Tag Archive: LSD

Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett

On June 5th 1975, the members of Pink Floyd were happily churning away at Abbey Road Studios in London, recording parts for “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” the central piece for their next album. On this particular day, though, they had a visitor. He showed up unannounced. He had no hair, no beard, no eyebrows, had a dead look on his face, and mystified everyone in the sessions as to why he was there. Even though they didn’t recognize him at first, they knew him – it was none other than Syd Barrett himself.

He looked completely different than the guy they all knew years before. He had put on weight, for one thing, and he was dressed differently, but the biggest thing was his lack of hair. Roger Waters in particular must have this burned into his memory; in his fullest exploration of madness and its effects, The Wall, the main character Pink shaves off all the hair on his body, signifying the completion of his descent into insanity.

Syd’s behavior that day was predictably unpredictable. At one point, he stood in the studio control booth brushing his teeth. The timing of this visit is particularly interesting, since Pink Floyd was recording “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” a song Waters had penned specifically about Barrett. When Waters asked him what he thought of the song, Barrett just said “sounds a bit old.” Waters had so much to say about Syd, his personality, his psychoses, and madness in general. He wrote two albums about it (Dark Side and The Wall), as well as a grand 26-minute magna carta specifically about him, and all Syd could find to say was “sounds a bit old.”

Syd at Abbey Road, June 5th 1975

Syd at Abbey Road, June 5th 1975

If you want my opinion, Syd didn’t really understand that the song was about him. I’m guessing there wasn’t a lot at that time Syd did understand. For some geniuses like Syd, the rest of the world is speaking a foreign language. It’s not just in the words they say – it’s in their actions, their mindset, their perceptions, the entirety of how they interact with the world.

Some have speculated that Syd was schizophrenic – a rather easy and unsatisfying answer. Some say he had some sort of autism spectrum disorder, like Asperger’s. Others point to his copious use of mind-altering drugs in his younger years. But whatever the diagnosis of what the hell was wrong with him, what remains is that Syd Barrett was both blessed and cursed, and both by nature and by circumstance. Syd was born into a particular arrangement of events, or the stars aligned, or God stretched out his holy hand, or whatever – Syd was different; he was blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with a kind of understanding that is granted to extremely few people. He also did a lot of LSD, another contributing factor. But however it came to pass, his story ends in a sputtering incoherency, one that we can only understand through the flagrantly inadequate lens of “well, he’s just crazy.”

But Roger Waters knew better. He knew what very few people knew about Syd – that there’s a little piece of Syd inside all of us.

Pink Floyd with Syd, pre-David Gilmore

Pink Floyd with Syd, pre-David Gilmour

“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is really a collection of a bunch of different musical ideas Pink Floyd had hatched over the course of two years. Originally, it was supposed to be a side-long composition, much like “Echoes” from Meddle and “Atom Heart Mother” from the album of the same name. The lyrics serve as the backbone of the entire song, but they only appear in 2 of the 9 sections. In the lyrics, it’s Roger talking directly to Syd directly, calling him all manner of things, like stranger, legend, martyr, painter, piper, prisoner, boy child, winner and loser. He details in poetic terms Syd’s history with the band, and reveals that he, more than anyone else, understood what Syd was going through. He also understood that Syd had to go through it completely alone; the other members of Pink Floyd would not follow.

Next: But if that salt has lost its flavor, it ain’t got much in its favor…


3-year-old Julian’s picture that inspired “Lucy”

When I was in elementary school, there was a girl in my class a few years named Lucy. At the beginning of the year, we would all take our desks, then go around and say our names. It seemed like every year it would come around to Lucy, she would say her name, and the teacher would say, “huh, like that song.” Then the teacher would sing the first line of the chorus to “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” and say, “I love that song.” Lucy would just nod. She must have heard that a billion times.

The responsibility for “Lucy” lies with John Lennon’s son Julian. He was 3 years old when he brought home from school a picture he had drawn. Kid pictures are a funny thing. We praise and laud them to the kids as if they’re the prize of the century, and hang them on the fridge. Viewed with a critical and objective eye, of course, kid pictures unilaterally suck, but that’s not the point. It’s the kid that made the picture that matters, not the picture itself. And if it’s our kid, then Jackson Pollock better make way. Aside from their usefulness as a window into the child’s psychology, they make parents feel proud of their kid. And they can even inspire a song.

“Lucy” was one such song, and a big fat thank-you needs to go to Julian, and the real-life Lucy who in turn inspired the picture. It’s a wonderful piece of psychedelic whimsy, and has a childlike boppiness. It also features a shift from a 3/4 time in the verses to 4/4 in the chorus. This normally annoys the crap out of me (especially when it’s accompanied by a big tempo change), but it works here. The lyrics speak of tangerine trees and cellophane flowers and marshmallow pies, but the strange and perhaps drug-induced imaginings of the narrator don’t make the listener feel ill-at-ease.

I can hear the question on your lips before you say it. “Is the song about drugs?” There’s the simple fact that it’s called “LUCY in the SKY with DIAMONDS.” L. in the S. with D. LSD. Any 2nd grader (with an unsettling knowledge of controlled substances) could figure that one out, so that’s not enough. But the song has a weird, other-worldly quality, encouraged by the celeste-like intro. The picture I get from the lyrics is of a crazy, colorful world, but it’s more Dr. Seuss than Timothy Leary. Personally, I don’t buy the drug subtext thing, but here’s the main reason. It’s a quote from John himself.

“It was purely unconscious that it came out to be LSD. Until someone pointed it out, I never even thought of it. I mean, who would ever bother to look at initials of a title? It’s not an acid song.”

That settles it for me.