At times, genius has been known to border on insanity.
Though some consider that statement a myth, recent research out of Sweden argues that it could be true. Case in point: Pink Floyd co-founder and rock legend Syd Barrett.
Pink Floyd set the standard for progressive and psychedelic rock. Often times their lyrics were downright thoughtful, the art on their albums inventive, their sound untested, and their live performances sophisticated and intricate. As a result, they achieved worldwide success selling over 200 million albums and earning induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
None of which would have been possible without the innovative genius of Syd Barrett.
In 1965, the four members of the original band (Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Richard Wright, and Syd) were all students. Sid’s drive and leadership led to the release of two singles that made the charts, Arnold Layne and See Emily Play, followed by their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour joined Pink Floyd in December 1967. Not long after, suffering from failing mental health Syd left the group.
Along with the problems that marked Syd’s changed nature the group had lost the benefit of his genius. For example, he had written two original songs (Butterfly and Lucy Leave) for their first demo tape; played around with lengthy instrumental jaunts and elementary slide-and-colored-light shows. Syd’s personal moves on stage were high-spirited, improvised, and bordering on inspired madness. Madness that began to have a detrimental effect on the group’s future.
Syd began abusing LSD.
At one concert, guitar around his neck, Syd simply stood still on stage with his arms hanging down. While taping for The Pat Boone Show, Syd mimed a song perfectly in rehearsal then stood perfectly still during the take.
Pink Floyd was at its wits end. It added David Gilmour as its fifth member, hopefully to cover for Syd’s foul-ups and – as a last resort – keep Syd on solely to write. Frustrated with his new role on the sidelines, Syd started teaching the band a new song, Have You Got It Yet? It couldn’t; whether purposely or not, Syd kept changing the arrangement on each performance, and the group couldn’t learn it.
In March 1968, Syd left Pink Floyd. He had been the creative genius behind the group. Now he couldn’t even remember he had left, turning up for a play date every now and again, bewildered as to what was happening. When Pink Floyd was working on a new album, Syd showed up unannounced and left without saying goodbye. Except for a run-in between Waters and Syd a few years later, none of the group ever saw him again.
In the 35 years since having left the group, Syd had all but disappeared. He dabbled with painting and spent most of his time gardening. On July 7, 2006, 60-year-old Syd Barrett died at his home in Cambridgeshire, England. No Pink Floyd members attended his funeral.
Syd is gone, but his genius remains.
The British national press has praised his contributions to music.
David Bowie has called Syd Barrett a major inspiration.
A teenage The Edge (of U2 fame) bought his first delay pedal after hearing the opening to Animals.
The Pet Shop Boys paid homage to The Wall during a performance in Boston.
Foo Fighters, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, The Mars Volta, Tool, Queensryche, Scissor Sisters, Rush, Radiohead, Gorillaz, Mudvayne, Nine Inch Nails, Primus and Smashing Pumpkins, some of whom have recorded Pink Floyd covers, have all been influenced by Syd Barrett.
In 1975 even Pink Floyd paid tribute to Syd with the album Wish You Were Here.
Syd is gone, but the genius of his visionary music and concert techniques lives on.
On Thursday, February 9 at 8 pm in the Schuster Center, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will present The Music of Pink Floyd with Windborne, the second concert in the DPO’s Rockin’ Orchestra Series. (Click for Tickets)
Conductor Brent Havens and rock ensemble Windborne Music will join the DPO and bring the full glory of Pink Floyd’s sound to the Mead stage, deftly melding rock with orchestra in a setting of mesmerizing visual effects.
Syd would have approved.