THE MADCAP LAUGHED AT THE MAN ON THE BORDER
An essay about the destruction of Syd Barrett by Alexander Ahlstrand
I had no intentions to release and distribute this essay when I at first began to write. The essay was in some ways intended to be a internal joke limited to the closest of my friends. It happened later that one of my friend wanted to distribute the essay on his mailing list, so he asked for my permission.
The response were extraordinary. This was mostly because the mailing list was for the band “Tool” and not the Pink Floyd. The tone varied to some extent. Some “Tool”, and what I suspect, Floyd fans were outraged and hollered evilness in my direction. I was now accused of blasphemy.
The main thing that lead these people to their aggravated states of mind was that they couldn’t interpret my tone. That is why I am adding a foreword.
This essay is in all ways speculatory. I do not and will not claim to be telling any truth. Many of the things written in this essay has been added or exaggerated to make the whole thing more amusing to read. I am a great Pink Floyd fan and a fan of Roger Waters, as a solo artist. This story has it’s origin in a joke a friend told me. It goes: Why did Syd go insane? Because Roger was the one with the psychiatrist appointment!
fact. This is simply one of my turns coming on.
Alexander Ahlstrand - July 2001
The lives and times of the Pink Floyd remain one of the best documented and intriguing.
This can be credited to the story of the enigmatic Roger Keith Barrett, also known as ‘Syd’ but also to the intriguing and prodigious music the Pink Floyd played and recorded during their prime years, from the musically redefining ‘Piper at the gates of dawn’ to the monumental ‘Dark side of the moon’ and retrospective ‘Wish you were here’.
But there is one story that stands untold. A story hinted along the way, but never fully disembowelled. The story and the question are: Why did Syd Barrett go insane?
In 1996 Boxtree publishing released the book ‘Lost in the woods’ by Julian Palacios. One of the most intriguing looks at the character ‘Syd Barrett’. This book presents series of clues and speculations to the question, what did happen to Syd? Amongst the answers lie: He was schizophrenic? He cracked due to the rejections of several male role models? And the most common answer: He lost himself to the drugs!
This small essay should, hopefully, present an alternative based on both speculation and facts.
We will reveal the name of the man who forced Syd Barrett into obscurity. But more of that later.
I take it that all you that read this already know your ‘Pink’s’ and ‘Floyd’s’ so I cut to the chase.
Syd Barrett was an original and audiences love originals, they love their stories and frolics. A good example is ‘Surfer bird’ Brian Wilson and ‘The Fleeting Mac’ Peter Green (I won’t bother to mention Captain Beefheart!). There is almost an obstruction In the path of the true madman. For many of the loonies this would be the reluctant approval of the audiences and record companies. Syd’s obstruction came from within his own ranks. In other words: Syd Barrett had an enemy.
The list of people close enough to Syd is rather short. Actually there are four persons that had the opportunity to destroy Syd Barrett, namely the members of the Pink Floyd. Let’s line ‘em up shall we.
- David Gilmour - Friend, tutor and old friend.
- Richard Wright – Silent Jazz pianist.
- Nick Mason - Upper class drummer and full-time band member.
- Roger Waters – Cynical Bass player and rivalling songwriter.
Four persons that had the possibilities to eradicate Syd Barrett. But who would and what would the motive be.
Dave Gilmours best motive for getting Syd out of the way would be the money. But, it is very unlikely that Gilmour that considered himself friends with Syd would do such a thing. Gilmour is too soft. Gilmour is a wank.
Richard Wright was a great musician, actually the only one with any formal education in music and most probably the one who turned Syd on to Avant-garde Jazz. Wright is also the one that would have gotten the most satisfaction of working under Syd in terms of musical bonding. Wright is the fundamental experimentalist with his jazz background and the one who would loose most on the eradication of Syd Barrett.
Nick Mason…! Let’s face it. One, he is the drummer. Two, he owns a lot of cars today. Three, he was born wealthy. Nuff said!
Which leaves, Roger Waters. The one most likely to gain anything from the eradication of Syd Barrett would be Roger Waters. But what would his motives be? To answer that question I would like to draw a layman’s profile of Waters.
- Roger Waters have a severe emotional problem due to the loss of his father, a problem that has led Waters in to an abysmal self-pity .
- Roger Waters lack tolerance for a great number of things including: Popular culture, Arts, the people surrounding him and, strangely, his own self and his past career.
- Roger Waters blindly believe that he is an artist and that his music is important and relevant to the great public majority. A belief that often leads Waters into a semi-depressive state when the public fail to understand him. This state subsequently feeds his anger and results in the birth of new paranoia that brings inspiration.
