“Shine on you crazy diamond.”
Early Pink Floyd and later Pink Floyd are entirely different animals, partly because one of the animals had escaped from the zoo.
Some people prefer cats to dogs. I like both, but I prefer Syd’s cat to Pink Floyd’s later dog-like music.
Syd was not just a songwriter. He was also a painter. And he painted pictures with his music. There was a kind of magical mad genius to the early Pink Floyd stuff, a kind of charm that went missing later on. In more ways than one. The character who wrote the songs also went missing.
Today I’m going to write a bit about Syd’s condition. I’m no expert. It’s speculated that he had schizophrenia, Asperger’s Syndrome or another form of autism. His bandmates have given interviews about their old friend and I’ll be including some of their thoughts.
Roger Waters, his close friend, who was the main lyric writer for post-Barrett Pink Floyd, has always been fascinated with the idea of madness, and the theme crops up over and over in their records.
It’s there on Dark Side of the Moon (“The lunatic is in the hall”), it’s the major influence on their album Wish You Were Here, which was a tribute to Syd, and it turns up on both the album The Wall, and the motion picture of the same name.
As I said, I like the later Pink Floyd stuff, but compared to the first album, it feels like there’s something missing.
The energy, the sense of humour, the idiosyncratic character, the magic and the madness was all there at the beginning.
They say that genius walks the line between sanity and insanity. Many can walk that tightrope and keep their balance, but there are some who fall off. Syd was always trying to push the envelope, to invent something new. He didn’t obey the rules. Had his unique talent flowered more, who’s to say this he wouldn’t have been remembered like Bowie and Lennon?
The song I’ve chosen this week is Wined and Dined, firstly because it’s my favourite of the solo material, but also because I think it shows what Syd was capable of. It dates back to his Cambridge days, and it’s quite a simple song in many ways; a love song. But it still shows off his unique style; the chord progression isn’t what you’d expect. And the melody hints at a sophistication that he might have gravitated towards had things turned out differently; had another form of gravity not had its way with him. We’ll never know what might have been, or if there was even an alternative to the mental breakdown he experienced.
“He knew an awful lot about what not to play… He was not ashamed to keep it simple if neccessary. It was just the honesty of the unconscious. He didn’t bother to filter out thoughts… I know few other songwriters who do that, Dylan at his best, where you just keep the camera running in the mind, and you take everything in… But it was very natural, it was sort of mental verite if you like.” Robyn Hitchcock
I’ll let Syd paint the pictures for you. Some of them aren’t pretty, but they all contain the grain of truth. There’s a sense of humour there. Like Picasso, he’d learned to paint like a child. There’s madness, sadness, isolation, and there are a couple of portraits by his friends. There are fleeting glimpses of his genius that once flowered beautifully and then sank back into the earth.
It isn’t always the easiest music to listen to. What makes it difficult is that for me, towards the end of the Pink Floyd period, Syd was documenting his descent into mental illness. He was expressing himself, and the truth that came out of that was the mirror of his state of mind. The ending isn’t the happiest, but isn’t there a saying that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that counts…
I found a book called A Very Short Introduction to Schizophrenia in my local bookshop/cafe/bar J&J here in Madrid, and there’s a quote by an 18-year-old boy in 1967 that sums up the mental deterioration he was undergoing. The book claims that very few victims are able to describe their condition so clearly. It ties in with today’s Song of the Week, because in my opinion that’s exactly what Syd was doing (documenting his own deterioration) so I’m including it here.
“I am more and more losing contact with my environment and with myself. Instead of taking an interest in what goes on and caring about what happens with my illness, I am all the time losing my emotional contact with everything including myself. What remains is only an abstract knowledge of what goes on around me and of the internal happenings in myself…Even this illness which pierces to the centre of my whole life I can regard only objectively. But, on rare occasions, I am overwhelmed with the sudden realisation of the ghastly destruction that is caused by this creeping uncanny disease that I have fallen victim to…My despair sometimes floods over me. But after each outburst I become more indifferent, I lose myself more in the disease, I sink into an almost oblivious existence. My fate when I reflect on it is the most horrible one can conceive of. I cannot picture anything more frightful than for a well-endowed cultivated human being to live through his own gradual deterioration fully aware of it the whole time. But that is what is happening to me.”
Well, let’s start at the beginning…
“I’ve got a bike, you can ride it if you like.”
