Monday, May 19, 2014

The Syd Barrett Story

By David Luhrssen
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He was still alive in 2001 when the documentary “The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story” was produced, but Barrett wasn’t available to tell his side. One of the tragedies of late ‘60s, he was a great talent who became rock’s proverbial acid casualty. Barrett lived in quiet seclusion from the early ‘70s through his death in 2006; meanwhile his band, Pink Floyd, carried on without him and broke previous records for album sales.

The documentary has been issued on DVD with a second disc of unedited interviews director John Edginton conducted with David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Richard Wright and others. The portrait emerges of Barrett as one of the brightest guys in any room he entered—a painter, actor and writer, ebullient, with a buoyancy of spirit. LSD opened new doors to his imagination and then, suddenly, bolted them shut. Wright identifies the lost weekend when the breakdown might have occurred. Barrett didn’t show up for a Friday BBC broadcast and turned up the following Monday “damaged beyond repair.” Barrett then went through an off and on period, sometimes performing and sometimes starring into space. Wright believes Barrett had an overdose, perhaps encouraged by reckless advocates of LSD as a means to liberation.

All of Barrett’s bandmates and his replacement, David Gilmour, look a bit uncomfortable when the subject turns to Barrett’s ouster from Pink Floyd. Guilty feelings are conceded as explanations are offered. Essentially, they all felt the show had to go on, with or without their guiding genius. The twist is that they carried on as credible artists who went much farther than they likely could have with Barrett on the captain’s deck. And yet, his ghost haunted the lyrics of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.

Some of the anecdotes are precious, and raise the question of whether a prankster spirit had possessed Barrett’s consciousness. On their first American tour (1967), Pink Floyd was a guest on Pat Boone’s TV show, an encounter difficult to fathom except as a one-nighter of mutual convenience. During rehearsals for the lip-synching of “See Emily Play,” Barrett behaved; when the cameras went on for the live taping, he simply stared. In concert at the Fillmore, Barrett methodically detuned each string on his guitar and made an awful racket. The stoned crowd loved it.

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