The dawn’s pink light

You probably heard about the death of Syd Barrett, one of the original four members of Pink Floyd, who passed away recently at age 60. Syd wrote and sang 10 of the 11 songs on the first Floyd album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It’s a record revered by many to this day and hailed as a masterpiece of the psychedelic era. Yet, for whatever reasons, Piper was almost completely overlooked in the United States.

Some pertinent quotes: “…. he was the golden boy of the mind-melting late ’60s psychedelic era, its brightest star and, ultimately, its most tragic victim. The story of his personal meltdown has been told and retold as a cautionary tale to indiscriminate druggies to the point where Barrett’s status as rock’s most illustrious casualty often threatens to outweigh his actual creative contributions to the form. This is not as it should be.”—Nick Kent, veteran British rock scribe, alluding to Barrett’s notoriety as a neurally mangled acid burnout eclipsing proper appreciation for his genuine talents.

“As for a television or a radio, he didn’t feel the need to own one because he didn’t want to waste any energy concentrating on it. It’s not that he couldn’t apply his mind. He read very deeply about the history of art and actually wrote an unpublished book about it, which I’m too sad to read at the moment. But he found his own mind so absorbing he didn’t want to be distracted.”—Syd’s kid sister Rose, the person closest to him since his mom died in ’91. What an extraordinary thing to say about someone, that he was so absorbed in his own mind, he couldn’t be bothered with a TV or radio.

“People began to awake and hold hands as the first notes of ‘Astronomy Domine’ reverberated through the massive hall. The atmosphere was electric. There was an extraordinary connection between the band and the audience. Then the magic happened. Syd’s mirrored Telecaster caught the dawn’s pink light. Syd noticed this, and with drug-filled eyes blazing, he made his guitar talk louder and louder, higher and higher as he reflected the light into the eyes of his audience and christened those of us lucky enough to be there, followers of Pink Floyd for life.”—Colin Turner, a fan (and waiter; whatever he’s drinking, I’d like three) describing a climactic scene at one of London’s all-time biggest parties/freak-outs, the 14-Hour Technicolor Dream at the Alexandra Palace in April ’67. Pink Floyd came on at dawn, with sunrise pouring through the great windows of the “Ally Pally,” making possible the scene described above.

Ultimately, though, it’s all about that first album. Not only does it not sound like the later, mega-popular Dark Side of the Wall Floyd, it sounds like nothing else in the entire rock repertoire. Essential listening for those who still love and appreciate this particular era of electric music, when a mind-boggling wave of albums (first Hendrix, first Traffic, Sgt. Pepper) burst out of London in the summer of ’67 and captivated a planet.