Is there really a Barrett revival going on, or are we just seeing more Syd fans because our global village is getting smaller and smaller? I do remember the early seventies when the only guy you could speak to about Barrett was a freakish weirdo who smoked pot in the school toilets and who was generally avoided by everyone, including the school teachers.
The vibrant Birdie Hop Facebook group is sky-rocketing with over 1200 members and a dozen new threads a day, but the traditional forum has come to a standstill and survives on its three posters a day, so the feeling is a bit ambiguous.
Facebook may be here to stay (but that was once said from MySpace as well, remember?) but basically it sucks if you want to find information and you are not employed by the NSA. While traditional forums have this newbie rule to go looking in the archives before asking a question this is virtually impossible on Facebook, because their search system simply doesn't work and links are automatically made redundant after a certain time. The whole 'group' concept of Facebook is a laugh, especially for administrators. Underneath is a screenshot of an actual search on Facebook, trying to locate the thread (Facebook link no longer active) this article is about...
So, by design, Facebook groups are condemned to have a flow of 'continuous repetition' to paraphrase the wise words of Dr. Hans Keller while the one interesting thread is floating down around the icy waters underground. (Wow, this is a good cigarette.)
Waiting for the man
A couple of weeks ago Baron Wolman's picture of Pink Floyd toying around at the Casa Madrona hotel in Sausalito (CA) was posted again and as usual there was that one individual asking if anybody knew who the bloke was standing behind the boys.
Tea on the terrace at our hotel in Sausalito on the hillside above San Fransisco Bay (…) I have no idea who our tea-time partner was – the hotel manager, an under assistant West Coast promotion man, or a vendor of Wild West apparel? We eventually acquired enough cowboy hats for the entire population of Dodge City, and Roger commissioned a six-gun holster in which he carried his wallet.
So here was another quest for the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit, that splendid non-profit organisation, lead by that fantabulous mastermind Reverend Felix Atagong who has already solved several Barrettian riddles in the past.
The obvious first step was to contact the hotel that doesn't hesitate to put on its website that it is a legend since 1885 and that it drew celebrities such as Dick Van Dyke, Carol Burnett, Warren Beatty and the rock band Pink Floyd.
We got a very friendly answer from Stefan Mühle, the general manager, that our guess was logical but that he didn't know either. Since 1967 the hotel changed hands a couple of times and the finer side of these anecdotes, that only seem to bother the Sydiots in the world, got lost in the mist of times.
Before we continue with our quest, let's have a small history lesson.
In the summer of 1967 Syd Barrett suffered from something that was euphemistically referred to as over-fatigue. The band scrapped some gigs and send Barrett over to sunny Formentera under supervision of doctor Sam Hutt, the underground's leading gynaecologist. Unfortunately Smutty, as he was invariably called by his female patients, was the kind of doctor who rather prescribed LSD than aspirin. After some holidays in the sun Syd (and the rest of the boys) returned to England where the endless treadmill of gigging, recording, gigging, recording started all over again. (You can read more about the Floyd's holiday at Formentera Lady.)
In retrospect this was the moment that someone should've grabbed Syd by the balls, whether he wanted it or not, drag him back to Cambridge, cold turkey him and give him some proper therapy, although that was kind of non-existent in those days. William Pryor, a Cambridge beat poet who descended from the underground into a heroine maelström, describes the Cane Hill drug rehabilitation centre as a 'redecorated ward of a huge Victorian lunatic asylum village that had been given a coat of paint and a fancy name' where it was almost easier to score H than in the outside world.
This is not America
Pink Floyd's first American tour was planned between 23 October and 12 November 1967 but because there was a rather Kafkaesque bureaucratic system to get work permits up till 15 possible gigs had to be cancelled (according to Julian Palacios 8 had already been booked, Mark Blake sticks to 6 and Syd Barrett Pink Floyd dot com counts 10).
The trustworthy biographies all have (slightly) different stories but it is safe to say that the Floyd left for America with at least a week delay. Unfortunately they still couldn't enter the country and had to wait in Canada until their permits arrived while the management frantically tried to reschedule the gigs that had already been confirmed.
Pink Floyd had been nicknamed 'The Light Kings of England' by Tower Records, but they had only played in small clubs up till now. When the Floyd had their first gig at San Francisco’s Winterland Auditorium on the 4th of November their light show was ridiculously small and amateurish compared to Big Brother and The Holding Company. But it was not only Janis Joplin's whiskey breath that blew Syd away.
The 1967 American tour was disastrous, to say the least, and quite a few gigs went horribly wrong. Luckily the natives were friendly, so friendly that at least one band member had to visit a venereal disease clinic back in the UK. Syd and Peter Wynne-Willson learned the hard way that American grass was much stronger than at home, leading to another ruined gig as Syd was apparently too stoned to handle his guitar. It is an educated guess that Syd tried some local drug varieties like DMT and STP that were much stronger than their British counterparts. DOM or STP or Serenity, Tranquility and Peace allegedly gave synaesthetic trips that could last for 18 hours and from testimonies by Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton and Mick Farren it is known that it could take a week for some (frightening) hallucinatory effects to disappear. Julian Palacios, who dedicates 11 pages to the Floyd's first American tour in Dark Globe, writes:
Associated with the downfall of Haight-Ashbury, on 11 November pink wedge-shaped pills containing 20-micrograms of DOM hit the Haight. Haight-Ashbury Medical Clinic treated eighteen cases of acute toxic psychosis in five hours. When Barrett and Wynne-Willson took STP in San Francisco, this was in all likelihood the same ‘pink wedge’.
Result: if Syd Barrett had been mad before, this tour only made him madder. At the Cheetah club he received an electroshock from his microphone and he reacted by looking around on stage for the next hour and a half, not singing, not playing his guitar. He would be incommunicado to the others for the rest of the tour, who weren't very keen to talk to him anyway. It needs to be said that not all gigs were catastrophic and some reviewers actually found the band interesting, but we wouldn't go that far by calling Syd's erratic behaviour a cleverly performed dadaist statement like Rob Chapman suggests.
On the cover of the Rolling Stone
A brand new music magazine, called Rolling Stone, whose first issue had just appeared a couple of days before, wanted to do a feature on the new English underground sensation. They send over photographer Baron Wolman to the Casa Madrona hotel in Sausalito who found the lads in a good mood and joking around. But when the band performed at Winterland that night, the 11th of November, Ralph Gleason of Rolling Stone was so disappointed he decided not to publish the cover article and just reviewed the concert saying that 'Pink Floyd for all its electronic interest is simply dull in a dance hall'. This was also the gig where Syd detuned the strings of his guitar until they fell off, de facto ending his contribution for the rest of the show. The next day, on the last gig of the American tour, the band saw Syd walking off stage and for the first time voices were raised to kick him out.
In retrospect this was another moment that someone should've grabbed Syd by the balls, whether he wanted it or not, and drag him back to Cambridge, but the management insisted to immediately fly to Holland. Thirty-seven years later, Nick Mason more or less apologises:
If proof was needed that we were in denial about Syd's state of mind, this was it. Why we thought a transatlantic flight immediately followed by yet more dates would help is beyond believe.
This is the house
Casa Madrona was build in February 1885 for (isn't it ironic?) William G. Barrett, a wealthy Vermont born lumber baron and Secretary-Treasurer for the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company. He and his family lived high above the town in his beautifully designed Italian Villa country home.
Architecturally, it was a mastery of craftmanship, a tall and stately mansion which stood upon the hill-side. Its three stories, with handsome porticos and verandas, projecting cornice with curved brackets, and hooded windows, received prominent recognition from the community. This resulted in an article in the Sausalito News in 1885, which praised Mr. Barrett's "New Mansion... its fine appearance, magnificent view", and called the Barrett place "one of the finest improved sites in Sausalito." (Taken from the National Register of Historic Places.)
In 1906 the house was sold to attorney John Patrick Gallagher who converted it into a successful hotel. For the next three decades Barrett House (and its four outbuildings) would be a hotel, a bar 'the Gallagher Inn' and a brothel, but that last is something you won't find at the hotel's website.
During World War II, the property was used as temporary lodging for military families in transit and for the labourers of the nearby (military) shipyard. After the war it fell into disrepair and became known as a crash pad for the city’s burgeoning beatnik population.
In February 1959 Robert and Marie-Louise Deschamps, who had just immigrated from France, responded to an ad to run a 'small hotel'. Their children Marie-France and 24-year old Jean-Marie were there when they opened a nameless bar on the 27th of April 1959:
The building was in ruins. Mattresses on the floor, broken furniture - and very little of that. It was not ‘bohemian’ - it was a flop house!
The Deschamps family had no hotel experience and were rather unpleasantly surprised by the beatniks who rarely paid their bills. The bar was not an immediate success either, they would often find that the door had been smashed in at night and the beer stolen. The logical plan was to close the hotel, evict the hobos and start all over again.
When the renewed hotel, in exclusive French style, and an excellent restaurant 'Le Vivoir' were opened about a year later Jean-Marie left the parental home to sail the seven seas, working as a cook on Norwegian and Swedish ships. He returned to the hotel around the mid-sixties and moved into Cottage B. Several guests, from the pre-sixties bohemian days, were still living in the 'attached' cottages, including a Swedish baron who had served in the Waffen SS, an ex-CIA agent who claimed to have been a spy in Vienna, a mostly drunk beatnik writer and adventurer and, last but not least, a continuously depressed crew member of one of the planes that dropped the atom bomb on Japan.
In 1973 Casa Madrona was damaged by a series of mudslides and scheduled for demolition, but it was saved in 1976. Since then it changed owner several times and went even bankrupt in 2009. With the opening of a spa resort the hotel was, hopefully, given a new life and history.