“Syd” was born as Roger Keith Barrett on the 6th of January 1946. to a middle class family at 60 Glisson Road in Cambridge. He was the third of five children. His father Arthur Max Barrett was a well-known pathologist and a member of the Cambridge Philharmonic Society. Both he and his wife Elizabeth encouraged the young Syd (or Roger as he was then known) to play music. He received a present of a ukulele at age 10, then a banjo at age 11, before getting a Hofner acoustic at age 14. A year later he bought his own electric guitar and built his own amplifier. His father died of cancer in December 1961 just before Barrett’s 16th birthday. Syd left the diary entry for the day blank.
He met Roger Waters as a 6-year-old; Roger was 8. Waters’ mother taught Syd in school. He met David Gilmour at age 16 in the Cambridge Technical College art department. Dave was a couple of months younger and Syd knew him as “Fred”.
The Beatles made a big impact on Syd during the winter of 1962 and early ´63. He turned to a fellow school friend (and later Pink Floyd album designer) Storm Thorgerson: “Storm, man, this is it!” and for a while would play their songs at parties and picnics.
He later became a fan of the Rolling Stones and after one performance got to chat with Mick Jagger at the bar. He started writing songs soon after, Effervescing Elephant was written at this time, later to turn up on his second solo album, Barrett. Around that time, he also started playing acoustic gigs with Gilmour. The animals theme would appear time and again in Syd’s work and in his art.
After seeing Bob Dylan play he wrote a song called Bob Dylan Blues and, thinking of his future, decided to apply for Camberwell College of Arts in London. The Beatles were due to perform in Cambridge, the same day he had to attend the interview, so he unfortunately had to miss the gig, but was accepted into the college and enrolled in the summer of 1964 to study painting.
He joined the band that would become Pink Floyd in 1964. They had various line-up and name changes, The Abdabs, The Screaming Abdabs, Sigma 6, The Meggadeaths to name a few. They were known as the Tea-Set at the time Barrett entered.
He came up with the name The Pink Floyd Sound (also The Pink Floyd Blues Band, and later The Pink Floyd) by juxtaposing the first names of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
He also named his two pet cats Pink and Floyd and claimed that the name Pink Floyd was transmitted to him by flying saucer while he was sitting on Glastonbury Tor.
They went into the studio for the first time after a friend of Richard Wright’s was given free band time. There they recorded Slim Harpo´s King Bee and three Barrett originals Double O Bo, Butterfly and Lucy Leave, the first and last still survive as vinyl acetates. You can hear the early rhythm & blues influence.
But Pink Floyd weren’t destined to become a rhythm and blues band. For one thing they weren’t as good at doing that type of thing as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and others, and in Richard Wright’s view, had it not been for psychedelia, they might not have made it.
It was around the time of those early demos, the summer of 1965, that Barrett moved to Earlham, and began an affair with Lindsay Corner. He took his first acid trip in the garden of his friend, David Gale, with Ian Moore and Storm Thorgerson. While under the influence of the drug, Syd placed an orange, a plum and a matchbox in a corner, while staring at the fruit, which for him symbolised Venus and Jupiter.
Thorgerson used this imagery by adding those items to the cover of Syd Barrett, a double album pairing of Syd’s two solo albums, which was released in 1974.
In 1965 Barrett left for St Tropez in France with some other Cambridge fiends, meeting up with Gilmour over there. They were both arrested for busking Beatles songs on the streets.
“No rules, no rules!”
After arriving back in London, the band began taking acid frequently. During one period of experimentation Barrett and his friend Paul Charrier ended up naked in a bath reciting “No rules, no rules!”
The band also became absorbed in Sant Mat, a Sikh sect. Storm Thorgerson and Syd went to a London hotel to meet the sect’s guru. The former was accepted in, but Barrett was considered to young to join. Thorgerson believed the event affected Syd deeply and upset him intensely. He began to write more songs while living in close quarters with his friends. The song Bike appeared around this time.
Pink Floyd were at the time covering American R&B songs, much like their contemporaries, but by 1966 they had gradually started to develop their own style of improvised rock that was influenced just as much by jazz as it was by British pop-rock.
Nick Mason said of the time, that “…it always felt to me that most of the ideas were emanating from Syd at the time.”
Barrett was now listening to The Mothers of Invention Freak Out, the Byrds Fifth Dimension, The Fugs, The Beatles Revolver and Love’s debut album, and the psychedelic influence began to crop up in songs he was writing for the group. Interstellar Overdrive was inspired by the riff in Love’s Little Red Book (which itself was a Burt Bacharach cover).
