Psychedelic Pied Piper is given a 21st Century Polish
It’s a classic tale, one of a young musical genius gone mad, before retreating into a life of isolation, seemingly vanishing off the face of the earth. Whether it’s Elvis Presley or Jim Morrison, people can’t get enough of the idea that their idols continue to reside among us, faking their own deaths as a way of escaping the lunacy of their fame. It’s a romantic concept to be sure, and one which says a lot about ourselves and the society we live in. But unlike Presley and Morrison, Syd Barrett himself didn’t die after he walked away from the music business in the early 1970’s, which meant that over the years the legend grew, the myth of the anchoritic poet/songwriter hiding somewhere in Cambridge had become so irresistible to many of his rabid followers, ‘Syd-spotting’ was not an uncommon pursuit. Journalists would walk the streets with their camera at the ready; people climbing over his fence or sliding bootlegs under the front door with a note and phone number attached. Yes, by the ‘90s and early 2000’s the cult of Barrett had well and truly reached its apogee.
Wouldn’t You Miss Me? was the first (though not the last) compilation of material since 1988’s Opel, a strange, almost erratic compendium of unreleased songs and outtakes. That LP, along with his only two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, were remastered and had bonus material added, which begs the question: why would anyone need to purchase a best of? The previously unreleased “Bob Dylan Blues”, that’s why. Recorded in March 1970, this fabled tune has remained throughout the years a much sought after artefact by serious collectors, which until now, was available on bootleg only.
Still, the question lingers. Is it worth acquiring for just one song? The answer depends on how much of a fan you are. And even after having listened to it, to what extent will it actually enrich one’s life? Fortunately, “Bob Dylan Blues” is a worthy addition to Barrett’s oeuvre. Part ode, part piss-take, the song itself offers another precious glimpse into Barrett’s delicate eggshell psyche, before he began to unravel completely into an irreversible state of disrepair. The lyrics throughout contain references to Dylan songs, such as “Goin’ to write me a song/’Bout what’s right and what’s wrong… Cause I’m a poet, don’t ya know it/And the wind you can blow it,” and further on “Well I sing about dreams/And I rhymes it with seems”.
The rest of the CD consists of tracks culled from his solo records Madcap (seven tracks), Barrett (nine tracks), four from Opel, and one from the now deleted The Peel Session (“Two of a Kind”). So overall, Wouldn’t You Miss Me? is a fairly comprehensive summary of the man’s post Pink Floyd work, although it would have been nice to have seen a few more rarities included from the vaults of David Glimour, who has hinted that there may be another release some time in the future, but until then, don’t throw away those bootlegs just yet.
Syd’s story is a sad one, to be sure, though sad for whom one should ask. According to his sister Rosemary, and other close relatives, there was no indication of Barrett having suffered at all in his later years, merely someone who wished to left be alone and not be bothered by the wider world. To paint, tend to his garden, and ride his bike around Cambridge. That Barrett was one of the most unique and enigmatic singer/song-writers of his generation goes without saying. This 2002 album is testament to that fact. And yes Syd, we still miss you.