Today we transition from frivolous, excessive, absurd and ridiculous to impactful and emotional. Both experiences absolutely have their place in rock and roll, but at the end of a long and lonely drive today, the powerful album that is “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd was a welcome change. The band’s follow-up to the massively successful “The Dark Side of the Moon”, this album is also a home run, and was rated #264 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. I will touch on the music aspects of this record first, then address the personal connection subsequently.
Written completely by Roger Waters, with assists from the rest of the band on the music, the album serves as a sorrowful ode to their former band leader Syd Barrett, who had departed the group with a multitude of personal issues. Very autobiographical in nature, the record also tackles their cynicism with the corporate and business side of the music industry, and Waters’ own struggles as he felt the band members growing further apart. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, which is a two-part piece that opens and closes the album, beautifully pays tribute to Barrett and to all who carry on and fight their own battles without us. It is a remarkable composition, with limited but highly significant vocals sung by Waters, and in tandem, the two pieces run greater than 25 minutes. The music is dynamic and is wonderfully light and intensely heavy all at the same time, building on their boundary-stretching creativity from the previous record. The next two tracks, which close side one and open side two, are both well-known Floyd tracks, “Welcome to the Machine” sung by David Gilmour, and “Have a Cigar”, which I just recently learned was sung by guest vocalist Roy Harper, who was immortalized by Led Zeppelin on their third album. Heavy on the intensity once again, these two confront the inflexible and cold world around us, both in work and in life.
Next comes the beautiful title track, also sung by Gilmour. I always wondered how Roger Waters and David Gilmour worked out who would sing which songs, especially given their complicated relationship and the creative leadership role that was assumed by Waters, but both have their place and Gilmour does a perfect job on this song (and album) which I will address in greater detail below. The opening notes, produced as if listening to a static radio or scratchy album, give way to the crisp acoustic guitar and the lamenting lyrics. This song can pack a wallop like few others when we are looking back, or perhaps ahead. In summation, this five-piece album is absolutely fantastic, and both David Gilmour and keyboardist Richard Wright, who is equally outstanding on this record, both have professed this to be their favorite Pink Floyd album.
A profound piece of art, this album takes me back to the 1980s in many ways. I will touch on the silly side first, then get more serious. The song “Have a Cigar” was always a favorite of my friend Mike, and not only did he sing or play it frequently, he even used one of the lyrical citations as inspiration for our intramural basketball team…. “It’s a helluva start, It could be made into a monster, if we all pull together as a team…”. I couldn’t agree more, Mike.
Now for the serious side of this album. Our collective discovery of this album coincided with the tragic death in early 1986 of one of our friends from high school. As many of my friends, and one in particular, grappled with the awful emptiness and sense of loss this moment presented, I believe the song “Wish You Were Here” served as the soundtrack for how we all felt, especially those closest to him. After many years of sadness and difficult steps, that group of friends all eventually found their way and place in life, but the feelings of loss and emptiness never fully go away.
What does it mean to miss someone? I miss people like Brandon and Eric and so many others who left us way too young. You can miss someone you haven’t seen in 36 years, someone you haven’t seen in two months, in two weeks, someone you just saw yesterday, or someone sitting right next to you. It is always a moment to contemplate the mix of longing for what was, and in some cases, the opportunity to also look ahead to what might be. Of all the songs I listen to across this 500+ journey, there are very few, if any, that move me the way “Wish You Were Here” does. Take the time today to listen to this song, and if you still have the chance, reach out to that person you miss, and tell them “I wish you were here.”
“How I wish, how I wish you were here, We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground, what have we found, the same old fears… Wish You Were Here.”