He was also reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, The I-Ching and Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan.
Syd wrote most of the material for the first album around this time, and also many tracks that would appear on his solo albums.
Pink Floyd became the house band for a new rock venue called The UFO, which quickly became a haven for psychedelic music, and Pink Floyd the most popular attraction of the so-called London Underground.
The group had now gained a reliable management team in Andrew King and Peter Jenner. They would together set up the management company Blackhill Enterprises to manage the band’s finances. Barrett’s flatmate Peter Wynne Wilson became road manager and lighting assistant. Jenner and King met and became friends with Joe Boyd, an American ex-pat and a producer, who was then the promoter of The UFO club and had started making a name for himself as an entrepreneur on the British music scene. Boyd was previously mentioned in Song of the Week 41.
King and Jenner wanted to prepare a demo for a possible record deal, so they recorded I Get Stoned (aka Stoned Alone), Let’s Roll Another One (which became Candy and the Currant Bun, Lucy Leave and a 15 minute version of Interstellar Overdrive.
Here’s Let’s Roll Another One.
“That was the first time I realised they were going to write all their own material, Syd just turned into a songwriter, it seemed like overnight.” King
Boyd, along with a newly hired booking agent, Bryan Morrison, proposed recording better quality material. The band continued to gain in popularity, especially after performing in front of a 15 foot tinfoil Buddha in Canterbury Technical College, which got them plenty of press attention and later playing their biggest venue to date in the Albert Hall at an Oxfam benefit.
Barret was dating Jenny Spires at this time, who unknown to him was having an affair with Peter Whitehead. Spires convinced Whitehead (who thought they sounded like bad Schoenberg*) to film Pink Floyd for a film about the swinging London scene.
*Sounding like good Schoenberg wouldn’t be a compliment either in my book.
They recorded a 16 minute version of Interstellar Overdrive and Nick’s Boogie. Whitehead filmed the recording and later commented that…
“They were just completely welded together, just like a jazz group.”
Boyd wanted to sign the band up to Polydor Records, but their booking agent Morrison convinced King and Jenner to try to start a bidding war between Polydor and EMI. Boyd produced a session at John Wood’s Sound Techniques in Chelsea, including Arnold Layne, Matilda Mother, Chapter 24 and Interstellar Overdrive.
The band signed up with EMI and tried to re-record Arnold Layne, but decided to release the Boyd version as a single. The contract was unusual, because it gave the band unlimited studio time for a smaller royalty percentage. This, along with their strong management team, gave Pink Floyd a lot more freedom to do what they wanted in the studio.
Arnold Layne was a success, eventually reaching number 20 in the British Charts, despite being banned by Radio London. It’s a song about a transvestite thief who would steal knickers from washing lines. Rogers said this of their choice of single:
“We knew we wanted to be rock’n’roll stars and we wanted to make singles, so it seemed the most suitable song to condense into 3 minutes without losing too much.”
As with most of Syd’s compositions, it was based on real life experience.
“Both my mother and Syd’s mother had students as lodgers because there was a girls’ college up the road so there were constantly great lines of bras and knickers on our washing lines and ‘Arnold’ or whoever he was, had bits off our washing lines.” Waters
“Doing the first album was incredibly exciting, because we were doing things very different to anyone else We were refusing to cooperate with what the record company wanted. And in that sense we had great managers, with Peter and Andy, cause they were on our side.” Richard Wright
Between February and July 1967 they recorded their first studio album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It was produced by Norman Smith, in studio 3 of Abbey Road, next-door to The Beatles who were recording Lovely Rita for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in studio 2. The title is a quote from The Wind in the Willows. I’ll return to the album later in the post, in particular the song Bike.
The next single See Emily Play did even better, peaking at number 6, and creating hype for their upcoming album which would become a smash hit. It was originally written for the event Games for May, a free concert in the South Bank’s Festival Hall, at which Pink Floyd performed. Syd played slide guitar with a plastic ruler on this track and drew the train on the single’s sleeve. There is little paperwork for the song, which was recorded at Sound Techniques in much longer form, and then edited down. It only stayed in the band’s set list for a few months, and last played in Blackpool in November 1967.
