Syd Barrett, founding member of Pink Floyd, who even gave the band their name, died the other day at the age of 60. He was their lead singer, guitar player, and primary songwriter, writing the early singles Arnold Layne and See Emily Play as well as the entire first album, the highly influential psychedelic masterpiece, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Right when the Floyd stood at the door of world wide success, Syd became so erratic from LSD abuse and general insanity, both of which were probably heightening the effects of the other, that the band was left with no choice but to kick him out of the band. He made two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, which remain cult classics despite the fact that they were reportedly like pulling teeth to make given his condition at the time and full of cracking vocals and other apparent mishaps. Part of the reason these solo records have maintained cult status has to do with the mystique of Syd, being an acid casualty, but the records are laced with flashes of brilliance. He had a natural ability to write songs that could be incredibly simple yet at the same time highly complex with bazaar vocal melody patterns that only he could think of, and only he could pull off effectively. Much of the subject matter during his all too brief Pink Floyd tenure dealt with scarecrows, gnomes, and other far out fairy tales, but on his solo efforts there are tender moments that sometimes seem to hint at his struggles with mental illness, whether he was conscious of these references or not.
An old friend of mine, who knew I was a long time fan of Syd’s, called this morning before I left for work to tell me the news of his death and my heart sunk. I decided to listen to all the stuff of his I have on my ipod on the bike ride to and from work. I discovered Interstellar Overdrive is the perfect song to accompany you if you ever find yourself late for work, pedaling your ass through a torrential downpour along Lake Michigan.
The sad tale of Syd Barrett’s rise to stardom and his eventual descent into madness fascinates me. It also fascinated Roger Waters, who wrote numerous songs about him. I have an expensive Syd Barrett original portrait hanging in my home, which was a gift some years ago. I have just about everything he has ever recorded, including the box set, Crazy Diamond. I have poured through just about everything ever written about him, because there is something about a promising rock star and gifted painter suddenly thrown into the lime light, pressured to write hits, and unsuccessfully trying to hold his sanity together that makes me sad. While other tragic rock heroes died at the end of their tale, Syd’s end left him insane, but until recently, alive! The simple fact you could listen to his music and think, ‘I wonder what the poor guy is doing right now’, is part of what fascinated me about him in comparison to other fallen rockers. I wasn’t alone here. Up until his death Syd would get numerous visits from fans who would usually be turned away by his family members because talk of the rock and roll period of his life upsets him. See, I just got sad typing that . . .
This turned into a much longer entry than I intended, but I did feel a need to do justice to him. I encourage you all to further do him justice by checking out some of his music or reading one of the most compelling rock and roll books ever: Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey, which is full of tales of Syd despite the fact that he was in the band so briefly. Again, the author of the book, and anyone else for that matter, whether they are interested in rock or not, can’t help but be fascinated by the tragic life of Syd Barrett. I hope that if there is an after life Syd, or Roger, which he would more likely be called in an after life, is painting ideas he has conjured up in a completely clear, calm, sane mind, because he deserves that.