Syd Barrett

July 12th, 2006 by

I am a big fan so I was sad to hear of ‘s .

Preceding , ‘s music career and life perhaps provide the template for the stereotypical rock star: A brief moment of blazing musical brilliance followed by a descent into madness:

VH1 Legends: Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd, Part 1 (from at ):

VH1 Legends: Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd, Part 2 (from at ):

Though Barrett’s life was certainly sad, his death would have been harder to take had he not long since ceased producing music. His , though, is profound. He’s been compared to the French poet and the comparison seems apt for both the artistic genius and personal destructiveness parallels. Barrett defined the early Pink Floyd sound and, as a psychedelic music pioneer, the entire genre.

The two singles that put Floyd on the musical map were (banned from radio play in England because it was about a transvestite) and .

Pink Floyd – Arnold Layne Video (from at ):

Pink Floyd – See Emily Play Video (from at ):

The band’s first album, , was almost entirely written by Barrett.

As you can see, some of the vids are mashups but I tried to pick the most clever ones I could find. I couldn’t find Matilda Mother, Pow R. Toc H., or Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk at YouTube, so if you know where I can find them, let me know and I’ll add the songs to the playlist. Otherwise, it’s complete:

I am also a huge fan of both of Barrett’s solo albums, the rather exploitatively titled and the following, eponymous , and even the posthumous . While there are many brilliant musical moments on these recordings (such as songs like Golden Hair, , and ), they are almost the musical equivalent of for the glimpse they provide into the artist’s psychosis.

(Listen to streams of Barrett’s solo songs at and of the .)

In high school, I remember being both amused and delighted that the soundtrack for an abnormal psychology film we had to watch largely consisted of early Floyd.

After Barrett was kicked out of the band, and thus without a songwriter, the remaining members had to look within to replace his talent. Though the band’s sound would change with and emerging as creative forces, Syd’s influence on his mates would remain strong as the theme of insanity would begin to permeate their work.

There are several direct references to Barrett in post-Barrett Floyd. On their 1973 smash hit album , the song contains the lyric "If the band you’re in starts playing different tunes/I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon," a direct reference to Barrett’s on-stage behavior.

Brain Damage Video (from at ):

Brain Damage Studio Session Video (from at at ):

During the recording of for their 1975 release, , Barrett appeared in the studio, obese, bald (with even his eyebrows shaved off), and so unrecognizable that once it dawned on the band members who it was, it shocked them and reduced them to tears.

David Gilmour Performing Acoustic Shine On You Crazy Diamond/Terrapin (from at ):

David Gilmour Performing Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Part 2 (from at ):

Shine on You Crazy Diamond, of course, is entirely about Syd Barrett. The S, Y, and D from the title spell out his first name. The Diamond in the title may refer to ‘ song , which is about , and which, again, could be a circular reference to Barrett’s own drug use.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond Lyrics:

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!

In the title song of the album, the person they , of course, is Syd.

Reunited Pink Floyd Performs Wish You Were Here at Live 8 (from at ):

The and the subsequent movie of contain very strong insanity themes.  In the movie, just prior to the song , Pink shaves his chest hair and eyebrows, an obvious allusion to Barrett. This is the following scene in the movie, for the song Nobody Home, where Pink emerges after shaving his eyebrows (from at ):

After leaving Pink Floyd, Barrett spent the remainder of his life at his mother’s home in Cambridge, where he painted, tended to his garden, and was occasionally pestered by stalking journalists and fans (from at ):

Barrett’s music inspired such influential musicians as , , , , and . Other musicians and bands that have covered or been influenced by his work include , , , , , ‘s , , , , , ‘s , and .

For my money, though, there is no contemporary musician whose music is more clearly influenced by Barrett than .  My favorite Hitchock album is the 1989 release . You can hear Barrett influence on that album’s song, (from at ):

Rest in peace, Syd.

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