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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Syd Barrett: Gone but Not Forgotten

Syd in his Swinging London Prime

It's a sad day in rock today. Syd Barrett, the founder of Pink Floyd has passed away. The front man who penned most of the excellent debut Pink Floyd album: "Pipers at the Gates of Dawn", and Jugband Blues on "Saucerful of Secrets," built a legacy for himself. More notable than his Pink Floyd work were his classic solo albums the strong, "The Madcap Laughs," the pretty strong "Barrett," and the mediocre outakes album, "Opel."

Pink Floyd changed radically after Syd's departure in 1968 although some of his influence still could be heard on some songs which include: Careful with that Ax Eugene, One of these Days, Free Four, Cirrus Minor, Green is the Colour, Cymbaline, Corporal Clegg, A Saucerful of Secrets, Atom Heart Mother, Summer of '68, Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast, and Echoes.

Many of the weird sound effects and guitar tricks heard in Pink Floyd songs were also invented by Syd and used a bit by his friend and replacement David Gilmour. Syd was a genius at the guitar as well as a solid song writer and lyricist. Most of his lyrics had a sort of sing-songy feel to them reminiscent of nursery rhymes.

Many fans and music critics have reached the conclusion that Syd's lyrics reflected a man who was trapped by the ghosts of his childhood and was incapable of becoming an adult. Clearly his addiction to LSD was the reason for his dismal from the band and triggered some permanent psychological damage. Stories of his mental state and escapades were legendary far exceeding those of fellow madcap Brian Wilson.

After the release of Barrett, Syd disappeared completely from the music scene. It came at no surprise since it was hard enough for him to even record the songs. Recording sessions were organized based on Syd's shifting moods. Members from Pink Floyd and the Soft Machine were brought in to help record the album. Sadly sometimes they had to overdub his guitar parts because Syd's timing was so off.
In the late 70s, Barrett developed diabetes and suffered problems with his eye sight. These restrictions caused the recluse to develop a fancy for riding his bike at breakneck speeds through the streets of Cambridge. He kept to himself for the most part and continued on with his painting (He studied as an artist prior to fame.). The guitar laid in the corner for the most part collecting dust.

Some close friends and family members say that Syd did not talk much about Pink Floyd or his prior fame. He also did not realize how big of an impact he had on popular music. It is almost like his drug use clouded the memories of his Pink Floyd days.

Syd sporting a shaved head with matching shaved eyebrows, did stop to visit his old friends when they were recording the "Wish you Were Here" album. Oddly enough, the album is somewhat a tribute to him and those that never escaped the wild early days.

Although his solo work was not popular during it's release, it has become quite influential today. Many artist owe a lot to Syd Barrett and his style especially the Indie rockers Pavement, the Strokes, and Weezer. The start stop timing, odd time signatures, sing songy lyrics sung lazily were patented Syd.

I highly recommend "The Madcap Laughs" as well as "Pipers at the Gates of Dawn." These two albums reflect many of various Syd styles as well as documenting his fall from greatness. Towards the end of The Madcap Laughs you can hear how much Syd struggled to keep it together. I chose to print the lyrics to Baby Lemonade off his last album Barrett. I think the mournful tone sets the correct mood. Long live Syd!

Baby Lemonade

In the sad town
cold iron hands clap
the party of clowns outside
rain falls in grey far away
please, please, Baby Lemonade

In the evening sun going down
when the earth streams in, in the morning
send a cage through the post
make your name like a ghost
please, please, Baby Lemonade

I'm screaming, I met you this way
you're nice to me like ice
in the clock they sent through a washing machine
come around, make it soon, so alone...
please, please, Baby Lemonade

In the sad town
cold iron hands clap
the party of clowns outside
rain falls in grey far away
please, please, Baby Lemonade

In the evening sun going down
when the earth streams in, in the morning
send a cage through the post
make your name like a ghost
please, please, Baby Lemonade






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2 Comments:

Blogger Tom G said...

Nice Post!!!

I agree that Syd's solo work is amazing, though definitely not for the masses. It's funny to think that most people who think Pink Floyd is a psychedelic band are referring to Dark Side or The Wall. Pipers is so much more psychedelic as are the less popular albums. When I went through my psychedelic music it kept all coming back to Pipers. Probably why I enjoyed music at the fringes of pyschedelic better since it was used as an influence more than a knockoff.

7/11/2006 01:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Syd Barret agnostic. I think Piper at the Gates of Dawn is OK. I love the intensity of the beginning of Astronomy Domine, and the (to paraphrase Mike K) 'sing song' silliness of 'Bike'. But I think what we really love about Syd is not so much his music as the mystique surrounding him. He is the embidement of the "cool-ass-60s" that we only see in ghostly faded images, often devoid of color.

IMHO, his music is OK - often interesting, rarely brilliant. He isn't the genius innovator most make him to be.

I don't think we really love Syd so much as are fascinated by him.

Especially those of us who were born after he left Floyd. I don't think we would love Pipers (and I love Pipers) as much as we do, or his solo efforts, if he wasn't the mysterious, romantic, tragic hero, 'acid casuality' of the 60s that we all see him as.

If he had never went insane instead say, left Floyd over creative differences in, say, 1976, I doubt we'd find those same early songs of his as interesting.

7/15/2006 12:23:00 AM  

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