It is believed that Jean-Marie Deschamps, the owner's son, was living and working at the hotel when the Pink Floyd stayed there in November 1967, 2 months before his 32nd birthday. We contacted Baron Wolman who told us:
While I'm not entirely certain that he was Deschamps himself, for sure he was a principal in the hotel - owner, manager, chef, etc. Given the look, however, I would say your educated guess is probably correct...
Comparing the Floydian picture (1967) with one from 2005 it seems pretty
safe to say there is a certain resemblance.
Update January 2014: The Deschamps family have confirmed it is Jean-Marie standing behind Pink Floyd.
Jean was born on January 20, 1936 and passed away on Tuesday, December 8, 2009. In a (French) obituary it is written how Jean-Marie was an 'incorrigible globe-trotting vagabond' whose home was always 'elsewhere' and an anarchistic supporter of lost causes, like the rights of native Americans. Later on, despising the Bush administration, he was an ardent critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan...
But once a cook, always a cook. The night before he died he asked his (fourth) wife Monica to note down the Christmas menu for his children and grandchildren, probably knowing that he wouldn't be there to attend. January 2010 saw a 'sumptuous feast' at the Barrel Room of the Sebastiani Winery in Sanoma (CA) where 150 guests honoured their friend, husband, father, grandfather. The place was a gathering of artists, writers, businessmen, hosts, globetrotters and vagabonds.
If only someone would have had the guts to find out earlier who was the man standing behind the band. It would've been swell to ask him about his meeting with the Floyd in 1967, but unfortunately now it is too late for that. We are pretty sure that it would have led to a tsunami of anecdotes as Jean-Marie Deschamps had always been a sailor and a vagabond at heart.
And we will never know what Syd thought of staying in Barrett House.
An Ending In Style (or not)
We need an addendum as the Pink Floyd in Sausalito saga isn't over yet.
When Pink Floyd roadie Alan Styles, who used to be a punter on the river Cam, saw the house boats community in Sausalito he fell in love with the place and decided not to return home after the 1972-1973 Dark Side of the Moon tour. Alan, who was some kind of celebrity in Cambridge before anyone had heard of Pink Floyd, can be seen on the rear cover of the Ummagumma album and makes out the bulk of the 'musique concrète' on Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast (Atom Heart Mother).
In 2000 a short movie was made about Style's life in Sausalito, but it was only released after his death in 2011. It is the story of a man wanting to be free in a world that keeps on abolishing freedom. In a nice gesture to their old friend Pink Floyd Ltd cleared the copyrights for the movie, as told by Viper:
Nick Mason messaged me on FB as I'd been asking on his site about permission to release the video about my uncle. Nick gave me PF's management details and in turn David Gilmour gave us permission to release the video as it contains original PF music.
But when the Reverend visited Jon Felix's YouTube channel this is all he got, apparently EMI (and a lot of other acronyms) don't give a fuck about what Nick Mason or David Gilmour are deciding or what friendship, compassion, remembrance and especially respect is all about:
In some kind of weird Floydian cosmic joke Alan Styles died on the same day as Jean-Marie Deschamps, but two years later, on the 8th of December 2011.
Somewhere we think we should try to make a point, but we can't think of anything right now.
Note: The memoires of Nick Mason's Inside Out are (90%) identical between the different editions. However, the hardcover 'deluxe' edition contains hundreds of photos that aren't in the cheaper soft-cover versions. These pictures all have funny and informative notes that aren't present in the paperback editions. Back to top.
Many thanks to: the Deschamps family, Jon Felix, Yves Leclerc, Stefan
Mühle (Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa), Viper, Baron Wolman, USA National
Register off Historic Places.
♥ Iggy ♥ Libby ♥
Sources (other than the above internet links):
Blake, Mark: Pigs Might Fly, Aurum Press Limited, London, 2007, p. 95-96.
Chapman, Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 198.
Leclerc, Yves: Bum Chromé, Blogspot, 9 décembre 2009, 10 janvier 2010.
Mason, Nick: Inside Out: A personal history of Pink Floyd, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2004, p. 93.
Mason, Nick: Inside Out: A personal history of Pink Floyd, Orion Books, London, 2011 reissue, p. 98-102.
Mühle, Stefan: JM Deschamps on Baron Wolman picture?, email, 21.10.2013.
Palacios, Julian: Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe, Plexus, London, 2010, p. 289-290, 298.
Povey, Glenn: Echoes, the complete history of Pink Floyd, 3C Publishing, 2008, p. 45-46, 69.
Pryor, William: The Survival Of The Coolest, Clear Books, 2003, p. 106.
Wolman, Baron: Casa Madrona - Pink Floyd + unknown man, email, 14.10.2013.
Casa Madrona & Sausalito
Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa
Casa Madrona AKA William G. Barrett House @ National Register of Historic Places in Marin County.
Casa Madrona @ United States Department of the Interior Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, National Register of Historic Places.
Casa Madrona, 1959 @ Marinscope, an interview with Jean-Marie Deschamps.
Colorful Casa Madrona Tales Keep Spilling Out @ Northbay Biz
Solo En Las Nubes
Curiosidades - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn de Tower Records, an interesting post about the Tower release of Pink Floyd's first album.