This song is about the detached feeling most people go through life with. It is a commentary on how people cope with the world by withdrawing physically, mentally, or emotionally. In the commentary of The Wall
, Roger Waters states that the inspiration was Pink Floyd founding member Syd Barrett and his ordeal with schizophrenia.
Roger Waters has said this song was based on a poem he wrote about Syd Barrett's fall from reality. It was said that Syd's friends would lace his coffee with LSD, which eventually lead to his mental breakdown.
This was a rare case of the Pink Floyd primary songwriters Roger Waters and David Gilmour mutually collaborating on a song - they rarely wrote together. Gilmour had the opening riff written and was playing it in the studio at a fast pace when Roger Waters heard it and asked him to play it slower. The song built from there, with the pair writing the music for the chorus and verses together, and Waters adding the lyrics.
The song reflected the feeling of the band while they were recording the album. Waters felt they were not putting a full effort into the recording sessions.
When this song starts, it sounds like it is coming from an AM radio somewhere in the distance. It represents the distance between the listener and the music.
At the end, when the wind is blowing, you can hear the sound of a violin that was played by Stephane Grappelli, a Jazz musician who was recording in nearby studios. Pink Floyd asked him to guest on this when they found out he was there.
The theme of the album is absence. They chose this as the title track because it summed up the message. The man who did their cover art, Storm Thorgerson, was the first to suggest this as the album title.
The album contains images relating to the theme of detachment. The most prominent image shows 2 businessmen shaking hands, with one of them on fire. This represents an insincere business deal, with one of the men about to get burned. In all of the images, there is something missing, like the diver who does not make a splash.
Like many Pink Floyd albums, this does not translate nearly as well to CD. A lot of work went into choosing which songs were on the front and back sides of the album, which is eliminated on the CD, and there is also a lot less room for the artwork, which goes along with the music.
When Pink Floyd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, they played this at the induction ceremony. Nick Mason accepted the award but didn't join the performance, while Roger Waters and Syd Barrett didn't attend.
In the 26th second of the song you can hear a small cough. This was to create the effect of a man listening to the radio and playing along with his guitar. In the 31st second you can hear a sniff. Rumors say that it symbolizes Gilmour quitting smoking, but it could just be the radio and the man.
This is one of the few songs Roger Waters continued to play at his shows after leaving Pink Floyd that David Gilmour helped him write.
Fred Durst and Wes Borland
of Limp Bizkit and Johnny Rzeznik of The Goo Goo Dolls performed this at the 2001 "Tribute To Heroes" telethon to benefit victims of the terrorist attacks on America. Durst, Rzeznik, and Borland appealed to a younger audience, but this song was familiar to the older viewers as well. Almost 60 million people watched the telethon.
Wyclef Jean does a Soul-Reggae version on his 2 Side II a Book
album. He pays credit to Pink Floyd in additional lyrics at the end of the track.
The song was performed at the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Nick Mason played drums and he was assisted by singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, Richard Jones of The Feeling and Mike Rutherford of Genesis. Their version entered the UK singles chart at #34 the following week. The Pink Floyd original simultaneously landed at #68, marking the first time it had entered the UK top 75.