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Saturday, July 15, 2006

In Memoriam: Syd Barrett (1946 - 2006)

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Born Roger Keith Barrett, January 6, 1946, Cambridge, England.

Image from The Syd Barrett Archives"Syd" Barrett, as he was more popularly know, passed away last Friday, July 7th, due to complications from diabetes, which he had been suffering from for a long time. This post is a tribute, of sorts, to this founding member of Pink Floyd - one of classic rock's more prominent outfits. It's a little odd for Walski to think of Pink Floyd as 'Classic' Rock, but they definitely have prominent place in rock's history, particularly in the 60's psychedelic movement.

It's been a week since his death. Walski first got to know about it earlier this week, a few days after his death, from the BBC News website, and this was immediately posted, just before the short hiatus.

Much has already been written about Barrett over the years, and there are a number of fan sites that maintain a rich archive of photos, interviews and even music snippets from one of rock's misunderstood geniuses. It's not the intention of this post to rehash what's been written about his entire career in detail - rather, Walski will point out some of the highlights and point you to where you can find out more, in hopes that the interested reader can continue reading up on this one rock music icon.

Among the more noteworthy sites where one can learn more about Syd Barrett include:
The Syd Barrett Archives - vast collection of photos, articles, discography and even an online copy of "Making the Madcap Laughs", a documentary account of the making of Barrett's seminal album.
Dolly Rocker, The Syd Barrett Homepage - a section within a Pink Floyd fan website, dedicated to Barrett. Like the archives, you'll find a repository of pictures and article.
Syd Barrett - an Italian fan's tribute site to Barrett. Not as comprehensive as the other two above, however.
► and of course, there's always the ubiquitous Wikipedia, which has a section (with song snippets) on Syd Barret, and Pink Floyd.

Piper At The Gates of Dawn (Image from Wikipedia)
While most Malaysians probably only know Pink Floyd from their most famously overplayed song, "Another Brick in the Wall", a Malaysian cover band staple, the group has a much longer and colorful history. Pink Floyd was formed around 1965, comprising Syd Barrett (lead guitar), Nick Mason (drums), Roger Waters (bass guitar), and Richard Wright (originally wind instrument, switching to keyboards). There was a fifth member, Bob Klose (guitar), who left the band soon before Pink Floyd started recording.

The line-up of four were a mainstay for the next three years or so. As the the band's popularity grew, so did the stresses of playing on the road, which took its toll on Barrett, aggrevated by the excessive use of psychedelics (notably LSD). It is believed, however, that Barrett also was suffering from schizophrenia, and that the intake of psychedelics just made it worse. This is somewhat contrary to the popularly held view that it was entirely the psychedelics that destroyed Syd Barrett.

David Gilmour (guitar) joined in 1968, and when Barrett's behavior really started to get out of hand, took over the duties of guitar work and vocals. Syd Barrett officially left Pink Floyd in April 1968. His bandmates, however, made sure that Barrett received all royalties due, presumably up till his demise last Friday.

Image from WikipediaAnd then, there were 5 - (left-to-right) Nick Mason, Syd Barrett,
David Gilmour (seated), Roger Waters, and Richard Wright

(more of Syd Barrett tribute in the full post)

Image taken from WikipediaUpon leaving Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett had a brief solo career, and released two albums, The Madcap Laughs (1970) and Barrett (also in 1970), before withdrawing altogether from music soon after. A collection of unreleased materials and outtakes was later released as Opel in 1988.

In addition to his musical genius, Syd Barrett was also an artist, and has a number of paintings credited to him. The Syd Barrett Archive has posted 14 of these in the Art section of the site. This is a facet of Barrett's life that is rarely highlighted when the career of this misunderstood genius is discussed, although even before the music phase of his life, painting was the artistic medium of choice. Barrett went back to this later in his life, producing large, abstract canvases.

Image from The Syd Barrett ArchivesDark Globes - from The Syd Barrett Archives

The lyrics of Barrett, filled with child-like rhymes and fantasies, can probably be attributed to the earlier part of his childhood, before his father's sudden death. Syd Barrett is said to have been very traumatized by his father's passing - the deep-seated effects of which, some speculate, contributed to his breakdown later in life, just as success was looming over the horizon for Pink Floyd.

Image from The Syd Barrett ArchivesTowards the end of his life, Barrett (who dropped the Syd and went back to being Roger) was reported to have lived a pretty normal life, quietly and non-descript, in Cambridge. Although sought after by fans and the music press, Syd Barrett refused the limelight he had left over two decades ago. A planned film about his life (reportedly to star Johnny Depp as the tragic artist), has been shelved indefinitely, due to objections by Barrett himself. It's not immediately known, however, whether the project will be revived, now that Syd's gone.

And so, peacefully, Roger "Syd" Barrett left this mortal coil last Friday, July 7. His death has come as a big surprise to Walski, and has left Walski a little dumbstruck. Syd Barrett evokes many cherished memories of college and the wonderful friends those times were shared with. Walski wishes all y'all were here now. **Sigh**

Syd Barrett has been acknowledged by many artists as an influence in their own work, including Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, R.E.M., Robert Smith (of The Cure), and Robyn Hitchcock, to name just a few. Robyn Hitchcock's music, incidentally, almost takes Barrett's music to a new neo-psychedelic level - the footprints of Syd are very obvious in Hitchcock's own music.

One other very notable artist that's a fan, and who also cites Barrett as an influence, is David Bowie, who made the following statement on his website:

"I can't tell you how sad I feel. Syd was a major inspiration for me. The few times I saw him perform in London at UFO and the Marquee clubs during the sixties will forever be etched in my mind. He was so charismatic and such a startlingly original songwriter.

Also, along with Anthony Newley, he was the first guy I'd heard to sing pop or rock with a British accent. His impact on my thinking was enormous. A major regret is that I never got to know him. A diamond indeed.
David Bowie - July 11, 2006

And so it would seem - that the world of music has lost yet another genius. But in reality, rock lost the genius of Syd Barrett many years ago. Despite his short presence in the music world, however, the genius, legacy, and quintessentially English delivery of his vocals lingers on in the minds of contemporaries, and continues to inspire latter-day musicians.

This enigmatic figure lives on in the memories of those who admire his music and lyrics, in the memories of his former band mates, and in the minds to the countless musicians he's whose inspirations he's touched.

For Walski, Syd Barrett's memory will live on for many, many more years to come - as long as there is even one person left standing on this planet that remembers Pink Floyd's "Shine on you crazy diamond" (Wish You Were Here, 1975) - a tribute to a tragic genius, ensnared by the shiny success of music, but somehow trapped, deep within his own mind. Rest in peace, Syd. Your light will continue to blaze, even if the diamond's gone.

Sources for this post include: Wikipedia, The Syd Barrett Archives, and BBC News