By the mid 70's I had experienced and grown to love a variety of music. WIXY 1260 broadcast the top twenty chart toppers in heavy rotation. The fading sounds of Motown reached us all the way across the lake from Detroit courtesy of CKLW. WMMS—the home of the buzzard—was just beginning to take flight and introduce listeners to Album Oriented Radio. My two best friends in life were bipolarly devoted to Bob Dylan and Kiss. And the college guys I worked with at my father's gas station gave me a regular education in heavy metal. Despite this bombardment of musical styles, nothing prepared me for the sound that came out of my Zenith stereo speakers (you know, the ones that folded out so the turntable could fold down) when the needle hit the vinyl of Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Swiped from my friend's older sister's abandoned crate of outgrown albums, this record was a bizarre revelation to me. Part psychedelic nursery rhyme-like pop (the album's title comes from one of the early chapters in Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows), part blissed-out bluesy space-jazz, and part ambient noise experimentation, Pink Floyd blew my mind and opened my ears to a whole new genre of music. Soon after I found myself even further left of the dial; tuning in faintly broadcast, late-night, crackly college radio shows like Fresh Air (not the Terry Gross NPR show!) from WKSU Kent State University.
Barrett, who cofounded Pink Floyd in 1965 with Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright, died on July 7th at the age of 60. Prompted by a well-publicized breakdown triggered by his apparent use of LSD, Barrett left the group in 1968. His departure came just before the band achieved worldwide success, and five years before the release of Pink Floyd's most popular album, Dark Side of the Moon. He later released two brilliantly quirky solo albums The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, and then retreated to his late mother's home where he lived as a recluse until his death, indulging his passion for painting and gardening. He was a familiar figure to neighbors, often seen cycling or walking to the corner store, but rarely spoke to fans and journalists who sought him out. The band's superb follow-up to Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, was both a touching tribute to their friend; his mellow madness and inspiration, and, I suspect, an exorcism of sorts with regards to guilt and the different paths their lives had all taken.
Pink Floyd sang songs and they made music that somehow seemed to transcend all the normal parameters of what I was used to when it came to a rock n' roll band. I didn't understand what they were singing about — and not because I couldn't understand the words… three minute pop ditties were mixed in with ten minute instrumentals that sounded like they were composed on the other side of the galaxy. They sang about gnomes and bicycles and scarecrows and odd neighborhood characters who liked to steal clothes off the washing line. It was obscure and odd and bizarre and quintessentially British and catchy and silly and experimental and brilliant and mad all at the same time. And at the helm, in the early days was an eccentric character in a scarf, ruffled shirt, bellbottoms and square, rose-tinted glasses, named Syd Barrett.
Shine on You Crazy Diamond… indeed.
I need a little more time to come up with my favorite Syd Barrett solo song and Barrett-era Pink Floyd song. So, in the meantime, for your listening pleasure while I deliberate… the Happy Medium Song of the Day is a quirky little tune (that's worth a bunch of bucks on a 45), and it's called “ Know Where Syd Barrett Lives” by The Television Personalities. (Please use the comments box to share your thoughts.)