Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Syd; Wish You Were Here

So Syd Barrett died, the mastermind behind the early Pink Floyd. My Mom thought I might be sad about this (which I guess I am, a little bit), but it wasn't Syd that meant PF to me (although this idea surely scandalizes Syd fans). It was Roger Waters and his songs, and David Gilmour and his guitar playing.

But as the news items point out, at least two later PF songs were explicitly about Syd. One of them, "Wish You Were Here," is one of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar:

Wish You Were Here

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell,
blue skies 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 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.
What have we found?
The same old fears,
wish you were here.

I am always especially moved, when playing the song, to sing the powerful last lines of the first verse: "Did you exchange / a walk on part in the war / for a lead role in a cage?" This is not only a fine piece of songwriting, the music is fabulous to play on the guitar. In fact, many beginning guitarists that I knew in the eighties began with this song (or "Stairway to Heaven"). It's easy to play, but it also feels like you are really playing music already.

Maybe I'll play it to myself someday soon, and think of Syd and how sad it was that he had to be institutionalized, but later he got out, changed his name to Roger, and became a painter.


Ruth B. Shields said...

Leslie and I read about Syd Barrett today in the Fresno paper (where we're on vacation visiting her brother Doug). I thought of you because you were the person I knew who played Pink Floyd a lot.

Anonymous said...

Wish You Were Here is my favorite Pink Floyd song. I like that entire album best, probably. I love the big "radio hits" from Dark Side of the Moon & The Wall. I agree with you about the wording in WYWH, it's some darned good writing. A good example of something I think about on many occasions - that good lyrics *are* poetry.

mrjumbo said...

The irony of "Wish You Were Here" being dedicated to Syd was that when he showed up, unexpectedly, as they were cutting the tracks, it turned out that having him there was actually rather awkward for everyone. As long as he wasn't there, they maybe wished he was, but as soon as he was there, um, well, how long are you in town for?

Roger Waters, who's a great lyricist when he's on, grabbed many of those cryptic images ("a cold steel rail," "a cool breeze") from Syd's songs on "Barrett" and "Madcap Laughs." I've long since forgotten which came from where, but I remember noticing how these disarmingly simple phrases serve at the same time as an homage to Syd and an illustration of his mind's turns. His state of mind cast a long shadow across Roger Waters' lyrics, from "Dark Side of the Moon" through "The Wall" (at least).

I'm sure some of the images in "Wish You Were Here" must be biographical as well, but I've never researched which were which.