Wish you were here is one the most important songs in the history. Maybe is this simple and really accessible combination of melody and lyrics that often introduce to the work of one of the most complex music band. The progressive side of a great band like Pink Floyd can be sometime hard to understand and can scare a lot of people. But the easiness of Wish you were here, and the way in which almost everybody can relate with this softly wording, is a great way to start a big journey inside the world of a big piece of history like the music of the Pink Floyd.

Lyrics

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell,
Blue sky’s from pain.
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

And did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?

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.
And how we found
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.
Writer/s: WATERS, ROGER/GILMOUR, DAVID JON
Publisher: Warner Music Group/Chappell Music, Inc., IMAGEM U.S. LLC

The story of the song

Wish You Were Here forms part of a concept album with the same title that focus on absence and disenchantment with the music industry. They chose this as the title track because it summed up the message. The first to suggest this as the album title, was Storm Thorgerson, the man who did their cover art.

The song is dedicated to Syd Barret, and was based on a poem that Roger Waters wrote about Syd Barrett’s fall from reality. It was said that Syd’s friends would lace his coffee with LSD, which eventually lead to his mental breakdown.

This was a rare case of the Pink Floyd primary songwriters Roger Waters and David Gilmour mutually collaborating on a song — they rarely wrote together. Gilmour had the opening riff written and was playing it in the studio at a fast pace when Roger Waters heard it and asked him to play it slower. The song built from there, with the pair writing the music for the chorus and verses together, and Waters adding the lyrics.

Waters felt they were not putting a full effort into the recording sessions and the song reflected the feeling of the band while they were recording the album.

The album contains images relating to the theme of absence. The cover image shows 2 men shaking hands, with one of them on fire. This represents a common slang term at the time “being burned”, meaning to be undercut in some way, usually by the system or oppressive industry. In all of the images, there is something missing, like the diver who does not make a splash.

When Wish you were here starts, it sounds like it is coming from an AM radio somewhere in the distance. The radio was recorded from David Gilmour’s car radio. He performed the intro on a twelve-string guitar, processed to sound like it was playing through a car AM radio, and then overdubbed a fuller-sounding acoustic guitar solo. This passage was mixed to sound as though the guitarist were sitting in a car, listening to the radio; it also contains a whine that slowly changes pitch—emulating the electro-magnetic interference from the engine of a car as it accelerates and decelerates. The master tape of the original recording includes an entire performance of pedal steel guitar, played by David Gilmour, that was not used in the final mix.

At the end, when the wind is blowing, you can hear the sound of a violin that was played by Stephane Grappelli, a Jazz musician who was recording in nearby studios. Pink Floyd asked him to guest on this when they found out he was there.

This is one of the few songs Roger Waters continued to play at his shows after leaving Pink Floyd that David Gilmour helped him write.

The song includes the line: “Can you tell a green field/From a cold steel rail?”, which is a reference to Syd Barrett’s solo song, “If It’s In You”, from The Madcap Laughs album (“Hold you tighter so close/Yes you are/Please hold on to the steel rail”).

The meaning

Wish you were here is dedicated to Syd Barret

Syd Barret photo

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell,
Blue sky’s from pain.

Waters and Gilmour are trying to make Syd understand that what he’s doing is wrong. When one is addicted to something they think they know better than everyone else and they wants him to think twice about his life. The authors collaborated to give a whole set of choices to their audience, challenging them to push themselves to go beyond their comfort zones, saying that what may look like Hell now could turn out to be heaven.

Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?

This is a reference to Syd Barrett’s solo song, “If It’s In You”, from The Madcap Laughs album (“Hold you tighter so close/Yes you are/Please hold on to the steel rail”).

A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

It’s like asking again : are you sure you want to be doing this? Maybe It’s a final chance.

And did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?

“They” in this case refers to Syd’s inner voices that keep him straying… so, everything he believed earlier doesn’t stand anymore? (Syd’s beliefs that is). The heroes here can be all the great musicians and poets that make the inspiration for his art, and the ghosts are all the hallucinations that make his life an empty place.

Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?

Past good experiences and times can be changed for some new greater ones. However, the author says here that these will not be the same. What’s gone is gone. And that change is not necessarily better than what he’s used to.

And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?

Syd have chosen to forgot his chance to be a small part of something hugely important, instead selfishly insisting on being the main event (by using drugs, not cooperating etc). He missed an opportunity to do anything great because what he’s doing and will do alone is severely bounded and will be soon forgotten. Asking to Syd if it’s too late to turn back, and if the drugs have completely taken over his life.

How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl,
Year after year,

This song, along Video of the “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” highlight the child-heroes they had been and how Syd couldn’t handle it. Now they were famous and they were looking back, wishing that the one who had gotten them off-the-ground was there to share it with them. Living the same life, making the same mistakes, just going around in circles aimlessly “year after year”.

Running over the same old ground.
And how we found
The same old fears.

When you don’t broaden your horizons and stick to your own comfort zone and to the same old feelings of fear, then you’ll make the same mistakes over and over.

Wish you were here.

All those years of experience and nothing is gained, back to square one… he wishes Syd was there with him to share that moment. And that happen. Because Syd visit the Abbey Road Studios while the Pink Floyd records Shine on you crazy diamond. Nobody recognize him at first. He was already a ghost.

 

Conclusion

I leave you with ther video of this great song and with a question.

What this video really mean for you? And how important he was in your life? Let me know it in the comments.

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