Wish You Were Here is one of Pink Floyd’s most famous and most beautiful songs.
The general belief is that the band wrote it thinking about their ex-bandmate Syd Barrett.
Barrett was a founding member of the band, but had to leave due to his excessive drug abuse and his resulting mental instability.
While there is some truth to this, it is not the whole truth.
There is much more to the Wish You Were Here lyrics meaning.
Keep reading to learn exactly what the lyrics are about. You’ll see that Waters and Gilmour disagree a bit as to their meaning and inspiration. Big surprise there, right? Do those two ever agree on anything?
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Wish You Were Here Lyrics And Meaning
Wish You Were Here is the title track from Pink Floyd’s ninth studio album, which was released in September 1975. The Wish You Were Here album was the follow-up to The Dark Side Of The Moon, an album that catapulted the band to global stardom.
Band members Roger Waters and David Gilmour have both since stated that the song refers to Syd Barrett, a founding member of the band.
Barrett’s over-reliance on psychedelic drugs drove the rock star from the bounds of reality and forced his bandmates to cut ties to keep their musical dreams alive. Here are the lyrics in full. Below the lyrics, we will get deeper into their meaning.
Wish You Were Here Lyrics
And disciplinary remains mercifully
Yes and um, I’m with you Derek, this star nonsense
Yes, yes, now which is it?
I am sure of it
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?
Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change? 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 fishbowl, year after year
Running over the same old ground, what have we found?
The same old fears, wish you were here
Wish You Were Here Meaning
While the composition of Wish You Were Here was inspired by Syd Barrett’s leaving of the band, the meaning of the song goes a little deeper than this.
Syd Barrett had been a founding member of Pink Floyd and was the band’s lead guitarist, vocalist, and main songwriter. Syd’s style was influenced by psychedelia like LSD, which enabled him to push the boundaries with his songwriting.
While LSD had initially inspired Syd’s lyrics and compositions, his dependence on the drug ultimately led to his downfall as a member of Pink Floyd.
Syd Barrett was forced out of the band in 1968, before Pink Floyd released The Dark Side Of The Moon and achieved global success. Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett parted ways due to Syd’s declining mental health and his increased dependence on LSD having a detrimental effect on his ability to function within the band.
Prior to beginning recording of the Wish You Were Here album at Abbey Road studios, Pink Floyd had been extensively touring on the back of The Dark Side Of The Moon.
Peter Jenner, Pink Floyd’s original manager, had convinced Barrett to spend some time in the studio at Abbey Road in August 1974, but the sessions petered out after three fruitless days.
Five months later, when Pink Floyd began recording Wish You Were Here in the same studios, they felt Syd’s presence—or lack thereof. This feeling of loss for an old friend and bandmate inspired the writing of the new album’s title track.
However, in the documentary The Story of Wish You Were Here, David Gilmour and Roger Waters both describe the original idea for the song in a different way. Waters, who primarily wrote the lyrics, describes them as being directed at himself.
Being present in one’s own life and freeing one’s self in order to experience life is a main theme in this song. Gilmour, on the other hand, states that he never performs the song without remembering Syd Barrett.
The overall consensus is that, although the song was inspired by the situation regarding Syd Barrett, it’s not directly about him. The deeper meaning is that the song is generally about a sense of loss and people’s inability to engage with reality.
For Waters, the song serves as much as a rallying cry as it does as a sad tribute to Syd Barrett’s halcyon days and Pink Floyd’s beginnings.
At the end of the song on the album, the final solo crossfades with wind sound effects and finally segues into Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI–IX), a song which was more openly and obviously written about, and dedicated to, Syd Barrett.
Wish You Were Here Lyrics Meaning: Final Thoughts
Pink Floyd were inspired by the situation with Syd Barrett when they wrote Wish You Were Here, but he is not what the song is about. The true meaning of the song is more general.
It is about being present in life and freeing yourself mentally and spiritually in order to truly experience life. Roger Waters wrote the song as a reminder to himself, but it now serves as a reminder to all of us as listeners to enjoy life as we live it.
Harry Styles (yes, the One Direction guy) also has a song about life in general (about the difficulties we all face, in this case) that was inspired by a specific image tragedy. Learn about the Sign of the Times lyrics meaning here.
If you want more Pink Floyd, check out our article of songs about domestic violence here, or our article listing the best stripper songs here. Both feature less-known Pink Floyd songs. Can you guess which ones?
For another song about drug use, but in this case about overcoming it, or other difficulties in life, check out this look at the meaning of the Scar Tissue lyrics.