This post remembers Syd Barrett’s greatest fan, Bernard White. I am reproducing some writings done at the time about him.
Bernard White – R.I.P.
Bernard White was a good friend to this list, and of great help to us. He donated to HYGIY from his personal collection--and since he was the first Syd collector as such, it was an honor to receive some of this material from the man who had first tracked it down for all of us.
It’s a shame that all of you didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him. Had things gone differently, you would have. Bernard was old school—he didn’t have a computer, much less email, so I would mail him a letter or more often call him on the phone.
Among the things we discussed was an interview, much as we did recently with Duggie Fields. Bernard was next on the list. I would have made an announcement to the group asking for questions, he could hold forth, and we would have taped it for a CD. He could have told us things about Syd that never made it into the books. (And I would very much have liked him to summarize what it was like to be a fan in the mid to late 1970s--how did they find each other? How did people react hearing “Scream” for the first time? Things like that.) He was very taken with the idea, but I thought we had a lot more time to do it than we did.
He was also delighted with the idea that people could scan images of his Terrapin zine, read them onscreen, or print out their own copies. He donated the “1967 Colour Special” some months back (I’ve mentioned that before--you need 3D glasses to fully appreciate it), and more than once he insisted we “must” get the 1981 “Best Of Terrapin” edition. (It wasn’t strictly a Best Of because it contained a lot of new material, such as the first-ever appearance of any of the “Opel” lyrics.) He never did get around to copying that one for us. (If somebody out there does have this, please get in touch with Pinnacle Pete or myself. Bernard was proud of that one and really wanted us to have it.)
There were a few other things he might have been able to help us with, but we’ll need to muddle through somehow without him. We do intend to—somehow—so that’s all I can say about it right now.
It is to be hoped that his widow might make his archives available at some point but little is expected, at least for now. That’s understandable enough.
I told Bernard about LaughingMadcaps and HYGIY and he was pleased to hear. As a token of appreciation we sent him CDs #1-4 (with the Mark Jones artwork, I think), plus one or two of the vid discs. (He had to go to a friend’s house to view them--no DVD player either!) He had never seen the “Jugband Blues” video, much less the “Scarecrow” outtakes.
He had of course heard most everything on HYGIY 1-4, and was impressed with the work that had gone into it. “Well done!!” is what he said. It’s what he asked me to convey to everyone involved, and so now I have.
For my part I let him know how much some of us had appreciated the Remember A Day film. We did discuss that at some length, and I’m sure he would have had a lot to say had we done that interview. There were a few points he wanted to make. Some other day I’ll try to discuss them at length, but what he was adamant about was this: he intended it as a cautionary tale, a warning to fans not to let their fandom get the better of them. He meant it in that spirit, and he knew the consequences all too well.
He was relieved to learn that there weren’t many Sydiots among us. I told him, “well yes, we do get on our computers for an hour or two a day, we’ll check our email, we’ll spend some time talking about Syd among other things—but it’s more like friends getting together at the pub. Then we go home, and most of us have jobs and lives.” He was glad to hear it. “It wasn’t that way in the 70s and 80s—I was living a lifestyle more like Syd’s had been, or not far off from the crazed fan in Remember A Day, I mean [chuckling], I actually had a bedroom with every inch of the walls plastered with posters and pictures of Syd, and scrapbooks, the whole bit...”
The thing with Bernard in the last year of his life was... he was trying to get away from Syd. He had spent many years fairly obsessed, and he was more or less “on the wagon.” Once a fan, always a fan, and he was always ready to help another fan--but he was cultivating other interests by conscious effort. If he were to spend an hour talking about Syd, then he had to make a point of spending the rest of the evening on something else. For this reason, I tried to give him his space. We had hit it off nicely, I called and of course we talked about Syd, but I was always mindful of that and so we didn’t speak nearly as often as I would have liked.
Even so, I was flabbergasted when I called one day and asked what was new with him and he chuckled, “oh, well I got married!” He hadn’t mentioned being engaged; it was rather quick. All the same I sent him a nice card of “Congratulations on behalf of all of us at LaughingMadcaps!,” and he later told me they both had been touched when it arrived.
I wish I or we could have given him back more for everything he had done for us over the years. (You know that line of Newton’s about standing on the shoulders of giants—we all owe something to Bernard.) He did mention at one point that he’d grown to love the Grateful Dead, particularly the 1970s lineup, and so I burned him a big pile of Dick’s Picks CDs to fill in the gaps in his collection. The next time I called I got his wife, who said he’d been asking every day if the CDs had come from America yet...so while I never remembered to ask how he’d liked them, they must’ve brought him some enjoyment when they finally came.
*sigh* I’d have burned him a stack as thick as my arm if he’d have been able to stick around and listen to them all. As it is, we hadn’t spoken in a couple of months. Not only was he rationing his Syd intake, he was also a newlywed, and so I gave him his space. I had meant to call him the very next weekend though when we all got the news.
About all I can say for now is that if you knew him you were lucky, and if you didn’t you would have liked to. Please take a moment to wish him well.
Steve Czapla, 4/24/04
For Bernard Terrapin Man 2004-04-22 © Darryl Read
His eyes sharp – blue – they could spot a diamond in the grooves of a vinyl single – the head structured of heavy bone and full of innovations favouring future time.
Deals within deals – the master of collections – and one in for free, as a sweetener – bagged and wrapped – the Cheeky Chappie’s perfection.
The window gaze sad – looking for some lost paradise amongst the steeple tops and trees – that old black dog – made far too many visits.
My Rock Svengali – the Terrapin man – One day he told me that we would all wake up dead in fluffy candy clouds, and wonder what our lives had been all about.
Mr White pulled the metal shutter of the Groove Shack down – quickly, and told the last customer – “Closing now – thank you!”
It is a fast tragedy and of great loss, that my friend has paid such a high price, in search of love.
Bernard White died in unfortunate circumstances on 14 April 2004. This poem was read by Claire Gordon at Bernard’s cremation on 23 April 2004.
Labels: Bernard White