Read Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head

One day in the summer of 2006 I learned that Syd had died. I phoned Mojo and asked if I could write the obituary piece. ‘Yes please,’ said the editor. ‘But we go to press in five days. Can you do 5,000 words by Friday?’ If it had been anybody else it would have been a chore, but I’d lived and breathed and dreamed Syd’s music since that twelve-year-old me first heard ‘Arnold Layne’. And so in the hottest week of that long hot summer I sat and wrote 5,000 words about Syd. Here’s another 140,000 to go with them.

Growing up, I had a friend who was obsessed with Pink Floyd. He learnt all the licks. He would play along to every track. Once, in a time before online shopping, we drove for an hour to buy a Syd Barrett boxset. There was always an aura around Barrett and his genius. I was therefore intrigued to read Rob Chapman’s book. I saw it come up in Faber’s Greatest Hits, it was also offered for free on Audible.

Chapman continues to push back on the myths around Barrett and his genius and subsequent mental collapse. Although there is no denying that drugs played a significant part in Barrett’s life, however there were also other aspects that influenced things. Chapman makes comparisons with the lives and works of other creatives, Edward Lear and Kenneth Grahame, Lewis Carroll, who each in their own way suffered a lose that hung over them and influenced their art. Chapman also explores the difference in personalities and desires with the other members of Pink Floyd. With this in mind, success may not have been his thing. While in the end, for many during that time, madness offered up a way of being.

The stories that emulate around Barrett buying thirty guitars, living it up in a hotel or chasing down an airplane on the tarmac reminds me in some ways of stories that often surround Daniel Johns. So often there is a desire for such enigmas to fit a particular mold. However, I guess this may overlook their own desire of who they might want to be.