I’ve always loved See Emily Play. There’s an infectious enthusiasm to it. It’s unlike anything else from that time, or anything I’ve heard since. This was Syd expressing the way he was then, a sociable imaginative extroverted character who was in love with life, unpredictable, spontaneous, fascinated with childhood. The track seems to vibrate energy, and as we will come across again and again, it deals with childhood images. Incidentally, Bowie covered it on his Pin Ups album. Barrett originally stated it was a story about seeing a girl after waking up in the woods after an acid trip. He later claimed the story was made up for publicity.
The book A Saucerful of Secrets: A Pink Floyd Odyssey by Nicholas Schaffner claimed that the real Emily is Emily Young, the famous British sculptor, who was nicknamed “the psychedelic schoolgirl” at the UFO Club. She also lived with, and had a son with Simon Jeffes, the leader of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and produced various covers for the band, along with contributing backing vocals. I may do an instrumental Song of the Week on Simon and his cohort one day.
Pink Floyd were London’s underground group, so they were unconditionally loved in the capital, but after a time, they refused to play their hit single, See Emily Play, which didn’t go down so well outside of London. There are stories of beer bottles being thrown at the group as they played their extended psychedelic jams.
Being the frontman of the group, Syd was a pop star at the time, and attracted a lot of attention from fans. He enjoyed the experience tremendously at first, but after a while the stress of touring and making public appearances combined with copious LSD consumption began to take its toll.
Both Rick Wright and Nick Mason believe that Syd Barrett’s acid intake was the major cause of his breakdown. According to Rick, he changed fundamentally after one weekend. “He’d absolutely damaged himself beyond repair.” He went from being a warm, outgoing charming character to a lost, confused soul. He’d lost the sparkle in his eyes.
According to Rick, Syd was living with a community who believed in the Timothy Leary doctrine that you could become enlightened or “tuned in” with LSD.
Rick claims that people were spiking Syd’s tea with acid, and that he never would have intended to take so much of his own volition. Wright’s opinion is that Syd took a huge overdose of acid.
“We all have very coloured memories. My memory (and it may have been happening before) is that we were recording a Radio One Show and Syd didn’t turn up, I think it was a Friday and no one could find him. So we waited and waited… When they found Syd they (the management) told us, something’s happened to Syd, and something had happened to him, total difference!”
“He was gone, he was somewhere else. I believe that acid had a huge part to play with that.” Rick Wright
Syd was already pretty “out there” before that weekend as evidenced by his lyrics, and the acid definitely didn’t help, but for Wright up to that point “in terms of relating to other people, he was wonderful.” There is debate about whether he would have had the breakdown without acid, but for Wright it was either a terrible accident and/or people persuaded him to take too much.
The schizophrenic tendencies were already there, but according to Gilmour, the acid acted as a catalyst for the decline in his mental health.
“In my opinion, his nervous breakdown would have happened anyway. It was a deep-rooted thing. But I’ll say the psychedelic experience might well have acted as a catalyst. Still, I just don’t think he could deal with the vision of success and all the things that went with it.”
He became very difficult to work with in the band. He seemed to be coming in and out of his psychosis. There’s a famous story with the band playing a gig while Syd detuned his guitar. According to Rick Wright the audience loved it, while Rick and the rest of the band tried to play some “strange music” around the “horrible noises” Syd was making, and played “very weird music”, so it didn’t sound so bad. It became difficult to predict which Syd would turn up for shows. Some days were better than others, but he was progressively getting worse.
“He was no longer able to function in a rock and roll band, because he was no longer making contact with the reality of the situation.” Waters
The band at the time tried to come up with a solution to keep him on board, while at the same time entertaining the possibility of replacing him, as they had done temporarily during their American tour.
“Towards the end… I was suggesting to Peter and Andrew… Look, we can’t go on like this, he’s got to become Brian Wilson. The thought of losing the flow of songs was disastrous at that point, cause he was doing most of the writing. So we said, why doesn’t he just write songs and we’ll just do gigs.” Waters
After Dave Gilmour joined the band they would all work together and try to get songs out of Syd. They’d sit and try to jam with him.
“Have you got it yet?”
Syd brought in a new song to show to the band. It sounded quite straight forward at first, but as they tried to follow him, the song would constantly change making it impossible to “get it”. They kept trying to keep up, but he kept doing it slightly different each time they seemed to be getting the feel. Roger eventually realised what was happening and put down the guitar and said “I’ve got it.”
It was as if Syd was sending them up, and he was to an extent, but it’s not uncommon for psychiatric patients to display that kind of clever wit while not being able to relate in a meaningful way. It was a bit like the absurd Goon Show humour, and both those geniuses Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers flirted with madness in their careers.
