Syd Barrett is Psychedelic Frontiersman No. 1. For he sums up the Western Experiment: “To be extreme, just to be extreme.” That is to say, that to come back alive is preferred – but not presumed. That sacrifice will be made in order to make progress. As T. S. Eliot declared: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” Syd was a sonic terrorist, perpetually beating at the boundaries of rock’n’roll. But he was a cautionary tale to us all: he was the one that went out there and never came back.
Syd summed up English Psychedelia even better than the people who influenced him – Ray Davies, the Beatles – because his wayward trajectory provided us with the guide to the post-rabbit-hole ride of Alice in Wonderland once it peters out and is reduced to nothing more than a rarely-used trackway. Syd delivers to us a psychic commentary using a remedial set of symbols, and all over a pillar of revolutionary sound. Mind-manifesting as Humphry Osmond defined the truly psychedelic experience, Syd’s work sizzled with a seemingly effortless sense of melody and lyricism – a heroic childlike Pandora’s Box of magic. When you’re a kid you’re in a world of frogspawn and caterpillars but you grow out of it. But that Syd did not grow out of it was a revolution for all of us. Forever fucking with people’s heads without telling them, Syd was never by rote and unwilling to make a career from his place in the music biz. He was the obstinate child determined to subvert the form at all points.
To be a psychedelic artist you need to know there are neurological problems you might encounter that will shut you down way before your mission is complete. Syd is indispensible because he tells you how far you can’t go. Hug You, Motherfucker! You dared to do all this on our behalf. In bequeathing us your mind map, you lost your mind.
Today let’s all listen to ‘Astronomy Domine’. Was psychedelic rock’n’roll ever more advanced than this?