Basement Songs: Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here”
Last week, upon returning home from work, I shut off the Jetta and got out of my car, sweating and tired. The side gate was open. As I retrieved my things from the backseat, Julie called out from behind the house.
“Come here! Something happened in the back yard.”
Great, I thought, probably a tree branch that brought down the phone wire, or one of the sprinkler valves had burst. I trudged back to see what was up. To my surprise, and the delighted giggles of my children, set up in the yard was a new hammock, an early Father’s Day present.
I’ve always wanted a hammock. The idea of gently swaying side to side while reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee or staring at the night sky while sipping on a beer has always been appealing, reminding me of the years spent rocking in the grungy yellow recliner down in my parents’ basement. Perhaps if I had a hammock I would be able to return to that place of isolation and discovery, when I could shut out the world and just listen to music while my mind wandered or simply ponder the universe.
On Saturday I thought I’d try and find out. After the day had come and gone and the kids were asleep, Julie was settled into bed watching television. With a Pacifico in one and my iPod in the other, I went out on the patio and climbed into the hammock. I had a sudden desire to listen to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Something about summer nights and the sound of Floyd brings me peace.
I knew a guy named Dwayne (*) back in high school. He was a senior when I was a freshman, but we hung out for a month or so. Our parents were friends and we were both in marching band, so there was sort of a common interest. Before hanging out with Dwayne, my knowledge of Pink Floyd was limited to “Money” and the monotonous chant of my schoolmates singing “we don’t need no education” when “Another Brick in the Wall” was a hit. The first time I hung out with Dwayne he played Pink Floyd extensively. We picked up a couple of girls, one a friend of his, the other a cute flute player from the band, and we drove to the Auto-Rama drive-in before it closed for the season. While we waited for the sun to complete its descent over the horizon and the movie to begin, the four of us sat in Dwayne’s suburban sipping Jack Daniels from a bottle and listening to Wish You Were Here.
The sound scapes of the epic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and the poignant title track tingled my sensations and gave me just as much of a buzz as each sip of the alcohol. Somehow I wound up in the back seat with Dwayne’s friend, an awkward situation as I was just 14 and had no experience (i.e. confidence) with girls and I was more enthralled by the music than my female counterpart. I stared out the window at the stars slowly fading up and listened intently to Floyd. I loved this music, new to my ears, and didn’t want it to end. The music’s dreaminess, coupled with a strange longing, touched a nerve. It was as if David Gilmour and Roger Waters, the song’s authors, had seen into my anxious young soul and found a way to put it to music.
By the end of the night I was making out with the girl in total disregard to the movie on the big screen and when I was dropped off at my house at the end of the night, I couldn’t wait to hear Pink Floyd again.
Dwayne and I stopped hanging out soon thereafter. My parents had a talk with me about his substance abuse problems. Although I assured them that I had never touched alcohol while around Dwayne, the talk scared me straight and I stopped spending time with him. But I continued listening to Floyd up until the great classic rock rush in the late 80’s.
At that time, everyone was suddenly into Zeppelin, the Who, the Doors and of course, Pink Floyd. By the time I reached college, Floyd’s renaissance was at its pinnacle. 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason and its subsequent tour made David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Richard Wright and their troupe of session players who travelled the globe without Roger Waters one of the most successful acts of that year. After the tour’s end, the live album, A Delicate Sound of Thunder was released, along with extensive airplay of Floyd 3.0’s concert version of “Wish You Were Here.” I hated that every knucklehead and bubble headed fluff chick in my dorm would nod their heads whenever the song came on.
“Oooh, I looove this song!” the girls would say.
“Dude,” responded the guys.
I seethed in that “I was listening to Floyd back when you were still into Glass Tiger” pretentious way. Pink Floyd was my band, not theirs! This line of thought soon gave way to the equally pretentious, “Fine, have your Pink Floyd, I’m listening to They Might Be Giants, anyway.” But secretly, I was still listening to “Wish You Were Here” in my headphones, thinking, “you’ll always be mine, Pink, we’ll always have the drive-in and the many summer nights after that when you would give me comfort.”
Throughout college, on warm nights, I would walk around campus with my cassette player playing Floyd and escape the stress and grief. I would float for a little while. No booze or drugs, just Gilmour, Mason, Waters and Wright, and the closest thing these four-art school Brits ever came to a country song.
Last Saturday, lying in the hammock as the night air chilled me, I stared up at a neighbor’s palm tree, silhouetted by the light of the moon, and listened to Floyd. As the music once again washed over me I began to think of the many people who have passed through my life. Family and friends; and those who have died, faded into the distance, or simply severed ties. Did I wish they were with me? A few. But I didn’t miss the ones who were gone. The void in my heart left by their departures has been filled by the love of Julie, Sophie and Jacob.
Slightly swaying, sipping my beer, I no longer needed a basement or a bedroom or a car to figure out life.
I have a hammock.
*not his real name