Song of the Day: Travel in Music (Day One). “I Am A Traveller of Both Time and Space to Be Where I Have Been”.

Physical Graffiti was Led Zeppelin’s sixth album, released on 24th February 1975.  The band wrote eight new songs for what would become Physical Graffiti at Headley Grange recording studios.  Upon realising that due to the length of the tracks, they would not be able to fit all eight songs on one record, they decided to make Physical Graffiti a double LP by using the eight recorded tracks together with one outtake from Led Zeppelin III, three from Led Zeppelin IV and three from Houses of the Holy, including the unused title track.  The new songs written for Physical Graffiti included Kashmir, a monolithic eight minute piece which became a staple part of every Led Zeppelin concert from 1975 onwards.

The song was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, with contributions from John Bohnam, over a period of three years.  The lyrics were written by Plant in 1973 immediately after Led Zeppelin’s 1973 US Tour in an area he has referred to “the waste lands” of Southern Morocco, whilst driving from Goulimine to Tantan in the Sahara Desert.  Despite the geographical location of the song’s conception, the song is named after Kashmir, a region in the Indian subcontinent.  In an interview with William S. Burroughs in 1975, Page mentioned that at the time of the song’s composition, none of the band had been to Kashmir.  Plant explained the reason for naming the song Kashmir to Cameron Crowe for his extended essay to accompany the Led Zeppelin boxset, The Complete Studio Recordings in 1993:

“The whole inspiration came from the fact that the road went on and on and on, it was a single-track road which neatly cut through the desert.  Two miles to the East and West were ridges of sandrock.  It basically looked like you were driving down a channel, this dilapidated road, and there was seemingly no end to it.  ‘Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dreams …’ It’s one of my favourites … that, All My Love and In the Light and two or three others were the finest moments.  But Kashmir in particular, it was so positive, lyrically”.

In an article with Triple J Broadcasting Association for an article entitled Hottest 100 of All Time, in 2010, Plant spoke of the challenges which he faced writing lyrics for such a complex piece of music:

“It was an amazing piece of music to write to, and an incredible challenge for me … Because of the time signature, the whole deal of the song is … not grandiose, but powerful:  it required some kind of epithet, or abstract lyrical setting about the whole idea of life being an adventure and being a series of illuminated moments.  But everything is not what you see.  It was quite a task, ‘cause I couldn’t sing it.  It was like the song was bigger than me.  It’s true:  I was petrified, it’s true, it was painful, I was virtually in tears”.

The song has a very distinctive musical composition featuring a rising and falling guitar riff played on a guitar tuned to DADGAD.  It was inspired by Middle-Eastern, Moroccan and Indian music.  In the 1994 book, Led Zeppelin by Chris Welch, Page explained:  “I had a sitar for some time and I was interested in modal tunings and Arabic stuff.  It started off with a riff and then employed Eastern lines underneath”.

To add to the composition’s uniqueness, Kashmir was one of the very few Led Zeppelin songs to feature outside musicians.  Session players were brought in the studio to record the string and horn sections.  As well as the original Physical Graffiti version of the song, several alternative versions exist, including one entitled Driving Through Kashmir (Kashmir Rough Orchestra Mix) with a slightly different structure.  This version was released in February 2015 as part of the remastering process of all nine albums.

Additionally, and perhaps most impressively out of the alternative versions of Kashmir, Page and Plant recorded a live 12 minute version with a Moroccan / Egyptian orchestra for their album No Quarter (1994).

As the lyrics begin with the line “Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream”, we are introduced to the narrator, a powerful, mysterious and transcending figure.  This audible thought finds the narrator pausing from his travels to soak up the warmth and light from above, figuratively, and perhaps literally, recharging himself.  In the following line, “I am a traveller of both time and space, to be where I have been”, we are told that this is a journey of epic proportions, one which transcends the limitations of this dimension, both temporarily and in physical space.

Following this, “To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world had seldom seen” could refer to Revelation 4:4 in the Book of Revelation where John the Apostle is caught up in the heavens and sees the 24 elders seated on their thrones:  “And around the throne were twenty-four thrones and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads”.  Alternatively, this line and the next three, “They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed, Talk and songs from lifting grace, whose sounds caress my ear, But not a word could I relate, the story was quite clear”, may refer to JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937) and Lord of the Rings (1954).  Plant was well known to be a fan of Tolkien and often used imagery from his work.  Take for instance, the lyrics to Ramble On (Led Zeppelin II, 1969): “Mine’s a tale that can’t be told, My freedom I hold dear, How years ago in days of old, When magic filled the air, ‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair, But Gollum and the evil one crept up, And slipped away with her”.

Additionally, see the song titles, Over the Hills and Far Away (Houses of the Holy, 1973) …

… and Misty Mountain Hop (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971).

Following this, the line “But not a word I heard could I relate, the story was quite clear” is also likely to be a Tolkien reference.  In a number of Tolkien’s works, particularly The Silmarillion (1977), it is mentioned that when the elves sing in a language the listener can’t understand, they can sometimes still see the images that they are singing about.

Moving into the bridge section, the lyrics, “Oh, I been flying … mama, there ain’t no denyin’, I’ve been flyin’, ain’t no denyin’, no denyin’” could refer to the band travelling round the world before and during the composition of the song.

In the following lyrics, “All I see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground, And my eyes fill with sand, as I scan this wasted land, Trying to find, trying to find where I’ve been”, we can clearly see the landscape which inspired Kashmir, “the wastelands” in southern Morocco.  Next, “Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace”, perhaps refers to God, whilst following this, “like thoughts inside a dream” refers to the creator of the storm being as hard to visualise as the thought inside one’s dream.  The creator is elusive and mysterious but somehow very real.

