Life Is Just...
One: cocks and sydiots
Let's cut the crap. Most Sydiots, a perfect term coined by a Syd Barrett fan-site webmaster who turned out to be an internet charlatan, are nuts.
A Facebook search gives about twenty Barrett-related groups (not counting the hidden ones obviously), ranging from 7 to well over 7000 members, but at the moment you read this this may well have varied as new groups sprout regularly, mostly when ex-members create new groups out of frustration with another one.
In 2006, due to a sudden emotional storm that swept through my household, I dived deep into those muddy waters that define Barrettism. Joining the madcap cult is not unlike the rise into a masonic lodge and by studying hard and absorbing facts and figures one constantly progresses onto the Barrett road and closer to the 'secret', the 'mystery', the 'enigma', whatever that may be. It is a slow path, but one that is rewarding, at least that is what we are fooling ourselves with.
Pink Floyd carefully cultivated the Barrett myth throughout the years, gaining millions of pounds in the madcap's slipstream, although they have never been eager to share a slice of the pie. Rumours go the band took advantage of Syd's frail mental state in the early seventies peer-pressuring him into selling his financial share in the Pink Floyd company. Roger Waters may have written Wish You Were Here out of remorse, but that was not to be taken too literally and it certainly didn't apply when Syd kept asking for his paycheck. This doesn't mean that Barrett was a poor boy though. Dark Side, Wish You Were Here, The Wall and The Division Bell all made new fans who would check out The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn or a Floyd compilation with some of his early tracks.
Selling Barrett by the pound is not a Pink Floyd prerogative. Photographers Storm Thorgerson and Mick Rock turned it into an industry, publishing virtually the same books, with different titles to fool the public, every couple of years. Another grab in the rumour-mill goes that they sued, or threaten to sue, each-other to decide, once and for all, who got the rights of precisely what Barrett pictures. It all is the messy consequence of both of them turning up, on the same day in 1969, for the photo-shoot of Barrett's now legendary and considered cult album, The Madcap Laughs, and mixing up the negatives. Apparently they came to an arrangement that suited both, what cannot be said of the model on the backside of the album who still has to receive the first penny for her performance of 45 years ago.
Much lower at the Sydiverse are those people who once knew him, or those silly tossers (m/f) pretending to have known him, often in the biblical sense of that phrase, and who are frantically trying to keep the memory alive and their reputation high, which can be something of a rope-dancing exercise.
My eternal admiration goes to the person who remarked rather dispirited:
If it weren't for the fact Syd Barrett stuck his cock in me... who would really give a fuck about me?
Two: Life is just...
Years ago, I remarked to one of those infallible Syd Barrett-insiders that there could be a good book in the adventures of the Cambridge-mafia, beatniks and hipsters who went to London to seek for fame and fortune, circling (and sometimes dying) like moths around the Floyd's psychedelic flame.
To my knowledge that book was never written, but some bits and pieces can be found in various (early) Pink Floyd biographies and other Swingin' London debris. And there is of course the more than excellent 'The Music Scene of 1960s Cambridge', now in its 6th edition, researched and compiled by Warren Dosanjh, although it tends to look at Pink Floyd as something funny smelling.
Cambridge beatnik and après-beatnik life can also be found in a few autobiographies. William Pryor's The Survival Of The Coolest and Matthew Scurfield's I Could Be Anyone each have Floydian encounters, mainly because it was impossible to frequent hip places and not meet Syd Barrett. Nick Sedgwick's novel Light Blue With Bulges tried to turn the adventures of a would-be beat poet into a novel, but as far as I can remember it pretty much sucked, despite the presence of a certain Mr. Roger Waters as an arrogant bass player.
Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon (NLG) was typecasted as 'Andy' in that novel. In the early sixties he operated the coffee-machine in the trendy coffee-bar El Patio and organised poetry readings and art events, that put him in the centre of the avant-garde cultural elite. Although he moved on into TV/film business he sometimes still performs on art happenings, accurately described by satirist Mick Brown as 'a load of old toffs stuck in a lava lamp'.
In his latest novel 'Life Is Just...' NLG describes a typical British dysfunctional family in the year 1962. Well, typical... The authoritarian father, a respected and feared dean at the Cambridge university, is a living example of the rigorous conservatism of the post-war years, while the children, two sons and a daughter, are experimenting with the newfound freedom that is modern jazz, beat literature, pot and premarital sex. Mother Mary, trapped between loyalty towards her husband and love for her children, tries to hold the house together, despite the cracks in the cement, speaking words of wisdom, as the song goes.