- Roger Waters are a highly unstable person that often snaps due of pressure and subsequently hurt somebody that fail to approve him.
- Roger Waters are most likely mentally disturbed and in severe denial of this state, with the one exception of his musical alter egos and statements .
But what would possess Roger Waters to turn against his creator Syd Barrett. Once again let me list a few possible scenarios.
- Syd Barrett presented the world with a new and unheard approach to popular music. Often criticised and misunderstood. Roger Waters wanted and want to tell his own story. In this perspective, Waters was threatened by Syd Barrett’s infantile approach to music, often incorporating children’s stories and pure fantasy. Waters on the other hand wanted ‘an artistic approach’ to the Floyds music. This brings me to believe that Roger and Syd were bound to engage in battle. A battle young Barrett most likely would loose. In fact: Roger Waters partially admitted to this in a extensive interview from the 1975 release of the ‘Wish you were here’ song book. Transcription follows:
Nick Sedgewick: A lot of people have made remarks to me over the album's sadness.
- Roger Waters must have been outraged with the fact that Syd, even though he despised the work he was doing, let the influence of drugs affect his music. Not only in the loss of contact with the band, but also in terms of song writing. Such songs as ‘Vegetable man’ and ‘Scream thy last scream’ must, I sincerely believe, have made Waters very upset with its absurdity, versus Waters own controlled and self-centred writings. In other words Waters must have realised the fact that Barrett’s mental instability would force Waters to retire from the career as a recording artist, long before his time. Waters knew that Barrett was his obstruction and therefore Barrett had to be eliminated.
- Waters is a paranoid yet he knows the fact that he needs help and attention. As in the world of music, there is a constant battle for attention. The Floyd was in a business dominated by bands that would be remembered for their good looks and potentials as entertainers. Barrett was a handsome young man with an interesting and magnetic personality; Waters was, in all honesty, ugly and more reclusive. Thus, the simple fact of envy of Barretts good looks might very well have led Waters to force Barrett into retreat.
These theories might very well have a fabricate of my mind, but there lies a few substantial facts that would make the aforementioned scenarios even more plausible.
It is commonly known that Roger Waters hold great vices against performing in stadiums or in his own words: “Rock 'n' roll in stadiums is genuinely awful…” Roger Waters took this standpoint early on in his career and that led him to write The Wall “…as an attack on stadium rock”.
This hatred towards performing live actually led Waters to the brink of his wits, resulting in the ‘Spit’ incident during the 1977 Animals tour.
The relevance is added when Waters reveals that the situation within the ranks of the band was suffering. When being interviewed Waters said: “…Dark side of the moon was the last willing collaboration; after that, everything with the band was like drawing teeth…”
As the self-appointed creative leader of the New Pink Floyd, Waters must have been distressed when he saw ‘his’ band lapsing into creative dead space and the mechanical touring the world.
Waters approach to this situation was as simple as it was in 1968! Re-construction was needed.
Mentally ill people often seek out to recreate his world in order to compensate for his lacks in adapting. This is often visualised in ‘A geographical relocation’ hoping to escape from what ever is bothering the inflicted, or in worse cases ‘Impulsive destructive behaviour ’, in the belief that the fault is by the hand of ex. The world or a person, the inflicted needs to destroy his ‘enemy’ (Whether innocent or not).
Syd Barrett was becoming a creative block to the band when the Pink Floyd 1968 ventured back into the Abbey Road studios to record their follow up ‘Saucerful of secrets’. Barretts sporadic behaviour and increasing drug use was jeopardising the future of the band, or more specifically Roger Waters.
A decision had to be made and, as likely as unlikely, Waters made this (Note that if he could persuade the other members of Floyd to accept the firing of Rick Wright ten years later, then why couldn’t he have done this in early 1968?) Not surprisingly the Floyd needed a new front man and songwriter. Roger Waters had already prepared for this. Syd was officially out of his [Syd’s] creation and a new Floyd dawned, more mature, more controlled, more ‘Watersesque’.
Now one might object that the material produced for the following albums (Saucerful of secrets and Ummagumma) shows little if no signs of progression from the experimental sound. But one must consider that the band had to keep a small part of its original audience (So that the sales wouldn’t plummet and render the band ‘a bad investment). In small steps the Floyd would part itself from its ‘raving’ psychedelic outfit into a solo artist and his backing group (The Roger Waters Group!).
