Thursday, June 26, 2008

syd barrett: the madcap laughs

syd barrett and a girl called eskimo, 1969.

golden fish by paul klee, 1925.

While Roger Waters convinced the rest of the Pink Floyd to give up on Syd during the recording of "A Saucerful Of Secrets" at Abbey Road Studios in 1968 - again more than ably produced by Norman Smith - Floyd's manager, Peter Jenner was not so easily swayed.

Jenner immediately engaged the erratic Barrett in a series of solo recording sessions from May of the same year, but the project stalled and was eventually sidelined over the next twelve months in a bid to allow the increasingly reclusive former hit maker to regain his "focus".

"Get your shit together, Syd !" was not so much the battle cry as a gently cajoling whisper.

In April 1969, Malcolm Jones replaced Jenner on production duties, but while Syd was throwing out sufficient ideas or germs of songs to warrant the protracted studio time, the musicians contracted to work alongside him - members of the Soft Machine and Humble Pie - were at a loss as to how best to work up that raw material and present it as a cohesive whole. The pervading mood was one of frustration and that alone must surely have exacerbated the already fragile sessions.

Cast adrift from the very group he was instrumental in founding, Syd Barrett - understandably mistrustful and alienated - could scarcely have been comfortable working under such forced and counter-productive conditions. In his (then) current state of mind it must have felt akin to stepping into a ring in front of an audience of strangers with the expectation to perform like a circus seal.

Pressure ? Given the trying circumstances, it's a wonder the finished product bears up so well.

Its a good deal better than "The Final Cu(*)t", that's for sure.

Having heard Roger Waters drone on for years now about how much of a fuck-up Syd was, I'd dearly like to see him auditioning on an endless loop for the Sex Pistols. Fucking deluded architectural arsehole.

At least David Gilmour had the temerity to kick a few bricks out "The Wall".

SYD BARRETT: TERRAPIN from "The Madcap Laughs" LP (Harvest EMI) 1970 (UK)

SYD BARRETT: GOLDEN HAIR from "The Madcap Laughs" LP (Harvest EMI) 1970 (UK)



Your driver said...

What do you suppose Eskimo is up to these days? What are her memories? I was just talking to my old friend, Kim. She was a comrade in the Ann Arbor Michigan days who went on to live in New York. She was a regular at CBGB's, knew The Ramones and Debby Harry personally. She married a painter, an up and comer in the emerging SOHO scene. I told her that she really needed to write her autobiography. She said that she would if she could remember anything. She remembers that she went to some event or other, but the last thing she remembers clearly is whatever drugs she took before she left the house.
Nowadays she only smokes pot, takes a fistful of psychiatric meds daily, and lives in obscurity and relative poverty in Colorado.

ib said...

I think Eskimo was the girlfriend he kept under house arrest until she managed to escape, but I could be wrong.

Yes. Your friend Kim's story sounds familiar.

Rick Wright from Pink Floyd was on some documentary recently chatting about how they sent Syd to R.D. Laing in late '68 for a diagnosis. I used to think Laing was pretty sussed, now I'm not so sure. His diagnosis was that Syd had taken so much acid that his brain was irrevocably fried ; in Wright's own hesitantly slurred words : "There was literally nothing left..."

Bollocks! He may have been whacked, but his "friends" did precious little to help him through what could well have been a temporary set-back.

I hope Eskimo is alive and well and retired on a shelter to look after homeless animals or something equally good for the soul. Nice ass, though.

Your driver said...

Well, that was back in the days when psychiatrists saw drug use as a cause rather than a symptom. Nowadays the headshrinkers are handing out more medicine than the dope dealers. I think in today's medical parlance Syd was "self medicating". That's all wrong Syd, you're supposed to let quacks with "medical training" medicate you. I self medicated, mostly with booze, for many years. For a while after that I was in the hands of the headshrinkers who were giving me "antidepressants". I suppose some of them were well meaning, others, I'm not so sure. I'm still a little crazy sometimes, but strong enough to stand up to the full force of life without any medication thank you.
RD Laing always seemed like one of the better headshrinkers. I'm surprised he wrote Syd off so glibly. Then again he was a bit of a rockstar himself. Probably used to indulging rich kids with no real problems. Syd's genuine troubles might have been more than he could handle.

ib said...

You're certainly right about the rockstar element to Laing.

