Wednesday, October 10, 2007


There’s a school of thought that says that the only good music that Pink Floyd did was with their original singer/guitarist/songwriter Syd Barrett. That lineup of the band, which also included bassist/vocalist Roger Waters, keyboardist/vocalist Rick Wright and drummer Nick Mason, only released one album – the classic Piper At The Gates Of Dawn – and a few singles. Eventually, they hired guitarist/singer David Gilmour to tour with them, because Syd became unable to function on stage, and eventually, they just pushed Syd out of the band.

Should they have changed their name? Tough call: it’s like, was Fleetwood Mac really Fleetwood Mac once Peter Green left? Well, a lot of Fleetwood Mac fans may not know who Peter Green is. And a lot of Pink Floyd fans may not really know Syd. Classic rock radio plays an awful lot of Floyd, but nothing earlier than Dark Side Of The Moon. Indeed, I considered myself a Floyd fan for a long time and didn’t know who he was.

The first I’d heard of the Syd-era songs was on the Works compilation. It was just a totally different Floyd than the one I knew. Then, a few years later, on Roger Waters’ Radio KAOS tour, he played the video for “Arnold Layne” in the middle of the show. It intrigued me, and I went back and learned a bit more about Syd Barrett. A lot of artists like to act crazy/mad/weird, but Syd Barrett was the real deal, and turned this madness into some really cool music for a short while, before he lost it.

I’ve read the story about Syd showing up at the studio when Pink Floyd was recording the Wish You Were Here album – much of which is about Syd. Ironically, they didn’t recognize him at first, even though the band members were involved in producing Syd’s solo recordings. But after that, his family asked the band members to stay out of Syd’s life. They made sure he received his royalties, so he must have been OK financially. I’d read that his sister said that he painted a lot. He would paint something and then destroy it. That’s a pretty pure expression of art, in a way. I wonder if he was happy. Most people assume that because he withdrew from public life, he was miserable. But I wonder if he wasn’t doing exactly what he wanted to in the last years/decades of his life. Of course, I don’t have any real insight to his mental issues. Probably more celebs should try this kind of complete withdrawal from public life.

Anyway, there’s a new deluxe reissue of Piper At The Gates Of Dawn out, it actually includes everything Floyd did while Syd was in the band. It also includes a replica of some of Syd’s original artwork circa 1965, which is interesting and a little scary. I would recommend this to any Pink Floyd fan, particularly those who aren’t as familiar with the Syd Barrett era. It’s practically a different band from the one that recorded Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall (four of my favorite albums) but it is interesting to hear what the band was like in the early days. But more than that, the music really stands up. Even if Pink Floyd never made another album after Syd, this music would ensure their place in music history.

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