Beyond the Wildwood with Brother Syd

Beyond the Wildwood with Brother Syd

by Gian Palacios (
'So beautiful and strange and new!  Since it was to end all too soon, I 
almost wish I had never heard it.  Nothing seems worthwhile but just to hear 
that sound once more and go on listening to forever.  No!  There it is 
again!' he cried, alert once more.  Entranced, he was silent for a long 
space, spellbound.'

from 'The Wind in the Willows' by Kenneth Grahame

.....And so it must have been, turning the dials of a small radio set in the 
early days of Spring 1967.  The distant crackle of Radio Caroline, one of 
the numerous pirate radio stations broadcasting from off the English shored, 
spilling forth an exotic, mysterious sound.  'See Emily Play' by the Pink 
Floyd.  Along with John Lennon, Roger 'Syd' Barrett created psychedelic 
music.  The English version of psychedelia, as ooposed to the strain found 
in San Francisco, was a melange of indigenous folk, traces of 1940s pop, 
vestiges of the blues and Mod boom of the preceeding years, informed by the 
anarchic wail of free jazz, and a strong dose of the peculiarly English 
fantastical storytelling of Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland', Edward 
Lear, JRR Tolkein's 'The Hobbit' and 'The Wind in the Willows'.  No one 
captured the ethos of this better than Syd Barrett.

Peter Jenner: The Pink Floyd were the only psychedelic band.  They had this 
improvisation, this spirit of psychedlia which I don't think any other band 
had.  The Pink Floyd didn't play chords.  At their finest it was very 
extraordinary free improvisation.  We thought we were doing what was 
happening in San Francisco, which we'd never heard, and it was totally 
different.  Attempting to imitate what you don't actually know what your 
imitating leads to genuine creativity and I think that's what happened with 
the Pink Floyd.

John Marsh: Syd was a beautiful person, a lovely guy.  He had a creative 
brain, a way of looking at things that was really genuinely revolutionary 
and different.

Peter Jenner: The strongest image I have of Syd is of him sitting in his 
flat with a guitar and his book of songs, which he represented by paintings 
with different coloured circles.  You'd go round to Syd's and you'd see him 
write a song.  It just poured out.  The acid brought out his latent madness. 
 I'm sure it was his latent madness which gave him his creativity.  The acid 
brought out the creativity, but more importantly, it brought out the 
madness.  The creativity was there - dope was enough to get it going.  He 
wrote all his songs, including the ones on his solo LP's, in a eighteen 
month period.

June Bolan: Syd Barrett had this quality like a candle that was about to be 
snuffed out at any minute.  Really all illumination.  An extraordinary, 
wonderful man.  He took lots of LSD.  Lots of people can take some LSD and 
cope with it in their lives, but if you take three or four trips every day....

Peter Jenner: Syd was an exceptional figure, far and away the most important 
in the band.  He wrote the songs, he was the singer, he played most of the 
solos, he was the lead guitarist, it was his band.  He was much the most 
interesting, much the most creative: the others were just students.  I 
always think that it's really important that Syd was an artist whereas the 
other two were architects, and that really showed in the music.  Syd did 
this wild, impossible drawing and they turned it into the Pink Floyd.  Syd 
was a good artist too.  And it was a time when you just expressed yourself 
away - if you were good at painting then you could be good at writing songs. 
 Why not?

Jonathan Meades: Syd was this rather weird, exotic and mildly famous 
creature, who happened to be living in this flat with these people who were 
pimping off him both professionally and privately.  I went there and there 
was this horrible noise.  It sounded like heating pipes shaking.  I said, 
'What's that?' and they sort of giggled and said, 'That's Syd having a bad 
trip, we put him in the line cupboard.'  And that seemed a terrible thing to do.

David Gilmour: I noticed it around the time Pink Floyd were recording 'See 
Emily Play'.  Syd was still functioning, but he definitely wasn't the person 
I knew.  he looked through you.  He wasn't quite there.

John Marsh: Syd was one of the earliest acid casualties.  He lived in a flat 
in the Cromwell Road with various characters, among whom was a psychotic 
kind of character called Scotty.  He was one of  the original 
acid-in-the-reservoir, change-the-face-of-the-world missionaries.  He was 
also a desperately twisted freak and really malovelent crazy.  Everyone knew 
that if you went round to see Syd never have a cup of tea because everything 
was spiked with acid.

