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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Farewell to Floyd’s founder

    Justyn DillinghamEditor-in-Chief
    Justyn Dillingham
    Editor-in-Chief

    In some ways, the amount of ink spilled last week about the death of Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett was surprising. After all, Barrett left the band after their second album and hadn’t released any music at all since 1970.

    But Barrett was the most mysterious presence in popular music, even 36 years after his career ended. His small but electrifying body of work continues to enchant after all these years.

    Barrett started The Pink Floyd (the band would drop the “”the”” after his departure) in 1965. In 1967, as psychedelia swept the city, the band released their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and their legendary first singles, “”Arnold Layne”” and “”See Emily Play.””

    The Pink Floyd’s first records remain the best and most enduring of the psychedelic era, perhaps because they seem less inspired by acid than by an original and playfully uncategorizable mind, more akin to William Blake and James Joyce than Mick Jagger.

    Barrett wrote shimmering, sad songs about cats, bicycles, scarecrows and fairy tales. They suggest nostalgia for a pastoral England that never was and a blissful childhood that existed, if it did, only when we were too young to appreciate it.

    Just look at “”Bike””: “”I’ve got a bike/You can ride it if you like/It’s got a basket, a bell that rings/And things to make it look good,”” Barrett sang. “”I’d give it to you if I could/But I borrowed it.””

    But by 1968, Barrett’s strange behavior had begun to sap his energy and alienate his bandmates. The songs grew increasingly cracked, like “”Vegetable Man,”” which consists of Barrett describing the clothes he was wearing and then moaning, “”Vegetable man, where are you?”” The band found the song so disturbing that they decided never to release it.

    Roger Waters once recalled in an interview the time Barrett turned up with a new song he called “”Have You Got It Yet?”” The “”song”” turned out to consist of random chords, with Barrett shouting “”Have you got it yet?”” at the band every few minutes. That was the last time they played together.

    David Gilmour, who replaced Barrett as guitarist, called it “”one of the great rock ‘n’ roll tragedies.””

    Though Barrett’s problems are often attributed to drugs, many friends recalled that he actually did far fewer of them than most people at the time. Some have suggested he suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. But the truth will probably never be known.

    Barrett was the band’s singer, lead guitarist and main songwriter, as well as the only member who actually looked like a rock star. It was unthinkable that he might leave, and more unthinkable still that the band might thrive without him. Of course, we know the rest.

    After leaving, Barrett released two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. The albums are brilliant, but they have a kind of fragile, barely-held-together intensity that makes for deeply uneasy listening.

    After one last, brief performance in 1974, Barrett retreated into silence for good, living on quietly in a small house in Cambridge, England, supported by royalties from his Floyd work, and supposedly painting and writing a history of art.

    A reporter who turned up at his door a few years ago was told, “”I’m just looking after this place for the moment.””

    “”Are you thinking of moving on?”” the reporter asked. Barrett paused, then answered, “”Well, I’m not going to stay here forever,”” and closed the door.

    And now Syd Barrett has moved on for good, dying at age 60 of complications from diabetes. But it’s unlikely his legend will fade any time soon.

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