When NLG informed the Barrett community that a Syd-like painter and musician, Richard Bannerman, turns up as one of the main characters there was no unanimous cheer and this time this was not due to the fact that the madcap community mainly consists of a lethargic bunch of wankers. In 2000 NLG directed the docu-fiction Remember A Day about an imaginary sixties musician, Roger Bannerman. The film was made with amateurs, some sixties underground celebrities thinking they could act, had a non-existing script and it resulted into a vehicle that makes the Jan & Dean biopic Deadman's Curve (1978) look like Oscar material.
But of course I would never have read 'Life Is Just...' without the Barrett connotation. NLG knows how to trigger some buzz with us anoraks, that is for sure. But after the initial nerdy questions, such as, is Richard Bannerman a realistic portrait of Roger Barrett and did he really was a gigolo on a bike, the character takes over as a character and not as a clone of a once famous musician stroke womaniser. That's the strength of the author and its story, I guess.
Not that the story is that particular. At a certain point La vie est un long fleuve tranquille popped into my mind, there is an old family mystery, some unavoidable traumatic things occur and life simply goes on after as if nothing has happened...
One of the brothers, Dominic, is probably an alter-ego of the author. He travels to India, in search for a guru, where he meets Meher Baba and Swami Satchit Ananda, who takes his preference. While the trip to and through India is a fine read, there are also portions where the character tries to explain the reasons to follow the mystical path, sometimes with excerpts from other books. It comes over a bit like preaching and ostentatiously is one of the author's darlings.
Several Cantibrigians did go to India, although not as early as here. Paul Charrier made the trip in 1966 and came back a changed man (see also: We are all made of stars and Formentera Lady). He was so enthusiast that he converted others (including NLG) to follow the path as well, cutting the Cambridge underground scene (and its London satellites) literally in half. Others did not agree, like Storm Thorgerson and Matthew Scurfield who called the Indian invasion a 'wave of saccharine mysticism hitting our shores'. Syd Barrett, as we fans know, was also tempted to follow the path, but was rejected by the master. He continued his hedonist life, living it fully, what may have lead to his decline. Isn't it ironic?
At the end not only Dominic's life has dramatically changed, but also that of his brother, sister and mother. The dark family mystery is known to the reader but not to them, yet... so I'm pretty curious what the second instalment of this trilogy will bring, and of course if Richard Bannerman's band Green Onions will hit the charts or not.
While not earth-shattering Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon has written a pretty fine book and the Kindle version costs less than a Guinness at The Anchor, so what you are waiting for, you lazy Barrett faggots?
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Life Is Just...
Update January 2020: RIP Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon, 10 January 2020. Obituary by David Gale:
I met Nigel Lesmoir Gordon, who died today, when I was fifteen, in our home town of Cambridge. We became fast friends. He was endowed with God-like physical beauty, a finely muscled physique of classical Greek proportion, a voracious appetite for all aspects of the emerging Beat culture and a charming but deceptive lightness of manner. One might have been tempted to wonder just what manner of companion this angel-headed godling would seek in that dappled city. He was not your standard posho but one of those who somehow endured the harsh and unrelenting regulation of his school yet, like others in the Cambridge bohemian scene, managed to get under the radar, over the fence and leg it for the badlands. When he was 17 he fell in love with Jenny and, after a while, they moved to London, as did many of us. Their flat in Cromwell Road acquired an international prominence – the police would have used the word ‘notoriety’ - as a beatnik salon in the soaring 60s and the gilded but generous couple hosted a nightly meeting of countless international travellers, seers, babblers, poets, writers, arts activists, film-makers, alternative journalists, freaks, ambulant schizophrenics and those who were none of the above but trod the paths of meditation, worship and unusual diets. We went our ways after a while but stayed affectionately in touch. A few months ago he was told he had a few months to live and this morning the multiple cancers bore him away. Nigel – ‘Les’ to some of us - will be missed terribly by all who knew him, not least Jenny, his children Daisy and Gabriel and all the grandchildren.
Many thanks: Mick Brown, David Gale, Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon.
♥ Iggy ♥ Libby ♥