Friday, June 02, 2006

FruitLoops & Fol-De-Rols

In this column we will meet some of the eccentrics who have pushed the envelope, changed perspectives and perceptions, flown too close to the sun and generally behaved appallingly. As Ted Hughes said of poets, ‘People like their poets dead, that way they don’t turn up drunk at your party.’ The same applies to these glorious fools, holy and unholy!!
Picture this;- it is the UFO club on Tottenham Court Rd., it is 1967. Pink Floyd have started playing but there is no sign of Syd Barrett, the violet-eyed artist (fresh out of Camberwell School of Art, which has a lot to answer for) and composer of most of Floyd’s material on their seminal album “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.
Syd is still in the dressing room struggling with his perm, which used to cost him £20 a throw, a lot of money in those days. He can’t get it right so, crushing up the jar of Mandrax that he had just been given (Now that is a drug which the word “bandy” was invented to describe - the dealer marketing went something like; Mandrax makes you bandy and randy! Big in South Africa as I recall) and mixing it with Brylcreem, he teased his barnet into something out of a horror film and leapt on stage. The heat of the lights started to melt the Brylcreem and Mandrax coiffeur and it all streamed down his beautiful face, giving the appearance of melting flesh, albeit with a Mandrax pebble-dash! Performance Art or twilight dementia? - who cared when those first chords of Interstellar Overdrive hit your acid-addled brain? This was the Pink Floyd’s retort to the Grateful Dead’s Dark Star and certainly went on as long, often for many hours.(You had to be there!)
The oil wheels and Moire patterns being a vestige of Syd’s artistic aspirations. Here they were, two architects, one artist and a cyberneticist, evolving out of being an RnB covers band (Louie, Louie oh baby! We gotta go!), like hundreds of others, into one of the biggest bands of their era, fuelled by LSD and Mandrax.
This handsome, charming madcap, the inspiration for the band, found that fuel to bring out the creativity in himself but in attendance with the madness, and this whimsical, almost pre-Raphaelite youth with an Hilaire Belloc fixation (along with Bo Diddley) swiftly descended the ladder of fame into silence and madness.
Syd’s own sunset seems to have happened in the crazy environs of 101 Cromwell Rd, a Withnail-esque hippie heaven/hell populated by loony messianic acid freaks standing on the balcony ranting at the South Kensington air and the coaches full of American tourists, fresh from Heathrow and admiring the sights. “Give everybody Acid!” “Put Acid in the water supply!”(I can still hear the voices!!).
Syd’s flatmate, Scotty, was on a mission from God to spike the whole world and it was inadvisable to accept any form of refreshment from him. Girls would be knocking on the door around the clock and Syd’s diet was now 80% LSD.
There is one anecdote that perfectly describes the scene: Syd had been given a large bottle of liquid acid which he proceeded to drop, two drops at a time, onto sugar cubes, however, the acid got into his pores and he kinda lost track of which cubes had been dosed, resulting in heavy, heavy trips for some and nada for others. The final mental goodbye occurred on the band’s first US tour when it became quite apparent that Syd had absolutely no idea where he was, nor could he play a note. The last gig was at Ally Pally when Syd came on stage tripping his tits off and just gazed into his own sad void.
This wonderful creative man who, seeing a young girl playing in the woods where he had slept the night, wrote the wonderful “See Emily play”, Floyd’s first hit, reduced to insanity. The band were distraught and, whilst drafting in Dave Gilmour to help out, took Syd to the great Scots psychologist R.D. Laing who declared him incurable. This was the only psychologist to cure schizophrenia without pharmacology!!
The last interview and a solo album were in 71 and afterwards Syd became a recluse in Cambridge, where he still resides. He did appear, synchronistically, at the studios where Pink Floyd were laying down the track,”Shine on you Crazy Diamond”, that had been written for Syd by Roger Waters. He seemed to still think he was in the band, “my band” as he frequently referred to them. It took Roger and the others some 45 minutes to recognise him as this former glorious youth, who had always enjoyed a retinue of beautiful groupies, had become an Aleistair Crowley (in his latter years) look-alike, 15 st. with a shaven head, in Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts.
From Jugband Blues (Syd’s only contribution to Pink Floyd’s second album, ‘Saucerful of Secrets’):
It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here
And I'm much obliged to you for making it clear
That I'm not here.
And what exactly is a dream?
And what exactly is a joke?
Cultural Virus

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