Saturday, March 21, 2020


Of course there is nonsense and nonsense. It can vary from, at one extreme, merely that with which you disagree, through entertaining whimsy before finally arriving, quivering and juddering, at the howling at the moon of full blown madness. It is just over fifty years since Roger "Syd" Barrett, onetime face and voice of the then The Pink Floyd, released his first solo record, having been ejected from the band. Having enriched the band with his Edward Lear-like eccentricities of lyrical source material, knicker nickers and the like, this release now gave agonising insight into the perilous state of his psyche.

The reports weren't good. Attendees at his later performances with Pink Floyd would speak of no shows and, worse, shows where he may have been there, but was clearly somewhere miles away at the same time. Drugs, mainly the psychedelics, LSD predominantly, deemed the culprit, either by a de novo tripping of the switch or by bringing earlier to the surface that which lay anyway beneath. I don't suppose we will ever really know, but my view, professional opinion, if you like, as a practising medic, is the latter.

Terrapin/The Madcap Laughs (1969)

I remember well my first exposure to The Madcap Laughs, as the record was entitled. The cover alone was disarming enough, certainly to a 13 year old boy, just beginning a lifelong exploration of music in all its varied hues. In truth, it had been out for a couple of years, so I would have been 15, tipped in that direction by, first, the cheapo Pink Floyd compilation, Nuggets, on the Music for Pleasure label (which also put out similar curiosities by other acts as disparate as the Beach Boys, the Monkees and Donovan), and later by full price immersions in Atom Heart Mother and Meddle. A chum of mine, with preternaturally deep pockets, seemed to able to buy up anything that much cooler and on the fringes than the rest of us. We has also learnt there was a record player in the school music building, and how to get in to it out of hours. He had bought Madcap and the strange Roger Waters/Ron Geesin soundtrack of Music From The Body. The poop song apart on the latter, we agreed it held little appeal. But Madcap was deeply disturbing. None of the songs seemed complete; there seemed often a mismatch between the vocals and the backing, sometimes just with a rambling talking voice taking exit of any earlier structure mid song. And the lyrics? What was this? More a random placement of words than any storyline, words jumbling together based on their sound or upon whatsoever garbled thought processs could conjure up on the hoof, live in the studio. I later, during my psych training, learnt that this freeform word (dis)association, Knight's Move Thinking, can be a symptom of schizophrenia. OK, there were a couple of clearer and more orthodox songs, clamoured towards the end of the second side, dripping with the sense of a necessary medication having taken place. And with some relief, given at an earlier stage, in a segue of live studio tape seemingly just running, you can hear the anguish of a brain frying in real time. Shocking, heady stuff, and deeply disturbing, if likewise compelling. Of course I had to have a copy.

If It's In You/The Madcap Laughs (1969)

Dark Globe/The Madcap Laughs (1969)

"Oh where are you now 
pussy willow that smiled on this leaf? 
When I was alone you promised the stone from your heart 
my head kissed the ground 
I was half the way down, treading the sand 
please, please, lift a hand 
I'm only a person whose armbands beat 
on his hands, hang tall 
won't you miss me? 
Wouldn't you miss me at all? 

The poppy birds way 
swing twigs coffee brands around 
brandish her wand with a feathery tongue 
my head kissed the ground 
I was half the way down, treading the sand 
please, please, please lift the hand 
I'm only a person with Eskimo chain 
I tattooed my brain all the way... 
Won't you miss me? 
Wouldn't you miss me at all?"

I later bought his second LP, the less dramatically presented and titled Barrett. A gentler affair, with structure more firmly moulded upon the songs, even if as a later thought and at a latter time. His old buddy and his band replacement, David Gilmour here responsible for gilding the lily and gelding the mania. Some good songs and a smoother ride, that would later be brought back to mind by the closing scenes of the film version of Ken Kesey's book, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, the sadness of seeing the madness constrained and controlled.

Love Song (Barrett, 1970)

Neither the time or place to reiterate all the later trajectories, all well documented and widely elsewhere. A journey of little sense from nonsense to no sense at all. A tragedy and a majesty combined. The old adage is that genius needs a touch of madness. I don't know about that, and certainly Syd didn't need it, nobody should or would choose psychosis. But we got to get the outcome, and for that I will always be grateful to that legacy being granted us.

Rest in peace, not pieces, you Crazy Diamond.
No laughing matter.

blog comments powered by Disqus