Co-founder of the English rock group Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett, was also the man behind creating some of the most distinctive material for the band in their formative years. Even though his time with Pink Floyd lasted for only three years, and his musical career in general for less than a decade, Barrett’s influence on how the Pink Floyd sounded, was unique and his contributions to rock music were just as immense.
Barrett became popular for bringing a literary and psychedelic edge to Pink Floyd’s music. He was a celebrated musician despite his somewhat obnoxious behaviour at times. However, with fame, came its side effects. From the time when he was a part of Pink Floyd, Barrett was hooked on drugs such as LSD. It affected his presence on stage and in the band, as well as his performance. There were days when he would go up on stage and not play anything at all, he would aimlessly mess with the instruments, staring blankly into the audience as the show went on around him. In the studio, too, he was hardly attentive enough to produce music, if at all present, and the other members were having more and more difficulty in working with him. His musical genius was still intact, but the drugs made him erratic.
With drug abuse came other associated problems, including different varieties of mental illnesses. Barrett was losing his sense of time and space and often suffered from memory loss. He was resigned and barely functioning, and his role in the band was practically non-existent. For a long time, he was kept as an honorary member of the band, but that was proving to be of no use at all. Barrett was becoming too unstable to have a place in the group. He was soon fired from Pink Floyd whereafter he embarked on a solo career which, again, was rather short-lived.
He made the decision to completely detach himself from the music scene. After packing his bags, he moved to the Chelsea Cloisters apartment complex in the 1970s. There, his days consisted of buying expensive items only to give them away and soon, his money started to run out. He decided to leave the complex and return to his mother’s house in Cambridge. He briefly visited his London home for a couple of weeks in 1982 in which he took all the necessary items with him, gave away the rest of it, left back some dirty laundry before finally moving back to his mother’s place again – this time, for good.
On this trip, however, he decided to make a trek on foot. He walked for fifty miles from London to Cambridge, barely stopping for rest. Barrett’s sister, Rosemary Breen, recounted in an interview: “I was not surprised at the time about him walking, he was capable of anything.” She continued, “I do remember he had some huge blisters on his feet that took a while to heal!”
The change in Barrett’s personality was striking. Pre-Pink Floyd Barrett and post-Pink Floyd Barrett seemed like two completely different people altogether, held only by an ever-fading history that the two shared. Barrett did not enjoy listening to his past music. Neither did he respond to the name “Syd Barrett”. In fact, it all made him very upset. He changed his name back to his birth name, Roger Barrett, taking little steps to return to the life he grew up in before his fame.
In an attempt to bring some semblance back into his life, after the drug-fueled whirlwind that his Pink Floyd days had been, Barrett resigned to a completely isolated lifestyle, with only his sister serving as the link between himself and the other world. He spent his days painting and making DIY furniture. After his death, these pieces of furniture were auctioned, and the money that was raised was donated by Barrett’s family to a scholarship for local art students. Syd Barrett was a highly talented artist, but his battle with drugs was real, and it affected him deeply. His musical genius was evidently more than he ever let on, and that the world didn’t get to see that is truly disheartening.