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Syd Barrett: Pink Floyd's Crazy Diamond

I've been a fan of Pink Floyd since the early seventies, following their successes and tragedies. They are timeless.

Short-lived line-up of all five members of Pink Floyd. L-R: Nick Mason, Syd Barrett, David Gilmour (seated), Roger Waters, Richard Wright

Short-lived line-up of all five members of Pink Floyd. L-R: Nick Mason, Syd Barrett, David Gilmour (seated), Roger Waters, Richard Wright

In the Beginning

Roger Keith “Syd” Barrett (born 1946, died 2006) was a founding member of Pink Floyd, one of the most successful rock bands in the world, along with Roger Waters, Rick Wright (deceased) and Nick Mason. In 1965, it was Syd Barrett who came up with the name by fusing the first names of American blues singers Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Some wag suggested it was fortunate he didn't call the band Anderson Council or the world would have been deprived of some of its greatest music. Initially named "The Pink Floyd Sound", it was shortened to "The Pink Floyd", and, finally, just "Pink Floyd".

The band played many live venues and gradually found themselves in the vanguard of the psychedelic movement as their loyal fan base steadily grew. Syd wrote most of the songs on “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, the band's first album, which was critically acclaimed on its release in August 1967, less than three months after the Beatles released their ground-breaking album “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”. Their live shows were now drawing huge crowds and Barrett had his own fans who loved him.

Descent Into Madness

Unfortunately, at the very start of their major success, Syd's use of drugs, particularly LSD, was already beginning to tell on him. His behavior, at first erratic, became bizarre. Sometimes he just stood on stage, eyes blank, his guitar hanging by its strap, strumming the same chord over and over or not playing at all. Once, he was purported to have mashed a bottle of pills with a tube of Brylcreem and slathered it onto his head before going on stage; the hot lights melted the concoction and he looked like a guttered candle. Nick Mason disputed the drugs part, saying that Syd would never have wasted drugs like that. In America, Barrett sat mute and stared when Pat Boone tried to interview him.

The band tried to cover for him, hoping he would snap out of it, but, when he didn't, they recruited Dave Gilmour (an old school friend of Barrett's) around Christmas of 1967 to back Syd up when he had one of his “episodes”. Things just got worse and, in January 1968, on the way to a gig, someone asked, “Shall we pick Syd up?” and someone else said, “Let's not bother”. On April 6, 1968, Barrett was officially no longer a member of the band and he was so far gone, most of the time he didn't even realize it.


Despite occasional attempts at a solo career in the early Seventies, Syd's condition worsened. It is believed that his schizophrenic tendencies were exacerbated by his use of LSD and other drugs. One day he walked the 50 miles from London to Cambridge and lived the rest of his life as a recluse with his mother. The remaining members of Pink Floyd made sure he received every penny of the royalties he had coming to him until the day he died, on July 7, 2006, of pancreatic cancer. He reportedly left £1.7 million to his two brothers and two sisters, his mother having preceded him in death.

The Madcap Laughs, 1970

The Madcap Laughs, 1970

An unrecognizable Barrett at the "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" recording session

An unrecognizable Barrett at the "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" recording session

Shine On You Crazy Diamond

When Barrett was kicked out of the band, there was an uproar from his fans and David Gilmour had to endure the brunt of their wrath, but it was not an easy decision for any of them. Roger Waters became the main songwriter and composed several songs in tribute to Syd, the most famous being “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” which was recorded in 1975 for their album “Wish You Were Here”. While they were recording this deeply personal tribute at Abbey Road studios, they wondered who the portly, bald man standing quietly in the back was.

Rick Wright later told an interviewer: "I saw this guy sitting at the back of the studio... and I didn't recognize him. I said, 'Who's that guy behind you?' 'That's Syd'. And I just cracked up, I couldn't believe it... he had shaven all his hair off... I mean, his eyebrows, everything... he was jumping up and down brushing his teeth, it was awful...

"Roger [Waters] was in tears, I think I was; we were both in tears. It was very shocking... seven years of no contact and then to walk in while we're actually doing that particular track. I don't know - coincidence, karma, fate, who knows? But it was very, very, very powerful."

These are the opening lyrics of Shine On You Crazy Diamond (written by Roger Waters):

Remember when you were young

You shone like the sun.

Shine on you crazy diamond.

Now there's a look in your eyes

Like black holes in the sky.

Shine on you crazy diamond...

Aside from a brief run-in between Roger Waters and Syd a couple of years later, none of the band members ever saw him again.

© 2012 David Hunt


John D. Baldwin from New York, New York on December 22, 2014:

Thanks, UnnamedHarald. Floyd was not exceptional in that respect: a lot of bands that started in the 'Sixties reached their peak in the 'Seventies - the Stones, The Who, The Allman Brothers Band, etc., etc.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 22, 2014:

I agree with you about Piper. The difference between it and, say "Dark Side of the Moon"...well they are light years apart. Piper is not my favorite, but I still enjoy listening to it on occasion. Thanks for your input, Dylanexpert. Yes, do write one about Pink Floyd, even though they really came into their own in the 70's, they were significant in the 60's.

