Wish You Were Here (1975) with It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Written by Jeff Stillman
In October of 1997, my friend and co-worker Andrew Wendland sent me e-mail about the strange coincidences that exist between Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon album and The Wizard of Oz. The e-mail doesn’t say when the connection was first made, but it’s probably old news by now.
Still, it was new to us, and it got Andy thinking that maybe there was another Pink Floyd album synched up with another movie. In fact, he thought Wish You Were Here, the follow-up to Dark Side, might be a perfect candidate.
Now, I don’t own every Pink Floyd CD like Andy does, and I haven’t been to a single Pink Floyd concert like he has, but I do like a good mystery. And I know a lot about movies, especially old movies. That’s why Andy called me.
We threw around some ideas over the phone to try to narrow the field – looking at the album cover and the lyrics, looking at what type of movie The Wizard of Oz had been… We came up with a handful of movies.
I happened to own one of these movies, and I had a copy of Wish You Were Here, so after Andy hung up, I gave it a try. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to find a connection to any movie, much less this one, so I wasn’t about to spend the next month of my life looking for one. I said I’d give this movie five minutes to show me something. But what a first five minutes it was…
Still, I was a bit disappointed after the first few scenes. I was looking for lyrics that matched up with screen action, or scenes that ended when songs ended, and I didn’t find many. But Andy was sure we’d nailed it, so we both watched it a few more times. And by the end of the week, I agreed with him.
Now, for all we know, we’re behind the times again. Maybe someone already figured this out. But maybe not. So here it is, for your viewing and listening pleasure… we present to you Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
P.S. We have included our own list of connections, as well as a sort of “thesis” on the similarities between the two works. Mostly in case you think we’re full of it, but also for your reading pleasure.
If you haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life in a while, we suggest you watch it straight through. The song lyrics may bring to mind certain lines, scenes or themes not shown in the first 45 minutes. The music also makes more sense if you know what the scenes are about. That way, you can watch the movie with the sound off when you play the CD. And hey, it’s a great movie!
The starting point is different than in The Wizard of Oz. The picture is not an MGM release, so you’re not syncing up the CD with the lion’s roar this time. Remember that you should be listening to how well the music fits the mood of the scene, and how well the lyrics relate to the character of George Bailey.
Start the CD at the very beginning of the movie. Repeat the CD until the end of the movie.
It’s a Wonderful Life / Wish You Were Here
Watching the movie and listening to the music
1. The book appears with the entrance of a synthesizer. The synthesizer drops out as the book disappears.
2. The book is replaced with scenes of snow falling, and there is a “tinkling” sound that sounds like rainfall or snowfall.
3. The heavens appear as the first guitar begins playing.
4. Clarence the Angel (Second Class) is symbolized by a star. When he speaks, the star becomes diamond shaped.
5. The heavens scene fades out with the end of “Diamond Part I.” “Part II” begins as the screen starts to go white with the guitar line “B flat – F – G – E.”
6. The sledding scene is pretty well synched up to the guitar and drums. The music turns ugly when Harry Bailey falls through the ice.
7. “Diamond Part IV” features a “crying guitar” solo. The music fits with Mr. Gower’s grief at having lost his son.
8. “Remember when you were young” is sung while we’re looking at the young George Bailey. “Shine on you crazy diamond” is sung during a close-up. (*See note 16.)
9. “Part V” begins with the second of two sax solos. The transition occurs at the same time as the transition from the young George to the old George.
10. Before “Welcome to the Machine,” there is a sound of a motor running. The scene at this point is a street in Bedford Falls – specifically, of George and Bert the cop standing outside Ernie the cabdriver’s idling cab.
11. “Welcome to the Machine” begins with the dinner scene at the Bailey household. The whole scene is nearly the same length as the song. (*See the discussion of the lyrics.)
12. At the end of Side 1 of the album, we hear dialogue from a party scene. As the dialogue begins, George is at a high school party. He looks across the room and sees Mary. As they move towards each other, the background noise gets quieter. When they are face to face, it stops.
13. At this point, “Have a Cigar” begins, and George and Mary start dancing. This is the only dance scene in the movie, and it seems at times to be choreographed with this song, the liveliest on the album.
14. The dialogue after “Have a Cigar,” held between a man and a woman, takes place during a conversation between George and Mary.
15. The Granville House scene with George and Mary fits the mood of “Wish You Were Here.” The scene is about their wishes, and Mary actually wishes that George were there, living in the house with her. (*See the discussion of the lyrics.)
16. “Diamond Part VI” begins with the sound of the wind, as if a storm is brewing. Inside the Bailey Building & Loan, Mr. Potter is beginning his tirade against the B & L and Pa Bailey. The dark music starts up as he really gets going, and then George tears into him in response. The whole scene should really be watched with the TV volume up for the full effect.
