As I'm sure many of you have heard by now, Syd Barrett has died at age 60. Syd founded what I call the first Pink Floyd, as opposed to the second, Waters & Gilmour-led "Dark Side of the Moon"/"The Wall" Pink Floyd. The first Pink Floyd were, for a brief period in the late '60s, the wildest band in England, roughly equivalent to the Velvet Underground in the U.S. - an amazing discovery for someone like me, a typical raised-on-punk kid who thought Floyd stood for all that was pretentious and dull.
Syd was the first Floyd: singing, songwriting, guitar, heck, he gave the band it's name. When Syd became too acid-damaged/mentally ill to perform with Floyd he went from rock star to one of the first prominent outsider musicians, recording devasting solo albums that were as much musical therapy as art. After 1970, he never recorded again.
I used to listen to the first Floyd album "Piper At The Gates of Dawn" and his solo album "The Madcap Laughs" obsessively. The differences are stark. "Piper" is the world through Syd's eyes: a colorfully-produced wonderland of gnomes, living scarecrows, and spaceflight. The imagery, though phantasmagorical, is lucid.
Pink Floyd: "Arnold Layne" - who else was (is) writing songs about a clothes-stealing cross-dresser?
"The Madcap Laughs," recorded some years later, is like watching a patient through an observation window as he pathetically tries to play a guitar and sing. The meaning (if any) of the now-jumbled word-salad lyrics may befuddle the listener, but the pain comes through loud and clear: there's nothing romantic about mental illness. It's hell, like any other serious disease.
Syd Barrett: "Dark Globe"
Barrett's influence is truly inestimable: his songs have been covered by David Bowie, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Love and Rockets, REM ("Dark Globe," actually), the bands Baby Lemonade and Gigalo Aunt are named after his songs, Sid Vicious was partly named after him, and Robyn Hitchcock practically built his career on Syd's style. But, ultimately, his legacy goes beyond his music - without trying, but by simply being allowed to be himself, he paved the way for the punk DIY and outsider music traditions.
Totom: "Waving My Cactus In The Air" - not as pornographic as it sounds, it's actually Paris' mashup master totom expertly fusing Syd's "Waving My Hands In The Air" with The Pixies' "Cactus."