John D. Baldwin from New York, New York on December 21, 2014:

I've always thought it paradoxical and strange that while Syd was in the process of experiencing his tragic fate (going on a "trip" from which he would never come back), he was also in the process of making Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which is Floyd's *least* tragic album. The debut is full of fun and energy and excitement and wonder and strangeness, like childhood. (Show me, if you can, a single picture of Syd as a child where he looks unhappy!) All the subsequent (post-Syd) albums are full of a heavy sense of loss, particularly WYWH.

You might want to check out my hubs under the collective title My Greatest Decade about the great music artists of the 1960s. I will do one about Floyd someday.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on March 13, 2014:

Thanks for your insightful and lucid comment, Tom. Did you forget they are stupidheads as well?

Tom on March 13, 2014:

Really, the components of Pink Floyd are stupids, Syd Barrett was fat, and what? is it very important? , just if they are gays or what?, stupids.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on August 23, 2012:

So true, Peanutritious. And, despite those few who think the other band members were heartless, it was very rough on them. They were faced with cutting him loose or following him into obscurity, an asterisk in music history. Thanks for commenting and voting up.

Tara Carbery from Cheshire, UK on August 23, 2012:

Ah, poor Syd. Such talent yet such sadness. Voted up.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on July 07, 2012:

Thanks for the flattering comment, xanzacow. It's a pity we all have to grow old, but at least we have our memories.

Cynthia from North Myrtle Beach, SC on July 07, 2012:

Great hub. Up interesting and awesome. I have always liked this song but didn't know the history of it. One of my fav movies is The Wall. Went to a midnight theatre in the city to watch it the first time. Guess that dates me, huh? Again great hub.

Ian from Edinburgh, Scotland on May 16, 2012:

Yes - there was - there wasn't the magic or unpredictability the second time. It wasn't exactly boring but we were disappointed, I remember.


David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 16, 2012:

Thanks for the comment, Eugene... I mean alian. I envy you, seeing bothe "versions"-- quite a difference between the two sounds.

Ian from Edinburgh, Scotland on May 16, 2012:

Oh - Unnamedharald - you've brought back SOME memories! The man was a genius and PF were never the same after he, let's face it, had to be dropped.

I had the very good fortune of seeing them twice - in the late 60s (with Syd) and in the early 70s (without Syd). You can imagine the contrast in performances. Syd that night was on form fortunately.

Thanks for writing this Hub and 'Be careful with that axe........!'


Jean Bakula from New Jersey on March 22, 2012:

Roger Waters was a prick to hide a gem like Opal, which Syd wrote for one of the two solo CD's he released after he left the band. Syd deserved the royalties, he wrote everything on the first few albums they released. That was legal, not a favor. They tried to imitate Syd on Dark Side of the Moon, but although it's good, it's not as good as it could be. I don't think they ever were the same again. He was the creative genius behind them. David Gilmore and the rest tried to imitate his dreamy style, but weren't good musicians and the lyrics don't make the grade. They should have disbanded when Syd left. I saw a supposed "tribute" of See Emily Play with David Bowie and David Gilmore, and they should have been ashamed to release it, it was so bad. I saw Ian Anderson on stage in NJ about a year ago, and he was even dissing Roger Waters.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on March 20, 2012:

I don't recall ever hearing it. I've got The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and there's some interesting songs there, of course...a hint of things to come for the group and quite a lot of Syd's influence. A bit Avant Garde.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on March 20, 2012:

Yep, that's right UH. Haven't heard it before 'cept maybe one song. If you've heard it what's your impression?

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on March 20, 2012:

Thanks for reminding me, Alastar. The Madcap Laughs was Syd's first solo album after the break up.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on March 20, 2012:

AH! Good one UH. If the stories true I guess we know who really ousted the Madcap from Floyd don't we.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on March 20, 2012:

Alastar, thanks for the comment and the info. After hearing all the bizarre stuff he did, it's nice to hear about a sane moment:) Just a joke, all you Waters fans.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on March 20, 2012:

Did you hear about that time in Syd's last years where he was in his back yard with a fire burning cursing Roger Waters loudly to himself. Always thought it was very decent of David Gilmour making sure Syd got his royalities from Piper at rhe Gates of Dawn too.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on March 20, 2012:

Thanks for your comment, Woody Marx. According to one band member, Syd took drugs "by the shovel-full". Apparently, he was a budding schizophrenic anyway (the price for genius?) and the drugs sealed his fate.

Woody Marx from Ontario, Canada on March 20, 2012:

The effect of drugs on great musicians is one of the great tragedies of our world. I don't believe it occurred before the advent of illegal drugs (say pre-1900?) but it has been the bane of our world and our musicians ever since, mainly because they can afford them so easily with their monumental incomes for their unique talents. Thanks for telling us about Syd.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on March 20, 2012:

Thanks, old albion. It's hard to believe the change in him in just seven years.

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on March 20, 2012:

Nice hub Harald. A sad tale he had it all, a great shame.

Best Regards.