Wish You Were Here (Waters, Gilmour)
So, so you think you can tell/ Heaven from Hell,/ Blue skys 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 to trade /Your heros 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.
This was on the radio this morning. And it took me back.
When I turned 24, we went down to the Walkabout in Shepard’s Bush and planned a night of debauchery to celebrate my birthday. Snake bites and too-dry biltong. The long even light of a London Summer. And the babel-sound of a hundred antipodean voices. We got there early. To take advantage of the happy hour special and to avoid the queues. To fit in more drinking, more forgetting of home.
On the stage was the night’s entertainment, a solo singer who held a guitar. He was talking to the stage manager and cueing the lighting guy. His jeans were torn and he had that look of a man who has gambled and lost.
I was full of insouciance and youthful aggression. I drank great gulps of the red, vaguely sweet pint and waited for the man to nod his beginning. And as he did, his fingers called the cords of “Wish you were Here”.
And like a switch, the great walls of my brave, very alone self crumbled and tears washed down my cheeks. My mates rolled their eyes and wondered if I was drunk on one “bite”.
But it was the music. Those opening bars, filled with the ache of a mundane life. A life without. A lead role in a cage. A longing I almost don’t understand. Yearning. Verlang. An unarticulated, unacknowledged pain that’s harder and deeper and more dangerous than the surface self.
Music has always had that power over me. In dark at the ballet. The theatre. The movie house. In the dark of my living room, with only a bottle of wine for companionship. The soaring swell of a Mozart concerto. The low dirge of an addagio. The self deprecating loss in a rock ‘n roll love song.
I can manipulate my own emotion with music. Cry, laugh, rant, revel or howl. Whatever I feel like, moment to moment. And I wonder at that; at how easily the emotion rises. How quickly it wells into my eyes and my hands and the pit of my belly. How close to the surface the melee must be, for it to be so quickly accessed. Whether it’s a shallow paganism.
In EB recently, I saw a book called Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks about how we’re a musical species. And I nodded to myself. I must read that book.
But today, though, today, as the tears caught me unawares again as those beautiful bars coursed through the car, I just wished you were here.