A revolutionary, a mage, a visionary, and a loony are some of the many labels Syd Barrett has been entitled to, throughout his miserably distorted life. A gifted artist, Syd enrolled into the Camberwell College of London to study painting in 1964. It was during this period that he was introduced to the psychedelic drug, LSD, which ended up playing a major hand in his slumping sanity in the future. With major influences from ‘The Beatles’, ‘The Rolling Stones’ and Bob Dylan, he began songwriting during this time with his newly formed band, whose name would soon be finalized to ‘The Pink Floyd’ (later ‘Pink Floyd’). Having an impeccably unique style of noisey guitar playing and an unmatchable talent of songwriting, he wrote most of the songs for the band’s first album, ‘The Pipers at the Gates of Dawn’, which charted at no. 6 in the UK Charts in 1967. Syd’s involvement with drugs, particularly LSD, increased in gargantuan proportions during this time and it definitely took a toll on the band’s operations and as well as on Barrett. Once a cheerful and charismatic person, he was now socially secluded and highly depressed. He was often speculated to have been a schizophrenic, and his condition is believed to have been catalyzed due to the heavy use of LSD.
A strange set of stories are centred on Barrett during this time, based mainly on his erratic behavior and changed personality. In the book, ‘Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey’, it is stated “For June Bolan (Barrett’s friend), the alarm bells began to sound only when Syd kept his girlfriend under lock and key for three days, occasionally shoving a ration of biscuits under the door”. Another friend, Storm Thorgerson was quoted saying “On one occasion, I had to pull him off Lindsay (Barrett’s girlfriend at the time) because he was beating her over the head with a mandolin”. Two of his roommates at the time were strong believers in the psychedelic movement and believed that all the answers of ‘God’ lie within LSD. Unbeknownst to Barrett, his morning tea was spiked with LSD everyday by them with an intention of keeping him on a never-ending trip. He was later rescued by David Gilmour and another friend from his college days, and was moved into another apartment.
Barrett’s condition worsened in 1968. He experienced extreme mood swings, stuttering speech, irregular hallucinations, and often went through catatonic phases. It is also reported that Syd would often have memory lapses, failing to recognize his friends from the past and sometimes even forget the place he was in, at that particular time. He would often be absent from the band’s live shows, and even if he did bother to show up, he would fool around by strumming a single chord during the whole show. As reported by BBC, Barrett continued with his foolery during a set at ‘The Fillmore’, where he slowly detuned his guitar during the performance of “Interstellar Overdrive” leaving the band embarrassed and perplexed in front of thousands of people. Failing to cope with this obnoxious behavior, the band members voted Barrett out of the band replacing him with their long time friend, David Gilmour.
After being shunned from the band, Barrett disappeared from the public eye for a whole year and then returned with a bunch of new songs as well as some old ones, which he had written during his time at Camberwell College including “Bob Dylan Blues”. But misery never left Barrett’s soul, and due to an irregular solo career and rare live performances, he quit the music industry for good in 1978, selling all his music rights to EMI Records and signed a contract releasing him of any association with Pink Floyd. He, however, ended up being the inspiration behind Pink Floyd’s famed classic “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”.
He continued on with his miserable lifestyle, living in a hotel in London, staying indoors for most of the time, painting and doing drugs. He finally withdrew from this period of solitude a year later and literally walked about 50 miles to his mother’s home in Cambridge.
Syd Barrett was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 along with other members of Pink Floyd. He continued to receive royalties for his work with Pink Floyd until his death in 2006. Despite the miserable and tumultuous life that Syd Barrett witnessed, his compositions continue to be one of the most versatile, experimental and mystifying gems in the history of psychedelic blues music.
About the Author:
17 Years Old. Currently pursuing BA Honours in the Economics Department, PU. A Movie buff, a Beatles/Nirvana fan, love to play the guitar and write songs.