Friday, May 06, 2005

Syd Barrett: Careening Through Life

What exactly is an "Umma"? Well, it's 'the brotherhood of prophets' and Syd Barrett is one of them, one of the umma. And he was just mad enough to be holy. Anyone who has read my synopses already know who Syd was. Without him, there would have been no Pink Floyd, and that wouldn't be a really good thing, especially for me. Also for the author of the article called "Syd Barrett: Careening through life..." written by Kris DiLorenzo, for the Trouser Press in February 1978, in pages 26-32. Kris wouldn't be able to write an article about Pink Floyd, if Syd would have not been here. His purpose on writing this article is to talk about Syd Barrett's life and also to offer different perspectives and different points of view of people who were close to him.

There are many stories about Barrett. Everyone who has been close to him express the same conclusion, they saw Barrett "as a unique talent and an erratic mind on the edge of a different type of existence," as well as a man who indelibly affected those who came in contact with him. Barrett dominated the Pink Floyd during their first years, writing most of their material, singing lead vocals and playing lead guitar. Until he left the band (or the band left him) how the author puts it; for reasons of mental health, and in 1970 with the aid of his replacement in the Floyd, David Gilmour, recorded two solo albums: The Madcap Laughs and Barrett.

By the time these two albums were recorded, Syd's songs clearly revealed raw spots in his psyche amid the poetically jumbled voodoo of his writing. His madness wasn't quite a sudden explosion, it was a gradual one, the clues which he articulated in his music long before his behavior signalled distress. Syd's songs contained warnings from the beginning, he dealt with instability and the primal need for comfort via authority's fairytales, the desire for control of a situation and the outsider, observer role.

Since the first singles he wrote for the group, what Syd created in sound and imagery was brand new. At that time when the Pink Floyd started, America hadn't even heard about Hendrixian feedback and distortion as part of a guiatr's capabilities. The author says that Barrett's music was as experimental as anyone could get without crossing over entirely into freeform jazz; there simply were no other bands extending boundaries of rock beyond the basic 4/4 sex-and-love themes.

Kris talks about Barrett's uniqueness. He says that his rhythms were unpredictable. His playing was variously described by critics as "clumsy and anarchic," "adventurous and distinctive," "idiosyncratic," "revolutionary" or "brilliant and painful." Barrett's guitar work maintained a psychedelic, dramatic ambience of incongrous contrasts, violent changes and inspired psychosis. His work with Pink Floyd still ranks as some of the most expressive, sensational playing recorded by a rock guitarist. He utilized fairytale technique, surrealistic juxtaposition of psychedelic detail and plain fact, childhood experience and adult confusion. Certainly psychedelia asserted its influence on his writing, there are descriptions and percertions one can attribute only to drugs or hallucinatory schizophrenia, but others are strictly the products of his unaffected imagination.

There's a quote from David Gilmour that says: "Syd was one of the great rock and roll tragedies. He was one of the most talented people and could have given a fantastic amount. He really could write songs and if he had stayed right, could have beaten Ray Davis at his own game." The author comments about how difficult it was at first for Pink Floyd to carry on without him, since the public and music business obviously thought Syd was all the band had. Even Syd, remarked that the band wasn't progressing, and in a real sense this was true; but only at first.

The point of view Barrett used in his songs, an alternation of second and third persons, still predominated Pink Floyd compositions after he left. They employed his same techniques. Whole walls of sound rocket from one side of the room to the other, the guitar careens in and out different speakers, submerged speech and incidental sounds chatter beneath instrumentals; their use of sound as an emotional tool; everything is absolutely Barrettonian.

But Pink Floyd wouldn't make it even if Syd would've stayed. The autor says that he became nearly impossible to follow musically as he reached for more abstract constructs, constantly re-phrasing, shifting and re-writing as he performed, expressing a compulsive need for uniqueness without considering logic. Kris sites that when Syd was 23 was already internationally famous, but at the same time he began the rollercoaster ride to become completely forgotten. The group said that onstage he often found inconceivable to play, standing among the amps with his back to the audience, staring at his guitar as if he'd never seen one before. He always wanted to achieve something indefinable each time he set out to play, but being afraid that it would not come out perfectly perfect, brilliant and innovative, he would just become paralysed. Other times he would simply disappear from the show, and a substitude would have to be called in.

Barrett's musical ideas were metamorphosing too, as he became more withdrawn personally, his songs tended to deal only with internal reality and became more obscure. He was becoming more of a conceptual artist than a musician, and eventually broke the barrier between form and content, and genius and insanity, by becoming what he had sung about. It became impossible for the Floyd to perform with his spells of onstage paralysis and offstage freakouts.

But there were a lot more episodes where the band couldn't record because Syd would go to the studio and do nothing, like he would do onstage. He would either not play or he'd hit his guitar and just turn it out of tone, or do nothing. Then the ultimate decision came down if they were going to survive as a band, Syd would have to go. Jerry Shirley, the drummer on Barrett's albums; said that when Dave joined the band, Syd was always weird about him. That was his band, the Floyd. Sometimes he would stand in front of the stage looking up at Dave and say: "That's my band." He would watch Dave play because Dave had got his chords down better than him.

Mick Rock, a friend of Syd, remebers one of Syd's flats as a "burn-out place, the biggest hovel, the biggest shit-heap; total acid-shell, the craziest flat in the world." One of his girfriends named Lindsey Korner says that it was in the flat where the "chronic schizophrenia" set in. She also says that it wasn't the drugs particularly that set Syd off, she insisted; from the time she first met him, Korner considered him one of the sweetest, most together people, even though Syd's previous girlfriend says he was off the wall a little even then.

Another friend of him named Duggie Fields affirms that he used to be speechless at the number of people who would invade their flat, and how they would behave towards anyone who was in the band; especially girls, they would literally throw themselves at Syd, because he was the most attractive of them all. Fields recalls that there were visitors who idolized him and wanting to get his attention, they would constantly bring pills to Barrett, they knew that if they gave drugs to him, he would be friendly. Eventually he couldn't deal with them, and he got rid of them, because he did have a very violent side.

The author was told by Jerry Shields that after so many years without seeing Syd, one time he met him at some reunion. Shield didn't recognize him, Syd had to weight close to 200 punds and had no hair on his head. All his friends are less optimistic about the possibility of Barrett recording again. By 1978, Syd didn't have any involvement with anything or anybody. He lived in a hotel in London, nobody visited him. He didn't want to be bothered. Bryan Morrison, the former Pink Floyd manager, said that he used to just sit there in his hotel room, watching television all day and getting fat.

That's how the magnificent Syd Barrett ended, alone by himself, as a recluse in his hotel room. Was his permanent insanity made by post-Floyd depression? This is one of the questions the author throws to all his readers. "Anyone ever caught in the equally real dread of the confusion can sympathize with Barrett. Someone who's almost grokked the universe and then lost the definition on the tip of their tongue knows waht is like to be a crazy diamond." "Barrett's no acid freak. Shine on, Syd"


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