The “Shangri-La” mentioned in the lines “Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream, My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again” refers to the fictional paradise from James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon (1933).  In the novel, Shangri-La is a utopian lamasery high in the mountains of Tibet.  Shangri-La is often referred to in the same way that someone would refer to the Garden of Eden.  These lines suggest that the narrator of the song s haunted by the memories of the place which he speaks of and is attempting to return.

“Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin’ through Kashmir” finds the narrator once again speaking of the dusty road which inspired the song.  Following this, the “father of the four winds” mentioned in the following line possibly refers to Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds who is usually depicted as the controller of the Anemoi, the minor wind gods.  Alternatively, the “Father of the four winds” could possibly be another Tolkien reference:  Manwe, the King of the Valar, from The Silmarillion.

More travel imagery follows with “… fill my sails, across the sea of years, With no provision but an open face, along the straits of fear”.  Here, the lyrics once again compliment the utter vastness of the composition, with the narrator, the “traveller of both space and time”, travelling across “years”, unsure of what he will discover on his journey.

The song reaches its climax with Plant singing “… well I’m down so down … let me take you there”.  Kashmir speaks of a dark time of reflection, of God, of existence and Plant attempting to find his place in the midst of all of this.

One thing to note about Kashmir is its curious placing on the album.  One may expect a song of such monolithic proportions to end the album but it is instead placed, if we were to think of Physical Graffiti as a double vinyl album, at the end of side two.  In an interview with The Guardian in 2015, Page said of this:

“Each side of the vinyl was sequenced to showcase whatever was on there, so it wasn’t square pegs in round holes.  Any of the four sides could be your favourite side.  All of them have an intensity to them, but some have got more rock roots than others.  A double album was so right for Zeppelin”.

Similarly, on the vinyl versions of Physical Graffiti, the colossal 11 minute In My Time of Dying closes side one of the album.

Once again speaking to The Guardian, Page said:  “Those songs – In My Time of Dying, Kashmir – are supposed to be:  That’s it.  Nothing follows that.  You need time to catch your breath after”.

Burning Down the House: Ten Songs About Fire. A Fire At A House in Hull, England, Which Kills A Six Year Old Boy is Passed Off As An Accident; It Later Emerges That it is the First of Twenty Six Fires Started by Arsonist Peter Dinsdale. This Day in History, 23/06/1973.

1.  Billy Joel ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’

(from the album Storm Front, 1989).

2.  Ash ‘Burn Baby Burn’

(from the album Free All Angels, 2001).

3.  Talking Heads ‘Burning Down the House’

(from the album Speaking in Tongues, 1983).

4.  Bruce Springsteen ‘I’m On Fire’

(from the album Born in the USA, 1984).

5.  The Doors ‘Light My Fire’

(from the album The Doors, 1966).

6.  David Bowie ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire With Gasoline)’

(from the album Let’s Dance, 1983).

7.  Elvis Presley ‘Burning Love’

(from the album Burning Love and Hits from His Movies Volume 2, 1972).

8.  Stevie Nicks ‘Rooms On Fire’

(from the album The Other Side of the Mirror, 1989).

9.  Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger and the Trinity ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’

(single A-side, 1968).

10. Nick Cave ‘Babe, I’m On Fire’

(from the album Nocturama, 2003).

Song of the Day: Space in Music (Day Four). “Hats Off, Hats Off to Mars, Let’s Align Our Footsteps with the Stars”.

Glam rock was the era in which music openly acknowledged its superficiality.  Originating in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s and characterised by artists wearing outrageous clothes, makeup and hairstyles.  Platform-soled boots and glitter were commonplace and the flamboyant costumes and visual styles of glam performers were often camp or androgynous.  Artists such as Marc Bolan and T-Rex, David Bowie, Sweet, Roxy Music and Gary Glitter enjoyed extraordinary success.  However, for every one of these artists there were scores of glam divas waiting in the wings.

Take for example, Jobriath, the first openly gay rock star, who released two wonderfully camp and epic albums in the early 1970s, Jobriath (1973) and Creatures of the Street (1974) before the few members of the public who had been turned onto him turned against him.  He lived out the rest of his days in the Chelsea Hotel, where he became one of the first rock casualties of the AIDs virus in 1983.

Whilst Jobriath briefly managed to release his music, the subject of today’s Song of the Day was dealt a more cruel fate.  That subject is Brett Smiley, who to all intents and purposes had the makings of a successful glam rock superstar.  Young, blonde, beautiful and androgynous, Smiley began his career as a child actor, playing Oliver on Broadway before being discovered by Rolling Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham at the age of 16 in 1972.  Two years later, he was given a $200,000 recording deal and recorded the album Breathlessly Brett.  The album was produced by Oldham and featured Steve Marriott on guitar.  The first single from the album was the glam-stomping rock thrash out, Va Va Va Voom.

Va Va Va Voom was filled with all the elements that should have made it a glam classic, including wonderfully noisy guitars and a masterful sax line as worthy as those found in Bowie songs such as Suffragette City (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972).

The Bowie influence is also prevalent on Va Va Va Voom’s B-side, Space Ace.

Space was a regular theme in glam rock music, think T-Rex songs such as Spaceball Ricochet …

… and Ballrooms of Mars (both from The Slider, 1972) …

… and of course, probably the main source of inspiration here, Bowie’s most famous character creation, Ziggy Stardust.