AS for the self prescribing thing, you're right there too, in my opinion.

On the other hand I believe that SSRIs get too much of a bum rap these days. A lot of people will say that Prozac is responsible for there ills, but if you've been doing chemicals which have by their nature severely reduced the seretonin levels in your brain - like MDMA, for example - it's a fairly good short to mid term fix, and not physically addictive.

Your driver said...

I agree that prozac is useful in the short run, but I took it for almost six years. By then the side effects were debilitating and the withdrawal was worse than anything I ever experienced on illegal drugs. Several months of the most horrible depression imaginable, followed by at least a couple of years of milder depression and confusion. It took a few years to find myself after all of that. I really do think that the neurochemical branch of psychiatry is a fraud. Don't get me started on those quacks.

ib said...

Fair enough. I totally agree with your views on neurochemical psychiatry. I had to fight my GP to have Prozac prescribed in place of a much more potentally damaging 'old school' antidepressant. I was on it for a few years then went cold turkey. The withdrawl was deeply unpleasant, but I tend to put that down to the reality of struggling again to cope with... 'reality'. The worse thing about it was the genuine short-tempered moods I exhibited. I could cope with the depression... well, almost.
Ah, fuck it. Whatever gets through the night, I suppose...

Your driver said...

Yeah, I have a friend who runs a drop in center for homeless schizophrenics, most of them drug addicts or alcoholics. I don't know if there's enough love in all of the world for those people. He's clean and sober, but coming to realize there's not much he can do for his clients, beyond help them to find ways to mitigate any harm they do themselves. He's given up on preaching abstinence from drugs and alcohol. He mostly tries to talk to them about less damaging alternatives to whatever they're using currently.

Part of my dislike for the neurochem crew stems from the relationship I was in when I was on antidepressants. She was a perpetual graduate student with no intention of ever graduating. She was studying neurophysiology and had convinced herself that people are nothing but a fairly complex set of chemically driven instincts. That didn't apply to her, just to everyone else. Anytime I did something that I happened to disagree with, she would start telling me what kind of chemical imbalance had driven me to behave that way. Of course, she was mad as a hatter herself.

I got tired of her, my shrink and anti depressants all at the same time, so I fired all three of them. That might have been what made the transition so hard.

On the other hand, I had to explain to my shrink that my health problems were caused by prozac. I brought him journal articles. I think all he read was brochures from drug companies. When I told him that I wanted to stop taking prozac, he said, "OK stop". Just like that, no tapering off, nothing. Lots and lots of people have killed themselves in the early stages of SSRI withdrawal.

In the course of the withdrawal he decided that maybe "we" needed to try some other drugs. One, an SSRI, although I forget the name actually made me feel worse than I already felt, if that was possible. Then he tried me on something else that had a risk of extreme liver toxicity. I have done my liver some pretty serious damage and that drug actually sent me into a murderous rage after putting me into convulsions. My shrink put me through all of this with almost no supervision. I still had to get up and work every day.

During the day long rage from the last drug we tried, I called him up and told him that I was going to kill him. I'm really not that kind of guy. I suppose it was kind of him not to have me arrested.

Alright, that's the last out of me on that subject.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Syd's solo records are a couple of the sweetest rock 'n' roll records ever made.

Anonymous said...

It's common for schizophrenia to "hit" when a person in his or her early 20's, right? So my assumption is that Syd was one of those people who was genetically "programmed" to have a schizophrenic break around his early 20's, and he just hastened this event/made it worse with acid. I really don't think any treatment could have helped too much, and I also don't think acid was the cause as much as an accelerator.

But Syd was a genius for sure. Anyone who says that Syd's reputation has been exaggerated by his soap-opera life and his illness has got a perfect ear -- no hole in it

ib said...

Thanks for the support, Mr. Beer N. Hockey. Good to hear from you here again! You really should drop by more often...

ib said...

Emmett: I tend to agree that acid was the accelerator, as opposed to the trigger per se, but I'm not totally convinced that schizophrenia was the definitive cause of his seeming disintegration either.

It's all too sad, and sadly done and dusted.

Eloquently put, though, and thank you for your assertion as to his genius. It's an overused accolade these days but still applicable.

Felix Atagong said...

For those still interested in Iggy. She has been found back and recently she gave an interview to Pink Floyd biographer Mark Blake. More info can be found at the (nearly) official Iggy website; the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit.