Did Roger Keith Barrett send a Canadian fan a handwritten message, somewhere in 2003? It might be true, or not, depending from your point of view.
Food and drink
The story of Syd turning into an involuntarily hermit may be correct to a certain extent, but this doesn't mean the man didn't interact with the world around him.
Now and then some anecdotes sip through, almost accidentally, like MvB who told the Church that Syd Barrett had dinner at her parent's home one day, probably in 1970. These were strange psychedelic days and her parents, journalists who must have been groovy folk, allowed her to go on her own to Syd's apartment afterwards. She wasn't really impressed with what was happening there, which is slightly understandable, as she was still more or less into Barbie dolls.
It's also weird how this Earth has changed for the past 40 years, because sending a young girl into something that has been described by others as a notorious free drugs & free sex den isn't something we would approve of nowadays, unless that description was an exaggeration as well. But like we said, these were different times.
We all know that Syd Barrett liked a good beer or two. So from time to time he would jump on the tube from Earl's Court, pass Gloucester Road and get off at South Kensington, where he would walk to a pub nearby. All highly irrelevant stuff that Sydiots like to collect, like Panini trading cards.
It is because there is this Barrett's lost weekend which, in his case, took three decades. That is why we cling to every little detail we can get hold of and extrapolate it as being emblematic for his entire life.
Sometimes an anecdote gets to lead its own life like the story that Barrett was writing The History Of Art, a titbit that has been reheated by fans and books and articles for nearly two decades, that can be traced back to a quote from his sister and that was nothing more than a chronological list of painters.
Often we are simply willing to believe an unconfirmed anecdote because it is the only thing we can relate to. Rob Chapman in his Irregular Head biography vehemently wanted to debunk the false rumours and 'unsubstantiated nonsense' about the man but quite a few readers feared he might have created one himself.
On pages 365 and following, Chapman recites the charming anecdote of a young child who ran into Barrett's garden to ask him a pertinent question about a make-believe horse. Not only did Barrett patiently listen to her dilemma, he also took the time to explain her that in fairy tales everything is possible, even flying horses. (Taken from: The Big Barrett Conspiracy Theory.)
Chapman didn't materialise this witness from his high hat though as she was originally a Laughing Madcaps group member. Kiloh Smith wittingly observes that this is another proof that Rob Chapman was 'skimming off original material' from forums and mailing groups for his biography. Nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as you give a friendly nod here and there. Radha's first message appeared on the 13th of March 2007:
My name is Radha, and I wanted to say a personal "hello" to everyone in this group as I've just joined today. (Radharani, Laughing Madcaps, 13 March 2007)
Soon Radha (short for Radharani Krishna) added some pretty innocent anecdotes:
I remember he used to walk to the shops in town and sometimes stopped to tell us little kids some silly nonsense rhyme or listen to ours and laugh with us. I never knew he was anybody other than a sweet older fellow who lived up the road and never went to work! (Radharani, Laughing Madcaps, 16 March 2007)
It's a pity really that Radharani's comments, about 40 in total, can only be consulted by accessing the Yahoo Laughing Madcaps group, that for one reason or another has been declared a no tress-passing area for the Church. In 1998 she left Cambridge for London to be 'rich and famous' and that is when she said goodbye to Roger:
He said Cambridge'd be dull without me (…) and we had a long talk that, knowing what I know now, really gives me the old throat-lump. I didn't realise it at the time, but he was really giving me a lot of himself. I think he must have done this with some of the other kids I grew up with who left home the way he had done, with big dreams and not much experience. I think it was his chance to be a dad. (Radharani, Laughing Madcaps, 20 March 2007)
It was at this point when Radha was first accused, in the group's typical cynical style, of being a fraud, she published less and less and finally disappeared in 2008.
I think the myth of RKB as a mean-spirited old curmudgeon or some sort of vacant-eyed schizo burnout is dreadfully one-dimensional and out of touch with the reality and intricacies of human nature. I cannot speak for his interaction with people who came in from the outside, but he was always polite to people in town. Some days he had more time to give than others, but he always waved or smiled as he passed our gate. (Radharani, Laughing Madcaps, 21 March 2007)
When Rob Chapman was researching for his book Radha's existence was confirmed to him by Ian Barrett, who may have met her and who confirmed she had lived two doors away from Roger.
As in all good stories this isn't all. A nice overview of the Radha controversy can be found on the Syd Barrett Pink Floyd blog and if you really want to delve into the sore details you can always check the Neptune Pink Floyd forum.
It's awfully considerate
But people who are accustomed to the Church's customs probably know that the previous was just a lengthy introduction to today’s sermon.
Did Roger Keith Barrett send a Canadian fan a handwritten message, somewhere in 2003? Here is the story that is so unbelievable it could be true.
10 years ago, at 15, Jonathan Charles was a bit Syd Barrett obsessed. He would sit at the computer after school and do tons of research on Syd & early Pink Floyd. Collecting photos, reading articles and interviews, looking for items on eBay. Like the rest of the world he also tried to find out where Syd lived, but Barrett's address was impossible to find. But from time to time he would look for it again and one day a certain Roger Barrett in Cambridge turned up.
I really can't remember exactly where I found it though it was not a typical yellow pages or similar site. I searched the address on a map online to check it out further. I'm pretty sure these were the days before Google street view so I wasn't sure if it really was his place. I decided to send a letter even though I thought I probably wouldn't get a response. I did feel I should leave him alone but my curiosity got the best of me I guess... (Taken from: I sent a letter to Syd in 2003 - was returned with a note.)