The sound on Space Ace is suitably cinematic, fitting for the era in which it was born, whilst the lyrics, sung in Smiley’s distinctive and breathy voice, spiral like a freefall through outer space.

Around the time of the single’s release, Smiley appeared on the Russell Harty Plus TV programme, where he was interviewed alongside Andrew Loog Oldham and gave a startlingly over the top performance of Space Ace.

Unfortunately for a single that by all rights should have become a classic, it bombed and the album was shelved.  Smiley all but disappeared, save for a blink and you’ll miss it cameo in Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo (1980), as well as starring roles in a few ill-advised pornographic movies, and wasn’t heard from again until 2003 when RPM Records acquired the master tapes for the Breathlessly Brett album.  In the intervening 29 years, Smiley had been wallowing in a gargantuan drug addiction somewhere on skid row.  In 2005, Smiley was the subject of Nina Antonia’s book The Prettiest Star:  Whatever Happened to Brett Smiley.  Now free of his drug addiction, Smiley is back recording and performing, mainly around New York City.

Song of the Day: Music About Other Musicians (Day Two). Pink Floyd on Syd Barrett, Part Two: “Remember When You Were Young, You Shone Like the Sun …”

It’s sad that these people think he’s such a wonderful subject, that he’s a living legend when, in fact, there is this poor sad man who can’t deal with life or himself.  He’s got uncontrollable things in him that he can’t deal with and people think it’s a marvelous, wonderful, romantic thing.  It’s just a sad, sad thing, a very nice and talented person who’s just disintegrated”.

– David Gilmour, interview with Musician Magazine, December 1982.

The mad genius of Syd Barrett first addressed by Pink Floyd on Brain Damage from The Dark Side of the Moon in 1973 was further celebrated on Shine On You Crazy Diamond from the 1975 album Wish You Were Here.  The recording session for the song is infamous due to the appearance of Barrett wandering into the studio complete with shaved head and eyebrows and having put on a lot of weight since the band had seen him last some years earlier.  Because of his drastically changed appearance, the band did not recognise him for some time.  Upon finally recognising him, Roger Waters was reduced to tears.  Somebody asked to play the suite, followed by Barrett saying a second playback wasn’t needed when they had just heard it.  According to Richard Wright in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2004, when the song Wish You Were Here was played, “He [Barrett] stood up and said, ‘Right, when do I put my guitar on?  And of course, he didn’t have a guitar with him.  And we said. ‘Sorry, Syd, the guitar’s all done”.  When asked what he thought of Wish You Were Here, Barrett said it sounded “a bit old”.  He subsequently slipped away during celebrations for Gilmour’s wedding to Ginger Hasenbein, which had taken place earlier that day.

Shine On You Crazy Diamond contains nine parts and was written by Roger Waters, Richard Wright and David Gilmour.  As with Brain Damage, Waters was the chief lyricist.  The nine parts of Shine On You Crazy Diamond were originally intended to fill an entire side of the Wish You Were Here album, much like the song Atom Heart Mother fills an entire side of Atom Heart Mother (1970) …

… and Echoes fills an entire side of Meddle (1971).

Instead, Shine On You Crazy Diamond was split into two sections and bookends Wish You Were Here, with the other tracks on the album also being tributes to Barrett and telling of the situation which the band found themselves in.

Lyrically, Shine On You Crazy Diamond looks at the life of Syd Barrett, considering the way the artist was before demons such as LSD, fame and mental illness took hold in lines such as “Remember when you were young, You shone like the sun, Shine on you crazy diamond!” before contrasting it with lyrics detailing the effect of these demons in lines such as “Now there’s a look in your eyes, Like black holes in the sky, Shine on you crazy diamond!”  The latter lines state the way in which Barrett’s bandmates described him after he had succumbed to mental illness.

The following line, “You were caught on the crossfire of childhood and stardom”, refers to the way in which Barrett was never able to fully engage the transition from underground sensation to mainstream success and the pressure and implications that came with it.  The next line, “Blown on the steel breeze” alludes to the sound made by Barrett’s guitar strings.  The lines “Come on you target for faraway laugher, Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!” is a reference to the way in which Barrett was ousted from the band in favour of David Gilmour due to his worsening drug use and mental problems rendering him ineffective as a band member.

The lyric “You reached for the secret too soon” refers to the true meaning of life and the mysteries which lay behind it.  Barrett used drugs in order to try to unlock the meaning and its mysteries but was not ready to see them, causing him to go insane.   The following lines, “You cried for the moon, Shine on you crazy diamond!” are a reference to the band’s previous album The Dark Side of the Moon and its lyrics about Barrett and talk of how Barrett’s life had peaked too soon.  “Threatened by shadows at night, And exposed in the light, Shine on you crazy diamond!” refers to the way in which the darker machinations in Barrett’s mind, the “shadows at night” shielded him from the public eye, the exposure to light, which overwhelmed him.  These lines express the exposure of himself beneath the outward appearance of the rockstar.

The “random precision” referred to in the lines “You wore out your welcome with random precision, Rode on the steel breeze” is an allusion to the haphazard nature of Barrett’s contributions to the band towards the end of his involvement whilst the following lines, “Come on you raver, you seer of visions, Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner and shine!”, the word “seer” can be read in two ways.  Firstly, a “seer” is a person of supposed supernatural insight who sees visions of the future.  Secondly, a “seer” is simply somebody who sees things, i.e. ‘a see-er’. Additionally, the use of the word “piper” alludes to Pink Floyd’s first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), the only album by the band to feature full involvement from Barrett.

