Lex on Pink Floyd (The Piper At The Gates of Dawn)

So, it’s Monday and I’m on my way to yet another job interview.  After the plethora of rejections in the “economically anemic” Vegas job market, I’m skeptical about landing a decent a job.  But, I do have Popperwork to do, including writing blogs.  While waiting for my bus (which is already 7 minutes late), I listen to some of Syd Barrett’s work with Pink Floyd.  Syd’s birthday lands on the 6th of this month, and I haven’t really reached out to touch his work in a long time.

Let there be no misunderstanding – Syd Barrett is the reigning king of 60s psychedelic Brit pop, and no one comes close.  The first Floyd singles, “Arnold Layne,” and the brilliant “See Emily Play,” blasts through my earphones, and I’m transported back to my first few days of high school.

– – – – – – –

I can still see the look on my friend Gary’s face when I told him that I had never heard an early Pink Floyd track called “Bike.”  We were freshmen in high school, and he had heard that I was the other “music and record freak” that was running around Canoga Park High School.  We had a few classes together, and in between lectures on “grading procedure,” conversation turned to Pink Floyd, and their early musical output.

Gary had a great love for Pink Floyd’s 60s music, especially the songs of Syd Barrett.  When he discovered that I had never had access to the Floyd material written by Barrett, he responded with a stony silence.  I’ll never forget “the look,” and the conversation that started with, “You mean to tell me that you’ve never heard ‘Astronomy Domine?’ ‘See Emily Play?’ ‘Lucifer Sam?’ ‘Bike?’ And you call yourself a Floyd fan!” Then, he started singing gleefully.

I’ve got a bike
You can ride it, if you like
It’s got a basket, a bell that rings
And things to make it look good
I’d give it to you if I could,
But I borrowed it

The next day, he loaned me a very strange Pink Floyd double album compilation called A Nice Pair.  The set consisted of the first two Floyd albums; The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, and A Saucerful Of Secrets.  It might have been his way testing me, to see if he could trust me with his records.  In good faith, I loaned him a few books on Jim Morrison that I was reading at the time.

Almost as soon as I got home, I plopped the first disc, The Piper, onto the turntable.  Slowly, several voices, blips from a Farfisa organ, drums, and guitars arise in a sonic swirl of psychedelia from my speakers.  The sound was hypnotic enough that I stopped pulling books from my backpack.  I stood where I was, and took in my first experience of a Syd Barrett song called “Astronomy Domine.”

Lime and limpid green, a second scene
A fight between the blue you once knew.
Floating down, the sound resounds
Around the icy waters underground.

This marks the beginning of Pink Floyd’s album career..  “Lucifer Sam” had a sharp riff like the theme from “Batman,” and was a wash of poetically, evocative lyrics.  Barrett’s lyrics were awash in images that sounded like a mad romp through some mystic, futuristic book of nursery rhymes.  Sharp and intense, songs like “Matilda Mother,” “Scarecrow,” and “The Gnome” sounded like the perfect soundtrack for the idyllic summer of ’67 that had taken over England.  Instrumental numbers like “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Pow R. Toc H” were the sonic blueprint that Roger Waters, Rick Wright, and Nick Mason would later perfect in later songs like “Echoes,” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”

The Piper At The Gates of Dawn was written mostly by Barrett.  The album that followed, A Saucerful of Secrets,  would introduce the musical vision of bassist Roger Waters, as well as mark the debut of their new vocalist / guitarist David Gilmour.  It would also mark the end of Barrett’s contribution to Floyd with his one lone contribution to the album, “Jugband Blues.”

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.

By most accounts, Syd quit.  By other accounts, the effects of his LSD use made it hard for the other band members to work with him.  Syd would go on to record a few solo records under his own name, but none of that work shines as brilliantly as his work with Pink Floyd.  I ended up trading Gary 3 Simon and Garfunkel albums for his Floyd set.  I had become a Syd fan.

– – – – – – –

January 6th marks the birthday of Roger “Syd” Barrett, late of Pink Floyd and late of this earth.  Who knows what the world of music would have been like if Syd hadn’t decided to tattoo his brain with acid?  All I know is that the world of music would be a lost place without his contributions to 60s pop / rock.  Would Pink Floyd be the same band without Syd’s blueprint of musical experimentation?  Probably not.  Then again, why not just take out a copy of The Piper At The Gates of Dawn and find out for yourself?  Happy birthday, Syd.  Shine on, you crazy diamond!

(Lex Neon is also known as Alex Oliver, the quirky and often eccentric musical genius of “sunshine pop / rock” band Poppermost.  Check out their music and Lex’s rock rantings at http://www.poppermost.com).

(Note: the original release date for the album below is August 5, 1967)

Currently listening :
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
By Pink Floyd
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~ by Poppermost on January 7, 2009.

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