SYD BARRETT: THE LYRICS & MORE
13th August 2021
“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 you you if I could, but I borrowed it.”
The almost primitivist lyrics to the simple song, Bike sung to a favoured lady by, quite possibly, a simple man. Yet a man whose thoughts and ideas are direct, to the point and almost childlike in their sheer simplicity.
These words are not shrouded in metaphor. There’s no complex wordplay here. There’s no imagery. No cynicism. No sarcasm. The thoughts form in the mind and are delivered without any form of sugar coating or translation. Like a vending machine.
“Arnold Lane had a strange hobby/
Moonshine, washing line/
They suit him fine/
On the wall hung a tall mirror/
Distorted view, see through baby blue/
He dug it”
The first verse from Arnold Lane which tell an almost abridged tale of a man who steals clothes from washing lines. Lady’s clothes, if I take ‘see through baby blue’ to mean what I think it means.
Now he’s caught – a nasty sort of person/
They gave him time/
Doors bang, chain gang/
He hate it.
Syd Barrett’s use of grammar is interesting. Not ‘he hated it’ but ‘he hate it’. In the song, ‘Birdie Hop, Barrett sings, ‘Birdie hop – he do, he hop along’. It’s this playful grammatical trimming which has lead me to wonder if Barrett formed his music first and pushed the words into the music to fit because, on this track for example, the words read awkwardly on the page but sound perfect in the song itself. They flow easily around the melody which has a bird-like, hopping movement.
And that’s part of the joy of this book. Divorcing the words from the music firstly gives you a appreciation of the song and the construction of the same but it also allows you to see the connected thoughts of the lyrics and the poetry of the body of work. It also shows that Barrett was a singular artist. He didn’t sound like anyone else. He also wasn’t in it for the cash. I’m not even sure if he was in it for the art. I think he was in it because he had no choice and this stuff had to be ‘got out’.
This is the first time that Syd’s lyrics have been collected, certainly in authorised form. Floyd band member, David Gilmour and Syd Barrett’s biographer, Rob Chapman have been involved in its creation too.
In fact, Chapman adds an introduction looking at Barrett as a songwriter. Chapman quickly tracks the changes in Barrett’s personality which were connected to his growing stardom. Chapman remarks that Barrett’s “sardonic tone became more evident as [his] disillusion with fame increased.” By the time he penned his final Pink Floyd song or rather the song that held his final Floyd credit, “…he had married impeccably mannered speech to impeccably delivered derision.”
His “retreat from commitment” also included a retreat from his band and everyone connected to it.
Pink Floyd manager, Peter Jenner, also notes that retreat in his forward. It was in Jenner’s sitting room, that Syd Barrett wrote the song, Vegetable Man.
This book is not all lyrics, it must be said. There are colour images of a selection of Barrett paintings plus photographs of the man in happier times.
As for me? Well this book means that I can understand words to the song, Astronomy Domine for the very first time. And that can’t be bad.
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