“Well, I’m a painter, I was trained as a painter … I seem to have spent a little less time painting than I might’ve done … but it didn’t transcend the feeling of playing at UFO and those sort of places with the lights and that, the fact that the group was getting bigger and bigger”.

– Syd Barrett, interview with Melody Maker, March 1971.

As Shine On You Crazy Diamond moves into its ‘Parts 6-9’ section, we find the line “Nobody knows where you are, How near of how far”, an insight into the blankness and the madness that hallucinogenic drugs left Barrett with.  The title of Shine On You Crazy Diamond itself is interesting as if one were to remove the words ‘on’ and ‘crazy’ from the title, the first letters of the words in ‘Shine You Diamond’ spell out ‘Syd’.

In the lyric “Pile on more layers, And I’ll be joining you there”, the use of the word ‘layers’ perhaps refers to an array of interpretations of one’s surroundings.  Waters feels that he must “pile on more layers” in order to attain Barrett’s level of introspection and worrying that, if in the process, he might succumb to the same fate as his former bandmate.  These lines are Waters admittance that he is less contemplative than his former bandmate.  Following this, “And we’ll bask in the shadow, Of yesterday’s triumph” memorialises the triumphs that the band shared with Barrett, whilst the repetition of the idea of “the steel breeze” in the line “And sail on the steel breeze” in this case refers to the fact that both Waters and Barrett played steel instruments.

The three variations on the idea of “the steel breeze” lyric throughout the song are interesting.  The first variation, “Blown on the steel breeze” implies that Barrett was somewhat thown in to musical production in order to meet the demands of the media.  The second variation, “Rode on the steel breeze” alludes to the way in which, despite the delusive state of his mind, Barrett still attempted to carry on playing music.  Finally, the third variation, “And sail on the steel breeze” finds Waters suggesting that if he were reunited with Barrett, they could take control of the music and take it in any direction they wish.

“That’s all I wanted to do as a kid.  Play guitar properly and jump around.  But too many people got in the way”.

– Syd Barrett, Rolling Stone, December 1971.

The next line, “Come on you boy child” tells of how the band were very young when they first started and is suggestive that Barrett was impressionable and irresponsible in his lifestyle.  The line “You winner and loser” juxtaposes Barrett’s triumphs and failures:  Despite the fact that he suffered due to his recklessness and divided opinion as to whether he was a “winner” or a “loser” even amongst his own bandmates and in the public eye, his triumphs included the work he contributed to the band in the early days, his solo work, and his influence on artists such as T-Rex, The Kinks and David Bowie.  In 1973, Bowie acknowledged the influence of Syd Barrett by covering the Barrett penned Pink Floyd single See Emily Play (1967) on his album Pin Ups.

The final line of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, “You miner for truth and delusion, and shine!”  sees Barrett portrayed as an artist who both dug for truth and meaning and tapped into his drug-induced delusions in order to influence his often deep and penetrating lyrics.

Also from Wish You Were Here, the title track, as well as encompassing Waters’ feelings of alienation from other people, also tells of Barrett’s mental breakdown.  The music of Wish You Were Here was a collaboration between Waters and Gilmour, with Waters once again being the primary lyricist.  Whilst Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a specific homage to the absence of Barrett, Wish You Were Here can also be read as a more general song about absence, undoubtedly adding to its appeal over the last forty years.  The other two tracks from Wish You Were Here, Welcome to the Machine …

… and Have a Cigar express the band’s distaste for the pressures of the music industry which they felt, in part, aided Barrett’s breakdown, therefore tying the album together as a concept album.

In the opening lines of Wish You Were, “So, do you think you can tell, Heaven from hell”, the band introduce the idea that something that may look like heaven, in this case being part of the music industry, may actually be hell, as it turned out to be for Barrett.  The following lines of the first verse, starting with the line “Blue skies from pain” are further juxtapositions of emotions and elements, creating a series of metaphors for heaven, “blue skies” and hell, “pain”.  The lines “Can you tell a green field, From a cold steel trap” are a reference to the lines “Hold You tighter so close, Yes you are, Please hold on to the steel rail” from Syd Barrett’s solo song If It’s In You, from the album The Madcap Laughs (1970).

By referencing these lines, the band places the listener in no doubt as to the inspiration behind the song and its parent album.  The repetition of the line “So you think you can tell” at the end of the first verse emphasises the question put to Barrett as to whether he really wants to be squandering his life on his various addictions.

The “They” mentioned in the lines “Did they get you to trade, Heroes for ghosts” could be interpreted as being the voices in Barrett’s mind which stop him from remaining on the straight and narrow.  The “heroes” referred to in these lines are the rock stars, such as Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Gram Parsons,  who fell prey to the lifestyle which could have also cost Barrett his life.

The second verse of the song continues with the lines “Hot ashes for trees, Hot air for cool breeze”, reinforcing the idea of questioning one’s surroundings and whether change is necessarily the best thing first seen in the first verse.  The final highly powerful sentiment of the second verse, “And did you exchange, A walk on part in the war, For a leading role in a cage?” refers to the way in which Barrett chose to forgo his chance to be a small part in something hugely important, instead selfishly insisting on being the main event with his drug-influenced behaviour.