But while those writers were largely channelling their psychosis for the creative process, Syd was at the mercy of his. It was becoming a permanent part of his makeup. He would make his little jokes and subvert what the others would say, but as time went by it was clear he wasn’t doing it deliberately anymore.
By this stage he wasn’t communicating on any meaningful level. He would say whatever came into his head in response to questions he was asked, and in Gilmour’s view, it always seemed like he was answering a slightly different question to the one he was asked.
This brings to mind the occasion when James Joyce brought his schizophrenic daughter Lucia to see Carl Jung and Jung’s famous quote was that they “were like two people going to the bottom of a river, one falling and the other diving.”
Syd’s old friend Gilmour had been approached by Nick Mason at one of their concerts, and was told in confidence that they were thinking about replacing Syd. For a while Syd and Dave would turn up together to rehearsals. They both came along to play gigs, and Dave would try to learn Syd’s parts.
The idea at first was for Syd to be the Brian Wilson stay at home type, but after about five concerts together, with Syd barely contributing and undergoing psychological trauma, it appeared it wasn’t going to work.
In the video posted at the end of this post one of his Cambridge friends makes a telling comment about this photo (including David Gimour, bottom left) of a Syd seemingly unaware that he’s being pushed out of the band.
“There’s a very striking picture that has five of them. He’s been thrust to the back. He’s like a face in the back… It’s very sad looking at that photo if you know the whole story, that yes, he’s being pushed to the back, until finally he isn’t there. But I don’t think he was aware of that happening, otherwise if you were normal you’d put up a struggle or a fight, saying I’m part of this band or I have a right, I’m a founder. He just let that happen. I think things had got that bad, so I can understand from the bands point of view…”
“We were fantastically busy as well…. To be honest we just sort of dropped him and it.”
The band would go around to each of the bandmates’ houses to collect each of the members until one day they decided to just not pick Syd up.
“On occasions he seemed quite happy. It’s very hard to tell. Communication with him was so difficult and everything you said to him seemed to be on one level, one plane of existence, and then his reply came back from a different plane of existence, and it’s very hard to know what he was thinking. He certainly didn’t show any upset at the thought of being pushed out.” Gilmour
There was an approach made to the psychiatrist R.D. Laing, who Waters referred to as “the drunk”. They played him a recording of Syd, and Laing declared him incurable.
“As soon as he’d left Pink Floyd or been ousted from Pink Floyd… he became surrounded by this sort of coterie of rather unpleasant hangers-on, as opposed to the friends he’d had previously. There were a lot of people who wanted to be imbued with the magic and the charisma that Syd had… and they thought that by providing him with more drugs of every type that they would become his friends.”
“The Madcap Laughs”
This album is probably Syd’s best solo work. By the time they’d got to the second album Barret, most of the best stuff had been recorded. There are glimpses of his genius on Madcap, but it was a rushed affair. Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour helped out with the recording in between playing shows and recording, so they didn’t have much time. Gilmour believed Syd was constantly on mandrax during the making of the album. Less so on the second album, but Syd’s psychosis had become more entrenched by then. It was clear there was no coming back.
Gilmour said of the process of making the album:
“We had so little time to do it, and half the days we had in the studio, we were doing other things, we had to shoot off at 5 in the afternoon and jump in a van and trundle up the M1. It was just trying to get anything down at all… it was a sort of desperation thing.”
“He wouldn’t do them the same twice… He’d do take one it’d be one version. Take two would be a different tempo, different time signature, the words would change, obviously making it impossible for one to rehearse with musicians and then perform it together.” Gilmour
For some, the messy heart-on-a-sleeve nature of the two solo albums is what makes them great. Robyn Hitchcock, the English songwriter counts Syd Barrett as his major influence. Here he is talking about what makes those albums so good.
“It wasn’t till Barrett that it just seemed so real. I know the official orthodoxy is that Barrett made this one brilliant album with (the) Pink Floyd and then never lived up to his potential and it’s been the subject of these great ‘what if’ debates… That really misses the point. If he hadn’t been him, he wouldn’t have been him. You only get the good cause it goes with the bad, and I think those two records, they’re ‘easy listening’, they’re not produced like Piper at the Gates of Dawn, where the production is as fantastic as the songs. What you’re getting with Piper is the sound, but Barrett and the Madcap record are both I think far more personal.”
