Sometimes, you’ve got to let the album in question speak for itself. One day before the thirteenth anniversary of his death, we’re paying homage to the album Pink Floyd used to pay homage to their lost brother Syd Barret: Wish You Were Here.
Wish You Were Here is the greatest album that has ever been made in the history of recorded music. I say this with no hyperbole, and with full conviction.
Only five tracks long, and clocking in at under 45 minutes in length, WYWH bears the overarching themes of absence, isolation, and alienation. Whilst many argue that Dark Side does a better job of defining the stages of human life, for me, WYWH is far more definitive.
I have opted to dedicate the bulk of my 400 words to talking specifically about one song in particular however (until next time), and that’s the title track:
Waters’ lyrics capture the human condition, as if it were a fly in cupped hands, so as to be inspected and set free, or to have its wings plucked. Using contrasting imagery of choices that we are often given in this life, and careful to never suggest that one is better than any other, Waters evokes the deepest anxieties, fears and flaws in the psyche of anyone caught listening. Forcing us to question the nature of our reality.
The album’s brilliance lies in its all-encompassing nature. It can be played at any time. It can be the soundtrack to the happy, the sad, birth, death, clarity, and insanity. At all times, for all of us, we are all wishing that someone was there. The person we yearn for changes, just as the winds that ultimately carry them away again. Be it family, friends, enemies, loved ones, strangers or ourselves: we are alone even when we are not, and as a result, we are arms-outstretched, for someone (anyone) to embrace us.
Wish You Were Here is my funeral album. It is going to be the last thing that I hear before I jump off this train. There is not a sentiment that I hold that cannot be found in the music on this record. I owe it everything that I have, and am. My father introduced me to Pink Floyd within days of me being born. They are my earliest human memory. I have loved many people, I have hated many more, I truly believe that we are born alone, and that is how we will die. In my time upon this earth so far, and undoubtedly as it continues, Wish You Were Here is the best, if not the only friend I have ever had.
Wish You Were Here wasn’t perhaps the obvious next step in the Pink Floyd discography but it was the most necessary. Following breakthrough success with the now iconic Dark Side of The Moon the band were quickly catapulted to fame. Achieving the goal that they’d set out to do as mere teens in nineteen sixties London, they were famous.
The problem is: where do you go from there, and how do you follow such a landmark release? You can’t, and Wish You Were Here is the perfect proof of that, it may mark the bands’ ninth album and the arrival of their musical apathy but its immediate and at times vitriolic themes were fraught and cutting. As the band finally stepped out from the spectre of their previous vocalist Syd Barrett (who left the band because of his severe mental health issues due to overuse of psychedelics), his replacement David Gilmour was finally given a moment to breathe, no longer crushed under the scrutiny of judgemental fans who still longed for Barrett’s influence.
But despite the band’s ascension and the lack of deadlines for a new album the band headed into Abbey Road Studios in 1974 and set about recording a follow up. Pink Floyd were finally able to write the eulogy for Syd’s time in the band. The album itself is both heart wrenching and incredibly well textured despite its minimalistic approach to composition.
Taking two very different angles to the same subject matter, “Have A Cigar” and “Welcome to the Machine” are both vitriolic jabs at the music industry as a whole, for its part in pulling in Syd, chewing him up, and spitting him back out, leaving their bandmate ultimately broken. The relaxed nature of the tracks paired with the intense lyrics adds a great deal to the timelessness of the whole record. Its cynicism and cutting nature also sadly rings true of the music industry today as it was back then, if not more so.
It is, however, the title track that is so unapologetically introspective in nature that it’d be an impossible task to not feel something whilst listening. For me personally, my first experience of the song and album came at a good friend’s house following going to a live show. The lights were low and this record was playing, the world stopped for just a moment and those thirty minutes, changed my life forever.
‘We’re just two lost souls, swimming in a fish bowl. Year after year.‘
‘Remember when you were young? You shone like the sun‘
Sometimes, despite all the help you offer, someone decides to move on a path you can’t follow. Oftentimes this decision happens unconsciously. Don’t get me wrong, the person in question is still there, but also not there. Important facettes aren’t there anymore. A smile which fades away behind the pressure of paranoia and anxiety. Dissolving. What can you do? Is it too late for the soul to get back together? There is a point of no return, and the impuissance you feel in the moment of realizing just that could kill you. Probably not physically, but it still feels like a million daggers. You want to be the person’s anchor, the connection to the mundane world. Get back to the ground, get connection.
‘Now there’s a look in your eyes – Like black holes in the sky‘
You can’t do shit. The important part is so far away that no matter how far you stretch, you can’t even reach its fingertips. In fact, the harder you try to get a grip, the more you’re just surrounded by fog, impalpable and distracting. You can get lost in that as well. Maybe you should have reached out earlier, when there was still a hand to grab. Less fog, more clarity. Two lost souls, one lost in itself, the other lost in finding the remains of that very conscious self. What can you do? Move on, close your eyes, accept that you can’t do anything besides being more reflective next time someone else gets foggy. How can you live with losing someone this way? Maybe things are beyond your control sometimes; a destiny rooted far away from your comprehension. You still wish for the person to come back, maybe primarily for you own sake. You tried. Now you have to move on, and hope that the person can find peace within the fog, and perhaps a way out of it. Maybe you aren’t the light which acts as guidance. Maybe there is another light.
‘Come on, you target for faraway laughter – Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!‘
Oh boy, Pink Floyd. All things considered, this is probably my favorite album of theirs. I have personal ties to it, and while a lot of it is steeped in nostalgia, its personal level of importance to me mirrors the greater picture of it being a genuinely great album. I could go in depth with the music or the themes of it, but there’s a thousand other places to read up on that, so instead you’ll have to deal with what it means to me.
When I was young – like, really young – my dad would play this and other classic rock and metal albums with me around. Pink Floyd was a staple. I remember Wish You Were Here keenly though because it was so different, so…unique from much of the rest of the music I was exposed to. Going from the ambient light rock and saxophone accents of the first few parts of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” to the menacing “Welcome to the Machine” to the endlessly cynical and bluesy “Have a Cigar” (which one-upped the rest of the album by having a guest on vocals to make it that much more different) was almost jarring as a kid. Hell, it’s still kind of jarring now. Nowadays, its eclectic approach to what we now call classic/prog rock is charming, all the fun without much of the conceit – a perfect introductory album.
I’ve always had some sort of deep connection, or meaning with the title track. It has a tone that’s not quite full-blown somber, but definitely heartfelt and sad, which makes it perfect memory fodder. First, it made me think of my dad after my parents got divorced and I lived with my mom. Later in life, it would gain new or additional meanings like missing friends after I moved away from them, or something else. In my older age, it just makes me miss my younger years, when things were simpler.
Wish You Were Here was one of the first album albums I ever heard. It has an arc, it’s themed nicely enough, and the music is all connected even if Pink Floyd’s progressive structures made each song sound like an island unto itself. I may not have understood it much as a young, ignorant kid, but I did know it was important – I’m glad at least one truth as a child carried over into my later years.
That’s all for today; thank you very much for your attention. I hope you enjoyed our retrospective view on this record. You can leave your own thoughts and feelings in the comments if you like.
If this album taught me anything, it’s that we all should look out for one another. The machine we call life doesn’t need to swallow up and destroy anyone. Be kind, be healthy. If you or someone you know is struggling – with their mental health, with drugs, with anything at all – reach out. You’re not alone. You’re never alone. Don’t let it get as far as it got with Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett; don’t catch yourself wishing someone was (still) here.