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The Annals of Rock Snobbery

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No one harbored any serious expectation that he’d ever record new music or emerge from seclusion, but still, it’s sad to learn that Syd Barrett (above), the architect of Pink Floyd’s early, woozy, endearingly lysergic sound, is dead. With Brian Wilson and Sly Stone, he formed a holy trinity of great pop recluse-geniuses, forever pursued by obsessed fans and questing journalists. Wilson eventually reemerged and returned to performing. Stone briefly resurfaced at this year’s Grammys with a dope mohawk and a Goldmember suit. Only Barrett stayed away completely.

Like Kurt Cobain, Barrett left behind a body of work that is, frankly, pretty scant for a person so lionized. It was his adamant refusal to be Syd Barrett anymore–after quitting music, he returned to his given name, Roger Barrett–that fed his legend as much as anything. Over the years, lots of grim stories circulated that he’d gone completely bat-fecal, that he’d ballooned to 28 stone, that he’d gone blind and deaf. An excellent and surprisingly tender stalkerazzi article about Barrett in the (London) Observer put to rest those misconceptions a few years ago. The article’s author, Tim Willis, had the gumption to just knock on the old psychedelic songsmith’s door. He didn’t get much out of Barrett, who was wearing little besides blue underpants as they spoke. But in reading Willis’s piece, you get the sense that Barrett wasn’t as mad as people thought he was, and that removing himself from the pop-star life was a shrewd act of self-preservation, a move that allowed him to live much longer and more peaceably than many of his drug-gulping contemporaries.

July 11, 2006 More Rock Snobbery »

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