Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Almost-rock legend Syd Barrett has departed...

As I type this, I'm playing Pink Floyd's first album, "The Piper At The Gates of Dawn", which features many of Syd Barrett's songs. By the second album, "A Saucerful of Secrets", he was a drug casualty; only one of his songs is on that second album. By that time, guitarist David Gilmour had been brought in to replace Barrett, who sometimes was so stoned he couldn't play his guitar onstage; Gilmour would stand behind him, playing Barrett's guitar parts. I am no Barrett expert; by the time a lot of people had even heard of Pink Floyd, he was long gone from the band. So many didn't get a chance to hear him, me included. Did Barrett's dismissal cause him mental problems, or did his mental/drug problems cause his dismissal? Was he a genius as some claim, or was his mind so chemically warped, that he came off as a genius because he was so unusually medically affected? Which, in a larger sense, makes one question, 'What Is Genius'? John Lennon once said, "Genius is Pain". Maybe so.

What caused Syd Barrett to hear music the way he did? His music isn't rock, it's not folk, it's not really much of anything, although it is interesting. His songs feature fragmented lyrical images, off-kilter time changes, and in the case of "Interstellar Overdrive", the long instrumental he wrote with the rest of the group, after a while it ceases to be music; it's "something" but I'm not sure what. There are traces of hard rock, vaudeville, folk and psychedelia in his lyrical offerings, and as you can imagine, it's a really warped picture indeed. Did Barrett hear "strange things" in his head? Did the drugs cause him to hear "strange things"? Was he "original", was he "something new", or did his fragmented state of mind cause him to appear that way?

According to Nicholas Schaffner, author of "A Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Story", Several years after Barrett was dismissed by Pink Floyd, a strange-looking, frumpled chubby guy all of a sudden appeared at the studios where the group was recording "Wish You Were Here". He nosed around the studio for a while, then left. No one recognized him, until, finally, Pink Floyd's bassist Roger Waters recognized him as Syd! All along, Syd had been receiving royalty checks for the songs he did with the band, and he lived in his mothers' house until he died of complications from diabetes at age 60. It seems some people come through the drug thing relatively intact; on others, the drugs have a devastating effect. And that most certainly happened in Syd's case. He became a virtual recluse, and hid from interviewers and other publicity seekers. A strange case indeed.

Also according to Mr. Schaffner's book, in later years, Barrett didn't want to be known as Syd anymore; he went by Roger, his given name. Did Syd/Roger think he had gone too far, and was he embarrassed and ashamed of that? Did he realize the enormity of his mysterious image and did all he could to hide from the human race? Or did the drugs do lasting damage to his brain? Or a combination of "all of the above"? It's easy to tell that he was a sensitive person from his wide-eyed, almost delicate songs; perhaps after the ups and downs of drug-induced experiences, and the pressures that go with fame, he just mentally collapsed. Who knows? All I know is, I'm glad I never took drugs; I hear strange musical things in my head SOBER! I never needed chemicals to enjoy "I Am The Walrus" or "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" (one of the first post-Barrett Pink Floyd songs).

Some people, it seems, are just more "delicate", more "vulnerable", more likely to succumb to the mental devastation that pressure, or drug usage, or addictions, or anything else may bring. In a way, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", the Pink Floyd song written for Syd, refers to him in a loving, caring way, at the same time acknowledging that Barrett was a living casualty. Whatever the case, it's amazing, the notoriety, and to a point, the influence Syd Barrett has had, considering that his time in the limelight was painfully short and his output relatively meager. Barrett's ghost was always with Pink Floyd, though. His situation was addressed, to a point, in "Dark Side of the Moon"; more specifically in "Wish You Were Here", and there are portions of "The Wall" that 'could be' Barrett-inspired. One of rock's more mysterious sagas, for sure.

Syd Barrett shining brightly in 1967, and later on in life when the star ceased to shine.

Personally speaking, sometimes I've felt like a 'crazy diamond'. I've definitely been "blahhhhh" lately. Yes, I'm slowing down this blog thing a bit. The world can live without me writing every day. Oh well, maybe I'll just wait 'till things inspire me, instead of 'forcing things', which I have an alarming tendency to do.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home