The History Of: Syd Barrett

author: Matt Montoya date: 08/01/2006 category: the history of

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Syd Barrett was born Roger Keith Barrett on January 6, 1946 in Cambridge, England. He grew up in a middle class family, as the youngest of 5. His childhood was known to be the happiest part of his life, and some say that the childish feel to some of his songs was written in memory of a happier time, before his father, Arthur, died when Syd was just 11 years old. His parents often encouraged him in music, and it is believed by some that the death of Syd's father contributed to his mental suffering later in his life.

The Beginning Of Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd was formed in Cambridge, London, 1965 by Roger "Syd" Barrett and his childhood friend, Roger Waters. Barrett was the band's lead singer and songwriter, having hits like "Arnold Layne". Syd named the band after two obscure blues musicians named Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. There first album, "The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" was mainly the work of Syd Barrett. He played lead Guitar, with Roger Waters on Bass, Rick Wright on Keyboard, and Nick Mason on Drums. Syd's use of LSD can practically be seen in the writings of his music, with "Interstellar Overdrive" having the first minute be organized music, and then going into 7 minutes of "freaking out" with a horrific sound on the guitar, and an eerie keyboard sound. The song then uses a drum roll to end the song. The songs Syd was writing sometimes had a silly thought to them, with "Arnold Layne" being about a cross-dresser who steals women's clothes. It is rumored that Arnold Layne was a real person who stole underwear from Syd and Roger's mothers. "A year later, Pink Floyd came out with "See Emily Play", and Emily was a girl Syd saw in a drug-induced hallucination. Although the band was popular, they were no where near the success they would achieve in the '70s.

The Mental Breakdown

Syd Barrett's constant use of psychedelic drugs soon began to destroy him, and it was showing to the rest of the band. Legendary Guitarist, David Gilmour, joined the band in 1968 to carry out Syd's duties. He can be seen on the See Emily Play music video, where the band is in a field playing with imaginary instruments, and also pretending to play Cricket. Barrett's behavior was becoming less and less predictable. During concerts, he would sometimes stare into space, while the rest of the band played. His condition was known as Schizophrenia. Pink Floyd went to do the Pat Boone show. They played a song in rehearsal when the cameras were off, and Barrett would mime to the music as expected. When they put the cameras on to record it, Syd stared into space, not moving a muscle. They then turned the cameras off, and Syd did what was expected, but when the cameras were on, he went into stupor again and again until they decided that Roger Waters would mime the song. At another concert at the Fillmore West, Syd went on stage, and stared into space again, but then detuned all the strings on his guitar. He started to strum it. Rick Wright described the sound to be horrific, however the crowd loved the show. Pink Floyd had no choice but to cancel the American tour. They never officially released there next attempt at a single, "Vegetable Man", written and sung by Syd, being about a super hero. The band simply stopped taking him to concerts, and officially formalized his departure in 1968.

The Solo Years

Barrett released "The Madcap Laughs", his first solo album in 1970. He completely changed his songwriting style, with just an acoustic guitar and voice. Some extra instruments were dubbed in the song like "No Good Trying", because it was thought to be too simplistic. Although "The Madcap Laughs" got good reviews for the most part, it failed to get much radio-play. His next album, "Barrett" was the same style. "Barrett" was produced by David Gilmour. David described the album as a "nightmare" to make, because Syd would never play the song with the same measures, or the same way at all.

After The Solo Years

After 1972, Barrett began to withdraw from music. There were attempts to bring him back. For example, the Sex Pistols wanted him to produce their next album. All attempts did not work though. There were also attempts to enter him into psychiatric help. Sometimes they could get him to the door, but never passed that. In an interview with Nick Mason, someone tried to explain Syd's symptoms to him, but Syd replied "Are you sure this is Syd's problem? He started to live as a recluse in London. Pink Floyd, after having a series of moderately successful albums, achieved huge stardom with the legendary masterpiece, "The Dark Side Of The Moon", which was partially written about Syd. The album is about what can drive a person to lunacy. For example, "On The Run" has the sound of an airplane crashing, showing the fear of flight. "Money" deals with the amount of greed in the world. "Us And Them" has to do with the insanity of warfare. "Brain Damage" talks at the end about lobotomy. At this time, Roger Waters was mainly writing about mental illness.