The final verse of Wish You Were Here, “How I wish, I wish you were here, We’re just two lost souls, Swimming in a fishbowl, year after year, Running over the same old ground, What have we found?  The same old fears, Wish you were here” could be interpreted in two different ways.   Firstly, the “fishbowl” of which Pink Floyd speak could refer to the world of fame and the record industry which the band are so disheartened by on the entire Wish You Were Here.  Secondly, this part of the song could simply just be an analogy for life itself, with everybody living the same life, making the same mistakes and going around in endless circles “year after year”.  On this verse, Waters covers similar ground to that of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, echoing Shine On You Crazy Diamond’s expression of kinship with Barrett in the line “We’re just two lost souls”.

Additionally, in 1968, Waters also wrote the song Incarceration of a Flower Child, the lyrics of which appear to also tell of the downfall of Syd Barrett, although Waters himself has never confirmed this.  Lyrically, Incarceration of a Flower Child covers much the same ground as Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Wish You Were Here, being full of reminiscence about more innocent times in lines such as “Do you remember me?  How we used to be helpless and happy and blind?” before discussing the causes of the Flower Child’s downfall in lines such as “Sunk without hope in a haze of good dope and cheap wine?”

The song compares the culture of the flower power movement, with tongue-in-cheek humour directed at its pretentiousness (“Laying on the living-room floor on those Indian tapestry cushions you made, thinking of calling our first born Jasmine or Jade”), with the potential consequences of the movement upon some of those who had got too heavily involved in its drug culture, such as Barrett (“Now in your little white room with no windows and three square sedations a day, You plead with the doctor who’s running the show, “Please don’t take Jasmine away and leave me alone””).

Possibly the most important and indeed chilling line of Incarceration of a Flower Child, bearing in mind that the song was written in 1968, is “It’s gonna get cold in the 1970s”.  Incarceration of a Flower Child could be seen as Waters’ veiled warning to Barrett from the time in which Barrett’s mental state was starting to suffer, that things had the potential to get much worse.  It would seem that Barrett wasn’t the only “seer of visions” in Pink Floyd.

Incarceration of a Flower Child remained unrecorded for years until Waters offered it to Marianne Faithfull to record for her 1999 album Vagabond Ways.  When recorded by Faithfull, the lyrics of Incarceration of a Flower Child took on a whole different dimension.  The song was quite probably written about Barrett but it could very easily have been about Faithfull.  Faithfull herself  had also been a casualty of the flower power era, developing various serious drug addictions from which it would take her years to recover, both in terms of her personal life and her career. However, compared to Barrett’s disintegration, even Faithfull escaped the flower power era relatively unscathed.

“We are very sad to say that Roger Keith Barrett – Syd – has passed away.  Do find some time to play some of Syd’s songs and remember him as the madcap genius who made us all smile with his wonderfully eccentric songs about bikes, gnomes and scarecrows.  His career was painfully short, yet he touched more people than he could ever know”.

– David Gilmour in response to Syd Barrett’s death, 2006.

Song of the Day: Music About Other Musicians (Day One). Pink Floyd on Syd Barrett, Part One: “The Lunatic is on the Grass …”

Roger Keith Barrett, better known as Syd Barrett, was an English musician, composer, singer, songwriter and painter most notable for being a founder member of the band Pink Floyd.  Barrett was Pink Floyd’s lead vocalist, guitarist and principle songwriter in the band’s early days before leaving the band in April 1968, due to his increasingly unpredictable behaviour.  Barrett was hospitalized briefly shortly afterwards amid speculation of mental illness exacerbated by heavy drug use.

Barrett was musically active for less than ten years.  With Pink Floyd, he recorded just four singles in 1967 (Arnold Layne; See Emily Play; Flaming; Apples and Oranges), their debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and contributed one song, Jugband Blues, to their second album A Saucerful of Secrets (1968).

Barrett began his solo career in 1969 with the single Octopus, which was included on his debut solo album The Madcap Laughs (1970).  The album was recorded over the course of a year and included contributions from Pink Floyd members David Gilmour and Roger Waters.

Barrett began working on his second solo album, simply called Barrett (1970), two months after the release of his debut solo album.  This album also included contributions from David Gilmour and also featured Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright.  Following his second solo album, Barrett went into self-imposed seclusion until his death in 2006 from pancreatic cancer, aged 60.

Following Barrett’s departure from the group, Pink Floyd wrote a number of tributes to him, most notably Brain Damage from 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon album and Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Wish You Were Here from 1975’s Wish You Were Here.  The latter album is actually said to be a concept album with every song actually being about Barrett and his experiences with the music industry.

Brain Damage was brought to the band by Roger Waters along with other songs such as Money when the band reconvened following the American leg of their tour in support of their 1971 album, Meddle.  At this point in time, Brain Damage was titled The Dark Side of the Moon, a title which would later just be used for the song’s parent album.  The song was inspired by Barrett’s mental breakdown and was originally part of a suite of songs entitled A Piece for Assorted Lunatics.  Brain Damage was recorded alongside another track from The Dark Side of the Moon, Any Colour You Like.  David Gilmour encouraged Waters to sing the song on the album, whilst, following Waters’ departure from the band in 1985, Gilmour sung the song when Pink Floyd performed it in concert and Waters himself has performed it in his solo shows.

The famous opening verse of Brain Damage, “The lunatic is on the grass, The lunatic is on the grass, remembering daisy chains and games and laughs, Got to keep the loonies on the path” refers to areas of turf which display signs reading “Please keep off the grass” with the exaggerated implication that disobeying such signs may indicate insanity.  In the 2003 documentary Classic Albums:  Pink Floyd – The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon, Waters said that the particular patch of grass he had in mind when writing the song was to the rear of King’s College, Cambridge and that the real insanity was not letting people on such beautiful grass.  To add another meaning to the opening verse of Brain Damage, ‘grass’ is also a slang term for marijuana.  Therefore, these lines could perhaps be remembering the good times the band had smoking marijuana before Barrett’s drug habit escalated to using drugs such as LSD and caused him mental problems.  The line “Got to keep the loonies on the path” could be a reference to the way in which “lunatics” are given drugs to control them.