There was left a gapping hole where Syd Barrett used to be, a hole that need filling and the band decided upon David Gilmour as main guitarist. This proved to be a good ‘investment’ on Waters behalf. Gilmour was handsome young man, a brilliant guitarist yet a wank. There would be little if no problems in controlling him. Gilmour clearly had no problem as a session musician (something he clearly shows these days) this ensured Waters a somewhat reliable ally. Nick Mason as mentioned before had little or no objections toward the directions the band was taken (He has written a book about all his cars). The only potential problem was Richard Wright. Wright is probably the one who must have been most bothered with Waters excluding Barrett from the band. This problem between Waters and Wright reached its culmination in early 1980 when Wright was allegedly ‘fired’ from the Floyd.
Barretts fate was sealed with the ‘Barrett’ sessions. Barrett had, in small words, triumphantly returned to music the year before and seemed to be doing well. Where as Malcolm Jones had produced Barretts solo debut ‘The madcap laughs’, Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters were called in to assist on the production on the follow-up (and final) record. This might have proved fatal to Barrett. As Julian Palacios states in his book, Barrett had had traumatic experiences of rejection from persons he considered his peers, friends or inspirations. The gap in Barretts world caused by being rejected from his group and by one of his ‘Friends’ (Waters) left Barrett wounded and severely depressed. Abandoned Barrett had engaged in a frantic drug abuse to cope with the pain. Barrett though was not rendered useless. By 1969 he had managed to salvage enough of his torn person to ask for a second chance. This was granted and Barrett proceeded with a solo career. But this ended abruptly after the ‘Barrett’ sessions.
It would be reasonable to assume Waters reluctance as spiteful; If Barrett still was a threat to Waters. But by the time Waters had control of the Floyd without Barretts free-form input, so there is no reason to believe that Waters refused to work with Barrett.
I tend to belief that if you have once have made yourself an enemy of Roger Waters, then you will be his enemy for good. Barrett hadn’t made himself Waters enemy, but if you turn it around then this suddenly becomes logical. Waters as a paranoid egomaniac could with ease have made Barrett the enemy and if this were the case there would be a possibility of problems during the ‘Barrett’ sessions .
The risk of a complete relapse in Barretts case was ever present and most likely so evident that the least intrusion would send Barrett back into his hole. This intrusion could possibly be Waters.
When taken into consideration that Waters often regressed to a (To say the least) childish behaviour , it’s likely to believe that Waters in a semi-paranoid state could have ‘taunted’ Barrett during the sessions, to such a degree that Barrett completely lost it. Roger Waters has made himself renowned for his harsh and downright evil remarks about the work of his former band mates, collaborators and others that might have pissed him off (Whether rightfully or not) and I tend to believe that If Waters had started putting Barrett down this would be done to the unavoidable end.
What left behind was the mental corpse of Syd Barrett, now clearly mad and out of the circuit for good. The potential threat to Waters had been destroyed and the option of two Floyds had been narrowed down to one, the Floyd featuring Roger Waters. This Floyd would in the end repeat itself and, once again, be broken by Roger Waters .
Where as Roger Waters was the reason Syd Barrett lost his mind, I can (and will not) say.
I have written this essay as a purely speculative look into the world of the Pink Floyd, Roger Waters and Syd Barrett. I have tried to raise the question: ‘Who is the true madcap? I have taken pieces of information, whether really or rumoured, and moulded them into a ‘theoretical conspiracy theory’.
I hold the greatest respect for the Pink Floyd (as a unity) and Syd Barrett and hope that this essay will offend none of them. In the case of Roger Waters is want to state this In the blatant manner he uses himself:
Roger Waters are probably one of the worst persons in the rock industry today. He is a severely disturbed man, with a great inferiority complex that is corrupting him and his music (as a solo artist).
He lacks the manner and behaviour that is to be expected by a man of his age and taken all the positive works, he and Pink Floyd, made during the 70’s it is surprising that anyone can make such a horrifying regression. There is only one man who qualifies as Roger Waters enemy and that is Roger Waters himself. I believe that man should live what he preaches so: Mr. Waters take a look behind the wall you so tediously constructed and stop hurting us with your childish anger towards all and everything.
It is with, my sincerest, regret that I have to swallow my pride and say that: Roger Waters are still one of the best writers of contemporary music, since the war .
So I conclude with the words of Syd Barrett and hope that the message reaches you:
“…The madcap laughed at the man on the border.”
Inspiration and reference literature for this essay:
Who the hell does Roger Waters think he is?
