[16 June 2014]
Syd Barrett has become something of a tragic, legend in the world of music ever since he elected to leave that world and, as many would have you believe, disappear with no one knowing where he went (“how near or how far”). Without question, Barrett influenced Pink Floyd (the band he founded sang and played guitar for) not only in the creation of their sound, but in the mythology that continued to build long after he had left the band.
Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here is all about Barrett with the majority of the record dominated by a long form epic called “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and the main character (named “Pink Floyd”) of the band’s concept album, tour and movie The Wall may have been based on Floyd’s Roger Waters, but was heavily influenced by the decline of Syd Barrett.
Outside of the band’s own quiver, his music (both with Pink Floyd and solo) has become remarkably impactful. Barrett even inspired a very weird episode of The X-Files, in which he becomes a metaphor for misunderstood youth.
Eagle Rock’s new release of The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story is an attempt to expose and tell the true story of Barrett’s own rise, fall, brief re-rise and then retreat into reclusive obscurity. But of course, this story has been told before in this exact form.
This 2014 release is a repackaging of the 2003 release of this documentary (in turn a home video version of the BBC’s Omnibus series 2001 episode “Syd Barrett: Crazy Diamond”). While the picture and sound quality remains the same (I was given the two DVD set in a Blu-ray box, though neither disc is a Blu-ray) and Eagle Rock has not added any new extras to the release (a short documentary on Barrett’s reaction to the original film or some coverage of his 2006 death seem called for), Eagle Rock is to be credited for keeping this quality film in circulation and maintaining the DVD extras when so many other distributors leave them out completely upon re-release.
The film itself still holds up very well as an informative documentary on the life of Barrett for knowledgeable fans and the completely uninitiated alike. Director John Edginton collects the interviews of the band and other knowledgeable parties into a fascinating look at the life and music of Barrett, as short as the latter may have been.
So what exactly makes Barrett so fascinating and worthy of so much talk?
Barrett was a remarkably creative visual artist and musician who reinvented his craft and his own songs often with different additions each and every time. His early experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs during the age in which music was first experimenting with psychedelic sounds helped create and craft Pink Floyd. However, as a matter of music history lore, Barrett also had his own demons in the form of schizophrenia. If LSD had a warning label, it would probably say “Don’t trip if you’re schizophrenic, kids.”
Further, a decidedly scary habit of music managers of the day was to “dose” their clients with psychedelic drugs without their knowledge to keep the music trippy. For someone like Barrett, who found himself tripping when he was sure he hadn’t taken any drugs, this was detrimental.
Of course, the above is known to most fans of Pink Floyd, as is his deterioration and exit from the band (after his dear friend, guitarist and singer David Gilmour had been brought in to first supplement, then replace Barrett) and his release of two solo albums before he left the industry. However, the way these facts are presented (in a mostly linear manner) are more personal than any book or Wikipedia article could present.
Interviews with the normally stoic Waters find the bassist/ singer-songwriter laughing at the memories of his old friend and even crying as he recalls the hard times. Keyboardist Richard Wright and drummer Nick Mason similarly tell their own sides of the tale as if remembering a brother who either backstabbed the family or was kidnapped against his will… or both. Gilmour himself has an emotional take on the history of his former best friend that focuses not only on the documentary events or even the friendship that he held so dear, but also the music, where it came from and how it came to be Pink Floyd.
This is where The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story (AKA: “Syd Barrett: Crazy Diamond”) truly shines, for lack of a better word. Director Edginton tells the story that is promised and truly manages to grip the audience as the tale proceeds, but never forgets that this is a story about a musician and his music.
How did the music filter through Barrett to become Pink Floyd? How did that music or, at least, the music industry, cause the downfall and ouster of Barrett, like a vengeful mother rejecting a child? How did that same music go on to evolve into the Pink Floyd that became one of the biggest bands in the world still to this day? To underscore the answers to these questions Edginton does give us great glimpses into the sounds of Barrett and the Floyd so that we can make up our own minds, or at least allow that music to plead its own case.
An additional bonus if this frame of thought is the fact that musicians Robyn Hitchcock and Graham Coxon perform and discuss some of Barrett’s compositions, illustrating not just their influence over them, but also the very reason why these songs were so different, special and impactful.
And, yes, the film also discusses Barrett’s attempt to join Pink Floyd for a recording and many details of Barrett’s life in relative seclusion (where he reverted to his birth name “Roger Barrett”). Some of this information is, of course, out of date, considering Barrett died three years after the documentary’s completion, however, in some ways this is even more apropos, considering the mystery that surrounded the singer/ songwriter we know as Syd Barrett. He moved on and became someone else. Perhaps he simply did that same trick once more.
Further extras on the second disc include the extended interviews with the rest of Pink Floyd which can be very touching and fascinating to watch in their entirety, but can also be overlong and repetitive, especially when one has just viewed the feature itself. Again, a few added extras such as coverage of Barrett’s death and its impact could have made this a more complete purchase and while The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story is still an excellent documentary in its own right, it is also worth noting that if you already own a DVD copy (as I do) then you already have this entire product.
However, if you don’t own this film, this comes highly recommended. This is a truly complete and balanced documentary about a true rock genius whose contributions proved to be short-lived but resonate today even more than during his lifetime.