Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: 'A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett'

Syd Barrett fans tend to fall into one of two camps. There are those who have a genuine appreciation for the innovative, imaginative music he created as both the short-lived leader of Pink Floyd and an even more impulsive solo artist. Then there are those who worship him as some sort of loony-toony acid guru known to hail airplanes as if they were checkered cabs and mash a homemade tonic of Brylcreem and Mandrax into his obligatory Hendrix perm. The latter fan will likely be disappointed by A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett. Despite its title, Rob Chapman’s biography is anything but a sensationalized trot through crazy old Syd’s craziest moments. Quite the opposite, in fact. As a fan who has absolutely nothing but respect for Syd-the-artist, Chapman makes his goal to debunk the most outrageous Syd myths, including the infamous Brylcreem and Mandrax tall tale, which despite being completely devoid of evidence, has been repeated so many times it is taken as face-value truth by many biographers.

Chapman’s Syd is a human being, not an acid-guzzling comic book character. He is a serious painter with serious talent, who also displayed a flair for music, had a go at it while it suited his interests, and largely walked away because he couldn’t deal with pop stardom any longer. Yes, our author acknowledges that his subject developed mental problems, and he discusses them with neutrality that does not make any sweeping, doomed-to-fail diagnoses about the cause. Was Syd the textbook “acid casualty?” Was he schizophrenic? Chapman doesn’t pretend to know because, well, no one does. He sticks to the facts, which he researched with precision and a knack for weeding out the bullshit. The end result is a story that may not produce a bunch of wild new tales to titillate the ghouls but may comfort the true fans because Syd’s life was not quite as sad or tragic as the most sensational biographers would have us believe.

A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett was originally published in 2010 and is now being reprinted in paperback by Da Capo press. Order it from here:

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