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On Friday, the fifth of November, an entrepreneurial rock journalist of
the best music magazine in the world, who happens to have written - en
passant - the most accurate Pink Floyd biography in ages, met a mysterious
Asian looking lady. Although this was meant to be kept secret the news
had leaked to the headquarters of the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit
before the meeting even took place. Thus are the hidden special forces
of the Holy Igquisition.
We can now say it is official. The Mojo
issue of January, the 1st, 2011 will have an Iggy / Evelyn interview by Mark
Blake. It will have a recent picture of her and - perhaps - an
unpublished photograph from the Seventies.
Update December 2010: the January issue of Mojo (nr. 206) doesn't
have the Iggy interview (yet), although Mark Blake is omnipresent with a
13-pages in-depth article about Freddie Mercury and Queen. (If you are
still looking for a Xmas present: Mark Blake has just written a pretty
Queen biography: Is This The Real Life? The Untold Story Of Queen, Arum
For the rest the Reverend is as anxious as you to read the interview,
dear followers of the Church who not only visit us from the United
Kingdom and the States (the mythical place Tarzana comes to mind), but
also from the northern chilly depths of Oslo, the accordion larded ruelles
of Montmartre and several unspeakable places in Russia and the rest of
And late last night when the Reverend was contemplating his inner
musings he was interrupted by the tantalising ping of an incoming mail.
It read as follows:
Hello Felix. I am truly overwhelmed by your interest in me.
And ended with:
Yours truly and eternally. Iggy.
The bit in between shall remain a mystery for now, but hopefully 2011
shall start with a bang. Have some patience, brethren and sistren, and
remember...don't do anything that Iggy wouldn't do.
The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit wishes to thank Mark Blake, Natasha
M. and of course... Iggy / Evelyn.
P.S. We have from a quite reliable source that the picture taken at the
Speakeasy club isn't Evelyn at all. The Church apologises for the
old lady from London-by-the-Sea.
A while ago it was announced
at the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit that Julian Palacios' long
awaited Syd Barrett biography Dark Globe (Full title: Syd Barrett
& Pink Floyd: Dark Globe) had finally appeared in web shops all over the
world. Palacios' previous work Lost In The Woods already dates
from 1998 but is (was) still a classic work about Barrett.
Dark Globe 2010 is not an amended or appended Lost In The Woods,
Palacios didn't use the easy trick Mike Watkinson & Pete Anderson fell
for when they re-issued their Crazy Diamond biography, leaving
the (many) errors uncorrected and just adding an extra chapter about Syd
Barrett's passing. But I wouldn't go as far as the one critic who
claimed that Crazy Diamond is full of 'unsubstantiated nonsense' and
that it should come 'with a government health warning on the dust
jacket'. Crazy Diamond still takes a soft spot in my heart as it was the
first attempt at a serious Barrett biography.
But back to Julian Palacios. For those who want to immediately know if
Dark Globe is worth the investment, rather than meandering through this
review, I will quote Kiloh Smith from Laughing
Just finished Dark Globe and... it's the best book about Syd Barrett
that was ever written. I'd say that Dark Globe is my favourite, followed
by Crazy Diamond, with A Very Irregular Head taking up a distant third.
(Full review at: sydbarrettpinkfloyd.com)
Probably this is the first time in history that Kiloh and I share the
same opinion, but he is not the only one praising Palacios. Fleeting
Glimpse gives the biography a perfect 10 and quite rightly so. And
Mark Paytress from Mojo also has some nice things to say (see left side
I once noted down that the art of writing biographies is not in adding
details, but in weeding out the superfluous. Palacios is not entirely of
the same opinion and that is why my review took so long to appear here.
Dark Globe is packed with details, quite an anorak's dream, and it does
need some concentration. In my case I found it better to savour the
different paragraphs, one at a time, sometimes even going back a bit,
than to read the book in one big afternoon chunk.
Palacios has unearthed details that no one has ever found or published
before and, this has to be said as well, not all of those are relevant
to the average Barrett fan.
Did you know that Syd Barrett had a job as a postman in his teenager
years, delivering Christmas cards during the holidays? I didn't. Not
only does Palacios reveal that but he also points out that the underwear
fetishist who was immortalised in Pink Floyd's first single Arnold Layne
could have been a Royal Mail post van driver.
