A lot of this essentially repeats some of the same words I posted on a frequented music board, but I wanted to share a few stories involving Syd Barrett as news of his passing came today.
First, I suppose, there’s the introduction to this crazy diamond. The first Pink Floyd album I ever owned was “Atom Heart Mother,” a post-Syd release. Nonetheless, the music on this admitted Floydian also-ran led me to “Dark Side Of The Moon.” And then “The Wall.” And then to “Wish You Were Here.” And then to “Animals.” And then to the cassette collection of a high-school girl who had increased her Floyd collection exponentially to the point where it included the very first Pink Floyd album, “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.”
Since I didn’t have this release, it became a logical decision to ask the girl to borrow it. “It’s not like the other Floyd albums.” She advised. And she was right.
“Piper” is on an entirely different planet, and it was obvious that the leader of this version of Floyd was the primary spaceship captain. I read more about this founder, and how the band undertook a new direction when it was quite clear that the initial frontman was completely incapable of fronting the band. The idea that this instability was caused by hallucinogens became very intriguing; here was rock’s first acid casualty. And like a lot of people, I found humor in that story.
I swear I passed “Piper” around to a few people, and it seemed that others became attracted by the sound and the story of Syd. I went to the local Disc Jockey and asked the full-timer if they had either one of the two Barrett solo albums I’d read he released after leaving Floyd. “What’s the deal with Syd Barrett all of a sudden?” He asked. “You’re the third person to ask about him this week.” I special ordered “The Madcap Laughs” from him and the Rodger Waters/Ron Geesin soundtrack album “Music From ‘The Body.’”
I must have found something there, because suddenly the Album Oriented Rock version of Pink Floyd started to seem a tad contrite. The declaration of “We don’t need no education” gave way to “Oh where are you now/Pussy willow that smiled on this leaf?”
The latter painted something much more visual than anything starring the lead singer of The Boomtown Rats.
The Disc Jockey dude invited me over to take a listen to his Syd Barrett bootlegs. He wouldn’t allow his collection to be taken from his home, and strangely, he hadn’t invested in a tape player. But he did allow me to bring my cassette deck over if I wanted to copy these rare “artyfacts.” Regardless of the extremely low-fidelity, I now had versions of Syd Barrett radio broadcasts which sounded like they were recorded directly off of an A.M. radio.
And so it was announced that a collection of Barrett outtakes would be released. I picked up “Opel” as an import copy before it was officially released in America. This is telling as this decision was based entirely on the number of import “Opel” units sold domestically. Capitol records figured out that there was a devoted cult following of Syd Barrett fans in the states.
Upon first listen, the “Opel” collection sounded suspiciously like the bottom of the Barrett barrel. A few hits of l.s.d. demonstrated that “Opel’s” subtlety was beautifully misleading. The fact that most of the tracks are presented in a primitive state assists with this. They are a basic blueprint of something that could have been something glorious.
The more I learned, the more I understood that Syd Barrett’s demise was much more complex than just a guy who took too much acid. Sure, the claims of a crazy, balding fat guy showing up during the “Wish You Were Here” sessions fueled the mystique. As did the Disc Jockey guy’s information that a fanzine called “Terrapin” was comprised entirely of Barrett sightings. As did the rumors that he now lived a life of seclusion with his mother.
The more I learned, the more I sought out things that were “Barrett-esque.” Without him, there wouldn’t have been the discovery of Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope, Skip Spence, Jeff Mangum, and others who tread the fine line of losing touch with their mind. Shine on, Syd. You shone like the sun and provided some light for me to see a different side of music.