Nick Mason: Syd went mad on that first American tour in the autumn of 1967.  
He didn't know where he was most of the time.  I remember he detuned his 
guitar onstage in Venice, LA, and he just stood there rattling the string 
which was a bit weird, even for us.

....The tour of America was rife with stories of Syd's eccentric behaviour.  
The band played on 'American Bandstand' and Syd refused to lip sync the 
words to 'See Emily Play'.  He stood facing the camera, lips impassively 
shut.  Later, when the band were taken on a tour of Hollywood and reached 
the corner of Hollywood and Vine, Syd wandered about wide eyed and said, 
'Wow! It's great to be in...Las Vegas!'  Syd was slipping into catatonic 
schizophrenia, no doubt accelerated by his prodigous consumption of LSD.  On 
a second TV appearance on the 'Pat Boone Show' the band played their song 
and Pat Boone came to banter with the band.  Smothers' comments were greeted 
by silence with Syd who seemed to be staring straight through him....

Peter Jenner: He was extraordinarily creative and what happened was 
catastrophic: a total burnt-out case.  All his talent just came out in a 
flood in two years and then it was burnt out.  Syd got burnt out from acid 
in the coffee every morning.  They had one of our cats and they gave the cat 

John Marsh: He was going further and further down the tubes because nobody 
wished to be thought uncool and take him away from these circumstances.  So 
Syd went down the mine because of the inertia of those around him.

Jenny Fabian: Syd was so beautiful with his violet eyes.  He had a breakdown 
and was gone, he hardly spoke.  He would just tolerate me.  Syd was 
wonderful because he wrote such wonderful songs.  He didn't have to speak 
because he wrote these mysterious songs

June Bolan: The last gig Syd played was at the Alexandra Palace.  We found 
Syd in the dressing room and he was so....gone.  Roger waters and I got him 
to his feet and onto the stage.  He had a white Stratocaster and we put it 
around his neck and he walked onstage.  The band started to play and Syd 
just stood there.  He had his guiatr around his neck and his arms just 
hanging down and I was in the wings wondering what to do.  Suddenly he put 
his hands on the guiatr and we thought, 'Great, he's actually going to do 
it!'  But he just stood there, he just stood there tripping out of his mind.

.....By the beginning of 1968 Syd was in the final throes of his breakdown.  
Still, sparks of his unique creativity would emerge, alternating with bouts 
of blank stares and silence.  At one of his final appearances with the Pink 
Floyd, Syd decided he didn't like his curly hair so he took a handful of 
pills and crushed them up, mixing them into a jar of hair gel and putting 
the entire mix into his hair.  Working his hair into a primitive mohawk Syd 
went onstage and played with the orange goo dissolving under the hot lights 
onto his face like a waxy mask.

        Syd's final contribution to the Pink Floyd was 'Jugband Blues'.  Syd 
himself best sumarised his precarious mental health by singing, 'I'm 
wondering who could be writing this song?'  As his playing and timing became 
more erratic, he urged the others to recruit a female singer and a 
saxophonist.  Often going missing from rehearsals and performances, Syd was 
fired from the band.

Two solo LPs followed in 1969-70, 'The Madcap Laughs' and 'Barrett'; the 
albums were disturbing aural paintings of a mind gone mad, of a mind gone to 
waste.  What was saddest of all was that flashes of the old Syd would appear 
every now and again, illuminating all the tracks with the transcendent 
beauty that was his trademark.  His sense of timing had become so skewed 
that the other musicians struggled to play along with him.  Syd would skip 
freely over increasingly bizarre chord changes and tempos, often frustrating 
even himself.  Soon after, Syd retired from music after a few brief efforts 
to form a 
band and returned to his childhood home in Cambridge to live with his mum.

Today Syd Barrett continues to live in Cambridge in isolation.  His mum 
having died, his sister cares for him.  He collects coins and listens only 
to classical and jazz music.  Every once in a while a man can be spotted 
walking the streets of 
Cambridge, bald and fat, eyes staring blankly ahead and mumbling to himself. 
 It's Syd, and in his head perhaps he hears the distant echoes of the 
thunder and lightning that was his music and perhaps he smiles at how he 
passed it all by.

Jenny Fabian: I knew the others but they were absolutely nothing compared to 
Syd.  His words and music were the Pink Floyd and I've never been interested 
in them since.  Nothing ever reached the heights of that first album, which 
was mad and him.

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