Understanding Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Their Tribute to Departed Bandmate Syd Barrett

Since Dark Side of the Moon, the members of Pink Floyd dealt in various ways with the fate of their original singer Syd Barrett. As Roger Waters said about the band in 1975, “It couldn’t have happened without him, but on the other hand, it couldn’t have gone on with him.” On Dark Side of the Moon, Barrett is not directly addressed, but the themes of madness swirl through the various big statement songs and in the various quotes from friends and roadies peppered throughout the mix. Later on, The Wall would bring listeners a main character who goes mad and shuts himself up in isolation externally and internally. Echoes of Syd are everywhere.

And right in the middle of that stretch is Wish You Were Here, both a direct tribute to Syd Barrett and a caustic musing on the music business. The latter both negatively affected the band at the time and, in some way, accelerated Syd’s decline into (most probably) schizophrenia.

YouTube channel Polyphonic’s eight-minute overview of the album will introduce casual listeners to the story behind the making of the album, and the lyrics that specifically applied to Syd. “You were caught in the crossfire of childhood and stardom” is one of many eulogies to their friend, the “crazy diamond” of the suite of songs that bookend the album.

The video, which includes clips from the BBC documentary on the making of the album currently streaming in various venues (don’t blame us for the particular poor quality of this clip, especially the subtitles), also mentions a visit that Barrett made to the Abbey Road Studio. Bald, eyebrows shaved, and overweight, the man was unrecognizable compared to the svelte, darkly handsome lead singer they had known only a few years’ earlier. It’s an emotional moment that only adds to the impact of this ghostly and melancholic album.

Related Content:

When Pink Floyd Tried to Make an Album with Household Objects: Hear Two Surviving Tracks Made with Wine Glasses & Rubber Bands

Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Because of Pink Floyd, I’ve Spent Decades Undoing the Idea That There’s a Dark Side of the Moon”
Hear Lost Recording of Pink Floyd Playing with Jazz Violinist Stéphane Grappelli on “Wish You Were Here”

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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