The shaper of the early Pink Floyd psychedelic sound is dead. Syd Barrett, who suffered from diabetes and had been out of music for a number of years, died last Friday at the age of 60.
The infamous “crazy diamond,” who was already lost wandering the astral plane by 1970, drifted farther and farther away from music after parting from the band he co-founded and put on the map in the late-’60s.
Barrett’s brother Alan said today, “He died peacefully at home. There will be a private family funeral in the next few days.”
Born Roger Keith Barrett in Cambridge in 1946, he became “Syd” at 15. Beginning in the mid-’60s as a R&B-based hard rock band like the Who or Pretty Things, Pink Floyd — Syd Barrett on guitar and vocals, Roger Waters on bass and vocals, Richard Wright on keyboards, and Nick Mason on drums — mutated quickly into an odd combination of twee pop-British psychedelia (“See Emily Play,” “Arnold Layne,” “The Gnome,” “Bike”) and long-form instrumental space rock (“Astonomy Domine,” “Interstellar Overdrive,” “Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun,” “A Saucerful of Secrets”), guided by Barrett’s beguiling lysergic explorations – a Cambridge English garden transported to Mars.
But even Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary and Jerry Garcia will tell you (well, they would if they were alive) daily dosing isn’t conducive to functioning in the real world, and by 1967 Barrett had officially freaked out on acid.
Guitarist David Gilmour, also from Cambridge, joined the group as insurance against Barrett’s volatility in ’68, but when Barrett was forced from the group for unreliability, the band’s management — in one of the most monumental selections of the wrong horse in music history — dumped Floyd in favor of Barrett solo, and what might have been the end was instead a new beginning for the resilient combo (named after Piedmont blues figures Pink Anderson and Floyd Council).
What had been largely Syd’s backup band became a democratic foursome sharing writing, singing and leadership duties. They also became one of the most popular and successful bands in rock history.
After Floyd, Barrett recorded two solo albums — Barrett and The Madcap Laughs — did some BBC sessions and random other dabblings, and that was musically it for the last 35 years of his strange, haunted life, spent as a recluse in his Cambridgeshire home.