Tom Hibbert for Q magazine. November 1992
Lost in the woods – Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd
Julian Palacios, Boxtree Publishing, 1998
Lyrical extracts from ‘Octopus’ by Syd Barrett.
Thanks to: Nils and Daniel for inspiring this work with our in-joke:
The reason Syd Barrett went mad, was that Roger Waters was
taking up all the time at the psychiatrist discussing his father…
And the two Rogers (Keith Barrett and Waters) for raising hell
Alexander Ahlstrand - 2000-09-28
The Greatest Pink Floyd Hoax of Them All
Please sit down for a while. Empty your thoughts toward the Pink Floyd, forget all the stories that have been told. Cleanse your mind and in the words of the late Publius use all means of communication.
I will pose a question to the reader that may come as the complete opposite to all that you have known / thought / believed.
I sat down in front of my table top computer a couple of months ago, with a thought Roaming in the back of my head: What the hell is wrong with Roger Waters? My finds were rather unique (in the terms of Pink Floyd scholars), not that they could be proved to the extent that they would be acceptable, but they (hopefully) proved to raise a question about the Roger Waters we do not see.
My finds has since then been interesting. A noteable remark toward myself is that I have not mentioned a possible use of drugs on the behalf on Roger Waters; therefor I might as well take the time in this introduction to fill out a gap.
It maybe hard to visualize the scenario if you do not have the recording at hand, but I can swear that it is the first and certainly the only time I’ve heard Roger Waters make such a sound. The thing the struck me is that I’ve heard the sound before... Now you maybe confused but I have heard exactly the same sounds (Choke and gagging) come from my neighbour. That I know must seem absurd, but there is a conclusion. My neighbour has a severe problem with ticks due to a long abuse of amphetamines. I think you know what I’m getting at here, but there is also evidence To support my though. Let’s reiterate: Roger Waters on stage 1975 makes the noise of someone that most likely would have used drugs (Prior to the show) or as an alternative, would have a neurological disorder, and if such where the case, wouldn’t someone have noted this in some form of ticks and other tell-tale signs?
Back to the evidence and I would like to remark that you should almost read the interview before passing a judgement (Links can be found at the bottom of the page). The source is an interview with Roger Waters over satellite. In the sequence I’ve noted the topic is the Wall and it’s contents. Waters has just been posed the question:
Q: Did this have anything to do with your actual life, or you know, our early life?
And his answer is:
Note that in the very being Roger seems to be saying something that he later regrets and halts: ”I’ve taken...”. What?
What ever the final part of the statement may be is something we most likely never will get to hear. But it seems to me that if one knew that Roger Waters have taken drugs that to such extent cause nervous ticks, then there is a very good possibility to explain the erratic behaviour Roger display in the later half of the 1970, all the way up to the wall. The link to Syd Barrett suddenly seems more visible, and yet there is the great Pink Floyd Hoax.
This should, by all means, be taken with a good grain of salt and /or scepticism. As in my essay prior to this I toy a great deal with the concepts, as in the case of the Publius, there may be a thread of truth running through the essay, but it would be most unlikely if not to say impossible to prove ’my point’, as it is the opposite of the established fact.
When one receive a book of modern mythology and folklore one will find plausible explanations to what the myth may be based upon. One if therefore encouraged not to believe anything one hears. I suspect that the myths without the opposite are the ones most likely to be taken 100% for granted. For example; the myth of Floyd performing live at the Pyramids on new years eve 1999. Proved to be a faked rumour, but everyone wanted to believe it and since there was no opposite, in this case, official statements It was taken for granted, all the way to the end. Others have flourished with the same power for years and years, not only in the case of Floyd but also for many others.
The one I’ve grown interested in is the one of Syd Barrett, of course. The heroic tale of the 60’s genius that simply just went away. One of the first things that strike me is the mix of memories you find printed in memories and books. Memories of a severely disturbed lunatic taking quantum masses of hallucinogens and doing things that astounds decades afterwards. Memories of a mild, mannered, as oppose to the legend, intelligent artist. There is a shroud of histories and tales covering the man Roger Keith Barrett. Most of these tales sanctioned by publishers, without the direct aid of anyone close to the present day Roger Barrett, stories told by the remaining band-members who have not seen the man for 20 odd years. And so on...
Roger Barrett is the puzzle all seems to leave unsolved. Why is that?
