Welcome to the Machine – Pink Floyd

The purpose of art is expression, either of oneself, an opinion, or an ideology. The world full of voices, each one screaming for attention, dying to be heard. Art magnifies the voices of those who might otherwise have been drowned out by the din. Art attracts the eyes and ears of the world to the problems we face in everyday society when we are otherwise ignored by our superiors. Art takes a stand when the world stands against us. That is, until money is involved. Once the big commercial industries take over, art plundered of all that it stands for and simply becomes a money making machine. Rather than giving people what they need to hear, they are sold what they want to hear. Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” dares to speak out against the industries that have morphed the music business into simply a cash-cow rather than a place for artistry to flourish.

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Pink Floyd left to right: Nick Mason, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright

“Welcome to the Machine” appears on Pink Floyd’s 1975 album, Wish You Were Here. The very essence of Pink Floyd is to be unorthodox. In spite of all of their bizarre eccentricities, dark and sometimes disturbing sound, and extremely outspoken opinions, Pink Floyd is still one of the most successful acts in the music industry, even if they didn’t do as the typical rock band would do to be successful. They managed to bring beauty to the ominous and peculiar, and this piece is no exception. Not only does it speak out against industries promoting popular fads and conformity, but it is also instrumentally unconventional (although, I suppose that is normal for Pink Floyd). In the iconic Pink Floyd fashion, “Welcome to the Machine” employs unusual time signatures, completely diverging from the expected. Both lyrically and instrumentally, Pink Floyd is challenging the system.

Wish You Were Here Album Collage

“Welcome my son
Welcome to the machine
Where have you been?
It’s alright we know where you’ve been”

“Welcome to the Machine” is the tale of an aspiring young musician who has finally made it to the top, only to find that it is not what he thought. The “machine” refers to the corporation that he has signed with. “Machine” implies that this corporation is mechanical, working only for a specific purpose, most likely to make money. Machines cannot create art, they have no will of their own, and therefore will only suppress the young musician’s attempts at expression. Since the machine’s only goal is to make a profit, it will not support risk taking or originality, only what is popular and easy to listen to. It will not allow radical social commentary or unorthodox compositions for fear that it will be too difficult for listeners to digest, potentially harming sales. The machine does not support the artist, it only supports itself.

From Apple’s 1984 commercial

“You’ve been in the pipeline
Filling in time
Provided with toys and scouting for boys
You brought a guitar to punish your ma”

It is during childhood that virtues considered most valuable for life are instilled in us by our elders. Often, children are encouraged aim for reliable jobs with steady pay. Rather than to be adventurous risk takers, they must “fill in time” in “the pipeline” like every other responsible member of the working class. Not only this, but by using “Scouting For Boys” (a reference to the boy scout handbook), every child can learn how to be the ideal good little boy or girl. Fed up with having these ideals thrust upon him, the young musician decides to rebel against his parents who want him to be something other than himself. So, he “[brings] a guitar to punish [his] ma”, becoming the opposite of what his parents would like him to be. The musician’s occupation is not a steady one, it is full of risk with little chance of a significant financial reward. But it’s a great improvement from being someone he is not.

The machine determines who you are, which is like everyone else

“And you didn’t like school
And you know you’re nobody’s fool
So welcome to the machine”

School can also be a place of restricted freedoms. There are many teachers out there whose only goal is to fill their students’ heads, not let them fill themselves. But the young musician is “nobody’s fool”. Ironically, this makes him the perfect candidate for the role as the machine’s next icon. The young musician fits the role perfectly, he rebels against his parents, his school, and society, someone that will surely be a sensation amongst the youth.

The machine tells you which is right and which is wrong

“Welcome my son
Welcome to the machine
What did you dream?
It’s alright we told you what to dream”

The machine controls the media, which in turn controls the minds of the people. By creating iconic superstars that have no voice, the machine has the power to determine who the role models of the younger generation will be. Teenagers will be rebelling, but not because they see something wrong with society that can be fixed. They will be doing so simply because the machine has told them too.

“You dreamed of a big star
He played a mean guitar
He always ate in the Steak Bar
He loved to drive in his Jaguar
So welcome to the machine”

The young musician has done, he has become a “big star”, but he is not an artist. He is simply the figurehead of a massive fad. What once had meaning and purpose has been swallowed by the money-making machine. Rather than working towards a cause for the betterment of society, the young musician enjoys luxuries like “[eating] in the Steak Bar” and “driv[ing] his Jaguar”, the rewards reaped by the work of the machine.

welcome to the machine

Even things that appear to be free of the clutch of commercialism can be corrupted for money, because for many people it is the money that is important, not the artistry. It seems that everyday the music industry becomes more and more entangled within the machine’s web. The more music becomes about making money, the more we will see music that is simply about petty relationships, break-ups, make-ups, and partying that use the shock factors involving sex or even just bizarre gimmicks to briefly captivate the masses for a quick buck. If more people make music for money and fame rather than to try and make a stand, then artistry will slowly disintegrate, becoming a lost relic of the past. This ominous message of impending doom is a warning. Unless people stand up and think for ourselves, we will become nothing more than cogs in the machine.

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6 thoughts on “Welcome to the Machine – Pink Floyd

    • I’ve seen the Wall. In spite of some of the disturbing parts, I enjoyed it and thought that it very insightful in terms of looking inward on our society. Although, seeing schoolchildren wearing identical masks being put into a meat grinder wasn’t all that pleasant.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Excellently written! Loved reading this while jamming the song in my headphones. You pretty much nailed every little detail. Thanks so much for the time you spent putting this together. And now since Have a Cigar just started I must geek out even more about Floyd’s hate for the industry.

    Shine on

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you liked it! I’m constantly geeking out about Pink Floyd’s stance against industry and commercialism, but then again, I also just geek out about everything Pink Floyd anyways.

      Like

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