November 27, 2004

Lost in the Woods

Author: Julian Palacios | First published 1998 | Amazon

Tracey got me this biography of Syd Barrett for my birthday, and it's amazing, if dense. Syd Barrett was the original lead singer and guitarist for Pink Floyd, the genius behind Piper at the Gates of Dawn, who then vanished as the band took off.

Apart from the general psychedelic atmosphere Syd was instrumental in creating, the nursery-rhyme like lyrics are amazing, though there aren't very many of them. It seems to be an open question whether LSD masked his growing schizophrenia or led to it, but in either case Syd threw off sparks briefly but couldn't sustain the burden.

The book is a difficult read at times because of the way Palacios wrote it, often assembling large chunks of direct quotes from people who were there and leaving the reader to sort it out. While that's occasionally a challenge, as there's some repetition and keeping track of everyone is difficult, the result of reading through it is pretty amazing.

The portrait Palacios creates is sympathetic but simultaneously acknowledges the difficulty of being near Syd, especially as his problems shifted from catatonia to occasional violence, and a general withdrawal from the world. It's also interesting to read with an eye to what became of Pink Floyd, with their later successes and breakups. Roger Water appears early as a difficult character, but one who seems to find his way early, and David Gilmour comes in first as a childhood friend of Syd and Roger's and later as the guitarist who replaces the increasingly incoherent Syd.

Gilmour seems to have had plenty of patience for dealing with Syd (whose solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, he produced) and with Waters, whose notoriously prickly nature produced some powerful music. If only the Gilmour-era Pink Floyd music was any good...

Oh well. Palacios does a great job of exploring the intersection between genius and madness, valuing the sparks this 'crazy diamond' threw off while recognizing the problems he created as well.

I've got a bike
You can ride it if you like
It's got a basket, a bell that rings and
Things to make it look good.
I'd give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it.
- "Bike", from Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Posted by simonstl at November 27, 2004 05:04 PM