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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