Sunday, December 19, 2010

THE CDS: Syd Barrett

I’ve only got one Syd Barrett solo CD: The Madcap Laughs (1970).  The other one is called Barrett.  Both albums were released in 1970, though Madcap sessions began shortly after Barrett ceased to record with Pink Floyd, in 1968.  Both albums were released together, by the time I was aware of them in the wake of the huge success of Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and the sudden interest in all things Floyd, as a double album set.  I was about equally familiar with both since I had them on a cassette together and probably still do somewhere, but I always preferred Madcap because it's more dicey.

Syd, as you all no doubt know, was the inspired composer for the early Pink Floyd (“Arnold Layne”;“See Emily Play”; “Bike”; “The Gnome”; “Flaming”; “Jugband Blues”), as well as a legendary performer known for his idiosyncratic approach to all he did, particularly his guitar-playing.  His contribution to Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), the band’s debut, assures him a place in the front ranks of the annals of psychedelic pop.  But psychedelia was a short-lived phase, even if, to my mind, a delightful one, and when it came time for the Floyd to record their second album, only slightly less psychedelic, Syd was more or less undependable.  Instability having to do with (take your pick): those genetic problems we blame everything on these days; or the hallucinogens he was so fond of and the psychosis the same have a tendency to bring on in impressionable types; or the nature of genius (or pressures of fame) as being a burdensome gift that can cause massive hemorrhages of other aspects of the psyche (a familiar, heroizing tale whereby madness is the sign of true genius, etc.).

How out there did Syd get anyway?  I have no way of knowing, but something along the lines of Withnail and I seems suggested by the stories told; judging by this record, he was in some region where the usual conventions of professionalism were no longer a functioning concern.  But does that make the album amateurish?  Not quite.  It’s a bit like therapy, it’s a bit like a vanity project, but it’s also the kind of thing that cements the notion of Syd as utterly unique in all his plaintive oddity.  There are songs on here that I wouldn’t want any other way: “Terrapin,” “Octopus,” “Dark Globe,” “Here I Go,” “Late Night,” and the lovely melancholic setting to music of James Joyce’s poem “Golden Hair.”  But there are other places where better stuff wouldn’t hurt.  According to what I’ve read, the sessions were a chore for those working with Syd due to his way of going about it, and when his former band mates Gilmour and Waters stepped in to help they did so in a bit of a rush, being busy guys with a band and all.  Anyway, Syd is Syd and no one else is or was.  He died in 2006.

Please, please, please lift a hand
I'm only a person

with Eskimo chain
I tattooed my brain all the way...
Won't you miss me?
Wouldn't you miss me at all?
--Syd Barrett, “Dark Globe”

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