“You were caught in the crossfire of childhood and stardom, blown on the steel breeze / Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!”
- Shine on, You Crazy Diamond (Pink Floyd)
Roger Waters, Richard Wright and David Gilmour wrote the nine-part song (split in two, parts 1-5 and 6-9) about a close friend, one of the founders of Pink Floyd and a musician in his own league, Roger Keith 'Syd' Barrett. Their entire 1975 album “Wish You Were Here (one of their most popular albums), as a matter of fact, was a tribute to Barrett, the guitarist-vocal-songwriter who shaped the band's 'psychedelic' repute in the mid-sixties.
Barrett, born in a middle-class family in Cambridge, UK, and played the piano and guitar from an early age, and influenced by The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, he along with childhood friend Roger Waters, and Nick Mason formed the band that had undergone several line-up and name changes before becoming Pink Floyd and going into the studio for the first time in 1965.
The band recorded their critically-acclaimed debut album “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” with Barrett's vision; he wrote eight of the 11 songs and co-wrote two others. But soon after, his behavior became more and more erratic, partly as a consequence of reportedly heavy usage of psychedelic substances, including LSD. He would strum one chord throughout the entire concert, not play at all, and detune his guitar. While the audience enjoyed the antics, it became difficult for his band-mates. Barrett would forget to bring his guitar to sessions, and was at the point of failing to hold his guitar pick. David Gilmour, a college friend of Barrett's, was called in to back up for him on guitar and vocals; he played and sang at a few shows with Barrett wandering on stage and occasionally joining in. Tired of his unpredictable behaviour, the band decided to keep him just as anon-touring member.
At one of Barrett's last practice sessions with the band, he came with a song that he called “Have You Got It Yet?” The seemingly simple song became impossible to muster as Barrett kept changing arrangements, and asking them “Have you got it yet?” It took them a while to realise they were being victims to typical Syd Barrett humour.
Barrett left the band after being briefly hospitalised with suspected mental illness, and then embarked on a brief solo career that had two albums “The Madcap Laughs” and “Barrett”, and formed a band called “Stars” that didn't last long. Following that, Barrett went on a self-imposed seclusion which he maintained until his death on this day (July 7) in 2006. An album of unreleased tracks and outtakes of his were released in 1988 with his permission by record label EMI.
On June 5, 1975, Gilmour married Ginger Hasenbein, and it was also the eve of Pink Floyd's second US tour that year. The band was completing the final mix of “Shine On” when an overweight-man with shaven head and eyebrows entered the room. Waters, who was working in the studio, initially did not recognise him. Wright presumed that the man was a friend of Waters' and asked him, but soon realised that it was Barrett himself. Wright later recalled, “When 'Wish You Were Here' was played, he (Barrett) stood up and said, 'Right, when do I put my guitar on? And of course, he didn't have a guitar with him. And we said, 'Sorry, Syd, the guitar's all done.'”
Just a couple of days before the eighth anniversary of Barrett's death, news of a new Pink Floyd album “Endless Rivers” featuring unreleased material from sessions of the band's 1994 album “Division Bell” has Floyd fans all excited, and the “crazy diamond' of psychedelic rock must be looking down on the legacy that he laid the foundations of, and smiling to himself.