Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Madcap Laughs No More


Roger "Syd" Barrett. RIP.


OK, I know I've been neglecting the Toffeewomble again. I've got several good excuses - I'm a first-time father of a two month old daughter (see below); I'm right in the middle of some furious writing, as I finish a novel (London Cries); also I've been in the wilds of the Hebrides for ten days, where there are more sea eagles than cybercafes.

So what's new? Well, the death of Syd Barrett is new, ish. I don't know why, but Syd's death has affected me more than any other rock & roll death of recent years; maybe more than any artistic death ever. Two weeks have passed since he passed on, and still every time I think about his death I get this weird dizzy sad feeling, like I am staring over a cliff at a picture of myself aged 9. Most odd.

Anyway, here's something I wrote on Syd's tristful demise.



Death of a Madcap

When old rockers pass away there's normally a twinge of selfish sadness - as another chunk of one's own youth goes sailing downriver. However, the news of Syd Barrett's death is more affecting than most. Why?

Partly its because of his role in one of the greatest of English rock groups: Pink Floyd. In the late 60s, Barrett fronted the Floyd when they were makers of experimental psychedelia; even when Barrett left the band, his influence lived on in the themes of their finest albums: Wish You Were Here, and Dark Side of the Moon.

But there's also something very poignant in the story of Syd himself. Born in 1946, he was a beautiful and talented young man, and an obvious leader for a supergroup in the making. But as the Floyd got famous, Syd's mental fragility became evident. Sometimes he would take so many hallucinogenic drugs he would appear catatonic on stage. Another notorious time he hid in a cupboard to escape all the groupies who fancied him; his friends didn't help by feeding his cat LSD.

So Syd left the band - or rather the exasperated band dumped him - and he went solo, recording two albums that harrowingly document the singer's descent into schizophrenia. Around the same time, photographer Mick Rock took some iconic shots of a wild, bewildered Syd in his Earl's Court Flat, with a naked girl in the background. Soon afterwards Syd fled London. When he resurfaced, decades later, he was a shambling, affable eccentric, who didn't like talking about music.

Here is the key to Syd's powerful story. Somehow he embodies the haunting idea of promise unfulfilled: a strikingly beautiful young man, hugely gifted, yet deeply fragile, who lost it all in the vortex of madness, yet survived to regain a semblance of a normal if reclusive life.

One day it will make a great musical. With Syd's music.

1 comment:

General Catz said...

i liked what you wrote. i did something similar on the 19th.

I'm still very sad about Syd but it's getting better. Right now i'm really enjoying Madcap Laughs. Although there is the occasional hint of sadness (Dark Globe is one of my favorite songs of his) it seems very alive and coherent.

Thanks for writing about Syd.