Roger "Syd" Barrett. 6 Jan 1946–7 July 2006
In 2006 a very special artist with an amazing story passed away.
The amazing story is that he left this world nearly 30 years before he died.
Roger "Syd" Barrett is one of the most incredible artists of all time, maybe even the most incredible in the music world. It's extremely difficult after all these years to separate the myth from the fact and the fact is MOST of what you've heard or believe about Syd is myth.
Syd Barrett was only in the band that made him famous, his band, for two years. He joined a stodgy blues covers band at the age of 19 and changed everything. He changed their name, to Pink Floyd. He wrote a bunch of original and utterly unique songs that took them to the top of the pop charts, signed to EMI, one of the biggest labels in the world and bought Psych to his heroes, who within months were trying, unsuccessfully to emulate his genius. At the height of his career with this band, after recording just one album of which he wrote eight of the twelve songs and co-wrote three more, he was kicked out of HIS band in one of the most unsympathetic and insensitive ways anyone has ever been kicked out of a band. He was not picked up for a show, and told three months later. This was the utterly unique creative genius behind the band ......... Not picked up for a show.
Myth would have you believe that Syd was stark raving barking foaming at the mouth crazy by this stage and the rest of the band found him not only impossible to work with, but he was no longer creative or interested in creating anymore. This would of course be true except for the fact that Syd wrote some of his best songs during this six months and both video and audio material from this time shows Syd as a man on top of his game. Pink Floyd had played over 130 shows in 1967 and in December, when he was supposedly at his most unreliable and uninterested, they recorded two Peel Sessions, both of which show a front man on fire both vocally and on guitar. Syd was dismissed January 1968.
While its true Syd had lost interest in music as it was known is no understatement. You see, he was not ........ Normal. The myth is that Syd is the archetypal and ultimate "acid casualty" that took too much LSD and flipped out for the rest of his life. In reality Syd was a visual artist who just happened to be a genius with words and music. He came to both of them from a completely different angle from anyone before, or since. Things didn't gel for Syd as a musician or songwriter until lights were introduced into the equation, and then everything came together. Syd was, after all, a visual artist.
To say Syd was one of the most unique guitarists ever is to sell him short.
His playing is absolutely incredible. He follows absolutely no preexisting rules for rhythm, progressions or style. No-one else before, or since plays guitar like Syd Barrett, or indeed could.
Syd wrote two more solo albums after "leaving" his band mostly at the insistence of friends and fans, like the man who had replaced him in the band. His old friend David Gilmour. It's the only redeeming feature any of his old band mates ever did in regards to Syds post Floyd life, and Gilmour did in fact spend the rest of his life "looking out" for Syd while actually never making contact with him again. None of his other old band mates, who had been friends since school ever spoke to Syd again.
While his first solo album is absolutely solid and amazing, his second was patchy and less inspired, although still had moments of absolute unmatched genius. Gilmour is mostly responsible for getting an ever increasingly uninspired Syd into the studio to get these songs on tape. Gilmour managed against all odds to patch together a reasonably coherent album by patching takes together and adding a "band", mostly played by himself, to fill out the not quite baked ideas.
At the age of 24, Syd walked away from music, forever. This, is one of the most amazing parts of an amazing man. Having become totally and utterly apathetic and disenfranchised with the "music industry" as, rightly so, a selfish and shallow business that promotes and supports mediocrity and money over genuine artistic prowess and ability. The truly amazing part of this is that Syd literally just walked away from it, completely, entirely ....... For the rest of his life. He NEVER spoke of, defended or involved himself in his past career again.
Sure, Syd wasn't completely sane. His short few years of drug abuse had sparked a chemical reaction that was always present and changed his brain forever. He also drank and smoked heavily for the rest of his life, but, he always believed art was for the here and now. As a painter and drawer he would create and then just give away or destroy his artwork. It was the process and the experience (for both artist and participant) that was important to him, not the praise or lasting fame that came with it. He had quickly grown tired of playing the same song, the same way night after night after night. This, was his lack of enthusiasm for the machine that was the music industry.
To me, this is an amazing thing to behold and believe. While the rest of his contemporaries were beginning to rehash and recycle old rock n roll, Syd was truly trying to push music into a genuine art form where change and progress are not only "normal", but expected. Fine artists don't paint the same painting they did 50 years ago, not good ones anyway. Film makers don't make the same films they made 50 years ago, why would musicians keep writing and playing the same song ? While bands like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles were starting to conservatively play old rock n roll by '68 , Syd was already disheartened by it all. By the time the decade closed the Stones had become an embarrassing group of coked up middle class white boys playing sloppy caricatures of old standards. At least the Beatles had the decency to bow out, even if it was three years too late.
The difference is the Rolling Stones (and many others) still, fifty years later still play these trite versions of sloppy blues and call it art, or even music. Syd never spoiled his legacy. He never went out there and became a sad old version of himself playing old songs from his golden period. He wrote three albums of absolute unique, unequaled genius and then walked away, maybe satisfied, maybe complete but absolutely with his integrity as a true artist intact.
The rest of Syds life wasn't all fun and games. He went back home (literally) and lived a fairly "normal" life for someone with mental issues, drug induced psychosis and alcoholism. He never understood why people came to his house asking for autographs or photos. He'd left that life in the early seventies and was no longer part of it. The myth that he was a barking mad recluse is also just a myth. Syd, or Roger as he was again now rode his bike or went for walks most days. He would go to the shops for paint supplies and garden in his yard regularly. He continued to paint at a rate until days before he died. That, after all was his first love anyway. Experts have said that had he kept up his studies at art college, which he dropped out of to form Pink Floyd, he had the talent to be known as one of the great British artists.
As far as I'm concerned, he is one of the greatest British artists. His entire musical career, while only lasting 4 years and ending before his 24th birthday has influenced more music than any of us are aware of, and ever will be.