I gave a talk at ‘The City Wakes’ the other day. This is the week of events in tribute to Syd Barrett currently underway in Cambridge. Syd was a founding member of the Pink Floyd who lost his mind, probably due to an excessive intake of LSD, then spent the rest of his life in seclusion in his home town until his death in July 2006. I’ve written here and there about what Syd was like and some of the circumstances of his demise. For this occasion I decided to go wide and try to place him in a context of social aspects of the 60s that might have destabilised him. It’s titled ‘Roger, Syd & the Batman – the Dark Night of Cool‘.
To the rear of the Don Pasquale restaurant in Market Square, Cambridge is the unisex toilet. Seated there momentarily whilst en route to a meeting with a group of City Walking Tour Guides whom I am about brief on the favourite locations of Pink Floyd founding genius and recently deceased psychedelic rock legend Syd Barrett, with whom I grew up in my midteens and in whose memory the city is organising The City Wakes celebration (also here) my attention is drawn to a chrome steel sanitary disposal unit beside my right knee. There, embossed on the lid of the device, as clear as day, is the word ‘Syd’.
Impressed, rising, I turn and study the emblem. Now that I have turned, the emblem is, effectively, upside down. I can make out, as clear as day, the initials ‘phs’. The unit is not called Syd – it is manufactured by phs!
Fortunately I have my camera with me.
I am forcibly reminded of Syd’s song ‘Chapter 24’, from the the first Floyd album ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, in which the composer quotes directly from what was then the most popular version of the ‘I Ching’, the ancient Chinese oracle, translated by Richard Wilhelm, rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes, with foreword by Carl Jung:
A movement is accomplished in six stages
And the seventh brings return.
The seven is the number of the young light
It forms when darkness is increased by one.
Change returns success
Going and coming without error.
Action brings good fortune.
The oracular power of the I Ching is held to derive from its capacity to find meaning in, as Jung put it, “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events”. (Three coins are tossed six times and, depending on how the coins fall (2 Heads + 1 Tail; 2 Tails + 1 Head; 3 Heads; 3 Tails), a diagram may be constructed which directs the user to a specific chapter of the oracle i.e. the book. The user, before tossing the coins, may ask a question or simply seek a reading of their present situation. In Confucius’ time, yarrow stalks were used instead of coins. The act of throwing the coins creates a connection, according to the principles of synchronicity, between the user and the instructive wisdom of the oracle.)
Strength Weekly would like to make it clear that it has no commercial relationship of any sort with either phs Washrooms, the Don Pasquale restaurant or Arkana Publishing (a Penguin imprint), publishers of the ‘I Ching’. The Editor of Strength Weekly would further like to stress that, while he found the experience of coincidence pleasing, he did not impute to it an esoteric significance so much as confirmation of his notion that certain powerful minds have the ability to bend, if only for a moment, the fabric of reality in such a way that it takes up forms consonant with abiding thought patterns.
is the title of a Cambridge-based festival celebrating, from October 22nd to November 1st, the pre-London years of Syd Barrett, one of the founder members of Pink Floyd. Syd died in 2006 after many years of reclusiveness that followed his withdrawal from the band as a result of a slow but irreversible breakdown that was probably precipitated by an excess of LSD.
I grew up in Cambridge with Syd from about the age of 14 and went on to share flats with him in London in the Swinging and Delirious ’60s. A number of his friends, including myself, will contribute to the city-wide programme of tributes, exhibitions and events in his home town. I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do in a parallel universe, namely conduct guided tours of something. In this case and universe I shall be guiding enthusiasts around ‘Syd’s Cambridge’ – an excellent opportunity to revisit the Hallowed Hippy Havens that mapped out the angel-headed youth that many of us were sure we were navigating. I’m doing a talk at Borders and also presenting an Especial Cooch. The latter is an extension of what has rather rapidly become a London must-have occasion: David Gale’s Peachy Coochy Nites, details of which can be found here not to mention here. The especiality is outlined here.
If I were pressed to make one useful comment about Syd it would be that before the surly craziness came he was a delightful, delighted, sunny, beautiful and amusing man. This photo from The City Wakes site finds him in typical shape at the age of 19.