Apropos of yesterday’s “hot fun in the summertime” comes another song I associate with summer. Psychedelic summer. Today is the birthday of Richard Wright, one of the original members of and a vocalist and keyboardist for Pink Floyd, who died in 2006.
The song dates to the summer of 1968, the height of psychedelic music; it can be found on A Saucerful of Secrets, from June, 1968, and was released as the B-side of “Let There Be More Light” in August of that year. But I knew the song first on the compilation album Relics (1971), which I picked up in the summer of 1973, where it was one of my favorites of this era Floyd, along with “Paint Box,” which Wright also sings.
In fact, acquiring Relics so early in my Floyd era caused me to see the band as neither Syd Barrett’s nor Roger Waters’ and certainly not David Gilmour’s (he didn’t join till Saucerful, the second album). Wright, up through Wish You Were Here (1975), played his part compositionally and could be heard on lead vocals occasionally up through Obscured by Clouds (1972). And since much of what made Pink Floyd so sonically different from other Brit bands like The Beatles, the Stones, The Kinks, and Led Zeppelin was the constant presence of a keyboard player, Wright’s contribution shouldn't be overlooked as what, to my mind, made Pink Floyd so distinctive owes much to him.
The summer when I got to know “Remember a Day” wasn’t yet fraught with the kind of worrisome “I grow old, I grow old” reflections as would be the case in the period 1976-78 when the releases of Wish You Were Here and Animals (1977) put the Floyd in the vanguard, but we can say that, at fourteen, the feeling “why can’t we stay that way”—referring to childhood—was poignant enough. Knowing that Wright was ten years older than that—24—when the song was recorded adds layers of seeing how, as the twenties start marching on, the pre-teens become even more legendary. Positively Wordsworthian.
Remember a day before today / A day when you were young / Free—to play alone in time / Evening never comes
There you have the dream of eternal youth—not childishness but that sense of the child as the knowing wizard in control of all time, undisturbed by it. And that, as I’ve no doubt said before, was something that psychedelia contributed to my childhood. That overwrought sound, with whispered voices and odd percussion, and Syd’s druggy slide guitar—the textures and time changes—bespoke a sound of child’s reverie, and, when I re-encountered it as my teens began to slide toward twenty, the “way” we couldn’t stay could also be called, collectively, the Sixties. Pink Floyd themselves were somewhere else by then, and “remember when you were young / You shone like the sun” recalled that very era—1966-68, which was a period I was spending some time contemplating, ten years on. “Now there’s a look in your eyes / Like black holes in the sky.” Amen, brother.
Wright’s song contains those hauntingly drawn-out segments: “Why can’t we play today / Why can’t we stay that way” (something my mother used to muse about when looking at photos of beloved children—why can’t they stay like that?), and “Why can’t we reach the sun / Why can’t we blow the years away.” Those latter two questions move from the fond regard my mother shared in to something more alien and uneasy. Why can’t we do the impossible? Why can’t we do things beyond the scope of humanity? And for those of us taking another hit or lighting up the bong as the trippy final section of the song commences, “blowing the years away” could be a way of wasting them all by being wasted. “Blow away-ayy-aayy”—Wright draws it out with a feeling like a Sirocco weaving its way across a desert where maybe only some Ozymandias relic remains.
The part of the song that turns a somewhat storied glance at all that childhood bliss was sounded earlier: “Climb—your favorite apple tree / Try to catch the sun / Hide—from your litte brother’s gun / Dream yourself away.” There we can see the child up in a tree (O I do think it the pleasantest thing ever a child can do) wondering why he can’t reach or arrest the sun, and who hides from his brother—a game of hide-and-seek, perhaps, but armed with pop guns or squirt guns—become, in a song so eerie in its sounds, an image for that march of time itself. As the sun moves the shadows move, and those who come behind us make us move forward or be overtaken. I used to like altering the final line: “Dream yourself awake”—that had connotations both of a command to wake up and the possibility that one is still dreaming while “awake.”
You shall be it if you wish