Understandably so, probably, many people harbor a decidedly muddled perspective of the band Pink Floyd. Just to gloss over their situation as it currently stands — as accords to Wikipedia, they are defunct (broken-up), but still have a functional website dedicated thereto, an Internet beacon which has recently made news for David Gilmour’s prohibition of the other members accessing it as administrators.
One thing that, to me, is quite interesting and strange about them is that their governing creative personnel, from the first album they ever recorded, Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), to their last three albums which span the late-’80s to 2013, underwent complete replacement. That is, having started with Syd Barrett the primary songwriter on Piper at the Gates of Dawn, whose bandmate at the time, Roger Waters, would go on to lay creative claim to The Wall (1979) as a whole, we come, by A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987), to a band composed exclusively of David Gilmour and Nick Mason, the latter of which being a founding member of the band. I would, for my own part, be somewhat inclined to refer to David Gilmour’s behavior as parasitic, seeing as he profits to this day on an entity he didn’t conceive and apparently drove out all but the entirety of the band, except that “Learning to Fly” and “Take it back” happen to be two tracks I thoroughly admire.
Anyway, with the whole thing apparently a complete, unexplainable quandary, right down to the aforementioned absence of an element of universal law which would have suggested a lack of merit on the part of David Gimour, the purpose of this post is to illuminate certain elements in Syd Barrett’s life which might have contributed to his eventual mental infirmity. Obviously, nobody would argue that his heavy use of LSD had a particularly harmful effect on his mind state, nor would anybody in their right mind probably attempt to tab copious use of this drug as innocuous.
I was perusing some information on Barrett’s life on his Wikipedia page and came across the tidbit that he’d had a girlfriend, Jenny Spires, prior to the recording of their first album. This kind of surprised me, which I know is hopelessly naive on my part, but still corresponds to this image I’d had of Barrett of this isolated eccentric who sort of lived in a shell in everyday life, to then blossom out into a proverbial butterfly in the recording studio. As Wikipedia has it, though, “Once described as joyful, friendly, and extroverted, (Barrett) became increasingly depressed and socially withdrawn,” a process the website posits as “a consequence of his reported heavy use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD.”
It’s certainly a sad situation to think of and represents an even more extreme case of the approximate scourge that affected Brian Wilson. In general, a certain amount of human malaise, I don’t think there’s any question, corresponds with the popularization and cultural incentivization of LSD in the ’60s and the concurrent lack of information and surrounding umbrage regarding certain potential effects thereof.
I just found it funny, though, that Wikipedia didn’t seem to make any further mention of Barrett’s female acquaintance, Jenny Spires, beyond the initial microbe that they were “dating” at the beginning of 1967. Actually, the article details that Spires “unknown to Barrett . . . had an affair with Peter Whitehead.” Of course, the “unknown” part would seem likely from the fact they were dating, but still, if the information is this widely known by now, it’s certainly hard to imagine it not having gotten back around to Barrett at some point before or around the release of Piper, which transpired mere months after the relationship.
Sure, it might be unfair to criticize people for their personal habits and decisions — but I mean not so much to criticize as to just inquire as to why the details of their breakup would be so completely snuffed within Wikipedia’s reporting. I mean, by now we’ve heard a rock song or two that thematically deals with about a breakup with a woman, right? It should be common knowledge, if not from personal experience, then at least from a consummate understanding of rock music’s typical emotional trajectory, that this is a big deal for people, when it happens. Now, there’s also been no account of Barrett making her the subject of any burgeoning lyricism — in fact, that exact track seems to have been somewhat taboo within the entire band, rampant as it was with Hendrix, the Beatles and The Rolling Stones alike. Even David Gilmour’s later odes like “Learning to Fly” and “Take it back” make indirect, ambiguous references to women, rather than naming certain ones or thoroughly explicating the individual’s actual actions or effects.
Such a thing might have been therapeutic for Barrett, but impossible within the confines of his current band. Many artists engage in side projects, sure, and I happen to think it’s all but necessary for artistic growth. But Barrett was wedged in a CRAZE, so to speak, a “scene” similar to grunge in early-’90s Seattle which entailed the complete pervasion of one particular style in music, which in his case was psychedelic rock. What’s more, the predicament of the “psychedelic” dominating over London would have theoretically put a certain amount of pressure on musicians to indeed participate in illicit LSD use, hence more than likely posing a difficulty in, or complication of, ardent self-expression. And I mean, just look at the title of the 1967 documentary film in which Pink Floyd is featured: Tonite Lets All Make Love in London. Talk about a volatile manifestation of values.