Now that it is complete, the life of Roger “Syd” Barrett can stand as rebuttal to the punk- rock cliche that “it’s better to bum out than it is to rust.”
As the creative leader behind The Pink Floyd, Barrett’s combination of sing-song lyrical innocence and full-blown psychedelic experience (captured on the album “Piper at the Gates. of Dawn”) became the emblematic sound of the mid-60s London Underground music scene. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Barrett was less interested in showing his chops or swaggering than in seeing how far he could stretch the idea of “lead guitar.” His experiments in sound, including sliding a Zippo lighter along the fretboard, or rolling ball bearings down the strings, created the ethereal, alien sound that Pink Floyd would continue to be associated with decades later.
But Barrett was uncomfortable with the sudden fame, and the pressure that came with it. Increasingly, he escaped his surroundings through large doses of LSD, putting cracks in a psyche that was already dangerously fragile. As his behavior became more erratic – during some shows he would play one chord, over and over, for a stretch of ten minutes or longer – his band members were eventually forced to replace him with an old schoolmate, David Gilmour.
Pink Floyd (no “the”) went on to become perhaps the big- gest rock band in the world; after Barrett released a couple of emotionally-fraught solo albums, he disappeared from the music scene altogether. He moved in with his mother and took up painting abstracts; the last time he met with his former bandmates in the studio, in 1975, they did not recognize him. Strangely enough, they were then in the middle of recording “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” a track dedicated to Syd’s memory.
Roger Barrett died July 7, 2006, from complications related to diabetes.