17. “Part VII” returns to the line “Shine on you crazy diamond.” This time, we get a close-up of the adult George.
18. “Part VIII” is a sort of 70’s shuffle, music that fits the mood of the Harry Bailey wedding party scene, with George hanging out on the porch.
19. “Part IX” is somber and reflective. It starts when Ma Bailey tells George to go out and find some answers for his life, and continues as George wanders through the town looking for them. The music finally gets bright again when he arrives at Mary’s house. After all, Ma said that Mary was the sort of girl to help George find them.
20. Side 2 ends the same way Side 1 ends – with George looking at Mary from a distance, and then coming face to face.
Oh, and one more thing…
About six seconds into the party dialogue after “Welcome to the Machine,” a man yells out a name. We swear he says “George Bailey.”
Pink Floyd meets George Bailey
by Jeff Stillman and Andrew Wendland
Musical connections aside, there is a great deal that can be said about Wish You Were Here and It’s a Wonderful Life…
The song lyrics can all be associated with George Bailey. That is not to say that every word is about him, but there are enough similarities to suggest that scenes from the film were at least starting points for the songs.
In fact, simply retelling George Bailey’s story through music and lyric would probably not have been satisfying enough for lyricist Roger Waters. Consider instead that in at least two of the songs the imagery is of a band, or of a rock star. It is an interesting journey to read the lyrics with the idea that perhaps Waters is associating himself – or the band – at this post-Dark Side stage of their career… with George Bailey.
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)
The first three lines set up the premise of the film: George Bailey is about to commit suicide, and we are about to be treated to a flashback of his life. We see him as a child, then as a young man, talking in scene after scene about his plans to travel, go to college, and build great things. (The phrase “Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun” appears during the first of these.) Of course, we know he never gets out of Bedford Falls. His first opportunity to do so is cut short before it begins by his father’s death, Before long, his filial (or “childhood”) duty to his father and what he stood for has eclipsed his chance at any “stardom” outside that town. And by the time the flashback has ended, he is standing on a bridge with a look in his eyes of despair and emptiness, ready to give up his life.
The first three lines of the second verse are not as clearly about George, although there is a reference to the moon, which becomes the subject of a painting by Mary. It is the symbol of all of George’s aspirations, and a reminder of his failure to achieve them.
As for the “Come on you…” lines, at least a handful of these words can be immediately related to George. He was a “seer of visions,” though now he finds himself a “prisoner” of Bedford Falls. He is at times a “raver,” (“Am I talking too much?”) though he was more a sort of pied “piper” during the panic of the Depression.
Welcome To The Machine
“Welcome To The Machine” begins during the last scene where we see Pa Bailey alive. During this dinner scene, Pa asks George to consider working for the Building & Loan. George objects strongly, but within ten minutes of film time he will find himself replacing his father at the B &L – for the rest of his life. But it is his father’s invitation to him that the first line of the song echoes. An invitation to join the working world, to run a business “of nickels and dimes” where he has to fight to “scrape together three cents just to light the pipe,” and to be ground down as his father was before him so that in the end he too has to “crawl to Potter.” “Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.”
(“What did you dream,” George? Never mind that now…”we told you what to dream.”)
So what then of the imagery of a rock and roll star? On the strength of The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd had become commercially successful. If there were ever an apt metaphor for the music industry, it would be the machine. And even if Pink Floyd had managed to avoid it until 1973, there was certainly no escaping it now.
But perhaps Roger Waters knew from the beginning that there would be no escape for the band… or for him. Perhaps the song is more about his own life, that from moment he bought his first guitar, he had become part of the machine…
Have a Cigar
Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar.” The words could easily have been Mr. Potter’s, merely trimmed from the final film to keep it under two hours. We pick up the scene with George already in Mr. Potter’s office, with Mr. Potter lighting the cigar for him. The rest of the scene is Potter at his most manipulative, trying to inflate George’s ego, to give him such a big head that George will sign his life over to Potter – without realizing the consequences. “You’re gonna go far, fly high… I’ve always had a deep respect, and I mean that most sincerely…” These could easily be substituted for his actual lines.
Here again, the first three lines give way to imagery of a band. And here again, the seductive charm of Mr. Potter might well have been a record executive in Pink Floyd’s past. The idea is the same – the sweet-talking man with all the money and power dangles a contract before the young idealist. But while George Bailey turned him down, Roger Waters and the band did not. Years later, their Mr. Potter would pressure them to match the success of Dark Side – with its “sell outs,” sales one could “hardly count,” and its weeks on “the chart” – with their next album. This one.
