It’s essential to stop smoking: I quit in 2019 at 26 and have never looked back. The long-term effects are awful, leading to poor health, a rise in expense and wastage across the world. It’s not easy for people to quit smoking and it must be rougher for musicians, who are surrounded by smoke at every turn.
George Harrison struggled with the cigarettes returning to them whenever he faced personal duress in his life, as did John Deacon, the fiery bass player for Queen. The cigarettes are also said to worsen our voices, and listening back to his vocals, David Gilmour noticed an audible cough, causing him to quit smoking.
The cough can be heard on ‘Wish You Were Here’, which otherwise features one of Gilmour’s most fragile and tender vocals, on a ballad that represented the change in tone for the band. They had weathered the departure of Syd Barrett, the band’s founder and primary songwriter, and bassist Roger Waters was experiencing greater turmoil as his marriage was falling apart all around him. ‘Wish You Were Here’ embodied this sense of change, both as a political and intellectual statement.
Moreover, the song formed part of the band’s seventh release, seated between the sprawling anthems ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ and ‘Welcome To The Machine’. The song is rich with depth, pathos and meaning, although it earned an entirely new reading when it was performed at the London Olympics in 2012. Nick Mason played drums and he was assisted by singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, Richard Jones of The Feeling and Mike Rutherford of Genesis.
There, it stood as a celebration of community, when it was first unveiled to the public as a tune of absence and understanding of the harder edges of life. Suddenly a tune about divorce was a celebration of the kindred spirit.
And in its own idiosyncratic way, the song could outlive the passing of trends and the passage of time. In its own strange way, the song presented the changing tides, turning from a song about loneliness to a song about compassion and community, surviving the changing tide of public perception and opinion.
And it was definitely strong enough to withstand the presence of a gargled cough, adding an authenticity to the humanity and realism that emanates from the lyrical content, as well as the cascading melody. Such is the power of the track, it presides over the cascading rhythms to present something haughty, ugly and towering. And for Gilmour, it was proof he needed to move on from cigarettes, leaving them behind like the memories, madness and former bandmates that were bringing him closer to his sense of internal purpose.
Searching for an answer, he found one on the audio, and found a way to let go of the nicotine, joining a wide array of recovering cigarette addicts, and sings as beautifully and purposefully as ever. And there it is, that’s his reason to quit. I hope one day you find yours, because life is a lot easier when there’s less smoke around.