#264: Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd
I told my boyfriend I still enjoyed doing these reviews and he didn’t believe me. “I think you have Stockholm Syndrome,” he said.
Frankly I don’t have time to care whether he’s right or wrong because I still have 236 albums to get through, plus two more years of grad school, plus the whole business of keeping myself and my dog alive. Apparently I need food and sleep? Existing is exhausting.
Maybe he doesn’t believe me because I fell behind. In my defense, it turns out grad school is hard. So we’re going to up the frequency of these reviews for a little while so I can catch up with myself. Which my boyfriend thinks makes me a crazy lady, because this is not actually my job.
But instead of thinking of me as a crazy lady, think of me as a mountain climber, and the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums List as a mountain range I’m hiking from top to bottom, Wild-style. Now that I’m halfway through, I can’t just STOP. THAT would be crazy.
Besides, it’s just getting good!
Entry #253 in the list that I “have Stockholm Syndrome” for was Pink Floyd’s The Piper At the Gates of Dawn, their debut and only release with founding member Syd Barrett, who was kicked out after the steep decline of his mental health. Wish You Were Here is their ninth record, so it had been several years since he’d played a role in the band — yet this record is all about him.
The RS blurb calls Syd “one of the Sixties saddest acid casualties.” If you want to have a terrible time, do what I did and read this fascinating oral history of Syd Barrett while listening to this album. The other musicians talk about their challenging friendship with someone they loved and worked with, and how painful it was to watch him disconnect from reality.
Even though Barrett hadn’t worked with the group in years, during the mixing sessions for this record, Syd actually showed up, nearly unrecognizable since he’d gained so much weight and shaved his hair and eyebrows off. He apparently spent much of the session brushing his teeth.
Roger Waters said of the visit, “[T]o see this great, fat, bald, mad person, the first day he came I was in f***ing tears… ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ was not really about Syd, he’s just a symbol for all the extremes of absence some people have to indulge in because the only way they can cope with how f***ing sad modern life is to withdraw completely.”
Well, saying that someone is a “symbol” implies some level of inspiration, in my opinion. But what do I know, I’m not a rock-star-millionaire.
There are only five songs here, all of them hits. (Keep in mind that this is Pink Floyd we’re talking about, so they’re all a million minutes long.) The opener and closer, however, are really two halves to the same 26-minute whole, an epic mostly-instrumental that sounds fearful and mad and brokenhearted.
The intro “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pts. 1–5)” mixes a sci-fi intro with a secret-agent guitar. When it finally brings in lyrics, they describe someone brilliant and unappreciated that retreats from life. When Roger Waters sings Now there’s a look in your eyes/Like black holes in the sky, I got shivers.
“Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pts. 6–9)” is completely instrumental and winds down instead of winding up. It descends into madness and yet still somehow leaves you with a sense of peace. The world is f***ing sad, and you can get lost in the sadness, and that is even f***ing sadder.
There are also two songs that piss on the music industry, which I always find delightful, because everyone’s in Stockholm Syndrome with the music industry. “Welcome to the Machine” has Pink sounding genuinely oppressive over an acoustic, wistful guitar, complete with a schticky intro and outro. “Have a Cigar” finally has the meaty guitar that I so crave, plus I love when it goes SHOOOOP! at the end. Now THAT’S what I call a ride on the gravy train.
The gooey, emotional center here, though, is the title track. “Wish You Were Here” has always been my favorite Pink Floyd song, and is one of my go-to warm-up songs for the acoustic, because it’s simple and pretty and has built-in mini-solos. And David Gilmour’s voice is as lovely as it is sad. I keep trying to come up with words to convey how much this song moves me, but I can’t, so I’ll just link it again.
I’ve experienced many classic rock albums a la carte — hearing the best songs on radio, then listening to them over and over, never diving deeper. That wasn’t true with this album, which I’ve consumed in one big bite many times. But I’ve never listened to it while empathizing with poor Syd Barrett, and that changed things for me, made it more profound than it already was.
See? That’s not Stockholm Syndrome — I’m in true love with this stupid project that’s ruining my life, dammit. Time to climb another mountain.