Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What the Hell Happened to Syd Barrett?

Insanity: A perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world. - R.D. Laing [psychiatrist]

he thought it was all a bit of fun really, it was just something he'd enjoyed. He never wrote a piece of music to make money, he wrote it because it was in his head and it was enjoyable to do so. - Rosemary Breen, Syd's Sister.

"All I ever wanted to do as a kid [was] play guitar properly and jump around, but too many people got in the way." - Syd Barrett

 Today I want to talk about what happened to Syd Barrett and why it's important today. Barrett was a founding member of Pink Floyd. He named the band after two obscure blues men Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. In 1968 he was dismissed over his increasingly erratic behavior and heavy drug use. 

  I'm not going to spend a lot of time going over Barrett's past. This is not a biography. I will post some links and sources for further reading into Barrett's life. 
Barrett in the Early 90's

 After scoring a couple singles with The Floyd that entered the charts, he released two solo albums before eventually withdrawing completely from the public view in 1974 at the age of 28, Barrett was done with being Syd and went back to his given name Roger. He lived his life simply, spending his time painting and gardening. He did not like being reminded about his past as a musician and the other members of Pink Floyd had no direct contact with him. In 1992 Atlantic Records even offered him 75,000 British Pounds to record anything he wanted, in his home if necessary. Although its rumored that his family did consider the offer, Barrett simply declined flat out.

Some dickhead fan, knocks on Syd Barrett's door. Barrett spent a lot of his time dealing with people constantly knocking on his door, camping out in front of his house. and following him around town. It is said that he found it quite strange that people still cared about the musical recordings he made so many years ago.

 Since Syd Barrett never receved an official diagnosis during his lifetime, speculation still persists over what the hell happened to him. Lots of posthumous diagnoses have been suggested ranging from Aspergers, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and just plain old acid burnout. I'm not a big fan of posthumous diagnoses, I just don't think they are effective, but just this once, I'll put my usual hesitations aside.

 Barrett in 1975 crashing the Wish You Were recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios. Rick Wright said when he saw him, 'He kept standing up and brushing his teeth, putting his toothbrush away and sitting down. Then at one point he stood up and said, 'Right, when do I put my guitar on?' And of course he didn't have a guitar with him'

...he [Syd] had psychiatric problems, and was actually in a sanitorium. He doesn't have any involvement with anything or anybody. He is a recluse... I see him very rarely. I mean, I know where he is, but he doesn't want to be bothered; he just sits there on his own, watching television all day and getting fat. That's what he does -  Bryan Morrison (former Pink Floyd manager and publisher)

"In my opinion, his nervous breakdown would have happened anyway. It was a deep-rooted thing. But I'll say the psychedelic experience might well have acted as a catalyst. Still, I just don't think he could deal with the vision of success and all the things that went with it.-  David Gilmour,
Pink Floyd

...acid to a large extent can exacerbate that collection of symptoms we put together loosely described as schizophrenia...There is no doubt that Syd was schizophrenic and that he was taking those drugs at the same time. - Roger Waters,
Pink Floyd
I believe that Acid had a huge part to play in it...99.9% sure. - Rick Wright, Pink Floyd

He wasn't mentally ill in any way, he was different, eccentric, his mind and ideas were simply different from the considered norm. Thank goodness we are not all the same, we need people like Syd to add colour to our lives. - Rosemary Breen, Barrett's sister.


For me, to say Barrett simply went crazy, or was an acid casualty, is such an extremely simplistic explanation that it falls short of explaining what really happened. 

  Aspergers Syndrome [link to wikipedia], is an autism spectrum disorder and its characterized by extreme difficulties in socical interactions and repetitive patterns of behavior.  However, this is rare and it starts in childhood and stays consistent through life. In the books, "A Saucerfull of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey," and "A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett," it is made very clear by his friends and family that he was a very upbeat and charming kid. It is well documented by his friends and band mates that his decline didn't start until the mid/late 1960's shortly before his departure from Pink Floyd in the beginning of 1968. Post Floyd Barrett has been called, "mad," "paranoid" and "crazed."

Bipolar Disorder [link to wikipedia]  doesn't seem to fit either. Being Bipolar myself, I don't see anything resembling bipolar when reading the books and numerous interviews that have been conducted amongst his friends and bandmates. What seems to have happened with Barrett is a slow steady decline into madness versus the highs and lows that characterize bipolar disorder. I would imagine that someone in his position that was bipolar would've seen several attempt to re-enter music throughout the 70's and 80's during high periods. 

 Schizophrenia [link to wikipedia] seems to manifest in the late teens or early twenties. Starting with minor oddities and quirks it progresses into a full blown breakdown of the thought processes. It's characterized hallucinations/delusions, disorganized speech/thinking, difficulties working and extreme social isolation. These symptoms are wide ranging and there are many expressions of them in this broad spectrum of schizophrenia.

 This is the generally accepted view by those who knew him and also by mental health professionals today. The University of California San Francisco Med School even did a lecture on changes in people developing schizophrenia, and used Barrett as an example. 

 This would seem to fit Barrett however his mental decline doesn't seem to come into question until he began his marathon like use of LSD.

 What I think really happened was that Barrett suffered from an LSD-induced Schizophrenic Psychosis that was exacerbated by a genetic predisposition to mental illness and the pressures of being suddenly thrown into Pop stardom, which he was completely unprepared for.  

 An LSD induced schizophrenic psychosis, can happened after taking acid one time or after taking it multiple times.

  Long term LSD use predisposes the user to psychotic personality changes and even to schizophrenic psychotic symptoms. However, distinguishing between psychotic symptoms related to LSD use and other pre-existing mental disorders is very difficult - Sami Pirkola, Senior Research Scientist, National Public Health Institute. 

 My Schizophrenic Psychotic view differs from the classic schizophrenia diagnosis in that I don't believe he had it before he started taking drugs. I believe his heavy use of LSD triggered a Psychotic State [link to wikipedia] or a loss of contact with reality. And this state may have lasted for several years until he completely withdrew from the public view in 1974. After this psychosis from extremely heavy LSD use went away he was left a solitary figure resembling more a schizophrenic who was extremely reclusive, extremely intent not to be around anybody that reminded him of his past and someone extremely paranoid and suspicious of people in general as his sister Rosemary once said in an interview after Syd's death.

He did however become more selective, when he was younger everyone was his friend, after the Floyd I think there was lots of issues and it made him much more wary of human contact. Not everyone had good motives towards him; therefore I think he became quite suspicious of people.- Rosemary Breen

    Barrett, 2002

  Barrett, it is reported, spend upwards of 8 years in a mental institution sometime after went into his self-imposed exile. However, he was never given an official diagnosis. This could be due to the fact that the full spectrum of schizophrenia and the affects of LSD on mental conditions was not widely understood at that time. We have a much better understanding of that now, especially with drugs like crystal meth and bath salts. 

  It's Important to see that we may take certain drugs today, thinking there will be no long term consequences but that doesn't mean that there won't be any 10-20 years from now. I'm including all drugs, legal and illegal, but mostly illegal.


Let me try to explain everything so far:


  It's ultimately impossible to know whether Syd Barrett already had schizophrenia in him or if it was the LSD that created it.  What we do know is that Syd Barrett had everything going for him and what did he get at the end of it all?




Book: A Very Irregular Head: The life of Syd Barrett,
by Rob Chapman. 
Book: A Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey, by Nicholas Schaffner
Video: The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrrett Story, BBC, 2003
WEBSITE: Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd and Mental Illness www.schizophrenia.com/
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