I definitely find Madcap easier to listen to than Barrett, and I prefer it, but each to their own. Hitchcock compares Barrett to Lennon’s first solo album, Plastic Ono Band, which came during the Primal Scream Period, for its honesty and emotional force.
“The Madcap record is perhaps slightly goofy, there’s a lot of solo acoustic playing. It’s framed in such a way that you see he’s having a bit of trouble, but it’s perhaps a bit more like a nursery rhyme record, whereas I think Barrett is a very dark, it’s a very serious record. I find that really hard to listen to now, but it’s up there with the John Lennon Plastic Ono Band, utterly different feel, but the same kind of intensity.. Anyway that grabbed me, even though, officially, that’s the one people like the least.”
“We’re like two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl.”
The first song on The Madcap Laughs, Terrepin, contains the line: “Cause we’re the fishes and all we do, but move about is all we do.”
Roger knew Syd from his childhood and though he was older, he always looked up to him. They lived down the street from each other, house numbers 187 and 183.
“Walk with me Sydney”
Let’s get Roger’s take on Syd, with some of his quotes. I’m taking quotes from this interview and the others attached, have a listen if you want.
Roger’s first song in the band was thus titled. As he said
“Well he was always very bright eyed and bushy tailed, Syd, he had an enormous capacity for life. I thought his painting was great. He was painting quite a lot at the time. He was a very bubbly character, full of life and enthusiasm, but also I think he was quite innovative… his attachment to Kenneth Graham and Hillaire Belloc and all of those kind of influences was quite radical for then, because you didn’t expect those kind of literary middle class stuff to surface in rock and roll, and in the same way that later on his interest in Eastern Mysticism in general and the I Ching in particular which produced a song like Chapter 24. You know, to start playing around with those type of ideas was quite radical… He kind of soaked up musical ideas from other people. He was a great copycat Syd, in terms of music. He would listen to the more avant garde end of the American popular music at the time, early Doors… He was a star, a very attractive man.”
Roger doesn’t remember the other American music he was listening to, but as mentioned earlier he was listening to Love’s first album, The Byrds along with The 13th Floor Elevators, Donovan, Soft Machine and The Incredible String Band at the time. Richard Wright said that he was also a huge fan of Bo Diddley from early on.
According to Rick Wright, once Syd had started writing songs for the band (moving away from the rhythm and blues sound of Diddley and others) “it changed everything… We were all knocked out by what he was coming up with for the band… It was of course extremely fortunate that Syd joined the band.”
There was an almost child-like naivety to his early songs, that got him compared to John Lennon at the time. Lennon’s melodies often followed his turn of phrase, the way he spoke, as opposed to McCartney’s, where the lyrics were adapted to fit the melodies, which stood alone in their own right.
Piper at the Gates of Dawn showpieced Syd’s eloquent and eclectic writing style. Songs like Bike, Scarecrow and The Gnome had a nursery rhyme/fairy tale-like quality to them. The album has been described by Malcolm Dome as an album of a man “opening up his psychosis, opening up his psychology, opening up his disturbed yet quite brilliant mind.”
Syd had a conversational style to his lyrics similar to Lennon, but with a more erratic rhythm making the twists and turns difficult to predict. Here’s Roger Water’s take on it.
“They were always odd, and they became more bizarre as time when by, but if you take some of the songs off the first album. Bike is an extraordinary (song). There were lots of great songs on that first album in that particular style. Part of what was good was he allowed the music and rhythm to attach to each other in a way that was both poetic and musical.”
“I’ve got a bike. You can ride it if you like. It’s got a basket, a bell that rings and things to make it look good. I’d give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it.”
“There’s something about the way the lyric attaches to the meter in a very satisfying way, but then that gets “but I borrowed it” kind of kicks it off into… There’s something very English about that, about the completeness of that and yet, the fact that it’s so unpredictable… I think it’s the unpredictability of it combined with its simplicity that made it so special.”
“It’s very painterly…”
Have a listen to Bike:
“Now there’s a look in your eyes like black holes in the sky…”
“Won’t you miss me? wouldn’t you miss me at all?”
This is what I mean about Syd documenting his descent into mental illness. He was expressing what he was experiencing, which can be painful to listen to, but makes it almost unique. A lot of those songs around that period capture elements of that, but none as effectively as Dark Globe.
