In his essential book of collected rock music essays and profiles, The Dark Stuff, writer Nick Kent recounts how famed psychiatrist, R. D. Laing watched an interview tape of Pink Floyd’s genius and drug-addled leader, Syd Barrett and claimed the singer was incurable. Not long after, Kent saw the evidence for himself:
Less than five years earlier, I’d stood transfixed, watching [Syd] in all his retina scorching, dandified splendor as he’d performed with his group the Pink Floyd, silently praying that one day I might be just like him. Now, as he stood before me with his haunted eyes and fractured countenance, I was having second thoughts. I asked him about his current musical project (a short-lived trio called Stars…) as his eyes burned a hole through one of the four walls surrounding us with a stare so ominous it could strip the paint off the bonnet of a brand new car. ‘I had eggs and bacon for breakfast,’ he then intoned solemnly, as if reciting a distantly remembered mantra. I repeated my original question. ‘I’m sorry! I don’t speak French,’ he finally replied.
Perhaps Barrett just wanted to avoid the dandified Kent. Then again, when Kent “rubbed up against the likes of Syd Barrett” he astutley realized:
...these were people who’d gotten what they actually wanted, only to find out it was the last thing on earth they actually needed…
This isn’t to dismiss Barrett’s immense talent or achievements - for one, he took an average band and turned them into something quite incredible. And his importance was such that when he left, his bandmates went on to make music inspired by his absence.
The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story was originally screened in 2001, as part of the BBC’s Omnibus strand as Syd Barrett - Crazy Diamond. The documentary gives a fascinating portrait of Barrett’s brilliant rise and tragic fall through a drug-induced breakdown. Contributions come from Roger Waters, Nick Mason, David Gilmour, artist Duggie Fields (who describes sharing an apartment with the Crazy Diamond), Robyn Hitchcock, and, of course, archive of Syd Barrett - who, incidentally, watched the doc, when it was first broadcast and enjoyed seeing the archive, though found the music “too loud”.