When I was a patient on a psychiatric ward one of the things that kept me going was music, I had a walkman and when the batteries died I used to hog the CD player in the dayroom. Looking back; the music I listened to had an underlying theme, the theme was madness! There are a number of musicians from my era that have been diagnosed with various mental health problems and a number that died young under questionable circumstances.
The album I played the most in hospital was Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. This album explores madness, I used to play the track “Brain Damage” over and over, not a popular choice with some of my fellow patients! Especially with lyrics such as…..
“You lock the door
And throw away the key
There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.”
I think that the genius needed to create music often pushes the creator over the edge, Roger Waters who wrote the above must have experienced insanity in one form or another to have written many of his songs. He originally worked with Syd Barrett in Pink Floyd, Syd was a man touched with genius, capable of producing songs that either touched your heart or your funny bone, subjects ranging from fetishism (Arnold Layne) to mythology (Gnome) to twee (Scarecrow), even using James Joyce poetry set to music (Golden Hair). It is well documented that Syd used “mind expanding” drugs very regularly during his time with Pink Floyd and that his behaviour became at best erratic. It has been suggested that he experienced severe drug induced psychosis, although I have no evidence that he was diagnosed as such. After two solo albums that ranged from genius to self- indulgent (the Madcap Laughs and Barrett) he disappeared from the music scene and became a recluse, refusing to answer to the name Syd ( a nickname, his actual name was Roger) and refusing to acknowledge his music or Pink Floyd.
The Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here is said to be a message to Syd, the track Shine on You Crazy Diamond aimed directly at him with the lyrics
“Remember when you were young,
You shone like the sun.
Now there’s a look in your eyes,
Like black holes in the sky. “
I would prefer to remember Syd for his music rather than his madness, although I believe that the two are inseparable. Genius is often associated with mental ill health and in the world of music there is no better example of this than Roger “Syd” Barrett.