Testing the Psychoanalytic Media Theory on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were HereThe psychoanalytic theory has been a quite controversial one since it was first introduced by Sigmund Freud; regarded as the “grandfather of psychoanalysis.” The term psychoanalysis is usually defined as all human behaviours that are the results of three components of the mind: the id, the ego, and superego. Freud introduced the idea of treating one’s mental problems by looking into the relationship between a person’s conscious and unconscious mind throughout his novel The Interpretation of Dreams.
The result of this procedure is meant to bring out deeply rooted fears and problems from the unconscious mind to the conscious. Freud used techniques such as free association, a process where one takes a word/image and relates it to something that wouldn’t have an apparent connection. He also did many dream interpretations on himself and his patients too. He discusses how symbolism is found within dreams, and how repressed memories are the effects of the unconscious mind being brought out. In Freud’s “Symbolism in the Dream” chapter, he writes that “The nature of the symbol relationship is a comparison, but not any desired comparison. One suspects a special prerequisite for this comparison, but is unable to say what it is. Not everything to which we are able to compare an object or an occurrence occurs in the dream as its symbol; on the other hand, the dream does not symbolize anything we may choose, but only specific elements of the dream thought. There are limitations on both sides.
It must be admitted that the idea of the symbol cannot be sharply delimited at all times—it mingles with the substitution, dramatization, etc., even approaches the allusion (Freud).” Freud would go on and examine such things like literature and the visual arts to draw upon these emotions and support his ideas. However, one art that he hardly took mention of or even used to support his ideas, was music. When it came to music, Freud had mixed feelings about the art.
On one hand, he practically had zero appreciation for music as an art. In an article written by Stephen A. Diamond of Psychology Today, Freud is quoted to saying ” .
..I am no connoisseur in art, but simply a layman….Nevertheless, works of art do exercise a powerful effect on me, especially those of literature and sculpture, less often of painting….I spend a long time before them trying to apprehend them in my own way, i.
e. to explain to myself what their effect is due to. Wherever I cannot do this, as for instance with music, I am almost incapable of obtaining any pleasure. Some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me.” (Diamond). The infamous doctor found the idea of being emotionally moved by something without knowing what is was specifically or why a scary one at best. Although vocal about his distaste towards all music, there have been a few reports of Sigmund Freud quoted as to enjoying some operas.
Also, he would sometimes use musical metaphors to provide context for the methods of therapy in some writings; but never has the controversial doctor fully applied his ideas towards the art of music. It’s common to view music as a device that, much like a book or a film, can temporarily takes us away from our ordinary troubles or mundane lives. When a person is feeling discouraged in any way, music can be their tool to make them feel uplifted and inspired. It can provide a sense of companionship while conveying a wide range of emotions (the “blues” genre is an example of creating music out of suffering) compassion to the suffering soul. There has been plenty of music created out of someone else’s suffering. For Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, I’m going to be testing his ideas towards music; something he ultimately rejected.
I’ll be testing his theory on the 1975 album Wish You Were Here by British progressive-rock band Pink Floyd. The argument I’ll be making is that Freud’s theory does not in fact do a very effective job at explaining/enriching media texts revolving around music; something Freud barely touched up on in his studies. Not only that, but I wanted to test it on an album that deals with very strong human emotions like melancholy, greed, and anger. Many speculate that this album is one part a critique on the music industry, and another part lament towards their fallen friend and ex-bandmate, Syd Barrett. Wish You Were Here boasts a strange place in Pink Floyd’s catalog. They had just released their biggest album to date, Dark Side of the Moon, and instantly became the biggest band in the world at that point. Although one would imagine a group of talented musicians riding high on their success, this is actually where the band had reached turmoil. They felt like after releasing over eight albums, with their previous effort feeling impossible to follow up, there was nowhere left for them to go creatively.
As a result, both communication and relationships between the members were at an all time low. It didn’t help that the band went back to the studio shortly after touring with almost no material to go off of. Bassist and primary lyricist Roger Waters was very vocal about keeping the band together and trying to create something thematic like their previous effort. That inspiration would finally come about when guitarist David Gilmour was fiddling around with his guitar, and played four chords that caught the attention of Waters. These four chords would be the guiding riff of the song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” which takes up the “bookends” (beginning and end) of the album.
