“Which one of you is Pink?” Word spread quickly today about the death of British Rock music’s greatest recluse, Pink Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett. By any stretch of the imagination an innovative and genre-bending musical genius, Syd started the band and was its guitarist, vocalist, and lyricist from 1965 until his departure in early 1968. Before his behaviour got increasingly erratic due to his fragile mental state and the large amounts of LSD he reportedly consumed, the band released two immortal psychedelic-pop singles, “See Emily Play” and “Arnold Layne”, and their first clasic LP, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” Who doesn’t remember getting lit and listening to the trippy brilliance of “Astronomy Domine” or “Interstellar Overdrive” on a pair of headphones?
And then sudenly he was out of the band, and David Gilmour was in. Rumors flew–I recall the one where the final straw was supposedly during a gig where Syd just kept playing the same note over and over again while staring into space. Was he institutionalized or not? He flipped out and went to live as a shut-in with his mom, taking up residence in her boarded up basement and spent his time gardening (apparently these last two facts were true). I believe he was even silent after Pink Floyd’s classic tribute to him (“Wish You Were Here”) was released in 1975, with the signature song about their “departed” friend and ex-bandmate, “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” But basically this tortured artist and fragile and brilliant star lived the last 35 years of his life as far out of the limelight as possible.
Syd Barrett did release two solo albums, “The Madcap Laughs” and “Barrett,” both in 1970, and made with the assistance of some of his former bandmates. Both are folky, weird, and wonderful and well worth seeking out. He has had a profound influence on the music and lives of artists from David Bowie and Robyn Hitchcock to REM and the whole California Underground Paisley Pop movement, and I’m sure countless others. The musical course he set out on more than 40 (!) years ago certainly affected my listening habits through the years, and I can only thank him for his artistry.
Rest in peace Roger Keith (“Syd”) Barrett (1946 – 2006).