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)