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The Friday Morning Listen – Syd Barrett

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On August 5th, 1967, yours truly was a whole five years old. At the time, the only music in the house was probably stuff like my folks' Tommy Dorsey records. I didn't get to hear The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn until some time in the middle of my college years. 1982 or so.

Why's that? Well, most people my age were really turned on to Pink Floyd during the Wish You Were Here/Dark Side Of The Moon era. That was when they were plastered all over the radio. Then of course, The Wall came out and you more or less had to turn off your radio to escape hourly plays of "Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2."

A friend of mine at school was really into the early Floyd records, especially the first. When I sat down with him to really give it a listen, I realized that I'd heard one of the songs, "Astronomy Domine". Ah, that's it! One of my buddies from high school had recommended UmmaGumma for it's overall weirdness (plus, what sixteen year old can resist a song title like "Careful With That Axe Eugene?") Sure enough, that record started off with a live version of "Astronomy Domine."

Still, as much as I liked that song and the rest of that record, I never bought either of them until many years later. In fact, maybe just a couple of years ago. Also bought Syd's The Madcap Laughs. It was one of those things. I'd gone on a localized psychedelic music jag caused by, among other things, the Grateful Dead's So Many Roads box set. The second disc has a killer jam of "That's It For The Other One" -> "Cryptical Envelopment" -> "The Faster We Go, The Rounder We Get" -> "Cryptical Envelopment."

Listening to The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and then the follow on A Saucerful Of Secrets, I was reminded of the early history of Pink Floyd and the tale of Barrett's early life with the band. Obviously, we'll never really know what would have happened to Syd if he'd avoided the massive doses of acid. Was he a "genius?" Dunnno. It's just sad to think of a man so screwed up that his band-mates unplugged his guitar…and he didn't notice. Did he notice when the rest of the band stopped picking him up for rehearsals?

You can hear the change in that second record. While Secrets isn't hugely dissimilar from the first album, it does contain only one Barrett tune, "Jugband Blues." You can hear Pink Floyd's future foreshadowed with the swelling keyboards and slowed tempos on the rest of the record.

Back to The Piper. For my money, it ranks right near the top as far as psychedelic records go. Lots of folks put The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper there as well. I go for the introductory Floyd because of its combination of weird and dark. The juxtaposition of things like "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Bike" just does it for me.

And now Syd Barrett has passed on. I can't quite put my finger on why this makes me so sad. I guess it's the wasted potential of a life. On the other hand, Syd did at least plant the seeds for a whole lot of psychedelic music to come. We still have that.

That and the lyrics that close out "Bike":

I know a room of musical tunes
Some rhyme, some ching, most of them are clockwork
Let's go into the other room and make them work

Syd Barrett (1946 – 2006)

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About Mark Saleski

  • I too am more interested in later Floyd than the earlier eccentricities, but I can appreciate a creative madman or two!

  • Not important, really, but I’d meant to type “on a friend’s recommendation in high school.

  • I’d only known the four Barrett-era tracks from Relics, which I’d bought from the used bin on a friend’s recommendation, though sometime ago, I’d googled for those recent pictures of him waddling down the street in shorts and whatnot. Naturally relevant tracks are all over Hype Machine, and listening to the aural documentation of his dissipation, together with the tributes by post Barrett Floyd is extremely moving.

    Anyway, I liked this from the Slate obit:

    But it would be nice if Barrett was recalled not just as an acid casualty or as a legendary “rock madman” but as an English eccentric in the surreal-comic tradition that extends from Lewis Carroll to Monty Python and, via Barrett, onto the weirdo-pop specialist Robyn Hitchcock. Barrett spent his final years in his mother’s house in Cambridge, England, living comfortably off the royalties that his former bandmates made sure he collected. Reportedly, his pastimes were painting and gardening, and he was often seen by neighbors on his bicycle. It sounds like a pretty nice life, actually, and it’s pleasant to think of Barrett ending his days as a vaguely Victorian figure—an odd old Englishman who’d made quite a splash in his youth, tottering through town on two wheels.

  • Mark Saleski

    Meddle is great….though that one tune with the dog howling makes my dog go completely crazy.

  • Great article, Mark. My introduction to Pink Floyd was the post-Barret “Meddle” (with later a baptism of literal on-stage fire at an enhanced better-living-through-chemistry Hollywood Bowl “Dark Side” concert).

    I never did get around to backtracking to Barrett with the group or solo, but I have a friend who has all the albums — so I’m thinking it’s time to catch up.

  • I knew there was much Floyd I hadn’t explored, but when I was working on The Wall tribute, I did read alot about Syd and their early years.

    ‘which one’s Pink’

    Good work Mark. : )

  • In once made a cute homemade card for my wife which contained the lyrics to “Bike.” I’m not sure what my point is there other to say they are great lyrics and its a great song.

  • This why I love having a 60GB iPod. Reading the FML put me in the mood to listen to Piper. I would not have reached for that CD this morning so I would have been out of luck. But… I have the CD ripped to my iPod and my iPod is here so… there you go. I am listening to Piper as we speak.

  • I think you’re right about them being two different bands that just happen to have the same name. I think there is validity in both.

  • yea, they’re pretty much two completely different bands. that’s the way i look at it anyway.

    ..though there are certainly bits of overlap in some of the later records, particularly Atom Heart Mother (on “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”)

  • Excellent work, Sir Saleski. I guess I am one of those unoriginal doofuses who likes the “classic” Pink Floyd. I won’t say I like it better per se. I like Piper. It’s just such a short chapter in the overall Pink Floyd story that I think comparisons are not fair.

    Like you, I think there is something terribly sad about the story and not just Barrett’s death.