It would ultimately inspire Waters to write the song as a tribute to Syd, someone the band saw as a fallen hero; an innocent mind who was taken away by the serious effects of taking many hallucinogens. In an article by Jeff Giles of ultimateclassicrock, he writes that “Waters’ feelings regarding Barrett’s absence could have been applied, to some degree, to the rest of Pink Floyd. ‘No one was really looking anyone in the eye,’ he complained. ‘It was all very mechanical.’ ‘It was disengagement,’ concurred Gilmour. ‘It was not being willing to apply yourself sufficiently.
Lots of moments when any one of us might have been much more interested in thinking about what we were doing that weekend …
The concentrated activity was rather diluted, and I’m sure for a very pushing, driving sort of person like Roger, it was more frustrating than it was for anyone else — although it was very frustrating for all of us, I suspect.’ (Giles).” The album as a whole is short of tracks, but can be seen as the band’s way of not just expressing their trauma of losing Syd, but also as an expression of the lack of real emotional connection through their music and critical, but straightforward lyrics.
Freud mostly applied his ideas to literature, but by analyzing this album, his concepts are prevalent. However, they are not quite fully realized in the context of music. Freud’s idea of condensation, the representation of any number of ideas towards a single image or fragment of one. With music, these images/fragments are instead substituted sounds and occasionally spoken words.
Take the distinct four notes (on a guitar it’s Bb, F, G, and E) that is prevalent in “Shine On.” Supposedly, when Waters first heard the riff, it reminded him of the “spirit” of their old fallen band member, who was let go of the band due to his heavy use of psychedelics and his erratic behaviour (Barrett was only credited on Pink Floyd’s first two albums). If this were the case, then by looking at the structure of the song and implementing Freud’s idea of condensation, we can assume that the four notes in the song are indeed meant to manifest Syd. It doesn’t appear until nearly four minutes into the song; with the band choosing to build up the melancholic mood by opening with with a patient crescendo of guitar, synthesizer, and wine glasses before the four notes come into the frame, followed by bass and drums. The notes become repeated more and more as the band continues on through the sonic landscape they created. After a solo by David Gilmour and a minimoog synthesizer. When the lyrics come in (all lyrics on this album are written by bassist/singer Roger Waters).
We can see that the first verse is spoken rhetorically about the subjects mental health: now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky. This is a clear indicator that the mental state of this person is not what it used to be, and the band uses their musical talents to emulate the fall of Syd in this song. Especially in the second half of the song at the end of the album, where the guitar is hooked to a wah pedal and used for nightmarish quality, further implementing the idea of musical instruments acting as a bands way to not get through the stress but to represent the erratic behaviour of Syd. Although the lyrics may be sparse, but there is one line in the song that brings the albums themes, ideas, and overall narrative together: you were caught in the crossfire of childhood and stardom. Although we can make these connections, to other listeners, some people wouldn’t have the same knowledge as those who know what the song is about. Some people can take these sounds and lyrics and create visualize their own interpretation and apply it to any scenario that could very well be valid.
That is the beauty of why many people love music so much in the first place; people can interpret what a specific guitar line means in a song, or what a certain verse in the song means. When looking at the lyrics of “Shine On”, the idea of mental deterioration is there, but the concept of the band trying to go through the trauma of losing their friend isn’t quite fully realised because of the pragmatic, straightforward way the lyrics are written. Roger Waters could be singing about really anyone. Because of this, psychoanalysis in this particular song, can’t actually give a full answer nor any “true” or “right” explanations to what is truly driving the minds of the songwriters.When it comes to the psychoanalytic theory, it’s one that is fascinated with the looking at the overall narrative; how cause and effect play a part in someone’s life and how it shapes not just the personality but actions as well.
These are what many psychologists refer to as “myths,” a narrative that is familiar to many people and are used to create connections to real life things (creation stories are a huge example). Similarly, famous psychiatrist Carl Jung introduced the idea of archetypes. These are universal themes or idea that is shared in a collective conscious between cultures. Archetypes can shape not just myths, but philosophical ideas that have strong influences on an array of cultures. We can see that an image/theme can inform such things like myths, religions, and works of art like literature and film. When applying the idea to this album, we can find that these ideas do indeed come into play.