Well, first of all. No one sees the fate of Roger Barrett as a puzzle. He went Gaga and moved home. To me the puzzle seems clear enough if one might place the tale of Roger Barrett next to those with whom he so often is compared. I’m speaking about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, and Peter Green of the Fleetwood Mac amongst many. I don’t know much about Green but the thing that strikes me with Brian Wilson is that he’s mental state has been widely speculated and publicised through the years and this because of his close ties to his band and his own recollection of the years gone by. As far as I know has Peter Green provided the same link to the lost years. Both Wilson and Green have both returned into the limelight to face the demand for an explanation, and just this has made it clear to the audience what most likely happened through the period they were indispensable as have many of the myths concerning the behaviour and otherwise been confirmed as unsubstantiated rumours.
If Roger where to go public again, what would he say? And how many of our most determined beliefs would be shattered in the process? Would he still be the Madcap?
I honestly don’t think so. The Barrett legend has sustained its force by the lack of inside information. Most of the books written about Roger/Syd spin on the usual myths without the urge to debunking them. Julian Palcious did good work when he partly belittled the myth by posing the question: What exactly went wrong?
Syd Barrett was a one hit wonder. Initially cut out to be a painter, he found himself engaged in a pop group playing infantile music and singing nursery rhymes. All who ever have been engaged in any form of art making know the wish of making it big time. Syd Barrett and his Pink Floyd began in rather modest scales, developed into one of Britain’s finest psychedelic acts. This factor of fame could easily be contributed to the fact that what the Floyd played in the mid-60s was groundbreaking music, but note that it doesn’t have to be exclusively positive. In the primal days of Psychedelia, I believe, that the concept was so new that the whole scene had to be improvised. Therefore the Floyds experimental cacophony gained its ground, based on vague concepts of the movement and archetypal rebelliousness of the time, as did the Sex Pistols gain ground a decade later, without any obvious skill or talent for that matter. In other words the fitted the emotions and demands at the time.
It is to be taken serious that Syd Barrett took LSD. But then again who didn’t and all did funny things on their high. There is a vague idea of Syd being a drug-crazed maniac, an idea stimulated by the many myths surrounding his disappearance. Syd Barrett used drugs, but no one can be sure to such extent that it explains his fall. As mentioned before Syd could very well have been a one hit wonder. ’The Piper at the gates of dawn’ stands remarkable, as does the singles from the period. But what comes next.... He wasn’t actively engaged in the making of ’Saucerful of Secrets’, ’The Madcap Laughs’ seems very tired to me (more of a demo collection than an album). ’Barrett’ gained on the help of David Gilmour and Soft Machine, but it showed in no way the spirit and mentality Barrett had possessed on ’Piper’. After that Syd stepped down and disappeared back to the suburbs of Cambridge.
One might speculate if the true reason for Syd’s retreat can be contributed to a lack of musical creativity and boredom with the music business (It is known to be harsh). The strange thing is that in a 1971 Barrett interview for the Melody Maker, Syd seems focused and controlled as always. When asked about ”Acid” he actually makes no indication towards the expected reply. Syd talks in the manner of a intellectual young man who as he puts it: ”I work in a cellar, down in a cellar”. Perhaps Syd just decided to abandon his stage persona and go back to live as he preferred?
Suddenly I wonder as to why this seems so wrong? And it’s easy. I have been bread on the tale of the lunatic Syd Barrett who went off the deep end and saw gods in all shapes and sizes. It seems a long way from Syd Barrett onstage persona for Roger Barrett who just found that he had no songs left in him and left the stardom to become a painter. But again wasn’t this the same thing that happened to Don Van Vliet a.k.a Captain Beefheart? What if Roger Barrett suddenly realised that Syd was
dying? What would and could he do?
David Bowie killed Ziggy Stardust and remerged as ’David Bowie’ or did he? Then again David Bowie is just the facade for David Jones and David Jones lives a quite life outside the limelight preoccupying himself as a painter.
Then if Roger Barrett isn’t mentally ill, why doesn’t he come forth? That question seems rather easy. Roger Barrett has a good life today. He earns royalties and lives secluded from the public eye. If Roger Barrett were to suddenly appear and say: ’Hi! I’m Syd Barrett and I’m just fine!’, all hell, I suspect, were to break lose and the peace he has today would be shattered. Fact is that Syd Barrett is equally or even more popular today than he was in the 60’s. The consequences of Syd appearing year 2000 would mobilize a small army of fans hoping to ask questions and chat with him, and I shall not mention the press!
My conclusion is that we only believe what we choose to believe. If we’re being told the same story over and over again we end up believing it, and perhaps this is the reason why Syd Barrett is such a madcap and the man behind him, Roger Barrett, is unknown?
Labels: Syd Barrett