rock Cafe. West German singer Ute Lemper had mixed feelings about the lighthearted mood: ”This celebration is positive and fun. But the concert shouldn’t let us forget the brutality that happened here just 50 years ago.”

For Waters, the difficulties of celebrating an end to brutality at that spot continued through the evening. A few minutes into the show a defective cable kept the sound system from amplifying the vocals on two or three songs. Because it was a live broadcast, repairs had to be made during the performance. Despite that glitch, the post-show mood was festive. The cast dug into chocolate cake as Curry and Lauper kidded around with dueling imitations of Ethel Merman. A boisterous crowd of fans outside the Hard Rock started to . throw themselves against it, chanting, ”Tear down the wall!” But security guards fended them off.

Late into the night, after the crowds had gone, Waters, O’Connor, Lemper, and members of the Band went back onstage to redo on videotape the sections of the show that had been marred by the faulty cable. Just after 2 a.m., Waters called it quits, finally ending an evening that those who created it seem unlikely to forget. ”I was up there dancing on Hitler’s grave a few hours ago,” said Cyndi Lauper, before leaving no-man’s-land. ”And that felt really good.”

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