The second verse of Brain Damage, “The lunatic is in the hall, The lunatic is in my hall, The paper holds their faded faces to the floor, And every day, the paper boy brings more”, uses the idea of the hallway as a metaphor for Barrett’s mind.  The door which the paperboy, a metaphor for society, pushes information (the newspapers) through refers to the way in which the “lunatic” is locked inside his own mind.  Additionally, those featured in newspapers are often seen as “lunatics” of society.  “And every day, the paper boy brings more” is suggestive of overload with the mind of the “lunatic” not being able to take all the information thrown at him on board.  The fact that the pictures of the “lunatics” on the newspaper are face down is suggestive of them being locked up away from the view of society.   Additionally, the way in which their faces are “faded” is suggestive of the way in which the “lunatics” become just a faded memory when locked away.

The first chorus, “And if the dam breaks open many years too soon, and there’s no room upon the hill, And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon” refers to the way in which Waters felt a kinship with Barrett in terms of his mental idiosyncrasies.   The line “And if there is no room upon the hill” could be seen as a nod to The Beatles’ song The Fool on the Hill, from their 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour.  The fact that “there is no room on the hill” is suggestive that we all have lunatic elements within us.

The following verse, “The lunatic is in my head, The lunatic is in my head, You raise the blade, you make the change, You re-arrange me ‘til I’m sane, You lock the door and throw away the key, There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me” refers to the frontal lobotomy, a controversial surgical intervention used to treat psychosis, schizophrenia, paranoia or other severe conditions.  In particular, the line “You raise the blade, you make the change” refers to the actual act of making incisions in the patient’s head.  The final line of the verse, “There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me”, is suggestive of the disassociation felt by those suffering from mental illness between the true self and the self impacted by the condition; the self presented to the world outside of their head.

The second chorus, “And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear, You shout and no one seems to hear, And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon”, makes reference to Barrett’s behaviour towards the end of his time with the band.  Due to his mental health issues, he would spontaneously break into playing a different song to the rest of the band in the middle of a concert, hence the band “playing different tunes”.

Barrett’s final practice session with the band including the artist coming into the session saying he had a new song called Have You Got It Yet?  At first, the song was simple to learn, but quickly became impossible, with the rest of the band then realising that Barrett had been changing the arrangements whilst they were practicing it.  He would then play it again, with the changes he had made and sing “Have you got it yet?”  Eventually his bandmates realised that they were simply being subjected to Barrett’s idiosyncratic sense of humour.  In Toby Manning’s 2006 book The Rough Guide to Pink Floyd, Waters called the incident, “a real act of mad genius”.

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Five). “They Killed the President”.

“We start from different ideological positions.  For you to be a communist or a socialist is to be totalitarian; for me no … On the contrary, I think socialism frees man”.

– Salvador Allende.

El President, from the 1998 album White Magic for Lovers, is a collaboration between Drugstore and Thom Yorke, singer of Radiohead.  The song, released as the second single from the album and, much due to Yorke’s involvement, reached number 20 in the UK singles chart, giving Drugstore the biggest hit of their career.   El President tells the story of the death of the democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende during the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat.  The coup was a watershed moment in both the Cold War and the history of Chile.  Following an extended period of social and political unrest between the conservative-dominated Congress of Chile and the socialist President Salvador Allende, together with economic warfare ordered by US President Richard Nixon, Allende was overthrown by the armed forces, led by Commander-in-Chief Augusto Pinochet, and national police.

Up until the 1960s, Chile had been known for its stability in Latin America, particularly compared to its neighbours.  This all change when Chile began to be affected by the Cold War and Chile became part of the Alliance for Progress.  The alliance was meant as a way to keep socialistic revolutions from taking hold in Latin America.  However, the Alliance for Progress was scorned by a majority of the countries that signed it, including Chile.  At this time, the president of Chile was Eduardo Frei.  Frei was endorsed by the Johnson administration and sought to pass radical reforms.  However, as Chile became more industrialised, the more Labour unions demanded higher wages.  Due to the Labour unions’ dissatisfaction with the wages that they received, prices and inflation soared.  The Chilean youth adopted a Leftist view and started to protest against the government with Labour unions, with both leaning towards Chile’s Communist Party.

In 1970, the Socialist Party won the presidency.  New president Salvador Allende promised the people of Chile a republic and said that he would make the working class more equal.  Meanwhile, in America, President Nixon, in conversation with his advisors, namely Henry Kissinger, scorned Allende and wanted him out of power.  The viable method of removing Allende would be by way of a Chilean military uprising.  Kissinger sent a cable to the CIA office in Chile saying that agents were to continue instigating a military coup.  However, this wasn’t entirely necessary as after three years, the Chilean people were standing against the president.  Allende nationalised the copper industry and other industries as well as freezing prices and raising wages in order to stop inflation.  During these reforms, the CIA was busy running propaganda against the president.

