My name is Mike. I live in Lancsater County. I used to live in Hawaii. i like Burritos, Guitars and Stuff.
The very essence of a shooting star, is that it burns very brightly, and it’s beauty lives for a very short time. We’ve seen shooting stars in our culture, cut down too soon, names like Hendrix, James Dean, JFK, Marilyn Monroe could arguably be among the most quintessential. I am hard pressed to find a more tragic example of a shooting star than the story of Syd Barrett.
The mere mention of Pink Floyd’s legacy inevitably points toward the vision of Roger Waters, who led the group with an iron hand for most of it’s existence, and arguably throughout it’s heyday. Dark Side Of The Moon remains a cornerstone of modern music, having a run on the Billboard album chart for 741 weeks, (Over 14 years), The Wall remains a masterpiece of the bands canon, so much so that a film adaptation has been created, A star studded concert was performed at the site of the former Berlin Wall, and Roger Waters continues to perform the album in it’s entirety today.
It was not always Roger Waters' vision that guided Pink Floyd. I would argue that Roger’s vision would never have come into view without that of Syd Barrett who’s vision piloted the Floyd through it’s early days playing clubs in London, and into it’s early recording career.
Syd’s guitar playing was innovative, but not in the sense that he was following in the steps that contemporaries like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix were playing. His genius lay not in the ability to play a complex series of notes, but in knowing where to put a run of simple notes, allowing the listener the illusion of complexity.
To listen to Pink Floyd’s first album Piper At The Gates Of Dawn for the first time today, you would have to forget everything that you know about Pink Floyd’s music. It’s hard for me to get my head around the fact that with the exception of Syd’s departure, and the addition of David Gilmour, Pink Floyd stayed largely intact until the early 1980’s.
Syd’s flameout occurred in 1968 during the recording of their second album Saucerful Of Secrets. The effects of Syd’s involvement in hallucinogenic drugs, and battling depression yielded erratic musical involvement in the band, and strange behavior often making Barrett more of a liability to the band than a visionary. The United States did not get much of an experience to see Syd Perform. There were mini tours on our shores, however Pink Floyd’s mainstream popularity was little more than a dot on the horizon. The success of Pink Floyd’s later catalog sent Floyd fans looking back, to learn the history of Floyd.
The pieces were all in place. Commercial momentum was building for Pink Floyd, and Syd could not meet the demands of what it brought. They added a fifth member David Gilmour on guitar to cover for whatever Syd couldn’t play. But by the time Saucerful Of Secrets came out, Pink Floyd were a quartet once again, having come to terms that Syd’s reign was over.
In hopes of continuing a vital recording career for Syd, Syd returned to the studio as a solo artist, releasing The Madcap Laughs in 1969, produced by Roger Waters. This album was Syd at his most eclectic and manic. Quirky, impish songs like “Love You” and “Here I go” were a beautiful contrast to the infatuated “Terrapin”. The signs of his inner torture very visible and exposed in Dark Globe, lamenting “Wouldn’t you miss me at all”?
The following year, Syd went back into the studio with his now-replacement David Gilmour to record it’s follow up simply titled Barrett. Syd’s manic modus operandi continued on this album, his songwriting and musical delivery a little more concise with songs like Baby Lemonade, Dominoes and Gigolo Aunt.
That would be the last time we’d hear from Syd.
He remained a recluse for most of his life, until his death in 2006.
In 1975 he happened to wander into Abbey Road Studios in London where Pink Floyd were working on the Wish You Were Here album, where his influence if not his own presence had already been felt before he paid them a visit. Syd’s contribution to Floyd’s direction had not been lost on the band, especially now that the band were bonafide superstars. Much of the follow up to Floyd’s most successful album was inspired, if not even dedicated to him. Shine On You Crazy Diamond is practically a monument to Barrett.
A look back at Syd’s work is like him, manic. Interstellar Overdrive is almost 9 minutes of psychedelic mayhem, complete with a section in the song where he gliss-picks the same note over and over for about a minute. But he also crafted perfect pop songs. See Emily Play is a 2 and a half minute masterpiece. This song should have been a huge hit on American radio.
Music fans spent the remainder of Syd’s life waiting for him to return, as if a band were to reunite. But Syd never came back, nor did Syd ever get back together. But he remains loved, and endeared for his charisma and vision that without it, would have likely deprived us of Pink Floyd entirely, leaving a great void in modern music.
Today would have been Syd Barrett’s 67th birthday.
Happy Birthday Syd.
Here is Syd at his best, Pink Floyd's 1967 debut, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn