Sunday, April 10, 2011

Syd Barrett Against the Gates of Dawn

Despite his actual compositions remaining virtually unknown in the United States Syd Barrett stands as one of the great rock 'n roll legends. Even the most casual of Pink Floyd fans are aware of the myths surrounding the group's founder -namely that he was a cracked genius that would crumble further and further with each dose of LSD until he became a vegetable. Those that delve deeper into the legend will find a maze of contradictions. One camp will claim that Syd was already pretty unhinged before the LSD and his nonstop schedule pushed him over the edge while another will say that he was an essentially sane, if highly unique, human being that was badly abused by the record label. In some stories Syd is an abuser, smashing a guitar over the head of a girlfriend, while in others he is the one being abused via close associates locking him in a cupboard in the midst of a bad trip. Most consider the post Pink Floyd Syd Barrett to be a total recluse while his family has claimed that he simply wanted to forget his past.

So who was the real Syd Barrett and why do accounts vary so widely?

To answer these questions, we should probably begin a bit with Syd's background and the scene in which he rose to fame. Like many rock stars that would follow, Syd performed under a name other than his own, which was Roger. 'Syd' was apparently adopted at the age of 14 in honor of a local Cambridge jazz Double Bassists. As to his childhood his sister, Rosemary, notes:

"As children, she and Barrett shared a bedroom and she recalls him leaping from his sheets to conduct an imaginary orchestra. He always had an extraordinary mind, bordering on the autistic or Aspergic. He had a rare talent to exploit ambiguities in language and also experienced synaesthesia — the ability to “see sounds and hear colours” — which was to be a huge influence on his music in his psychedelic phase." 

Syd Barrett's father was a prominent pathologist who died a month before Syd turned 16. While his family is generally described as middle class, his father's occupation and the general lifestyle his family was able to afford seems to imply that he may have been from a more prestigious background than many biographers claim. Regardless, Syd was clearly a talented kid with an air of childhood trauma surrounding his father's death and his mother's pampering. This probably did not make for the best background for the world Syd was about to enter.

In 1965 London became Swinging London in no small part due to arrival of one of Tim Leary's old Millbrook cronies, Michael Hollingshead.

Leary's Millbrook collective, financed by the infamous CIA-linked Mellon banking clan, is highly suspect as I've already briefly chronicled here.

"The Millbrook clan not only had their sights set on America; their aspirations were international in scope. In September 1965 Michael Hollingshead returned to his native London armed with hundreds of copies of the updated Book of the Dead and five thousand doses of LSD (which he procured from Czech government laboratories in Prague). Hollingshead felt there was very little understanding of LSD in England, but he intended to change that. He proceeded to establish the World Psychedelic Center in the fashionable Kings Road district of London, attracting the likes of Jo Berke (a psychiatrist working with R.D. Laing), the writer and philosopher Alexander Trocchi, multimedia artist Ian Sommerville, filmmaker Roman Polanski, and numerous musicians including Donovan, Peter and Gordon, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, and the Rolling Stones."
(Acid Dreams, Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain, pg. 115)  
Virtually over night English groups such as the Beatles, Donovan, and even the Rolling Stones (in addition to their American counterparts such as the Byrds) would begin to supplement their blues and folk origins with explorations of sound under the influence of this new drug. This new kind of music would be dubbed psychedelic, and it would become all the rage as the world headed toward the 'Summer of Love.' And in the heart of London there was one band that seemed to capture the Technicolor zeitgeist of times better than any other outfit: the Pink Floyd.

I do not wish you delve to deeply into the Floyd in this blog as I'm planning a piece on their big 70s albums at a later date so forgive me to sticking to the basics. An early version was already in existence prior to Syd joining in late 1964, performing under such names as Sigma 6, Meggadeaths (seriously), the (Screaming) Abdabs, and the Tea Set, amongst others. Several different musicians passed through the group in the early years but the core revolved around Roger Waters, and at different times Nick Mason and Rick Wright. At one point the group's singer was a chap named Chris Dennis, a technician in the Royal Air Force. Syd became the main singer once Dennis left due to his stationing in Bahrain.

Chris Dennis signing

Drummer Nick Mason (the only Floyd member to appear on every studio album) and keyboardist Rick Wright come from pretty normal backgrounds. Mason, Wright, and bassist Roger Waters met each other at Regent Street Polytechnic while studying architecture. Wright moved to the London School of Music a year later after struggling at Regent Street.

Roger Waters, who would become the dominate personality in Pink Floyd after Syd Barrett departed and was the chief songwriter for their big 70s albums, has a most curious biography. His father, Eric Fletcher Waters, was a school teacher and Communist Party member. After a period of pacifism he joined the British Army during World War II and was killed at Anzio, Italy. Those of you familiar with Floyd's big 70s albums will know that the death of Waters' father had a profound impact on the songwriter and his world view. Despite many of the populist views Waters has expressed in his work, he married a noble woman, Lady Carolyne Christie (who admittedly was the niece of the Marquess of Zetland) in the late 1970s and had two children with her. Waters was also a childhood friend of Barrett's in Cambridge.

Based on most accounts I've read, it seems that there were two key figures involved in the Floyd's early years that were instrumental in their rise to (semi) stardom. One would be manager Peter Jenner, and another would be promoter/producer Joe Boyd. The former had a much larger influence on the band, but the former gave them their first real break. Boyd was the co-founder of the infamous UFO Club, one of the main venues in London's infant psychedelic scene. It was here that the Floyd, who played at the club's opening night and would serve as the house band for several more weeks, gained their first true following in no small part due to their light show, spacey jams, and Syd's theatrics.

Before Boyd became a mover and shaker in London's underground music scene he had been an American with a degree from Harvard University who was snatched up by the fledgling Elektra Records (who would be instrumental in the psychedelic music scene of the late 60s) and sent oversees to establish an office for the label. Shortly before Boyd began attending Harvard the CIA had already began establishing a presence there.

"...example of the CIA's role in the U.S. mass communications studies during the 1950s was the work of the Center for International Studies (CENIS) at MIT. The CIA became the principal funder of this institution throughout the 1950s, although neither the CENIS nor the CIA is known to have publicly provided details on their relationship. It has been widely reported, however, that the CIA financed the initial establishment of the CENIS; that the agency underwrote publication of certain CENIS studies in both classified and nonclassified editions; that CENIS served as a conduit for CIA funds for researchers at other institutions, particularly the Center for Russian Research at Harvard..."
(The Science of Coercion, Christopher Simpson, pgs. 81-82)
The Center for Russian Research was not the only Harvard body on the CIA payroll then.

"...some academics interested in quantitative methodology or in communication effects studies, who were also amenable to psychological warfare campaigns, sought government funding in an effort to pursue both goals simultaneously. Samuel Stouffer's program at Harvard's Laboratory of Social Relations illustrated this trend."
(ibid, pg. 99)
To recap, upon graduating Harvard in 1964 Boyd was on the payroll of Elektra a year later and already being entrusted with an overseas office. He would go on to produce Floyd's early singles and receive credit for their legendary debut, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, though former Beatles engineer Norman Smith is generally believed to be the actual producer on that album.

By all accounts manager Peter Jenner had an enormous influence on the Floyd's early sound and image. Initially the group was primarily concerned with blues and early rock tunes like "Louie Louie." However, they would flesh out these standards with wild improves by Barrett and Wright. Jenner became fascinated with these sonic explorations and encouraged the group to start writing originals based around these sounds. He, along with partner Andrew King (who became the group's co-manager), would hook up the group with new equipment and sign a contract with the duo. Jenner, by all accounts, had quite a taste for LSD as well. In fact, Syd was his only real revival in terms of drug consumption as far as the band was concerned. Syd was already using the drug before coming into contact with Jenner, but it went to another level afterwards. Whether management was feeding Syd LSD has generally been denied by other Floyd members, yet strong implications were hinted at in later songs about Syd.

Peter Jenner is a man with a most interesting background. He graduated with a degree in Economics from Cambridge University at the age of 21 and then went on to become a lecturer at the London School of Economics. The LSE was founded in 1895 by Fabian Society members Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and George Bernard Shaw. The agenda of the Fabian Society, according to Wikipedia, is:

"The Fabian Society is a British socialist movement, whose purpose is to advance the principles of democratic socialism via gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary, means. It is best known for its initial ground-breaking work beginning late in the 19th century and continuing up to World War I. The society laid many of the foundations of the Labour Party and subsequently affected the policies of states emerging from the decolonisation of the British Empire, especially India."

Former New York State and City Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto elaborates:

"What nineteenth-century Transcendentalists and Muggletonians hoped to be in reordering the triumvirate of society, school, and family, twentieth-century Fabians were. Although far from the only potent organization working behind the scenes to radically reshape domestic and international life, it would not be too far out of line to call the twentieth century the Fabian century. One thing is certain: the direction of modern schooling for the bottom 90 percent of our society has followed a largely Fabian design -and the puzzling security and prestige enjoyed at the moment by those who speak of 'globalism' and 'multiculturalism' is a direct result of heed paid earlier to Fabian prophecies that a welfare state, followed by an intense focus on internationalism, would be the mechanism elevating corporate society over political society, and a necessary precursor to utopia. Fabian theory is the Das Kapital of financial capitalism."
(The Underground History of American Education, pg. 178) 
Continuing with Gatto on the scope of their influence:

"When I speak of Fabianism, or of any particular Fabians, actual or virtual like Kurt Lewin, once head of Britian's Psychological Warfare Bureau, or R.D. Laing, once staff psychologist at the Tavistock Institute, I have no interest in mounting a polemic against this particular conceit of the comfortable intelligentsia. Fabian strategy and tactics have been openly announced and discussed with clarity for nearly a century, whether identified as Fabian or not...
"The London School of Economics is a Fabian creation. Mick Jagger spent time there; so did John F. Kennedy. The Economist,once elitist, now a worldwide pop-intellectual publication, is Fabian as is The New Statesman and Ruskin Labor College of Oxford. The legendary Royal Institute of International Affairs and the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations, premier mind bending institute of the world, are Fabian. Theodor Adorno, an important if barely visible avatar of the therapeutic state, and a one-time eminence at Tavistock, traveled the Fabian road as well."
(ibid, pg. 183)

Individuals associated with the Fabians do not deny these chargers. One of the most famous confessions came from Georgetown professor, Rhodes Scholar, and Council of Foreign Relations (the American branch of the Royal Institute of International Affairs) member Carroll Quigley in his history Tragedy and Hope:

"The chief aims of this elaborate, semisecret organization were largely commendable: to coordinate the international activities and outlooks of all the English-speaking world into one (which would largely, it is true, be that of the London group); to work to maintain the peace; to help backward, colonial, and underdeveloped areas to advance toward stability, law, and order, and prosperity along lines somewhat similar to those taught at Oxford and the University of London (especially the School of Economics and the Schools of African and Oriental Studies."
(pg. 954)
That two of the Floyd's chief advocates would be graduates of university's closely associated with globalism and psychological warfare is curious, but not unexpected, if one has read more than a few bios of 60s rock stars. At this point it probably behoves me to address the Tavistock Institute and the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding it.

In general there is not a lot of reliable information concerning Tavistock out there. According to Wikipedia, Tavistock was primarily concerned with the treating of trauma at its foundation:

"The Tavistock Clinic was founded in 1920 by Dr. Hugh Crichton-Miller, a psychiatrist who developed psychological treatments for shell-shocked soldiers during and after the First World War. The clinic's first patient was, however, a child. Its clinical services were always, therefore, for both children and adults. From its foundation it was also clear that offering free treatment to all who need it meant that the Tavistock Clinic needed to offer training to staff who could eventually help people across the UK. The clinical staff were also researchers. These principles remain to this day.

"Following its founding the Tavistock Clinic continued its interest in preventative psychiatry, and developed expertise in group relations (including army officer selection), social psychiatry and action research. Its staff, who were still mainly unpaid honorary psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers were concerned about leadership within the armed forces. The staff prepared to treat the civilian population who might be traumatised by a further world war, which would bring bombing of cities, evacuation of children and the shock of bereavement."
Much of the conspiracy lore surround Tavistock derives from John Coleman, an individual who claims to be a former MI6 agent working from classified material that he saw while at Her Majesty's Service. Perhaps some researchers have validated Coleman's MI6 claims, but I have yet to see anything reliable, and this puts all of Coleman's conspiratorial writings in doubt. Coleman may well be a former MI6 man, but his work has always struck me as disinformation so I will not delve to deeply into his theories concerning Tavistock here. A sample should suffice:

"From its modest but vitally important beginning at Wellington House, the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations expanded rapidly to become the world's premier top-secret 'brainwashing institute.' How this rapid progression was accomplished needs to be explained.

"The modern science of mass manipulation of public opinion was born at Wellington House, London, the lusty infant being midwifed by Lord Northcliffe and Lord Rothmere.

"The British monarchy, Lord Rothschild, and the Rockefellers were responsible for funding the venture. The papers I was privileged to examine showed that the purpose of those at Wellington House was to effect a change of opinion of the British people who were adamantly opposed to war with Germany, a formidable task that was accomplished by 'opinion making' through polling."
(The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, pg. 2)
Regardless of Coleman's creditability (or lack therefore of), Tavistock has had an enormous influence in the field of mental health. Former Tavistock man John Rawlings Rees would go on to found, and become president and director of, the World Federation of Mental Health, for instance.

During his breakdown, Syd Barrett would seemingly avoid a former Tavistock psychologist R.D. Laing. From the Guardian:

"In the spring of 1968, Roger Waters had talked to the hip psychiatrist RD Laing. He had even driven Barrett to an appointment: 'Syd wouldn't get out. What can you do?' In the intervening months, however, Barrett became less hostile to the idea of treatment. So Gale placed a call to Laing and Po booked a cab. But with the taxi-meter ticking outside, Barrett refused to leave the flat."  

Perhaps Syd was more lucid than others suspected by avoiding Laing. I shall examine this possibility a little further on, but for the time being I'd like to get to the actual music. For those of us that love psychedelic rock there are few albums that can equal Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Few albums have come as close to recreating the psychedelic experience as this forgotten classic. Few albums have come as close to recreating the invisible world, the other side, the macrocosm, or whatever you choice to call it, either.

As regular readers know, this blog has highlighted the similarities between fairy encounters, UFOs, and the psychedelic experience before; as well as the beings behind these encounters, which are referred to as macrobes around here. More information on the similarities between different Fortean encounters can be found here while a definition of macrobes and macrocosm can be found here.

Whether Barrett had extensive knowledge of the occult or metaphysics is difficult to say, but he surely had a passing interest that went beyond his childhood love of fairy tales -The lyrics from the song "Chapter 24" are largely derived from the I Ching. Syd initially told the press that the name Pink Floyd was given to him by aliens, who appeared while he was mediating upon a ley line (Syd actually made it up by combining the first names of two bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council). The Beatles, several of whom were quite taken by the occult, were recording Sgt. Pepper at Abbey Roads at the same time the Floyd were recording Piper. The two groups met each other at the studio and seemingly influenced one and others' sessions as both albums have a similar Technicolor vibe that has rarely been repeated since.

Aleister Crowley on Sgt. Pepper's album cover

Piper at the Gates of Dawn is an especially apt title for the time and place in which the album was recorded. The title of Piper is derived from chapter seven of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. I have never read the book, but descriptions claim that the chapter concerns an encounter with the god Pan, who plays upon a magic reed flute. It seems to be heavily influenced by another legendary Piper, namely the Pied Piper of Hamelin, which at a synchronistic level is what many people will take from the album title. Wikipedia gives a decent run down of the myth:

"In 1284, while the town of Hamelin was suffering from a rat infestation, a man dressed in pied clothing appeared, claiming to be a rat-catcher. He promised the townsmen a solution for their problem with the rats. The townsmen in turn promised to pay him for the removal of the rats. The man accepted, and played a musical pipe to lure the rats with a song into the Weser River, where all but one drowned. Despite his success, the people reneged on their promise and refused to pay the rat-catcher the full amount of money. The man left the town angrily, but vowed to return some time later, seeking revenge.

"On Saint John and Paul's day while the inhabitants were in church, he played his pipe yet again, dressed in green, like a hunter, this time attracting the children of Hamelin. One hundred and thirty boys and girls followed him out of the town, where they were lured into a cave and never seen again. Depending on the version, at most three children remained behind. One of the children was lame and could not follow quickly enough, the second was deaf and followed the other children out of curiosity, and the last was blind and unable to see where they were going. These three informed the villagers of what had happened when they came out of church."

The Pied Piper himself is an extension of the Trickster archetype. And at this point, so was Syd -He was being set up as the Piper of LSD with all those flower children at the gates of Aquarius. Granted, such thoughts probably never occurred to Syd at this point, but I suspect someone at EMI or in the Floyd's managerial team was aware of the implications and possibilities. The modern concept of the archetype was largely devised by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who believed that they were a part of the collective unconsciousness; a deeper, primitive, symbolic consciousness that all humans shared. I have written a bit on this, and the related phenomenon of twilight language here.

Jung not only believed in a shared consciousness populated with archetypes such as the Trickster, but he also believed that individuals could be possessed by these archetypes in a very real sense.

"Although everything is experienced in image form, i.e., symbolically, it is by no means a question of fictitious danger but of very real risks upon which the fate of a whole life may depend. The chief danger is that of succumbing to the fascinating influence of the archetypes, and this is most likely to happen when the archetypal images are not made conscious. If there is already a predisposition to psychosis, it may even happen when the archetypal figures, which are endowed with a certain autonomy anyway on account of their natural numinosity, will escape from conscious control altogether and become completely independent, thus producing the phenomena of possession."
(The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung, pg. 39)

Keep the above quote in mind when considering the rest of this piece. Now, to Piper.

The album kicks off in high gear with "Astronomy Domine", one of the earliest space rock numbers. Despite its spacey vibe, the lyrics are heavy on magic.

"Lime and limpid green, a second scene
A fight between the blue you once knew.
Floating down, the sound resounds
Around the icy waters underground.
Jupiter and Saturn, Oberon, Miranda and Titania.
Neptune, Titan, Stars can frighten."
Green represents nature while blue represents consciousness, the song implying that the two are in conflict. A similar implication comes from the reference to Jupiter and Saturn -Saturn represents chaos while Jupiter is balance and order. Oberon and Titania are the King and Queen of Fairies in Shakespeare's heavily esoteric A Midsummer's Night Dream. Titan is the irrational universe. In general, the song captures the futility of applying rationality to an irrational world after being 'awakened.'

The next song, "Lucifer Sam", seems to be a depiction of a witch and her familiar.

"Lucifer Sam, Siam cat.
Always sitting by your side
Always by your side.
That cat's something I can't explain.

"Jennifer Gentle you're a witch.
You're the left side
He's the right side.
Oh, no!
That cat's something I can't explain."
Syd would describe this song as being personnel. Given some of the bizarre stories surrounding Syd's relationships with women, anything is possible. Consider this account from the Guardian:

"Similarly, Barrett's lover and flatmate at the time, Lindsay Corner, denies the stories that he locked her in her room for three days, feeding her biscuits under the door, then smashed a guitar over her head. This time, however, three other residents swear he did: 'I remember pulling Syd off her,' says Po. And that's the trouble with the whole Barrett business. There are witness accounts by people who weren't there, those who were there disagree - half of them, being as totally offs swear he did: 'I remember pulling Syd off her,' says Po. And that's the trouble with the whole Barrett business. There are witness accounts by people who weren't there, those who were there disagree - half of them, being as totally off their faces as Barrett was, must have a question mark over their evidence."

Track three, "Matilda Mother," perfectly conveys the subconscious effects fairy tales have on the collective unconsciousness, especially in children.

"Higher once upon a time.
Wandering and dreaming
The words have different meaning.
Yes they did.

"For all the time spent in that room
The doll's house, darkness, old perfume
And fairy stories held me high on
Clouds of sunlight floating by.
Oh Mother, tell me more
Tell me more."
"The Gnome," about a pot smoking little guy, is one of the lightest tracks on Piper yet it still weaves in the occult theme by making the title character a gnome. Paracelsus considered gnomes to be representatives of one of the four elements, in this case earth. It also continues with the green and blue motif established in "Astronomy Domine."

"I want to tell you a story
'bout a little man
If I can.
A gnome named Grimble Grumble.
And little gnomes stay in their homes.
Eating, sleeping, drinking their wine.

"He wore a scarlet tunic,
A blue green hood,
It looked quite good.
He had a big adventure
Amidst the grass
Fresh air at last."
It also continues with the theme of entheogens and nonhuman encounters that Piper brilliantly captures.

Another curious track is "The Scarecrow."

"The black and green scarecrow as everyone knows
Stood with a bird on his hat and straw everywhere.
He didn't care.
He stood in a field where barley grows.
"His head did no thinking
His arms didn't move except when the wind cut up
Rough and mice ran around on the ground
He stood in a field where barley grows.

"The black and green scarecrow is sadder than me
But now he's resigned to his fate
'Cause life's not unkind - he doesn't mind.
He stood in a field where barley grows. "
The choice of barley in the field of the scarecrow watches over is a curious one. Barley is closely associated with two dying and resurrecting gods of antiquity, namely the Egyptian Osiris and the Greek Dionysus. In Egyptian mythology Osiris is who taught the Egyptians how to brew beer from barley. His body was associated with barley in certain rituals and his color was green. Dionysus was the Greek god of wine and also had a close association with barley and the color green. Both deities have been referred to as 'the Green Man,' a symbol of spring and summer. As previously noted, green is also associated with vegetation and growth. While black is commonly associated with death, it can also represent corruption. Black and green are opposites of one and other. In this case, the scarecrow seems to represent the common man, indifferent to the tools of initiation (here represented by the barley) all around him.

And that about does it for Piper. Was the esoteric view of Piper that I've put forward intentional? Did Syd actually set out to write an album dealing with the themes I outlined above, in other words? Frankly, I have no idea. There are certainly implications that Barrett was versed in the occult and that those around him were also knowledgeable in that regard. But Barrett could have just as easily been tapping into something primal in his collective unconsciousness while under the influence of LSD. I know only that the album masterfully recreates the experience of what modern researchers refer to as 'high weirdness.' Indeed, weirdness does not get much higher than Piper...

Syd (and few other artist, for that matter) would never reach the singular brilliance of Piper again. He would in fact be run out of Pink Floyd due to his increasingly erratic behavior shortly after the album's release. While his two solo albums are fine works in their own right, they lack the esoteric slant of Piper, so I will not delve into them here. I will briefly address several tracks off of 1975's Wish You Were Here as that album seems to add weight to the views I'm expressing. For those of you unfamiliar with the album, a brief recap: It was recorded after their groundbreaking Dark Side of the Moon record, and is a concept album revolving around Syd Barrett and the corruption of the music industry. Syd himself famously appeared at the Wish sessions in a most disheveled state:

"In June 1975, while Pink Floyd were recording the album Wish You Were Here at London's Abbey Road studios, a portly, shaven-haired man arrived and stood quietly at the back, watching...

"At first, they didn't recognise the man, whose head and eyebrows were shaved and who was apparently trying to clean his teeth by holding the brush still and jumping up and down.

"But this was the 'crazy diamond' himself: Syd Barrett, the subject of the song. He was the most famous 'acid casualty' of his generation, and the writer of much of the original material of the group, from which he had been ejected because of his drug-induced eccentricities."

'Crazy diamond' is in reference to the song "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," one of the tracks on Wish that is overtly about Barrett. Like many I had always assumed the 'diamond' of the title was a reference to Syd's mind, e.g. it was as brilliant as a diamond. But the diamond can also be an alchemical symbol as well.

"As gold was the symbol of spirit and the base metals represented man's lower nature, certain alchemists were called 'miners' and were pictured with picks and shovels digging into the earth in search of the precious metals -those finer traits of character buried in the earthiness of materiality and ignorance. The diamond concealed in the heart of the black carbon illustrated the same principle."
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly Hall, pg. 144)
A line toward the end of the second "Shine On..." suite makes me think that the diamond of the title is being used in an alchemical sense.

"Nobody knows where you are, how near or how far.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Pile on many more layers and I'll be joining you there.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
And we'll bask in the shadow of yesterday's triumph,
and sail on the steel breeze.
Come on you boy child, you winner and loser,
come on you miner for truth and delusion, and shine!"

Now, consider the lyrics from the second verse of the first "Shine On...":
"You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.Shine on you crazy diamond.
Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Well you wore out your welcome with random precision.
Rode on the steel breeze.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions.
Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!"
Masons are blindfolded during their initial initiations into the craft. When the initiation is complete, the blindfold is removed and the brother is shone 'the light' or 'receives the light.' The moon is one of the most vague symbols in the occult. Syd makes reference to it in several of his songs, most notably the chilling "Jugband Blues," the last song he ever recorded with Pink Floyd.

"It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here
And I'm much obliged to you for making it clear
That I'm not here.
And I never knew the moon could be so big
And I never knew the moon could be so blue
And I'm grateful that you threw away my old shoes
And brought me here instead dressed in red
And I'm wondering who could be writing this song."
When I see the moon in this context I can't help but be reminded of the concept of 'food for the moon'::

"Due to special cosmic circumstance , organic life on Earth is necessary for receiving this energy of creation and transforming this into a form that is passed further along, to 'feed' the 'moon,' which is said to be growing. All this is seen as a natural process where organic Earth life, including man, performs a function in a cosmic organism, a little like bacteria perform a function in the human digestive system. The fact of mankind collectively being required to produce certain 'vibrations' or 'energies' for serving various cosmic purposes is stressed throughout Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales. So called planetary influences cause mankind to fight wars and endure cataclysms so that a certain quota of energy release be fulfilled and the 'moon fed.'

"Exactly what the moon represents is not described in much detail. The food in question is described as vibrations generated by intense human experience, for example the experience of violent death. While being food is inescapable, man may still modulate the quality of his contribution to the cosmic demand of vibrations. With man being less and less conscious, nature found it necessary to substitute quantity for quality of vibrations, thus leading to population explosion and increased incidence of natural catastrophy and war."
In some occult traditions the moon was said to control human movements, or represent the physical nature of man -to hold a kind of sway over our baser elements. Is this why Syd 'cried for the moon?'

There are several more fascinating occult references in the two "Shine On..." tracks that I shall leave to my readers to find. In general, I can't recommend the Wish album enough. From the legendary album cover (which seems like a mockery of occult handshakes) to its gallows sense of humor, it's a one of a kind experience. But before leaving it I can't help but mention the chilly, proto-industrial "Welcome to the Machine," which isn't directly about Syd, but is the ultimate put down of the faux rebellion of the rock 'n roll culture and the mentality it spawned, as depicted in garbage such as Nickelback's "Rockstar." Plus, it directly acknowledges the reality-shapers behind the industry.

"Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been? It's alright we know where you've been.You've been in the pipeline, filling in time,
provided with toys and Scouting for Boys.
You bought a guitar to punish your ma,
And you didn't like school, and you know you're nobody's fool,
So welcome to the machine.

"Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
What did you dream? It's alright we told you what to dream.
You dreamed of a big star, he played a mean guitar,
He always ate in the Steak Bar. He loved to drive in his Jaguar.
So welcome to the machine."

And now it seems I should address Syd's mental health. The general view, as readers may have gathered from this article, is that Syd was reduced to kind of walking vegetable after the excesses of the 1960s. Yet the man was only briefly institutionalized and generally managed to take care of himself after he dropped out of the spotlight in the early 1970s. Close family members such as his sister Rosemary claim that Syd managed to live a relatively normal life:

"From 1981, when he returned from London to the suburbs of his native Cambridge, resumed the name Roger and set up home in his mother’s modest semi, he made faltering but significant progress.

"Rosemary is adamant that he neither suffered from mental illness nor received treatment for it at any time since they resumed regular contact 25 years ago. At first he did spend some time in a private “home for lost souls” — Greenwoods in Essex — but she says there was no formal therapy programme there. (“And besides, he didn’t mix, because he was very content to be basket weaving and making things.”) Later he agreed to some sessions with a psychiatrist at Fulbourn psychiatric hospital, Cambridge, but neither medication nor therapy was considered appropriate...

"Barrett lived in the semi with his mother until her death in 1991 and then remained there alone. “So much of his life was boringly normal,” said Rosemary. 'He looked after himself and the house and garden. He went shopping for basics on his bike — always passing the time of day with the local shopkeepers — and he went to DIY stores like B&Q for wood, which he brought home to make things for the house and garden.

“'Actually, he was a hopeless handyman, he was always laughing at his attempts, but he enjoyed it. Then there was his cooking. Like everyone who lives on their own, he sometimes found that boring but he became good at curries.

“'That’s why he avoided contact with journalists and fans. He simply couldn’t understand the interest in something that had happened so long ago and he wasn’t willing to interrupt his own musings for their sake. After a while he and I stopped discussing the times he was bothered. We both knew what we thought and we simply had nothing more to add. It became easiest to pretend those incidents never happened and just blank them out.

“'Roger may have been a bit selfish — or rather self-absorbed — but when people called him a recluse they were really only projecting their own disappointment. He knew what they wanted but he wasn’t willing to give it to them.'"

I find it most interesting that Syd became Roger again once he finally escaped from the London scene so much of his life had revolved around. Based on hints Barrett himself dropped, he seemed to have viewed 'Syd' as something other than himself (Roger). Consider this encounter from the early 80s recounted by Tim Willis:

"When the DJ Nicky Horne doorstepped him in the 80s, Barrett said, 'Syd can't talk to you now.'"
Roger became 'Syd' at the age of 14 and never looked back until the Pink Floyd days were long over. He would hardly be the only rock star to adopt a new persona for the profession, as I mentioned before while discussing Tool.

Then there's Roger's seemingly fanatical avoidance of his former life. Many have assumed that Roger simply didn't remember those days (which doesn't seem to be the case) or that they were to painful for him to relive (entirely possible).

But what if Roger was hiding, or trying to escape, from something? His behavior in a way almost reminds me of the Emperor Claudius as depicted in Graves' I, Claudius. Here, Claudius plays up his physical deformities and the perception that he is retarded in order to avoid being murdered by his power hungry family. Roger, despite living in relative stability, seems to have greatly played up his mental problems when in the presence of fans, and especially journalists. This would possibly explain how Syd could be fully functional on the one hand, but instigate encounters such as the one journalist Tim Willis experienced when going to interview Barrett at his home:

"So I walk up the concrete path of his grey pebble-dashed semi, try the bell and discover that it's disconnected. At the front of the house, all the curtains are open. The side passage is closed to prying eyes by a high gate. I knock on the front door and, after a minute or two, look through the downstairs bay window. Where you might expect a television and a three-piece suite, Barrett has constructed a bare, white-walled workshop. Pushed against the window is a tattered pink sofa. On the hardboard tops, toolboxes are neatly stacked, flexes coiled, pens put away in a white mug.

"Then, a sound in the hall. Has he come in from the back garden? Perhaps it needs mowing, like the front lawn - although, judging by the mound of weeds by the path, he's been tidying the beds today.

"I knock again, and hear three heavy steps. The door flies open and he's standing there. He's stark naked except for a small, tight pair of bright-blue Y-fronts; bouncing, like the books say he always did, on the balls of his feet."

This would be in keeping with the deceptively lucid manner Roger used throughout his career -remember how he avoided the Tavistock psychologist R.D. Laing at the height of his breakdown? Did Roger even have a 'breakdown' as it is commonly understood, or did he start becoming aware of what he was being used for?

And finally, was the Roger of Cambridge a recluse, or a man that truly understood the cost his freedom came at?


  1. Hell yeah Recluse great work!!! I keep spreading the word!

  2. What a refreshing way to look at Syd Barrett. Not so much crazy, as maybe just disinterested. Your comparison to Graves' Claudius really is a good one, that left me feeling like maybe Roger had the last laugh after all.

  3. Anon II-

    Thanks for you're response. Yes, I think Syd was far more lucid than he's often given credit for being and that there was indeed method to his madness.

    Maybe both Rogers had the last laugh.:)


  4. I know there are many real occult references in rock, like those that can be found in led zeppelin, movies, literature and in culture in general, but your conclusions are so absurd to link Syd Barret to the occult, this is the most apophenic writing I have ever read about Syd Barret and one of the most apophenic I have ever read!, First, every reference to a gnome is occult? so don't forget all the Grimm Brothers tales including snow white should be occult. Second the Piper reference is taken from "the wind in the willows" Theodore Roosevelt showed particular interest in this book, so we can conclude that he was an occultist also. Astronomy domine? so every reference to the roman/greek gods it is occult? so Homer is the father of occultism with his Odyssey. The only weird song it is lucifer sam, the real meaning cannot be outlined, I have read that Jennifer his girl, use to love cats, one of those cats she had was a siamese cat, thats why the lyrics say "siam cat", and Syd use to see this cat as "evil". What have to do the picture of crowley here? because it was shown in a cover of the beatles and they record at abbey road and pink floyd also? so I guess you can conclude that all the bands that record in abbey road are related with crowley and followers of him.

    The diamond reference is so apophenic also, diamond is the hardest material ever discovered, and like many other precious stones considered scarce and valuable since were discovered, most people use to say "its a jewel" or "diamond" while refering to someone really exceptional, outstanding, scarce, brilliant, thats the way I think is the purpose of the lyrics, have you heard, the phrase "he/she is a diamond in the rough"? It should be occultist according to your logic, so I can guess that everything related with gold-diamond is also occultist, because thats was the purpose of alchemy, and I guess everyone that give a diamond to his fiance is giving it a special "meaning" like alchemists, and they didn't notice yet that they are fomenting occultism. The phrase "yesterdays triumph" what it means to you, the past achievents of alchemist? Syd Barret could be or not liked to the occult, but maybe in his personal life, to the date I haven't found any evidence, all this conclusions are so non sense reminds me the long list or conspiracists.

  5. Syd is for me, as the white rabbit is for Neo; he leads me down the rabbit hole, hop hop hippity hopping to all the worlds that start stopping, letting down my golden hair upon the silver terrapin. Now I know how & why I'm here. Lucifer Sam is my favorite song on saucerful of secrets. I know I'm off-topic, but seeing others who revere Syd & his art makes me so happy. People forget that LSD,mushrooms,marijuana increases consciousness, its mixing w/other drugs that can severely alter it. I've got a bike you can ride it if you like its got a basket a bell and things to make it look good. -u-

  6. And i don't care if I'm nervous with you, I'll do my loving in the winter.