By 1973, the Chilean Congress and Judiciary stood against Allende, claiming that his government went against the Chilean constitution.  On September 11th 1973, shortly before the capture of the Palacio de La Moneda by military units loyal to Chilean Army leader Augusto Pinochet, President Salvador Allende made his famous farewell speech to the Chilean people on Radio Magallanes.  The President spoke of his love for Chile and his deep faith in the future.  He continued to tell of how much he was committed to Chile, so much so that he refused to take the easy way out or be used as a propaganda tool by those he referred to as “traitors”.  Throughout his radio broadcast, gunfire and explosions could be heard clearly in the background.

Shortly afterwards, an official announcement was made declaring that Allende had gone to war with an AK-47 rifle.  The rifle was reportedly given to Allende by Cuban leader Fidel Castro and bore a golden plate engraved with the words, “To my good friend Salvador from Fidel, who by different means tries to achieve the same goals”.

What happened next has been the subject of much speculation.  At approximately 1.50pm local time, Allende ordered the defenders of the La Moneda Palace to surrender.  In response, the defenders formed a line from the second floor, down the stairs and onto the Morande street door.  The President walked along the queue, from the ground floor up the stairs, shaking hands and thanking each of the defenders personally for their support in that difficult moment.

The President went into the Independence salon, located in the north-east side of the Palace’s second floor.  At the same time, Doctor Patricio Guijon, a member of La Moneda’s infirmary staff, was on the second floor of the palace recovering his gas mask as a souvenir.  Guijon heard a noise and opened the door of the Independence salon in time to see the President shoot himself with the AK-47 rifle.  At the other side of the salon, Doctor Jose Quiroga; Arsenio Poupin, a member of the cabinet; Enrique Huerta, a palace functionary; two detectives from the Presidential security details and various Presidential Security (GAP) members were able to either see the moment of death, or arrive a few seconds afterwards, attracted by the noise.

Despite these witnesses to Allende’s apparent suicide, many of Allende’s supporters have always upheld the presumption that he was killed by the forces staging the coup.  On the 28th September 1973, just two weeks after Allende’s death, Fidel Castro told the Cuban crowd in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion that Allende had died in La Moneda wrapped in a Chilean flag, firing at General Pinochet with Castro’s rifle.  Castro continued to tell his version of events to the Cuban people for the next few decades.  In his 1975 book The Murder of Allende and the end of the Chilean way to socialism, Robinson Rojas agreed with Castro’s version of events and claimed that Allende was killed by Pinochet’s military forces whilst defending the palace.

Despite the speculation as to what actually happened to Allende, the end of the military junta in Chile in 1988 and different testimonies becoming available in news and documentary interviews have made the verdict of suicide the more accepted version of events.  Members of Allende’s immediate family have never disputed that killed himself.  However, there are some who still argue that Allende was murdered, including Chilean doctor Luis Ravanal, who in 2008 published an article in El Periodista magazine claiming that Allende’s wounds were incompatible with suicide.  In response to the article, Isabel Allende, the daughter of the President said that the correct version of events was suicide.

In January 2011, a Chilean judge opened an investigation into the death of Salvador Allende, as well as hundreds of other possible human rights abuses committed during the 1973 coup which brought Augusto Pinochet to power.  In May of the same year, Allende’s remains were exhumed by order of the Chilean court in furtherance of a “criminal investigation into the death of Allende”.  On the 31st May 2011, shortly before the autopsy had been completed, Chile’s state television reported that a top-secret military account of Allende’s death had been discovered in the home of a former military justice official.  The 300 page document was only found when the house was destroyed when the house was destroyed by the 2010 Chilean earthquake.  Following a review of the document by two forensic experts, findings revealed “that they are inclined to conclude that Allende was assassinated”.

The results of the autopsy were officially released in July 2011.  Medical experts who conducted and reviewed the autopsy results confirmed that Salvador Allende had died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, indicating that Allende had died after shooting himself with the AK-47 given to him by Fidel Castro.  The report continued to tell of how Allende had died from two gunshot wounds fired from the rifle, which was held between his legs and under his chin.  The rifle was set to fire automatically.  The bullets blew out the top of his head and killed him instantly.  The conclusion made by the forensics team was unanimous, stating “We have absolutely no doubt” that Allende committed suicide.

On Drugstore’s El President, singer and songwriter Isabel Monteiro, in a duet with Thom Yorke, upholds the belief that Allende was murdered by Chilean armed forces in a US-backed coup:  “I’ve seen the masterplan, Kill the president, They killed the president …”

The song tells the tale of the arrival of military advisers, fighter jets and bombs to carry out the coup, “It came from the skies, In all shades of green”, with the “green” being camouflage.  The song goes on to tell of Allende’s refusal to surrender and his final address to the nation in the lines “I’m not giving in, All the people understand, ‘Cause they all fell down and prayed, I know …”

Further to this, the song criticises the West’s involvement in the coup with the lines, “We can always justify, We can measure up your dreams, I know; I’ve seen the masterplan”.  And of course, we all know what happened due to this masterplan:  Democracy died along with Allende and Chile, under the new rule of Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990, became a hotbed of repression, torture, forced disappearance, and for many Chileans, exile.

Propelled by Ian Burdge’s stunning cello playing, dramatic piano interludes and Daron Robinson’s strummed acoustic guitar, El President is a brief but beautiful retelling of the events of the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat.  The song was coupled with an equally wonderful video featuring Monteiro and Yorke singing the song in a small room whilst the rest of Drugstore are projected on the walls around them.

Note at the end of the video, upon Yorke singing the line “I’m just a man”, he points two fingers, symbolising a gun, to his head, perhaps inferring that Allende’s death was suicide.  Therefore, what the song is saying is that even if it was suicide, he was still driven to it by the events of the 11th September 1973, the Chilean army and the US.

Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day Five) “The Paranoid Great Movie Queen …”

The final song on John Cale’s 1973 album Paris 1919, Antarctica Starts Here pays homage to the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard and in particular the main character of Norma Desmond.  The inspired casting of the film placed Gloria Swanson in the somewhat autobiographical role of Norma Desmond (“The paranoid great movie queen”), a deluded, tragic and ambitious actress whose film career declined with the advent of the talkies (“Lines come out and struggle with, The empty voice that speaks”).  Cale’s hushed singing tone in the song reflects these lines.  We can look at Antarctica Starts Here as being sung from the perspective of Joe Gillis, played by William Holden in the film.  Gillis is an unsuccessful screenwriter who is lured into Desmond’s fantasy world where she dreams of a triumphant return to the stage.

Antarctica Starts Here makes full use of the scenes in the film in which Norma Desmond dresses up and acts out here her former glories to her captive audience, either by acting and reciting lines to Joe Gillis or by putting on her old films.  This is reflected in Antarctica Starts Here with the opening lines: “The Paranoid great movie queen, Sits idly fully armed, The powder and mascara there, A warning light for charm, We see her every movie night, The strong against the weak”.

In the second verse of the song, we are given a snapshot into Norma Desmond’s character, that of the vain faded movie star, weary of her enduring struggle to return to past glories:  “Her heart is so tired now, Of kindnesses gone by … The vanity, insanity her hungry heart forgave, The fading bride’s dull beauty grows just begging to be seen”.  The lines “Like broken glasses in a drain, Gone down but not well spent” are evocative of the end of a party – the end of the era in which the actress thrived.

The final verse of the song features the line, “Her schoolhouse mind has windows now”, perhaps reflecting the way in which the actress is a controlling influence on Joe Gillis, a teacher giving her pupil a history lesson, but one about herself.  The line “Where handsome creatures come to watch” is perhaps a reference to the scene in which Norma Desmond is playing bridge with her friends, “dim figures you may still remember from the silent days.  I used to think of them as her Wax Works” as the narrator says in the film.  The final lines, “The anaesthetic wearing off, Antarctica starts here” are probably the most curious lines in a song full of curious lines, but ones that make for a wonderful ending to both the song and the album.  They perhaps denote Joe’s realisation that he has been lured into Norma Desmond’s world and the oddness of it, the doping effect of the many gifts she lavishes upon him to keep him under her spell becoming apparent and his need to escape.

Antarctica Starts Here is, just like the other songs on Paris 1919, an odd song filled with lyrics that can be read in a number of ways, such is the genius and complexity of Cale’s song writing.  Just as with his other material, one can sit and ponder upon what a single line may mean for hours and the fact that Cale rarely discusses what his lyrics are about just serves to keep us guessing.  There are many twists and turns in Antarctica Starts Here, such as the way in which Cale manages to fit lyrics based on a film character around the themes on the album.  A main theme on the album is war, with references to places of battle littered throughout.  In Antarctica Starts Here, the line “The road that leads from Barbary to here” refers to the Barbary Wars.  The juxtaposition of lyrics about a faded Hollywood star from a film and lyrics alluding to a war in a completely different era make for an odd but brilliant and truly unique combination which ends a stunning album beautifully.

The Love of Richard Nixon: An Historical Drama in Twenty Songs. Richard Nixon Announces The Release of Edited Transcripts of White House Tape Recordings Relating to the Watergate Scandal. This Day in History, 29/04/1974. / Richard Nixon Takes The Rap For The Watergate Scandal, 30/04/1973.

1.  Manic Street Preachers ‘The Love of Richard Nixon’

(from the album Lifeblood, 2004).

2.  Stevie Wonder ‘He’s Misstra Know-it-all’

(from the album Innervisions, 1973).

3.  Randy Newman ‘Mr President (Have Pity On The Working Man)’

(from the album Good Old Boys, 1974).

4.  The Undisputed Truth ‘Smiling Faces Sometimes’

(from the album The Undisputed Truth, 1971).

5.  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young ‘Ohio’

(single A-side, 1970).

6.  Phil Ochs ‘How High’s The Watergate’

(from the album Live 1974, 1974).

7.  Neil Young ‘Campaigner’

(from the album Decade, 1977).

8.  Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘Sweet Home Alabama’

(from the album Second Helping, 1974).

9.  Frank Zappa ‘Son of Orange County / More Trouble Every Day’

(from the album Roxy & Elsewhere, 1974).

10. Elton John ‘Postcards From Richard Nixon’

(from the album The Captain & The Kid, 2006).

11.  Curtis Mayfield ‘(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go’

(from the album Curtis, 1970).

12. David Bowie ‘Young Americans’

(from the album Young Americans, 1975).

13.  John Lennon ‘Gimme Some Truth’

(from the album Imagine, 1971).

14.  Gil Scott Heron / Brian Jackson ‘H²Ogate Blues’

(from the album Winter in America, 1974).

15.  Bill Horwitz ‘If I Had A Friend Like Rosemary Woods’

(from the album Lies Lies Lies, 1975).

16.  Robyn Hitchcock ‘1974’

(from the album A Star For Bram, 2000).

17.  James Taylor ‘Let It All Fall Down’

(from the album Walking Man, 1974).

18.  Billy Joel ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’

(from the album Storm Front, 1989).

19. Pink Floyd ‘The Fletcher Memorial Home’

(from the album The Final Cut, 1983).

20.  Mono Puff ‘Nixon’s The One’

(from the album Unsupervised, 1996).