We find a typical “rise and fall” story that flows within the narrative of the album. The band, of course, chose to list their tracks like this on purpose to give a thematic, rise and fall-sense to the album. The first five parts of “Shine On” can be looked at as a reflection on what had just happened to the individual. The melancholy sounds that open up the album paint the collective mood for what is in store. These ideas of finding a true personal identity can be further explored by looking at the middle of the album. “Welcome to the Machine” and “Have a Cigar” can both be seen as a battle for personal identity. Both songs are sung through the perspective of a music industry executive. Again, by using the theory, we can see that the sparse lyrics of Welcome to the Machine deals with the archetype of taking away an artist’s personality and substituting it for something manufactured and fake: you bought a guitar to punish your ma.
You didn’t like school, and you know you’re nobody’s fool. This “manufactured” idea can easily be felt through the bands music too through their rather skillful use of tape loops, synthesizer leads, and acoustic guitars that’s the only natural sounding instrument. As the song progresses the manufacturer’s false idea of what an artist’s true destiny is can be seen in the verse: what did you dream? It’s alright we told you what to dream.
You dreamed of a big star, he played a mean guitar. The imposing music and artificial sound effects can be seen as a reflection towards the cold, inhuman nature of the industry the band was indeed part of. The end of the song leaves the listener going through many of the synth leads, then coming out of the other side with the sounds of party guests, though we can’t make out what they’re saying. The feeling of disillusionment is very prevalent, and this same feeling can also be found in the blues-influenced song “Have a Cigar,” particularly in the lyrics and how it’s performed vocally. In this song, a music executive is selling the artist on the money and success, but not taking the time getting to know the band. Waters writes: the band is just fantastic, that is really what I think. Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink? Sung more like a parody, this song further explores the theme of a victimized hero being misunderstood and changed into something that only the industry people only find suitable. The album’s title track, explores the aftermath, the downfall of the artist or tragic hero.
Opening on heavily processed guitar to give the idea of a transistor radio being turned on, the lyrics begin as questions are brought about, deliberately calling out the dysfunction of a relationship, that being in the industry can have serious mental effects whether for better or worse; can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell? Although many of Freud’s ideas are prevalent in the entirety of the album, it still does not fully enrich the actual text. Though the album does contain ideas revolving around archetypes, myths, and condensation, not all the fundamental ideas come through all the way when applying it to not just Wish You Were Here, but music in general. There is a fundamental idea that because music relies on interpretation, it doesn’t draw any true answers to what a song means or why the song unfolds the way it does. This is probably due to why Freud despised music strongly, and why psychoanalysis doesn’t quite fit in the context of music in general.
Freud wanted to know how and why the music he was hearing was making him feel the way he does. Not that it’s a serious failure that the theory comes up short; many of Freud’s ideas don’t quite mold with applying it to music. He believed that one’s personal trauma could very well be mainly due to one’s own sexually repressed behavior. With this album that not the case.
There is not a single mention on any of the songs. Because of the melancholic mood the band was going for, it wouldn’t have been appropriate. Though many can view the album as the bands method of going through the trauma, psychoanalysis comes short for the band never resolves any of their ideas in each of their songs. And since the lyrics are written in such a observational, straightforward way, not only do the bands raise more questions than answer, but they choose not to. Arthur Asa Berger writes that “Psychoanalytic theory is used to comprehend areas of our psyches that are emotional, intuitive, nonrational, hidden, repressed. It is these areas that creative artists are somehow (probably intuitively) in touch with and most concerned with and that are, without psychoanalytic theory, not accessible to analysis or understanding (Berger).” The band knew the harsh nature of the business they were in. It was, after all, one of the lowest points as a band.
Sometimes in an intimidating industry that mainly focuses on how well one’s albums sells, the band perhaps saw their mental stress as something that would never be fully resolved. Though psychoanalysis can be used to find depth in such media texts, many ideas come up short when looking at the medium of music. WORKS CITEDFreud, Sigmund.
“Symbolism in the Dream.” A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. N.p.: n.p.
, 1920. N. pag. Print.Diamond, Stephen A. “Why We Love Music-And Why Freud Despised It.
“Psychologytoday.com, Psychology Today, 10 Nov. 2012.Giles, Jeff. “The Story of Pink Floyd’s Tribute to Syd Barrett-‘Wish You Were Here’.”Ultimateclassicrock, Ultimate Classic Rock, 12 Sept. 2015.Berger, Arthur Asa.
“Psychoanalytic Theory and Cultural Criticism .” Cultural Criticism , pp. 103–132. Print.Waters, Roger. Wish You Were Here. Pink Floyd.
Rec. Jan. 1975. Pink Floyd, 1975. CD.