“For me… the gem in all of that (period) was Dark Globe… which seemed to me to be a direct continuation of the songs that he wrote when he was still in the band, but he was already schizophrenic and consequently was feeling this awful alienation from everything and everybody, and he wrote “it’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here and I’m obliged to you for making it clear that I’m not here.” On Jugband Blues And he also wrote Vegetable Man then as well.”
“And all the lot is what I got, It’s what I wear, it’s what you see, It must be me, it’s what I am, Vegetable man.”
Vegetable Man was never released by Pink Floyd. It’s Barrett describing the clothes he’s wearing and almost recognising that it’s him, like the old “are these my legs?”. The refrain seems to reference Frank Zappa’s: “Suzie Creamcheese where are you?” from the Mothers of Invention Freak Out album. You can have a listen here.
“I think he wrote it round at Jenner’s house. It was as if he was looking down on himself from somewhere else. There was a sort of detachment from… I guess his ego had got marooned twelve paces to the west of where Syd Roger actually was. I don’t know why that song is so disturbing. It’s very good, but I think the powers that be never wanted it released cause they see that as too literal a description of the state he was in.” Robyn Hitchcock
Pink Floyd tested out many of Barrett’s songs during the recording for Saucerful of Secrets, but all, but Jugband Blues were jettisoned. Some of those turned up on the first solo album, The Madcap Laughs, while others, like the creepy sounding Scream Thy Last Scream with its sped up backing vocals turned up years later. It was clear that using them all could have been career suicide as it would have been clear that the pilot of the Pink Floyd spaceship was now clearly not in his right mind.
Have a listen to Jugband Blues , the only Barrett song included on the second Pink Floyd Album, A Saucerful of Secrets.
The idea to keep Syd as the main songwriter became untenable after the Have You Got It Yet? session.
“I get chills just talking about it, and of course so do a lot of other people.” Rogers speaking about Dark Globe.
Dark Globe is an emotional rollercoaster and in many ways it would be a more apt choice, but I haven’t selected it for the song of the week, maybe because it does its job too well; I don’t enjoy it as much as the Pink Floyd period songs.
It expresses the pain and loneliness of what he was suffering, and the listener can’t but empathise with the plight of the troubled young singer.
As a piece of art, it’s raw and powerful. Despite the fact Dark Globe holds up a mirror to his state of mind at the time of writing, I have chosen Wined and Dined because for me it’s a lost gem that deserves to be heard. Although it was recorded later, it heralds from a time when Syd still held the reins to his creative powers. That is not to say one is a better song than another. Dark Globe is just for me a little too real, too close to the bone. As a friend of mine said yesterday: “It might be the saddest song in the world.”
I’ll let Roger talk some more about that one and one of those other people he mentioned.
“I went to see REM when they were a new band, because I’d heard something and I liked it and I went to the Hammersmith Odeon to check them out… I went backstage. They were very welcoming and rather kind of reverential, and we said hello, except for Michael Stipe who kind of sat in the corner, kind of refusing to speak and ignoring me… which is fine, it was his gig or their gig. I didn’t mind at all, but I sat and watched the show, and it was great, I really enjoyed it, and then at the end they went off, and he came back on and he sang Dark Globe a cappella, on his own, and I thought that was great. I don’t know if he was having a go at me or not, but I thought it was fantastic… it was very moving.”
Roger’s three biggest influences according to Rick Wright were “school, war and madness.” Those three themes show up again and again. He lost his father to the war, he lost Syd to madness, and he hated the coldness of the education system where he felt kids were treated like animals.
The movie The Wall is the one that ties all three together and contains several scenes that are based on Syd. Particularly one where the cigarettes burn down to the fingers.
Another one features Bob Geldoff shaving off all his hair and his eyebrows.
“Wish You Were Here”
Syd turned up during the sessions for the album Wish You Were Here, at the same time the band were recording the song Shine on You Crazy Diamond, which was written in tribute to him. The group didn’t recognise him at first. He was behind the studio glass while they were recording.
“I saw this guy sitting at the back of the studio… and I didn’t recognise him. I said, ‘Who’s that guy behind you?’ ‘That’s Syd’. And I just cracked up, I couldn’t believe it… he had shaven all his hair off… I mean, his eyebrows, everything… he was jumping up and down brushing his teeth, it was awful… Roger was in tears, I think I was; we were both in tears. It was very shocking… seven years of no contact and then to walk in while we’re actually doing that particular track. I don’t know – coincidence, karma, fate, who knows? But it was very, very, very powerful.” Rick Wright
Roger saw him again once in Harrods. Syd apparently dropped the brown paper bag of sweets he was carrying and ran out of the store. Syd used to live on sweets towards the end, as he did as a kid.
