11 July 2006

Shine on

Syd Barrett
Crazy diamond

If pressed to make these kinds of invidious comparisons I'll admit that—mock them as you rightfully may—the Rolling Stones manage to remain the greatest rock band in the world. Of course the greatest rock band ever is ... and probably forever will be ... the Beatles. Though much as I will forever love the Beatles as all wise people do, my personal all-time favourite band is really the Velvet Underground.

But there's nothing else like first love, and the first band I truly loved was Pink Floyd. The first album I ever bought was Dark Side of the Moon. I haven't listened to it in a few years but I feel confident that I'll go to my grave having listened to it more times than any other recording.

Part of teen love for a band is learning the band's legend. And Floyd's legend is a proper epic, full of audacity, drugs, infighting, Tchaikovsky, hubris, and madness. And a spectre.

Haven't you noticed that rock bands tend to have a spectre in their legend? Maybe it's a echo from Buddy Holly's untimely death ... maybe it's rooted in whatever force gives us the story of Prometheus ... but wherever it comes from, it's something the rock gods seem to demand of their supplicants: that guy from the early days of the band who was central to their genesis and identity but who was spun away by tragic circumstance.

Keith Moon. Brian Jones. Stuart Sutcliffe. Pete Best.

Syd Barrett.

Syd was Pink Floyd's spectre, and they were unusually haunted by him. Maybe that's because it wasn't death that transformed him into the rôle but madness. The truth of the story is of course rather more complicated than that, but it's the legend that matters, right? Especially with a rock band.

So the legend: Syd was the drug-addled wild-man genius who gave the band it's sound, style, and sensibility ... but finally went so batty that he and the band parted ways before they found stardom ... and who was the inspiration of some of the band's best known music.

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

1 comment:

Reya Mellicker said...

What a beautiful tribute. Thank you.