Syd Barrett – genius, legend, raver, madcap, seer of visions, martyr, the original piper at the gates of dawn – is gone.
Syd is a perpetual area of darkness in pop history. Musically, he has been interred for years. A starburst of brilliance and he was extinguished from the sky. Yet, he remained the unseen (and in truth, unseeing, for he was almost blinded by severe diabetes) spirit behind Floyd’s oeuvre.
Pink Floyd, the band he founded in 1965 with Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright, has lost and found and lost itself in his wake (no pun there). He has been omnipresent – part muse, part poltergeist – haunting Floyd’s epochal success of four decades. Though his brilliance is showcased in The Piper At The Gates of Dawn (1965), his aura can be felt in every album thereafter.
Syd’s drug habit and (perhaps) his emotional brittleness conspired to drive him insane. When bouts of catatonia overcame him during studio sessions, he left the band in 1968. He resurfaced in 1970 with two solo albums – The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. Five years later, he appeared unannounced in the studio, overweight and with shaven eyebrows, during the recording of Shine On You Crazy Diamond. The album, Wish You Were Here, was dedicated to him.
At the end of a life so troubled, perhaps Syd Barrett has earned his rest. To him we shall not say ‘Wish you were here.’ To him we shall say: ‘Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner… and shine!’