It doesn’t seem to be making much news this side of the pond, but Syd Barrett, the legendary founder of Pink Floyd, died a few days ago from complications arising from diabetes. The news was just announced today for some reason though. He was only 60. He spent his last years living off the royalties from Floyd’s first album, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” gardening and creating art, some of which will hopefully see the light of day somewhere down the road.
That whole era of the late ’60s sure had its casualties, didn’t it? So many brilliant musicians and artists either completely immobilized or killed by drugs. Barrett, of course, suffered from severe mental illness (some say as a result of his near-daily LSD usage, but it could very well be that he was also trying to medicate himself — who knows). At the same time as the Beach Boys’ “Smile,” the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” and the Moody Blues’, “Days of Future Passed” were being recorded, Syd was in the studio with Pink Floyd putting together “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” By the time he left the band (after only one album), his stamp on his ‘mates had been made — sonic soundscapes, tape loops and other audio effects appeared on every Pink Floyd album that followed, to say nothing of the number of songs and album titles that were written about him or paid tribute to him.
There has to be some sense of guilt on the part of Gilmour, Waters, Mason & Wright over going on to such success after making the decision to leave Syd behind I’m sure, even though the former band leader spent the rest of his life living off royalties from “Piper,” and apparently wasn’t hurting for money. Must be strange. Not that they really had a choice, of course. By the time Syd was kicked out, he was staring into space at gigs or not showing up for recording sessions, so in a way you could say he quit.
Most of my favorite bands seem to have fan bases of a few thousand people worldwide. Pink Floyd is one of the few exceptions, and continues to be one of my favorite bands of all time. I especially find myself listening to the Barrett-era stuff when I’m knee-deep in deadlines, and I need to zone away from lyrics and more toward soundscapes so as not to become distracted from my work. Each time this happens I inevitably “re-discover” the band, and their CDs end up back in my car for a month or more, much to the chagrin of my wife and stepson, who are not really fans. Or perhaps they are fans, but consider most of the catalog to be “overplayed,” probably thanks to rides in my car. My stepson did recently admit to me that “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” the Roger Waters tune that blasts Mary Whitehouse (another UK staple), is one song he actually doesn’t mind in my car’s CD rotation. Rock on.
As you can probably tell, I really don’t know what to say about Syd’s death. I guess it kind of just shocked me, even though I suppose these announcements always come some day. I just hope that he does get his due credit in the history of music books as time goes on. We’ll miss you, Syd.