Wish you were here…

“Wish you were here” has always been one of my favorite Pink Floyd songs, but as I listened to it this morning, I - as I often do - wonder what Waters was referring to.

Or, to be more specific, which war was Waters referring to?

Though Waters wrote at length about WWII in The Final Cut, I don't see how “Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?” can be anything other than Vietnam.

What do you think?

Comments (18)

  1. Scot Boyd says:

    I always thought that line referred to NOT going to war. The song, to me, is about trading away too much freedom for stability. "Heroes for ghosts", "Cold comfort for change", etc.

    If you read "Hot ashes for trees, hot air for a cool breeze" literally, it’s about letting other people destroy the environment. "Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?"

    It’s a song about fear of change, of struggle, leading to passive complacency and the slow downward spiral of the world.

    My .02.

  2. Stephen says:

    He was referring to Sid Barrett in his prolific way. There were numerous songs about/to Sid. Source: interviews of Waters/Gilmore.

  3. Vivek says:

    I think Scott is on the right track. I don’t think it’s about war at all, except in a metaphysical sense of life being a "war" against various things.

    "Walk-on part in the war" refers to a small part in something big and risky, whereas "lead-role in a cage" means playing a big role in something narrow and insignificant.

    If I’m not too rusty on my Floyd trivia, this song was written by Roger Waters specifically for Syd Barret, one of the brilliant, self-destructive original members of the band. Syd had to eventually leave because of his drug-related problems. The track "Shine on you crazy diamond" on the same album is also meant for Syd. (Early Pink Floyd is mostly dominated by Syd, and later PF is mostly Waters/Gilmour).

  4. Did some googling and although it doesn’t answer the your question Eric, it makes for some interesting reading and chuckling…


  5. Matt Spong says:

    Vivek, Syd left the band because of rather severe schizophrenia, not a drug problem (it may have been sped up by drugs, but it certainly wasn’t caused by them)

  6. Joe says:

    I’ve always taken it in the light of being a metaphorical reference to Syd’s decline in mental health.

  7. I always thought he was referring to the Vietnam war, seeing how it happened during the Pink Floyd era. Lotsa Pink Floyd info at http://www.pinkfloydonline.com/.

  8. Rick Schaut says:

    The whole album centers on Syd, not just "Shine On.." and "Wish You Were Here". "Welcome to the Machine" has clear references to Syd ("you bought a guitar to punish your ma’" being just one), and "Have a Cigar" is about the pressures of the music industry that many feel contributed to Syd’s mental decline.

  9. PP says:

    The Final Cut album was made in response to the British forces in the Falklands in the early 80s – not WW II. If you listen closely to the lyrics you’ll hear ‘Maggie what have you done?’ referring of course to Thatcher.

  10. Kevin Daly says:

    It depends whether it’s literal or not…there are many ways of being in a cage

  11. Hi Eric,

    This song is definitely about Syd Barret. I have read about it and have seen documentaries where Roger Waters actually talks about the premise of the song and the album.

    A very uncanny story is how the band was in the studio completing the final touches to the song and they spotted a somewhat "tubby chap" sitting in the room next to the control room. He was holding a paper bag which he from which he produced a toothbrush. They approached the man and realized that I was in fact Syd. They exchanged pleasantries and he asked them he was there to do "his" guitar part. They told him that the "guitar part was already done". Very bazaar indeed.

  12. Roger Waters mentions this very line of the song in the cover notes for the live album of The Wall that was released fairly recently. Of course Wish You Were Here isn’t from The Wall, but Roger Waters mentions it nevertheless – he talks about the fact that the line sums up what The Wall was all about. And it’s pretty much what Scot Boyd and Vivek said above, but specifically in the context of the shallowness of the experience of being a big rock band.

    It’s true that the song as a whole is about Syd (indeed he is the theme of the whole album) but Waters indicates that particular line was specifically about disillusionment over being in a successful band.

    (As for all the suggestions that it had something to do with the Vietnam war, I don’t really understand those. The UK wasn’t involved in that war, so it has never had anything like the signifance to the average Brit as it seems to have for many Americans. And Pink Floyd is a British band. I’m sure they had their opinions on the Vietnam war, but it’s a topic that feels completely out of place in this particular song.)

  13. Audio says:

    “Wish you were here” has always been one of my favorite Pink Floyd songs, but as I listened to it this morning, I – as I often do – wonder what Waters was referring to. Or, to be more specific, which war was Waters referring to? Though

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