Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd in 1968. He hasn't made a sound since 1970. Yet he is one of the most spoken-of legends in rock. A genious? A madman? A wreck from drugs? Barrett the mystery hovers over rock in general, especially Pink Floyd, like a giant albatross. Shadows flicker over the old photograps of this young boy who never came down to earth again. The face is bleak and worried. The eyes black, glowing. Daemons ravage within. Syd Barrett is still today, 25 years after he left Pink Floyd, an enigma, a mystery.
What happened to him? Why did he disintegrate so rapidly?
It is the story of an uneasy mind, a personality on the grey zone which toppled over when the intake of narcotic substances increased. One can say that drug abuse has two sides. The smiley side gave The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper". The dark side is called Syd Barrett.
Syd Barrett was Pink Floyd. He wrote their first hit singles. He made their entire [sic!] debut LP, "Piper at the Gates of Dawn". His guitar, His voice, his insane ideas that changed between near-infantile songs and grand, over-steered maraton runs into the unknown. He made Pink Floyd a disturbing experience.
Then he just disappeared. Or rather, his mind disappeared. The band was forced to kick him early in 1968. By then he was impossible to cooperate with. Unpredictable, careless, not at all there. If he even showed up to a gig, the band might risk that he just sat there, staring blankly into the darkness. Like a wax doll in a Vincent Price movie.
Syd Barrett made two solo albums. Both were released in 1970. Both give you the same unpleasant feeling of being locked up together with a lunatic. The songs are scetchy, whimsical, at times both off-key and atonal. His voice strains and twists over a whipping, naked accompaniment of acoustic guitar ("The Madcap Laughs") and an unusually friendly, yet anonymous accompaniment of drums, bass, organ and electric guitar ("Barrett"). The lyrics are surrealistic, related to nightmares and hallucinations. But with an underlying soreness which is at the same time beautiful and painful.
After this Barrett lost his remaining connections to reality. He made sporadical attempts to do more in the studio, but never managed to complete a single idea.
Since then, the myth has grown. Not without a helping hand from Pink Floyd, who has the same attitude towards Barrett as an exorcist towards a daemon. "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" (from Wish You Were Here"), for instance, is dedicated to Barrett alone.
Today, as far as I know, Barrett lives with his mother. Nobody knows what goes on in his head.
Barrett only remained functional for a limited number of years. But what he committed to vinyl has had a tremendous impact on everything that has come since. From David Bowie to Nirvana.
If you are interested, you should get the first Pink Floyd LP, "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" and keep an eye open for any CD with the tracks "Arnold Layne", "See Emily Play" and "Apples and Oranges".
If you are left wanting more, you can put a few notes aside and aim for the box set "Crazy Diamond", just released by EMI. It includes the two aforementioned solo albums "The Madcap Laughs" and "Barrett". And it also contains "Opel" (released 1988), which is a collection made up of scetches, demo recordings and alternative versions, everything from the sessions for "The Madcap Laughs" and "Barrett". The three CD's have been extended with a total of 19 bonus tracks. But these are only yet more variations over the same songs, a kind of "Opel Vol. 2".
The box is, in other words, too concerned about details. The bonus
tracks are of interest for die-hard Barrett fans only. Still, this is
a soundtrack to a mind in disintegration. Scary, magical, powerful and
terribly sad. A kind of Edgar Allen Poe short story from reality.