Syd Barrett remembered (1946-2006)

Last summer marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Roger (Syd) Barrett the original heart and soul of the mega-band “Pink Floyd”. Syd was the lead singer and principle songwriter, credited with naming the band in the mid-60s.

I mention Syd for a reason, yet to come.

First, a brief background history: Syd’s brilliance flashed across the sky for only about 3 years, beginning at the band’s inception around 1965 and pretty much ending around 1968. The band’s seminal album: “Piper at the gates of dawn” was recorded in 1967 and put them on the map in the UK. His instrumental “Interstellar Overdrive” (10 minutes long) marked the Brit interpretation of psychedelia. Of the eleven songs on “Piper”, Syd wrote eight and co-wrote two.

During the latter part of 1967 into ’68, Syd’s behavior became increasingly erratic, blamed on his use of LSD, which at the time was pervasive in the youth culture. His ability to perform on stage progressively deteriorated and in late 1968, his school friend David Gilmour gently replaced him in the band.

After leaving Floyd, Syd tried his luck at several solo projects but none went anywhere. By 1972, Syd’s functionality had degenerated to the point where he ensconced himself in a small flat in Cambridge and rarely emerged except to get the mail. Royalties continued to come his way and he remained essentially in custodial care until his death on July 7, 2006 at the age of 60 years. Cause of death said to be pancreatic cancer.

There has been much speculation about Syd’s state of mind over his few productive years. Much has been made of his fondness for LSD as a precursor and catalyst for psychosis. His sister Rosemary Breen said that his mental abilities and inconsistencies were consistent with Asperger’s Syndrome. In fact, many who have studied him feel that he had classic delayed adolescent schizophrenia and his deterioration was an incurable self-fulfilling prophesy.

I have seen several schizophrenics through the years. They are usually highly intelligent and creative in their young years and they flash brightly but quickly across the sky. Their deterioration is progressive, sometimes lasting into their late 20s. One I knew deteriorated in her last year of medical school. It’s right out of that film a while back “A Beautiful Mind” (2001). The signs and symptoms actually started much earlier but were as ascribed to the eccentricity of genius.
photo-oneAt any rate, my point, and I do have one is for you to now peruse this photo. Syd in his glory days, early 20s.

Now, much is made of Architectural feminine beauty, in the range of Victoria’s Secret models. A face that launched a thousand ships (a mini-Helen, of course, would launch one ship). The media is plastered with it selling everything from bug spray to diapers. But, alternatively, Syd was a drop-dead beautiful young man. Look at that face. A face that would generate madness in an alternate universe.
Then, sadly, peruse this photo to see Syd in his late 50s shortly before his death. Rode hard and put away wet for too long. What a strange and terrible transformation that quietly awaits most of us. Unfair that we must eventually suffer the ravages of time and age. Almost an incentive to get in as much as possible for as long as possible before we go gently into that good night.


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