"Won't you miss me? Wouldn't you miss me at all?" -Syd Barrett (Dark Globe)
Pink Floyd, as many bands do, started as a group of friends. Four university students formed the band in 1965. Member Syd Barrett would give them their name, as well as their early identity. Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Pete Townsend would all become fans for Barrett's unique guitar playing and songwriting.
Just 2 years later, Barrett's career would be close to over. Another guitarist would join the band that would help make them one of the most celebrated of all time.
David Gilmour was a friend of Syd Barrett. The two were known to perform together during lunchtimes at school; one on guitar and one on harmonica. The two would later hitch-hike through the south of France together. Busking to make just enough money to get back home. They were close. Apparently it was easy to like Syd. He was friendly; strikingly so.
"In a period when everyone was being cool in a very adolescent, self-conscious way, Syd was unfashionably outgoing; my enduring memory of our first encounter is the fact that he bothered to come up and introduce himself to me."
-Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason
Outgoing is not how most now think of Syd Barrett. Barrett would within a short peroid of time become a recluse. He would be the J.D. Salinger of rock music.
Barrett was the lead guitarist, main songwriter and lead vocalist for a band gathering success very quickly. But just as quickly, his friends' saw stark changes in Barrett.
"I just don't think he could deal with the vision of success and all the things that went with it." -David Gilmour
Barrett would begin doing drugs. A lot of drugs. But the story is not as simple as a junkie who threw away success. Most believe Barrett was schizophrenic. He might also have been bi-polar. Mental illness was just not diagnosed or treated properly at the time.
Gilmour joined the band to perform when Barrett was unable. At times, Barrett would just strum one chord for an entire performance. Gilmour would sometimes play Barrett's guitar parts on stage while Barrett watched from the audience. The breakup of Barrett with the rest of the band was not that messy, because Barrett seemed too far gone to care. One day, they simply decided not to pick him up. Gilmour was now the official lead guitarist.
If this had never happened, it is quite likely you would have never heard of Pink Floyd. Gilmour's voice and guitar playing proved vital to the critical and commercial success of later Pink Floyd. It also made Roger Waters take over as main songwriter; something Barrett had taken care of previously.
Believing the drugs served as a catalyst, Gilmour still believes Barrett would not have escaped the illness. "In my opinion, his nervous breakdown would have happened anyway. It was a deep-rooted thing."
"It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here.
And I’m much obliged to you for making it clear. That I’m not here." - Syd Barrett (Jugband Blues. Barrett's last Pink Floyd song)
Instead of being a rock footnote, Barrett is a rock icon. He is a legend. Instead of ignoring him, as other bands had early members, Pink Floyd tried their hardest to keep Barrett viable. They succeeded far better than Barrett could himself. This is to the credit of the band that fired him, and mostly the person who replaced him.
Barrett would release 2 solo albums after parting with Pink Floyd. Most of the songs had previously been written, before his mental collapse.
Waters and Gilmour would both receive producing credits on the first album. Gilmour would produce the 2nd and even play bass for Barrett. Floyd member Richard Wright would also lend a hand.
Few people can relate to replacing one of your best friends in their work. Gilmour would become rich and famous doing so.
"Now there's a look in your eyes. Like black holes in the skies." -Pink Floyd (Shine On You Crazy Diamond)
Floyd would have their music as catharsis. They would pay tribute to their friend often. The album "Wish You Were Here" being a tribute to their friend. Famously, during the recording of the song "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" (about Barrett), Barrett showed up at Abbey Roads Studios. Barrett had put on weight and shaved his head and eyebrows. The band did not at first recognize him. While quiet for most of the recording, Barrett did at one point begin brushing his teeth by holding the brush still and jumping up and down. Waters would ask Barrett what he thought of the song. Barrett replied, "it sounds old." He would leave soon after. None of the members of Pink Floyd would ever see him again.
(Barrett at Abbey Road Studios 1975)
Barrett lived with his mother for the rest of his life. He worked as a part-time gardener; living mostly off the residuals from Pink Floyd (he sold away his solo rights). Gilmour made sure Barrett received his money.
Barrett died of Pancreatic Cancer in 2006. The occupation on his death certificate read "retired musician."
In Barrett's abscence, Pink Floyd would become one of the most successful bands of all time. They would also famously fued for years. Waters and the rest of the band would be tied up in lawsuits against each other that would not be settled for about 20 years. But they always seemed to see eye to eye concening their old friend. The classic lineup of Mason, Wright, Waters and Gilmour would reunite for one last short set in 2006, for Live 8. They payed tribute to Barrett, as they so often did.
According to his sister, Barrett spent much of his last years painting. She says he even wrote a book about painting, but never attempted to have it published. "He found his own mind so absorbing, that he didn't want to be distracted."
Nov 9th will see the release of "An Introduction To Syd Barrett," containing his best work with Floyd as well as his solo albums.
David Gilmour is Executive Producer.