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Syd Barrett: Pink Floyd's Crazy Diamond
In the Beginning
Roger Keith “Syd” Barrett (born 1946 – died 2006) was a founding member of Pink Floyd, one of the most successful rock bands in the world, along with Roger Waters, Rick Wright (deceased) and Nick Mason. In 1965, it was Syd Barrett who came up with the name of the band by fusing the first names of American blues singers Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Some wag suggested it was fortunate he didn't call the band Anderson Council or the world would have been deprived of some of its greatest music. Initially named “The Pink Floyd Sound”, it was shortened to “The Pink Floyd” and, finally, just “Pink Floyd”.
The band played many live venues and gradually found themselves in the vanguard of the psychedelic movement as their loyal fan-base steadily grew. Syd wrote most of the songs on “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, the band's first album, which was critically acclaimed on its release in August 1967, less than three months after the Beatles released their ground-breaking album “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Their live shows were now drawing huge crowds and Barrett had his own fans who loved him.
Descent Into Madness
Unfortunately, at the very start of major success, Syd's use of drugs, particularly LSD, was already beginning to tell on him. His behavior, at first erratic, became bizarre. Sometimes he just stood on stage, eyes blank, his guitar hanging by its strap, strumming the same chord over and over or not playing at all. Once, he was purported to have mashed a bottle of pills with a tube of Brylcreem and lathered it onto his head before going on stage; the hot lights melted the concoction and he looked like a guttered candle. Nick Mason disputed the drugs part, saying that Syd would never have wasted drugs like that. In America, Barrett sat mute and staring when Pat Boone tried to interview him.
The band tried to cover for him, hoping he would snap out of it, but, when he didn't, they recruited Dave Gilmour (an old school friend of Barrett's) around Christmas of 1967 to back Syd up when he had one of his “episodes”. Things just got worse and, in January 1968, on the way to a gig, someone asked, “Shall we pick Syd up?” and someone else said, “Let's not bother”. On April 6, 1968, Barrett was officially no longer a member of the band and he was so far gone, most of the time he didn't even realize it.
Despite occasional attempts at a solo career in the early Seventies, Syd's condition worsened. It is believed that his schizophrenic tendencies were exacerbated by his use of LSD and other drugs. One day he walked the 50 miles from London to Cambridge and lived the rest of his life as a recluse with his mother. The remaining members of Pink Floyd made sure he received every penny of the royalties he had coming to him until the day he died, on July 7, 2006 of pancreatic cancer. He reportedly left £1.7 million to his two brothers and two sisters, his mother having preceded him in death.
Shine On You Crazy Diamond
When Barrett was kicked out of the band, there was an uproar from his fans and David Gilmour had to endure the brunt of their wrath, but it was not an easy decision for any of them. Roger Waters became the main song writer and composed several songs in tribute to Syd, the most famous being “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” which was recorded in 1975 for their album “Wish You Were Here”. While they were recording this deeply personal tribute at Abbey Road studios, they wondered who the portly, bald man standing quietly in the back was.
Rick Wright later told an interviewer: "I saw this guy sitting at the back of the studio... 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...
"Roger [Waters] was in tears, I think I was; we were both in tears. It was very shocking... seven 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."
These are the opening lyrics of Shine On You Crazy Diamond (written by Roger Waters):
Remember when you were young
You shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there's a look in your eyes
Like black holes in the sky.
Shine on you crazy diamond...
Aside from a brief run-in between Roger Waters and Syd a couple years later, none of the band members ever saw him again.