In his letter Jon asked a number of things but he mostly wanted to know details about Roger's current life and of course there was the obligatory 'I'm a big fan' stuff. One day an envelope from the UK arrived but with no return address on it. Inside was Jon's original letter with a note added at the bottom. It read:
NOT ME – I AM NOT THIS MAN – I AM
AN OLD AGE PENSIONER – AND NOT HIM.
SORRY TO DISSAPPOINT YOU.
The note, written in capitals and with several words underlined, stressed several times that the man who had received the letter was not Syd Barrett, all in all a strange way to react. At 15 Jon thought nothing more of it and the letter landed in a drawer until it was rediscovered a few weeks ago.
Jon decided to compare the handwriting of the note (also from the address on the envelope) with that of Syd at a later age and concluded there are some similarities, especially in the M's, N's and T's.
As usual in these kind of matters there are opposite views. Alexander, who has some originals from Barrett in his collection, remarked that the capital 'D' is not at all the capital 'D' we know from Syd, but Younglight, at the other hand, also discovered that, in this note, Barrett uses a lowercase-type 'U', just like he had done in the sausage-thief letter from 1963.
A quick check by the Church confirms indeed that Barrett often wrote a lowercase 'U' in uppercase sentences. Examples can be found on a letter to Libby from 1963 or on the 'deddly dumpty' part of the Fart Enjoy booklet.
Although short, a lot can be told by analysing the message. Wolfpack did this at the Late Night forum and returned with a couple of observations.
1. For someone just getting a wrongly addressed letter, this answer is quite long.
The return note is indeed not logical. A normal response would have been: “Sorry Jon, you've send this letter to the wrong address so I am returning it.” There are several stories of how Roger Barrett told visitors that Syd wasn't there and this note surely reflects the same style.
2. The word 'NOT' is used 3 times: two times underscored, the 3rd time double underscored. The writer seems to put a lot of emotion in not being this man.
The note is almost a distress call, all in capitals and stressing several times he is not the man Jonathan thinks he is. But by denying it once too many the author unwillingly admits the opposite.
3. The old age pensioner might hint at being an old retired rock star.
Probably Jon mentioned Syd the rock star in his letter and a logical answer would have been: “Sorry mate, but I have been a bus driver all my life.” Or a teacher, a farmer, an undertaker. But none of that in the answer, an answer that seems to imply: I am an old age pensioner now and not the young music god you take me for but who I once was.
4. The spelling of 'dissappoint' matches with another unverified text, which is certainly in a fan's handwriting.
Wolfpack hints at the Rooftop In A Thunderstorm Row Missing The Point poem where 'dissapear' is written with a double 'S'. Unfortunately an original in Syd's handwriting didn't survive (or went missing) and we only have two (handwritten) copies made by Bernard White, that can be consulted in our Rooftop gallery: Rooftop 1, Rooftop 2.
It leaves us with the puzzling question: did Syd Barrett really write 'dissapear' or did the copier made an error? We will never know until the original shows up that might still be in Storm Thorgerson's psychedelic ordered archives.
Bonhams once tried to sell this copy as a genuine Syd Barrett piece and when the Church revealed this (with the help of many Late Night members) they didn't even thank us for pointing this out to them, read all about that in Bonhams Sells Fake Barrett Poem.
5. The writing style is poetic. The writing style is melodic. The visual composition (text layout) is aesthetic.
This is entirely Wolfpack's point of view and you can check his ideas and theories on the Late Night forum, if you want.
I'm not here
The Holy Church asked Jon to get a closer look on the envelope, but all we have obtained so far is that it had two 2 stamps, one of 1£ and one of 5 pence. Jon further explains:
I ended up looking very closely at the post office ink stamp on the envelope and found a date. It should be correct because there is another stamp on the other side that says AU10P. The one on the front is 030810. August 10th, 2003.
So is this note the real deal, or not?
A look at the handwriting seems to point to that direction and the message itself is in accordance with the anecdotes of the mad bard as we know him.
On the other hand this could all be an intelligent and very elaborate hoax, done by someone who admits he was (and still is) somewhat of a Barrett obsessed fan. The comparison of the letters (see image above) could have been made as a 'visual aid' to imitate Syd's handwriting, rather than to prove the opposite.
Adding the deliberate spelling error 'dissapoint' (thus repeating the mistake on the Rooftop poem) could be an indication that the forger thought this spelling error was Barrett's and not Bernard White's.
And then there is still a third possibility, as proposed by Alexander:
...there were not many Roger Barretts in Cambridge which is a small city. And (it is) quite possible that Syd has asked somebody to write something and send it back.
It´s a male longhand, I´m sure. So, not Rosemary, but a brother or the postman or a shop owner etc... etc...
What exactly is a joke
But at then end, does it really matter? If enough people believe this is real, it is real, even if it isn't.
Did Roger Keith Barrett send a Canadian fan a handwritten message, somewhere in 2003? It might be true, or not, but it makes a nice story and adds to the kaleidoscopic viewpoint we have of the man who once was Syd.
Radha went to America where she attempted a brief modelling career. She has published some well written slash fiction about the early days of Pink Floyd. Since 2008 she has completely disappeared from the Barrett spectrum.
Jonathan also send a copy of the 'Barrett' note to Mojo where it was (apparently) published in Issue 240, November 2013. Many thanks to Michael Rawding for finding this. This seems to indicate, in our opinion, that a hoax can be ruled out.
The Church wishes to thank: Alexander, Jonathan Charles, Late Night, Laughing Madcaps, MvB, Psych62, Radharani Krishna, Michael Rawding, Wolfpack, Younglight. ♥ Iggy ♥ Libby ♥
Sources (other than the above internet links):
Barrett, Ian: personal message on 11 March 2011.
Chapman, Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 365-366.