Magazine article The Spectator

Remembering Syd

Magazine article The Spectator

Remembering Syd

Article excerpt

As I write, it is a few weeks since the death of Syd Barrett but I can't get him out of my head. The second 'Olden but golden' column, back in November 2001, was devoted to Barrett, Pink Floyd's founder, presiding genius and acid casualty, and the world feels an emptier, duller place now he's gone, even though his last recordings were made 36 years ago. There was something both eloquent and challenging about his long silence.

Barrett's is perhaps the most poignant and haunting story in the whole of pop music -- the beautiful youth who flew too close to the sun and fried his mind.

While most of the great rock drugs casualties died, and so remain in our memories for ever young, it was his testing fate to survive. The stunningly beautiful flower child metamorphosed into a burly bald bloke photographed cycling round Cambridge, not quite the full shilling after problems with mental illness exacerbated by his reckless youthful consumption of LSD, but very much alive.

Once he'd returned to Cambridge, walking all the way from London, he turned his back completely on his own music, and pop and rock generally, though apparently he still listened to jazz and classical music with pleasure. He also returned to his first love, painting, wrote an unpublished history of art on his laptop and was a bit of a DIY enthusiast. I remember his brotherin-law telling me a few years ago that it was always a bit of a worry when the erratic Syd turned his hand to rewiring.

Although the royalties kept rolling in, he never moved from the run-down semi he'd once shared with his mother. When she died, his sister Rosemary took care of him.

Apparently, in his later years, he achieved a kind of tranquility, perhaps even happiness, and Rosemary has spoken about his great capacity for love. For those of us who care about Syd, this is consoling news.

I think there is something slightly unhealthy about the obsession of Barrett devotees, and I don't exclude myself from the charge. Over the years I've read about him voraciously, listened to his records when smashed out of my head, become maudlin over the sadness of his fate.

There's always a feeling with Syd that he took the risks and dreamed the dreams we were too cautious, or too cowardly, to pursue. And I suspect many of us harboured the sentimental hope that one day he would recover and write a wonderful set of songs about what had been happening inside his head through all the long years of his silence. …

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