11 July 2006
It was announced today that Syd Barrett died on Friday. Barrett was the founder and original creative force behind Pink Floyd. The first Floyd LP 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' is as fine an album as you could hope for: Barrett wrote songs with child-like wonder and the Floyd dressed them up in the best psychedelia the sixties could muster. By the time the second album came around, Barrett wasn't in the band any more and only contributed one track, Jugband Blues.
Under the command of Roger Waters first and then David Gilmour much later, Pink Floyd went on to be massively successful, while Barrett more or less disappeared. Three patchy Barrett solo albums were released, but they failed to consistently capture the magic of his earlier work. Barrett effectively retired to paint and hasn't had any involvement with the music industry or the rest of Pink Floyd for decades.
So why is Barrett still remembered today, about forty years on from his creative peak? Why are there misplaced rumours about him playing concerts in America? Why did journalists who should know better keep stalking him at home, year after year? Why are even his poorly sung out-takes deemed worthy of commercial release? Why was there such emotion in the Albert Hall when the remaining friendly Floyds burst into Barrett's song Arnold Layne at David Gilmour's recent gig?
Perhaps it's because Barrett became a legend: the genius crushed by the music industry and driven by drugs into an early mental breakdown. Perhaps it's because of the way he's haunted Pink Floyd's later work, including most obviously 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond'. In the obits I've read, the legend casts a long shadow over the work.
I'd like to think, though, that there are enough other people out there tonight playing songs like Chapter 24, Matilda Mother, Lucifer Sam, Interstellar Overdrive and Astronomy Domine and revelling in their timeless beauty. We've been missing Syd for a long time, but we'll always have his songs to remember him by.
Syd Barrett: a painter, piper and prisoner. Goodbye.