Roger didn’t contact his friend after that as he knew it would upset him. He still kept in touch with the family, as did Gilmour, and they both made sure Syd received all his royalties and did their best to make sure he was looked after.
Wish You Were Here was the follow-up to the enormously successful Dark Side of the Moon, an album about Madness. The title track and Shine on You Crazy Diamond are about Syd.
“It describes how I experienced his disintegration and it describes the great desire I had then and still have now, and the passion I have, to celebrate him and his talent and his humanity and to express the love I have for him.”
Roger’s describes having a short-lived nervous breakdown in the canteen, while the band were making the album Wish You Were Here in Abbey Road, after splitting up with his first wife, where he thought he was going mad.
“I was sitting at a table downstairs having something to eat in a bad way, and suddenly everything telescoped… everything went down the other end of the telescope… it was phhhhhewwww.. all the people, everything, and I thought… Fuck me! I’m going mad. This is what it must be like. Suddenly reality has changed completely, and I remember I got up from the table and walked out of the room and walked up the stairs and went into number 3 where we were all working, and sat down at the piano and started playing the piano and over a period of about five minutes I suppose, it came back, reality came back to me and my hands came back to the right size… but I remember thinking Good God, you know, this is a fine line I’m walking here, because something happened in my brain here, that frightened me.”
It sounds to me like he might have been having a telescoping migraine.
“When I think about Syd I at least think that… we are lucky and we have to live every life as fully and completely as we can in the light of the fact that it can go any minute, just like that… The moment is precious; I mean it sounds stupid to say, it’s so obvious, and yet it’s so easy not to live the moments of our lives, just to go through motions, to get into a routine, and not actually be aware of the fact that, (intake of breath) you know, life is good.”
Something Waters learned from Barrett was to say “this is how I feel, now, in a few words, however laughable it may seem.”
“And all the lot it’s what I’ve got… it’s what you see, it’s what I am…”
According to Roger, Syd was a huge Beatles fan.
“In a way, it was the new English tradition from the early 60’s, from the Beatles really…It feels as if Lennon and McCartney almost single-handedly wrenched the power of the pen from Tin Pan Alley and brought it home to the lads, or to the real feelings, so that suddenly we were given permission, because of their enormous success, to write from our own experience, and to no longer be subjugated to the world of the publishing company, but just say, no this is how I feel, I paint what I see.”
After Syd’s death at age 60, in July 2006, some of those he inspired spoke about his influence.
Pink Floyd’s tribute “The band are naturally very upset and sad to learn of Syd Barrett’s death. Syd was the guiding light of the early band line-up and leaves a legacy which continues to inspire.”
And here’s their musical tribute in full:
David Bowie had this to say:
“I can’t tell you how sad I feel. Syd was a major inspiration for me. The few times I saw him perform … during the Sixties will forever be etched in my mind. He was so charismatic and such a startlingly original songwriter. His impact on my thinking was enormous. A major regret is that I never got to know him.”
Peter Jenner, Pink Floyd’s manager:
“The pressures which hit him were the pressures from going from just being another guy on the block to being the spokesman of your generation. Especially during the psychedelic thing, there was a lot of heavy messiah-ism going around. People would come up and ask him the meaning of life — that put a young person who’d just written a song and played a bit of guitar under enormous pressure.”
And here is a lovely little video (that hasn’t been seen very often, only 70 views) of friends from Cambridge talking about Syd. It gives you an idea of the kind of person he was before moving to London. There are also lots of other great interviews with band members on the same youtube channel SydBarretOpel.
And a taste of what might have been, Wined and Dined…
Although Syd stopped playing music after the release of his second album Barrett, he did keep painting and although he would sometimes paint over canvasses or destroy them after completion, you can see much of his work here.
And in a change from usual practice, here are Roger Waters’ lyrics from his tribute to Syd, Shine on You Crazy Diamond:
Remember when you were young
You shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there’s a look in your eyes
Like black holes in the sky.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
You were caught on the crossfire
Of childhood and stardom
Blown on the steel breeze.
Come on you target for faraway laughter
Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr and shine.
You reached for the secret too soon,
You cried for the moon.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Threatened by shadows at night,
And exposed in the light.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Well you wore out your welcome
With random precision,
Rode on the steel breeze.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions,
Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine.