Pink Floyd, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”
written by Morgan Klein
We were driving along winding road which runs along the Potomac river, which, at this point — the middle of January 2014 — was dotted with mini icebergs and dark with cold. The sun had set long before we had even thought to go for a drive and, in its place, the flickering bright lights of a city at night illuminated our path.
“I have a song I think you’ll really like.”
In that moment, those timeless four chords opened the most achingly beautiful song I had ever heard. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” could not have have been revealed to me at a better time; I was feeling that the most impeccable year of my life up to that point was coming to an end, as the person I was closest to would be graduating, and I felt like I had three years of relative solitude to look forward to. The feelings of absence, and the feeling that you had taken someone’s presence for granted, that Pink Floyd musters with this song were banging around in my skull, having been set in motion by these words that I felt in my heart but didn’t yet understand. Though I regularly listen to their music, it wasn’t until two years after first hearing this song that I would dive into the lives of the members of Pink Floyd and that I would truly understand the words that had meant so much to me in that specific moment in time.
It would be impossible to talk about the song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” without mentioning Syd Barrett; the original frontman, songwriter, and guitarist for Pink Floyd. Barrett’s departure from the band in 1968 prompted the creation of the album Wish You Were Here which is book-ended by Part I and Part II of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” — which is, coincidentally, my favorite Pink Floyd album.
Barrett has been lauded as Pink Floyd’s original creative core, known best for his unmatched compositional skills, creative songwriting, and experimental guitar playing — “Astronomy Domine,” “See Emily Play,” and “Lucifer Sam” are three of the most well-known songs written by Barrett from his time with the band and the album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was composed nearly entirely by him.
On stage, Barrett was no less impressive. He was able to captivating audiences of all kinds with his energy and skill. Pink Floyd’s first producer, Joe Boyd, recalls watching the band on stage and — no matter the distraction — not being able to take his eyes off of Barrett — “the bright eyed Syd.”
Remember when you were young, you shone just like the sun
In the late 60’s Pink Floyd began having to cancel shows due to Barrett’s inability or refusal to play; there were shows that he would play the same chord throughout the entire set or not play at all. His behavior, which has been described as erratic and troubling, is largely attributed to the compounding effects of his use of hallucinogenic drugs, the demands of the music business, and pressure from the rest of the group.
Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.
Though only 19 years old when Pink Floyd was formed in 1965, Barrett was the catalyst that set the band in motion. Pink Floyd largely agrees that there would have been no Dark Side of the Moon, and perhaps no Pink Floyd, if Barrett hadn’t been there in the beginning as a driving force for the band.
You were caught in the crossfire of childhood and stardom, blown on the steel breeze.
Barrett is described by his bandmates as having been an all-around incredible person: outgoing, smart, funny, talented, and kind. Barrett would often find himself painting, writing, and drawing in his free time and he was even regarded as being “unfashionably outgoing” for introducing himself to Nick Mason before the band had been formed.
Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!
A noted change in Barrett occurred during the summer of 1965 around the same time as his first experience with hallucinogenic drugs. Barrett became more aggressive and resigned, this change can be seen in his writing, specifically “Scream Thy Last Scream.” This change affected the group greatly, forcing the cancellation of numerous shows and a tour in the US.
You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.
The members of Pink Floyd agree that they each had feelings of unease about the band and its future in addition to distinct feelings of absence — undoubtedly, the absence of Syd Barrett.
Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
This absence, however, was not Barrett’s decision; allegedly, Pink Floyd simply stopped picking him up for rehearsals and later announced publicly that he was no longer a member of the band.
Well you wore out your welcome with random precision, rode on the steel breeze.
David Gilmour says “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” stemmed from 4 notes that “popped out of the guitar one day” and became a song about Barrett; an expression of the band members’ — particularly Roger Waters’s — feelings of sadness and loss. Waters even clarifies that this is not a song for or about all the crazy diamonds, but specifically about Syd.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!
The complete album’s cover features two men in business suits shaking hands, one of the men is on fire. For Thorgerson, the artist who created these photos, this represented “the whole notion of how you may get ahold of somebody, shake them by the hand, and they’re trying to tell you how much they’re really there when they gripped you but in fact they’re miles away.”
I don’t relate to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” in the way that I used to — I no longer feel that anxiety of being left behind and forgotten. But I now can understand, even better than before, the reason this song was written, the people who wrote and felt these emotions before I did, and that the emotions that I hear from Pink Floyd when I listen to it are real.
According to Nick Mason, Pink Floyd was always hoping that Syd would come back.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Thank you to the following sources for providing me with the necessary scaffolding for this piece:
Pink Floyd: The Story of Wish You Were Here. Dir. John Edginton. 2012. Web.
“Life.” Syd Barrett. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
Mason, Nick (2005). Dodd, Philip, ed. Inside Out – A Personal History of Pink Floyd.
Morgan is a junior studying International Relations and Arabic at Bucknell University where she is the president of an online music publication and sings in a co-ed A Cappella group.