Wish You Were Here, the Trapeze Act and the Spontaneous Human Combusti…
Wish You Were Here, the Trapeze Act and the Spontaneous Human Combustion
Wish You Were Here (Pink Flyod)
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?
And did they get you to trade your heroes 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 ground. What have we found? The same old fears. Wish you were here.
Lyrics by Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd)
Ed Sheeran performed Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here at the 2012 Olympics’ Closing Ceremonies. One interesting thing was that Sheeran’s performance was accompanied by a trapeze artist overhead and the human figure burst into flames when the trapeze artist shook the human figure’s hand. This made me wonder whether there was a connection between the song, the trapeze act and the combustion and the Olympics.
I’ve always liked the song but never paid much attention to the lyrics. Having checked out the lyrics, I found the lyrics to be highly cryptic and metaphorical. Nevertheless, one predominant idea expressed in the lyrics seems to be the idea of the song writer’s internal idealist vs. realist conflict. It seems to be a poetic expression of Roger Waters’ conflict between his creative pursuits and success in the global music industry: A song writer stays true to his creative impulse regardless of any material rewards; while a rock star relishes in fame and fortune. Most of the dichotomies expressed in the song can be understood in terms of this dichotomy.
Heaven vs. Hell: Success as a song writer vs. becoming a money making unit within the global music industry. Blue skies vs. pain: Success in the music industry vs. troubling questions of artistic integrity. A green field vs. a cold steel rail: A natural setting conducive to life and growth vs. the dehumanizing industrial scene of human toil. A smile vs. a veil: a real human emotion vs. a disguise (an industry induced facade). Heroes vs. ghosts: stars vs. spiritually bankrupted people. Hot ashes vs. trees: dead remnants vs. life and growth. Cold comfort vs. change: the inadequate consolation of stardom vs. moving toward higher pursuits, e.g., creating something new. A walk on part in the war vs. a lead role in a cage: A struggle to become a successful song writer despite the economic hardships and social stigma attached to being an artist vs. a leader (of Pink Floyd) within the confines of a money making unit of the global music industry. “Two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl … running over the same ground” refers to Roger Waters’ two separate, conflicting and irreconcilable impulses (creative integrity vs. stardom) where neither is complete. He is a creative artist driven to try new things; while his stardom makes him continue with the same formula that worked in the past (“Running over the same ground”). “Same old fears” refers to his fear of never getting out of the fish bowl. In other words, he is afraid of ending up as an incomplete person (“two lost souls”) and becoming a burnout.
I believe the trapeze artist’s walk on the high wire represents Roger Waters’ struggle as an idealist creative artist in the early years of his career. I believe the trapeze artist reaching the position of the human figure and shaking the human figure’s hand represents Roger Waters’ participation in the global music industry. I believe the spontaneous combustion of the human figure represents Roger Waters' internal conflict of the two impulses in the way that spontaneous human combustion is said to occur as a result of a chemical reaction within a person’s body.
As for the title, I believe it’s Roger Waters’ melancholy reflection as Roger Waters the rock star puts in another day at the office (as a worker in the global music industry): Roger Waters the rock star misses Roger Waters the idealist creative artist that he once was. It can be argued that the predicament portrayed in the song may very well be true of a day in the life of anyone in our contemporary society, i.e., the rat race. This truth could perhaps apply to the Olympic athletes, the participating countries, coaches, training and support staff, the Olympic officials and staff, the corporate sponsors, the corporate mass media, etc.
The trapeze performance and the combustion might have seemed like a trivial mass amusement stunt at first glance. But I believe the performance as a whole had a sufficient aesthetic merit worthy of and is consistent with the traditional noble Olympic ideal that celebrates truth, i.e., the human pursuit of perfection, be it athletic or artistic.