Marcus Lundgren writes ...
First of all, let me just preface my thoughts on this song by saying that I mean no disrespect to either the late, great Syd Barrett or his estate by showing the dramatic change in appearance he underwent in a few short years. Later photographs of the man are widespread over the Internet, and are well-known.
All right. That out of the way, musically speaking, the song covers a lot of ground. The crystal-like extended keyboard chords that open the song, set the mood perfectly. It’s immediately apparent that this is a song that will take its time: it’s an epic!
It’s a sound that’s both steely and sensually beautiful at the same time. It feels cold to the touch, and yet, it warms your heartstrings and slowly builds a sense of anticipation for what’s to come. I always picture an ice cathedral during this part. It’s an image that evokes the right combination of elements in my mind.
After a few minutes of this, David Gilmour’s bluesy guitar licks suddenly slide in seductively and with pure emotion. This isn’t just another bar band jam. Every note is carefully chosen and played with purpose. They speak to you, even though you’re not quite sure what they’re saying. But you get a sense of both beauty and aching pain, as if someone was giving a eulogy of utter despair.
Things pick up a bit when the drums enter. They always do. And for several minutes, the band takes us on a journey through a barren wasteland where only the occasional wail can be heard in the distance. It’s a no-man’s land where only those who are left behind end up. Nobody wants to be there, but everyone finds themselves there eventually. For many, it’s even a familiar place. A place of mourning and sorrow, and crying like there’s no tomorrow.
Just as you start to think that the actual song will never start, it does. Very gently, the vocals come in, surprising everyone. The first few words are barely audible. A mere whisper………..and then……ROCK ’N ROLL!!!!!
The song erupts into a majestic chorus of symphonic brilliance, with choirs and an untold number of instruments all fighting for the centre of attention at once. The name of the song is finally sung as if blown from alpine horns on top of the barricades, and quite the cryptic enigma it is as well.
Shine on You Crazy Diamond. What the hell is that about?
The verse and the chorus are repeated a few times before the tempo shifts up a notch and the song slowly fades out to a jazzy saxophone solo which seems to go completely deranged in the last few seconds. The song ends in a violent cascade of spitting and squealing high-pitched notes that no music teacher would ever allow. And it’s brilliant.
But what is the meaning of all this? Well, I’m sure most dedicated Floyd fans will be familiar with the band’s founding member and songwriter, Syd Barrett. His was a brilliant talent. The unique melodies and instrumentation his mind could conceive were only matched by the almost bizarre juxtaposition of childlike whimsy and the dark, Gothic surrealism of his lyrical imagination.
A “normal” brain, this man did not possess. In spite of being a very handsome man (as a straight man, even I cannot deny this) who was popular with pretty much everyone he came into contact with, his inner life was populated by picturesque bike rides, frightening nursery rhymes and demonic scarecrows.
So what happened? Well, it was the late 60’s. The drug culture was booming and everyone who was someone, did something and everything. LSD was a very popular and mind-bending choice of drug for creative artists, because it opened up a person’s mind and could enhance their worldview and inspire them in previously unimaginable ways. The Beatles stunned the world with their LSD-inspred Sgt. Pepper album, and next door, Pink Floyd recorded their almost equally famous Piper at the Gates of Dawn. But whereas the Beatles survived and thrived, poor Barrett, whose mind was already vulnerable, took a trip too far and never returned to his sanity.
In just a few short years, he went from looking like a teen dream pinup:
The bottom picture shows him visiting his former band mates in their studio in 1975. He’d been kicked out of the band 7 years previously for being impossible to work with. And since then, his mental deterioration continued without interruption, until he became a completely unrecognizable shadow of his former self.
None of his former band members recognized him at first. And when they did, the shock was so great that it inspired both the title song on their next album, as well as provided them with an overall theme for all of the songs.
What I find interesting about the song, Shine on You Crazy Diamond, is how it sounds both achingly sad, as if someone near and dear has just departed forever, but also jubilant and uplifting, as though the memories of the deceased refuse to die with them.
Syd, of course, was far from dead. He spent the rest of his life in the care of his mother and rarely ventured outside of his family home. He never made music again, and preferred to paint whenever the mood took him.
But Syd the brilliant artist and eccentric mind was gone for good. And in that sense, to me, this song represents a fond and painful farewell to a former friend whose inspired life was cut short by the very inspiration he tried to seek.
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