Wish You Were Here
The first stanza asks the question, “Can you really tell what’s good from what’s bad?” The second asks, “What did you give up, and what did you get in return?” These questions are the heart of the film. George Bailey finds that his darkest hour is only a moment away from his brightest. He gave up his heroes in the National Geographic Society for the ghost of his father, and his bad ear kept him imprisoned in Bedford Falls while his brother became a war hero, but he was not a failure. What he got in return was a town of friends, and “no man is a failure who has friends.”
But who is the speaker? Who compares himself to George in the third verse? Who is the “I” of “How I wish you were here?”
Clarence the Angel (Second Class) does the asking in the film – “So you still think it would be better if you hadn’t been born?” Is it his wish that George will find that his life is worth living, and wish again to be here – here in Bedford Falls? For Clarence is himself a sort of lost soul, trying for the last hundred years – “year after year” – to earn his wings, and he can do it by saving George. And yet, Clarence doesn’t have any “old fears,” at least that we can see…
What about Mary? After all, the song occurs during a scene she shares with George. A scene where she makes a wish outside the old Granville House – that she and George will someday live there as husband and wife. She literally wishes to herself, “How I wish you were here… with me” And then again, as he drives away to be with his father, we can see she wishes he was there with her. The two of them swim around in the tiny fish bowl of Bedford Falls in scene after scene, year after year, with the same old fears – George that he’ll never get out; Mary that he will.
But the songs to this point have had an order to them – the same order as the scenes from the film that they echo. And if “Have a Cigar” is truly a reference to the scene with Mr. Potter, then the Granville House scene with Mary has already passed. Besides, the first two verses do make more sense once Clarence shows up and asks George to reevaluate his life. But if not Mary, and if not Clarence, then who’s left?
Well… if the previous two songs are not just about the movie, perhaps this one isn’t either. And if the previous two songs were about a rock star, maybe this one is too.
In the early seventies, “It’s a Wonderful Life” began its run on public television. Year after year, George Bailey would run over the same old ground, facing the same old fears, on display in a thousand TV sets like a fish in a fishbowl. And year after year, Pink Floyd was on display on concert stages, covering the same musical ground, visiting the same arenas. What fears did Roger Waters have, and was he searching for another lost soul to share them with? If he identified with George Bailey, then why not George? Why not wish that George was here – a real person, here on Earth? “Wish you were here.”
Shine On You Crazy Diamond VI-IX
The first verses from “Diamond” were all about “You.” These next verses are about “You” and “I”… and “We.” If the album has indeed been the story of George Bailey and Roger Waters, then it reads like the movie, like the album, has come to the end:
Nineteen seventy-five. No one knows where “George Bailey” has been these past twenty-one years. Is he forever trapped in the video in the VCR, or is he somewhere else entirely? Where does a movie character go when the movie is over? The movie reel or the videocassette is stored somewhere, gathering another layer of dust before it is brought out again. The newly completed Wish You Were Here album will soon find itself on its own shelf, piling on its own layers. But Roger Waters and George Bailey will find themselves together somewhere, and they will remember the triumphs of the past. The Dark Side of the Moon, perhaps, for Waters, and for George… that he really did have a Wonderful Life.
Shine on, you crazy diamonds.
The Album Art
The Back Cover
The back cover uses three symbols from the movie, all of which appear while Wish You Were Here is being played. The man is wearing Mr. Potter’s bowler hat, he is holding out Mary’s “Buffalo Gals” album, and he is standing on George’s suitcase. A suitcase that obviously has “plenty of room for labels.”
As for the man himself, the lack of a face, arms and legs does not necessarily mean he is an invisible man. Why not simply a man who doesn’t exist? After all, the plot of the movie is that George Bailey finds out what life would be like if he never existed.
The man diving into a lake is suggestive of George Bailey’s headfirst dive into the river to save a drowning Clarence.
The Front Cover
The front cover is still a mystery. The handshake between the two men takes place on a movie back lot, which could be meant as the first clue that this album is connected with a movie. The side of the frame is warped and burnt in much the same way an old film negative might be.
But who are the men?
Drawing on the analysis of the lyrics, could it be Roger Waters (or a representation of “Pink Floyd”) shaking hands with George Bailey?
To Be Continued?
As the band plays “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” to open their Pulse concert video, the stage is framed by an image of the heavens. Did the band once again quote the film, pulling the image from the opening scene? What of the image of a boy diving into a petal-filled lake that looks like the icy water that George dove into? Or two images of the boy superimposed in water, like George pulling his brother from the pond?
Maybe it’s a coincidence. But maybe it just goes to show that the whole band was in on the secret, and they’re all just sharing another inside joke with George Bailey…
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