Those familiar with the Pink Floyd's early history remember that the
band lived, 64-65-ish, in Mike
Leonard's house, an architect who introduced the amateurish R&B gang
to light-shows and avant-garde music. Leonard also played a mean piano
and replaced Rick Wright for a while, what made him think he was a
member of what was ironically called Leonard's
Every student who has been living in a community knows that, sooner or
later, food will start disappearing. Stanhope Gardens was no exception
to that and Rick Wright used to keep his morning cornflakes inside a
locked cupboard, fearing that Roger Waters would otherwise steal his
beloved morning cereals. The mystery has lingered on for over 4 decades
but Julian Palacios has finally discovered who really nicked Wright's
breakfast: not Roger Waters but a boarder named Peter
Kuttner. Utterly irrelevant but fun to read. The only fear I have
now is that Roger Waters will probably write a concept album about it
once he finds out.
Not all of this biography reads like a biography. At certain points
Palacios can't hide any-more he is a writer at heart, with poetical
streaks, obviously regretting that he wasn't around in those underground
days. What to say about this:
The face came out from under the murky swell of psychedelic oil lights,
like a frame around a picture. A pale, handsome face with thick silky
hair and a white satin shirt. Something bright and small seemed to
twinkle in his eyes, vanished, then winkled once more like a tiny star.
Palacios adds many song descriptions and can get quite lyrical about
chord progressions. Personally I can't be bothered as I don't hear the
difference between an A and an F anyway. These parts read like a Korean
DVD recording manual to me but I suppose that any amateur musician will
enjoy them. Julian has been doing more than his homework and for many
early Pink Floyd songs he traces back musical or textual references
(today we would call that sampling), but he isn't too snotty to
give due credits to where they belong.
Palacios has an encyclopaedic musical knowledge and halfway the book I
regretted I didn't note down all songtitles he cites. Songs Barrett
liked, songs Barrett played and rehearsed in his youth, songs that
influenced some of his later work. Adding these would make a nice
cd-box, not unlike the cover disks Mojo magazine sometimes issues.
Julian's observations can sometimes be a bit über-detailed. Arnold
Layne, the famous song about the cross-dressing knicker-thief,
contains a slight musical nod to the 1928 Ma Rainey song Prove
It On Me Blues, not coincidentally another song about
cross-dressing. As I am tone-deaf - a condition I share with Roger
Waters, so it mustn't be all bad as he made a fortune with it - I don't
hear any familiarity between both musical pieces but blues scholar John
Olivar says there is and Julian Palacios acknowledges it. I simply
Other links are easier to grasp for a simple man like me, like the fact
that Jennifer Gentle (the protagonist from the Lucifer
Sam song) can be traced back to a medieval ballad
where it goes:
There were three sisters fair and bright, Jennifer, Gentle
and Rosemary... And they three loved one valiant knight— As
the dow [dove] flies over the mulberry-tree.
There is one single remark in Palacios book that would create a small
storm if its subject happened to be Lennon or Hendrix. In August 1974
Barrett recorded some demos for a third album that never saw the light
of day. Barrett had no new songs and he just tried out some blues
variations like he used to do more than a decade before in his mother's
living room. Initially the 1974 demos were noted down as 'various
untitled oddments' and the individual titles these tracks have now
were given by producer Pete Jenner to distinguish the different parts.
#1 (there is also #2 and #3) traces of Bo
Thing can be found back. In January 2010 Palacios found
out that the track nicknamed John
Lee Hooker is in fact a rendition of Mojo
Hand from Lighting'
Hopkins. That particular titbit didn't even provoke a ripple in the
usual stormy Barrett pond.
Palacios adds layers on layers of information. If you happen to be
amongst the dozen or so readers who remember the 1989 Nick Sedgwick
novel Light Blue With Bulges you might have wondered who was the beatnik
behind the espresso machine (and with his hands in the till) of a famous
Cambridge coffee bar. Don't look any further, Palacios will tell you
exactly who operated the espresso machine, how the coffee bar was called
and even more... reveal the brand of the Italian espresso machine...
only... I would like to pass this information to you but I can't find it
back right now as... and here is my biggest dissatisfaction with this
book... Dark Globe contains no index.
