the story behind pink floyd's "wish you were here"

The Story Behind Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”

By Chris McDonald | Monday Monday Staff -    2016-08-24


The catalog of songs produced by the legendary band Pink Floyd is both massive and magnificent.  A vast number of fan favorites that are beloved by a vast array of Pink Floyd followers and for different reasons.  Some classic rock fans love the music before Darkside of the Moon, while others love the stuff after, and of course some of Pink Floyd followers love it all. 

Interpreting the lyrics of any of the complex songs by Pink Floyd songs can be are always an interesting pursuit considering the words can often be as puzzling as they are beautiful. “Wish You Were Here” is one of Pink Floyd’s greatest rock songs ever written, perhaps because the lyrics can be interpreted in ways that allow the words to become personal to every listener.  Everybody has experienced some form of loss in their lives, so the sublime lyrics of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” become universal. 

Personally, the song has meant a great deal to me over the years, the words have always meant something specific, but in reality I never actually knew what Pink Floyd meant when they penned the lyrics to the song beloved by the world, “Wish You Were Here.”

Following the release of Darkside of the Moon (1973) the band did two things: toured for three years and became worldwide superstars.  Darkside transformed Pink Floyd from a band of brothers playing for the love of music into a band millionaires playing for a record company.  Needless to say, when Pink Floyd returned to Abbey Road in 1975 they were under a bit of pressure, simply because writing something to follow Darskide of the Moon was going to need to be pretty spectacular. 

Meanwhile, founding member of Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, who had been kicked out the band in 1968 because of a viscous addiction to LSD, sadly remained on his slow decent into the darkness of insanity. Prior to Pink Floyd returning to Abbey Road in 1975, the bands former manager had booked some time for Syd Barrett to make another run at jump starting a solo career, but the sessions reportedly ended almost as quickly as they started.

In an article from American Songwriter, Pink Floyd explains, “five months later, Barrett’s old bandmates could still feel his presence at Abbey Road. Or maybe it was his absence – the absence from Pink Floyd, from reality, from himself – that resonated throughout those halls, echoing off the stucco walls.”  This began the inspiration for the song “Wish You Were Here.”

Later in 1975 Syd Barrett was totally out of control mentally, according to those close to him he had essentially lost touch with reality.  American Songwriter writes, at one point in the recording process he made an unannounced visit to Abbey Road where Waters describes his friend Syd Barrett as, “a pale shadow of his former self, he’d put on so much weight that the others didn’t recognize him for several minutes. He’d shaved his head, too, along with his eyebrows.”  This version of the friend that he had once known “pained him to see his friend so lost, so detached, so disengaged from the world around him. “Wish You Were Here” deals with that mental inability – the refusal, even – to engage with reality, and it served as much as a rallying for Waters as a sad tribute to Barrett’s better days.”

Pink Floyd’s song “Wish You Were Here” was written as much the recognition of pain as it is to remind us to celebrate life.  Syd Barrett was still alive physically but gone mentally.  The success of Darkside of the Moon ignited Pink Floyd’s worldwide success, but the brotherhood the band enjoyed in the beginning was gone, but Waters knew that life is about the past AND the future, not just the past.  

“It’s actually highly emotional, standing up here with these guys after all these years,” Waters said halfway during the band’s four-song set. “We’re doing this for everyone who’s not here … and particularly, of course, for Syd.”

Chris McDonald



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