Wish You Were Here Pink Floyd first banded together in 1965 with Roger Barrett as the “creative force” behind the band (Barnes). However, drug and alcohol abuse led to his mental breakdown. His unreliability led to the band’s search for a new lead singer. The album cover and the song are both a metaphor for the band’s experiences with Barrett. Pink Flood’s 1975 album cover of Wish You Were Here portrays artistic elements of light, destruction, and unique placement. They reflect the band’s skeptical feelings about the music industry, and the universal issue of man vs…. Self and the pain of longing.
The two designers of the artwork, Aubrey Powell and Storm Thrones met with the band to generate ideas and create a cover that would have a stronger connection with the band while showing the contrasting elements of art. Thrones and Powell incorporate in their work a motif that provided a “nice sense of contradiction of an impossible co-existence” (Hardier, Thrones). This contradiction makes their work more thought provoking about hardships in life as well as the co-existence of corruption and ingenuity. On the cover, two middle-aged men in suits are shaking hands, however the one on the right is on fire.
They are in an empty lot behind dull colored buildings. The two men look as if they could be the same person, meeting each other at different points in their lives. One is at an earlier, more content point in life, while the other is at a rougher, more damaged stage. The man on fire has darker features, is hunched over, and wounded. You can no longer see his face or what he looks like anymore because of the damage caused by the fire. The man on the left looks cleaner, more identifiable, with a confident posture. He’s staring at the burning man as if he’s staring at the damaged, corrupted erosion of himself.
Society has changed this man to a point where he is unrecognizable, synonymous with the line in the song, “Do you think you can tell? ” The album cover is also illustrative for another song on the album – Shine On You Crazy Diamond. The lyrics “Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun” describe Barrett when he first started in the band and had tremendous musical talent. This youth is portrayed in the man in the picture that is intact and confident. He represents the earlier stages of life that can be full of naivety and beauty; before Ewing corrupted by the stress and greed he found in the music industry.
In contrast to Shine On You Crazy Diamond, the song Wish You Were Here talks about exchanging the misfortunes of life for their more favorable counterparts. The lyrics, “Did you exchange hot air for a cool breeze? ” describes the idea of exchanging difficult times in life for the easy way out. This relates to Barrette’s road to drug abuse as an escape from the pressure of his musical responsibilities. This “exchange” explained in the song is also depicted in the cover as the two men shake hands portraying a trade or deal.
The cover further reflects the song in that it translates the “understanding” of one’s position in life that he is able to greet this damaged version of himself. This is how he sees who he’s become well enough to “wish” he could be how he was before. In this longing man is able to see how corrupted life – in this case, life in the music industry – can be. In an interview for The Story of Wish You Were Here: The Documentary, lead guitarist and Sad’s close friend, Roger Waters said he wrote the song to “encourage [himself] not to accept a lead role in a cage. Waters rote these lyrics to show his admiration for Barrette’s talent, however he didn’t want to make the mistakes that Barrett had made. The miracle of the band’s collaboration in the beginning, and the contradictory tragedy that follows are what the band was thinking about when writing both the song and creating the album cover. Wish You Were Here’s album cover used artistic elements to show the pain that the band felt for the loss of an integral part of the band, Sad Barrett. Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a continuation of Sad Barrette’s remembrance. The lyrics describe “sadness for loss f a friend”.
Gilmore noted, the first few notes of Wish You Were Here essentially “evoked in Roger a [feeling for a] song about Sad and his absence” (Edging). This song sparked the creation of the album and the idea to use this album to pay their homage to Sad. This substantiates the burning man as not only a man who experiences loss and corruption, but as a close friend that has affected the band in both positive and negative ways. The cover artists, Storm Thrones and Aubrey Powell carefully articulated the objects and coloring in the picture to represent the ands message.
Their album artwork including Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon usually consists of contrasting ideas and feelings that outline a message communicated by the musicians. Thrones and Powell worked with Pink Floyd to create this album cover in 1975, six years after dropping Barrett from the band. Powell took the photo with a man literally burning on fire while wearing an asbestos suit and wig. He used a real burning man to symbolize Sad not only because the computer graphics were nonexistent, but also because this realistic picture adds to he depth of the idea of pain and self-destruction.
Aubrey Powell had the idea of a man on fire as a metaphor for “being burned in business”. This was a perfect fit for Pink Flood’s situation as they had lost Sad Barrett to the pressure of working in the music industry. Powell and Thrones purposely chose the Warner Brothers film lot in California because of the bland exterior that reflects light into the alleyway (Hardier). The cover’s simplicity in coloring and placement adds to the artwork in that the dull pastel background colors contrast with the harsh black figures in the reground.
This draws the eyes towards the center and makes the observer focus on the similarities between the two men. In addition to the burning man’s darker complexion, his side of the street is dressed with shadows cast by the buildings. This adds to the darkness in the man’s presence and further conveys the idea that this light the man on the left once had can easily disappear with poor decisions. These poor decisions would only come back to greet him long after the fire had taken its toll. Sad Barrette’s mental imbalance created an inability to handle the pressures of eating a band to success in the music business.