In the past I have written some harsh words about biographies and
reference books that omit an index:
Unfortunately the book [Pink
Floyd FAQ] has got no index, what duly pisses me off, so if you want
to know something about, let's say: You Gotta Be Crazy, there is no
other way to find it than to start reading the bloody thing all over
again. So called biographies (…) and reference books without an index
(or an alphabetical or chronological filing system) are immediately put
aside by me and won't be touched again. Ever.
I know for sure that Prince
Stanisla(u)s Klossowski de Rola, better known as Stash, is
cited in Dark Globe. But if I urgently need this information for a post
at the Holy Church, to answer a question on the Late Night Syd Barrett
forum or just to ease my mind, I will only be able to consult Palacios'
(now defunct) 1998 biography Lost In the Woods (pages 186-93),
Mark Blakes' 2007 Pigs Might Fly (pages 81 & 99) or Rob Chapman's
2010 A Very Irregular Head (p. 278) although that last insists to
call the dandy prince de Rollo.
Dark Globe is by near and by far the best Syd Barrett biography ever,
but not having an index is (in my awkward opinion) unforgivable as it
diminishes its traceability near to factor zero. And that's a shame... I
do know that indexes are but a geeks' dream and that most people don't
bother with those, but my ultimate wet dream consists of reading
bibliographies that have half a dozen footnotes per page. Maybe I am the
No 4 Yes
With hindsight it is easy to call Syd Barrett a genius, but not
everybody was of that opinion in 1966. Here is what Peter
Banks, from Syn
(a precursor of progressive rock-band Yes)
had to say: “Whatever night they played was the worst night of the week.
(…) A bunch of guys making noise and wearing make-up.” Perhaps that is
why Nick Mason quipped, years later, that Johnny Rotten would have
looked quite ridicule in a 'I hate Yes' t-shirt.
Pink Floyd was probably not the best band of the psychedelic bunch, but
they surely were the loudest, even outdoing The Who in volume at the Psychedelicamania
happening on the last day of 1966. A reporter of the Daily Mail, armed
with a sound meter, reported on 'pop above the danger level' and warned
for permanent damage to the ears.
In just a couple of months Barrett had not only shifted from quiet blues
to avant-garde 120 decibel hard rock, he also traded his daily cup of
earl green tea for LSD, mandrax and generally everything that could be
easily swallowed or smoked.
The previous reads kind of funny but it is an infinite sad story that
has been underrated by witnesses, fans and biographers alike. All kind
of excuses have been used not to turn Barrett into a hopeless drug case:
his father's death, the pressure of his band-mates, managers and record
company, even the stroboscopic effect of the liquid light shows...
(although of course all these things may have weakened his
self-defence). In my opinion, Julian Palacios manages to get the tone
right and he consecrates some poignantly written paragraphs to the
darker side of the psychedelic summer.
In April of this year the Church of Iggy the Inuit published the We
are all made of stars post. The article tried to remember two people
of the early Floydian era: Ian Pip Carter, a long-time friend of Gilmour
and a Floyd-roadie who had to fight an heroine addiction for most of his
life and; John Paul Ponji Robinson who tried, in vain, to find inner
piece in eastern mysticism.
Palacios adds another Cantabrigian: Johnny Johnson, who in a paranoid,
probably drug-infected, streak jumped from a six-storey window, survived
the fall, but would eventually commit suicide a few years later.
Hendrix, Morrison, Jones and Joplin: 'each victim to the Dionysian
excess they embodied'. Alice
Ormsby-Gore: overdose (her friend Eric Clapton had more luck).
Julian Ormsby-Gore: suicide. Paul
Getty: heroine paralysed him for life. Talitha
Dina Pol, his wife: overdose. The list is long and those who
survived were not always the lucky ones...
Although there are still people who think that Syd Barrett turned
avant-garde during the Floyd's first tour in America, Nick Mason, in his
typical no-nonsense style, put it otherwise:
Syd went mad on that first American tour. He didn't know where he was
most of the time. He detuned his guitar on stage. He just stood there
rattling strings, a bit weird even for us. (Cited in Dark Globe, but
originally taken from a May 1994 Mojo interview.)
Barrett's situation reminds me of an Alice Flaherty quote I encountered
in a recent Douglas Coupland novel:
All the theories linking creativity to mental illness are really
implying mild disease. People may be reassured by the fact that almost
without exception no one is severely ill and still creative. Severe
mental illness tends to bring bizarre preoccupation and inflexible
As the poet Sylvia
Plath said, 'When you're insane , you're busy being insane – all the
time when I was crazy , that's all I was.
Trip to Sanity
There is the somewhat romantic viewpoint of Duggie Fields, but basically
it tells just the same:
He (Syd) could lie in bed thinking he could do anything in the
world he wanted. But when he made a decision that limited his
The problem, for those who follow the hypothesis Syd had a problem, was
that for Barrett there weren't any possibilities left, although record
company, colleagues and friends mildly tried to lure him into the studio
or invite him for an impromptu jam. But to paraphrase Sylvia Plath: Syd
was too busy being insane, and all the time he was crazy that was all he
was able doing.
While at different forums people are arguing, even today, that
hallucinogenic drugs are harmless
Palacios retaliates by simply listing musicians who had to fight
Wilson... It took these people literally decades to crawl back to normal
life after years of misery. Also Barrett hoped to overcome his
condition one day as was proven by a handwritten note in his copy of The
Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry. Syd bloody well understood what was wrong
with him and we – the fans – don't fucking know how hard it was for him.
A dark spot that even Palacios can't clarify is 'Syd's lost weekend'
that roughly went from 1975 to the early Eighties. The first 400 pages
describe Barrett's public life from the mid-Sixties until the pivotal
event in 1975 when Syd entered the Wish You Were Here recording
sessions. The 30 remaining years of his life are dealt with in a mere 40
pages. Even for Palacios there is nothing to dig. (Rob Chapman managed
to add some anecdotes from Barrett's Cambridge life – although some are
disputed while you read this - but he didn't unearth anything new about
Syd's Chelsea Cloister days either.)
Atagong Strikes Again
The following paragraph will probably not add any points to my Barrett
reputation scale, already at ground zero level, but who cares. Just
before publishing this text I checked the official Syd Barrett website
to see if Dark Globe, the biography, is mentioned there. It isn't.
It comes as no surprise as its main function apparently is to sell
t-shirts, even on the discography page you'll look in vain for the
latest Barrett compilation 'An Introduction to...' (review at: Gravy
Train To Cambridge). I am pretty sure its web master knows
everything about Flash ActionScript but is unable to recognise a
Barrett-tune even if whistled through his arse. When the site started in
December 2008 (a temporary page had already been present a few weeks before)
it managed to get the release dates wrong from all known Syd Barrett
solo albums. Yes, both of them. It is not that Barrett has been
as prolific as Frank Zappa who released records for breakfast.
Fan art was mistakenly published as genuine Syd Barrett art and the
bibliography contained a non existent book that had been designed as a
joke by former Late Night member Stanislav. Even today slightly
photoshopped pictures can be found on its pictures page. Apparently the
official Syd Barrett website moguls have got no problems that their main
source of income swallowed pills by the gallon and fornicated everything
female within a 3 miles radius but depicting Syd Barrett with a cigarette
in his mouth obviously is a bridge too far.
Clearly I am getting too old for this hobby of mine but I hope I got the
message through that Syd Barrett is a bit more than a cheap shirt. Dark
Globe by Julian Palacios more than proves this and contrary to my
threatening promise of above I'm immediately going to read it again.
A certain Felix Atagong calls himself laughingly the Reverend of the
Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit. But now he realises: Julian Palacios is
our prophet. And Dark Globe is our holy book, but I wouldn't mind an
Palacios, Julian: Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe, Plexus,
London, 2010. 443 pages, 24 photo pages. ISBN10:
85965 431 1 ISBN13: 978 0 85965 431 9. Amazon (UK) link.(The Church is not affiliated with or endorsed by this company.)
Sources (other than the above internet links): Blake, Mark: Pigs
Might Fly, Aurum Press Limited, London, 2007, p. 143. Chapman,
Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 336. Coupland,
Douglas: Player One, William Heinemann, London, 2010, p. 223.
Coupland himself cites from a Alice Flaherty book called The
Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the
Creative Brain. Music score taken from: Riddles
Wisely Expounded(pdf document).