The "Wish You Were Here" Sessions

Syd Barrett had a horrific reunion with Pink Floyd in 1975 during the making of "Wish You Were Here" at Abbey Road Studios. His condition had severely gotten worse. He walked in the studio unannounced. When Rick Wright saw him, he did not recognize him. Neither did the rest of the band members. Syd Barrett had shaved of all the hair from his head and including his eyebrows. He had gained alot of weight and said "I have a large fridge at home and I've been eating alot of pork chops". When the band members were told who it was, they greeted Syd politely. He had a toothbrush, and tried to brush his teeth by holding it still, and jumping up and down. He coincidentally came in during the making of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", which was obviously about him. The title also spelled out his name, (S)hine on (Y)ou crazy (D)iamond, with the first letter of every other word spelling S-Y-D. When Syd left the studio, the band members, Waters and Wright in particular, were crying. In an interview with Rick Wright, he spoke about the session, saying: "One thing that really stands out in my mind, that I'll never forget; I was going in to the Shine On sessions. I went in the studio and I saw this guy sitting at the back of the studio, he was only as far away as you are from me. And I didn't recognize him. I said, 'Who's that guy behind you?' 'That's Syd'. And I just cracked up, I couldn't believe it... he had shaven all his hair off... I mean, his eyebrows, everything...he was jumping up and down brushing his teeth, it was awful. And, uh, I was in, I mean Roger was in tears, I think I was; we were both in tears. It was very years of no contact and then to walk in while we're actually doing that particular track. I don't know - coincidence, karma, fate, who knows? But it was very, very, very powerful". Syd was often catatonic, and after his long moments of being in a trance, he would have short moments of extreme excitement.

Barrett's Later Years

After the making of the hugely successful "Wish You Were Here", Syd literally walked backed to Cambridge, where he left the music industry for good. There are many pictures of him in the '80s, '90s, and '00s, were he is either walking or biking to the store. There were some compilations of his solo work, with "Wouldn't You Miss Me" containing his never-before-heard "Bob Dylan Blues", and the album Opel. "Crazy Diamond" was also released, and had the same songs, but with different takes, to show how Syd wouldn't play the song the same way.

Last Years

In the last years of Barrett's life, he lived in his mother's run-down home, where he enjoyed gardening and painting. He started to go by his original name, Roger. Although Syd had mental problems, he also suffered from Type-B diabetes and stomach ulcers. He had very little contact with other people besides his sister, Rosemary, fans and paparazzis knocking on his door. When a fan knocked on his door, he usually tried to say goodbye in the most polite way possible, and on very rare occasions he would let them in. Barrett became upset when people from the Pink Floyd-era of his life were around him. However, he went to his sister's house to see a BBC Pink Floyd documentary. He thought it was too noisy, but he liked to hear See Emily Play again.


On July 7th, 2006, Roger Keith Syd Barrett died of Cancer after suffering from diabetes. He died in his home at the age of 60. It was announced by his sister, Rosemary a few days later. The news shocked fans, and Syd's Pink Floyd album, "The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" started to sell again.

Influence In Music

Pete Townshend has spoken about Syd, calling him Legendary, and Townshend is a big fan of Barrett. In the '60s he even took Eric Clapton to see Barrett play. Syd is known to be the first LSD casualty, although it is likely that other artists, such as Jimi Hendrix, would have gotten mentally ill due to their use of LSD, had they not died. Other Schizophrenics in music are Peter Green, the founder of Fleetwood Mac, and Jim Gordon, a member of Eric Clapton's Derek And The Dominos band, best known for writing the piano coda at the end of Layla. He is known as one of the most original artists in music, and his originality can be heard in "Pow R. Toc H.", which begins with organized screaming. He tackled many genres, with English Pop, Psychedelic Rock, Folk and others.

Mental Illness

Many people have been fascinated by Syd, and have been curious to hear his music to see what the songwriting of a damaged mind is like. Some believe he suffers from Asperger's Syndrome , a disease that is often confused with Schizophrenia and it is believed that Albert Einstein suffered from this too. Most believe (including Roger Waters) it is the catatonic form of Schizophrenia. It has been wondered what caused his breakdown. While most believe drugs caused it, David Gilmour says it would have happened anyway, but the drugs acted as a catalyst, and worsened it. He also said that the type of lights that were used at Barrett's concert could have contributed when mixed with drugs. It is also believed that the death of Syd's father also contributed. Although Syd's career was short-lived, he proved to be one of the most inspirational and original artist of all time.
More Matt Montoya columns:
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