…and we probably think that song is about him
Have you ever experimented on yourself? You know, pulling your own finger nails out, that sort of thing? I have: I recently downloaded Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall and Wish You Were Here from iTunes.
As a kid I was pretty familiar with Pink Floyd. I saw them a couple of times at free concerts in Hyde Park circa 1970, and that sleeve upon which the fourteen-year-old me would be sticking the rizlas together on would, at friends’ houses, inevitably have been Ummagumma, or Meddle, or Atom Heart Mother. I didn’t particularly like them, but they were hard to dislike either: a sort of muzak for stoned heads. Dark Side of the Moon registered as some kind of monument; impossible to ignore, just there. But by 1973 anything that could be described as prog was strictly off the menu so far as I was concerned. Wish You Were Here and The Wall simply didn’t exist for me, beyond despising The Wall‘s title track and hit single.
So why did I download those albums last week? In my rôle as Chief Proof Reader for Rock’s Backpages I’d come to look forward to reading lengthy pieces on the Floyd. So entertaining. All that British reserve cracking under the weight of its own inarticulacy. All those grim power plays, all that poorly expressed angst. All that hatred for Roger Waters. Fantastic stuff. And I suppose I’d started to confuse my enjoyment of these retrospectives with the actual music itself. Surely something that could encourage such copy had to be worth revisiting?
Well, not really. Dark Side remained what I thought it had been in the first place: a few decent ideas stretched to breaking-point. The Wall was and remains an absolutely vile record in which Roger Waters barks stupid, reductive lyrics (“Hey teacher! Leave those kids alone!”) over teeth-grindingly awful music.
But Wish You Were Here, despite being a slight wee thing essentially made up of just a couple of songs, contains one total gem: ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’. It, indeed the whole album, is about Syd Barrett. Perhaps because it has a direct emotional core, as opposed to the usual didactic, rhetorical approach so beloved of Roger Waters, it finally does something that the Floyd were rarely able to do: tug at the heartstrings.