Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day Six). “School’s Out for Summer, School’s Out Forever, School’s Been Blown to Pieces”.

School’s Out, from Alice Cooper’s 1972 album of the same name, became the singer’s breakthrough hit.  The song became Alice Cooper’s first major hit single, reaching number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart and number one on the UK singles chart for three weeks.  The single marked the first time that Alice Cooper was seen as more than just a theatrical novelty act.  Due to the huge success of the single, its parent album also became highly successful, reaching number two on the Billboard 200 chart.  On his radio show, Nights With Alice Cooper in 2008, Cooper explained the inspiration behind the song when he was asked “What’s the greatest three minutes of your life?”:

“There’s two times during the year.  One is Christmas morning, when you’re just getting ready to open the presents.  The greed factor is right there.  The next one is the last three minutes of the last day of school when you’re sitting there and it’s like a slow fuse burning.  I said, ‘If we can catch that three minutes in a song, it’s going to be so big’.”

Additionally, Cooper went on to joke that the main riff of the song, written by Glen Buxton, was inspired by Miles Davis.  Cooper has also explained on various occasions that School’s Out was also inspired by a warning often said in Bowery Boys movies in which one of the characters declares to another, “School is out”, meaning ‘to wise up’.  The Bowery Boys were trouble-making New York City tough guy characters featured in 48 movies which ran from 1946 to 1958.  The movies were often shown on American television throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, eating up a lot of air time on independent stations.

Lyrically, Schools Out discusses the students’ disdain for school life to the extreme with its chorus stating that “School’s out for summer, School’s out forever, School’s been blown to pieces”.  Additionally, on the last chorus, Cooper plays on the idea of being absent from the school with the line, “School’s out with fever”, before bringing the song to a climax with the line, The song also incorporates part of the childhood rhyme, Pencils and Books in the lines “No more pencils, no more books, No more teachers’ dirty looks”.  This part of the song includes children singing, an idea by producer Bob Ezrin.  Ezrin would later use this effect when he produced another school-themed song, Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, from the album The Wall (1979).

In later live performances of School’s Out, Cooper has been known to incorporate parts of the first verse of Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.

For the album version of the song, Ezrin also used a “turn off” effect on the school bell and sound effects at the end of the song.  This effect is not present on the single version, with the school bell and effects simply fading out.

On the single’s release, some US and UK radio stations banned the song, deeming that it gave the students a negative impression of rebelliousness against childhood education.  The song was also shunned by teachers, parents, principles, counsellors and psychologists who demanded that it be removed from radio playlists.  In the UK, Mary Whitehouse, as part of her Clean Up TV Campaign, attempted to have School’s Out banned by the BBC, where it was receiving heavy play on their flagship music entertainment show, Top of the Pops.  In August 1972, Whitehouse wrote to the BBC’s head of light entertainment, Bill Cotton, complaining of the “gratuitous publicity” given to the song.  She continued to say:  “Because of this, millions of young people are imbibing a philosophy of violence and anarchy … It is our view that if there is increasing violence in the schools during the coming term, the BBC will not be able to evade their share of the blame”.  Alice Cooper famously sent Whitehouse a bunch of flowers to thank her for helping to publicise the song in a manner that they couldn’t have imagined and helping the song to the top spot on the UK singles chart.

Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day Five). “Oh What Fun We Had, But Did It Really Turn Out Bad?”

Today’s Song of the Day is a staple part of every school reunion and other school themed event in the UK.  Madness’ Baggy Trousers, from their 1980 album, Absolutely, is also the antithesis to yesterday’s Song of the Day, Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, from the album The Wall (1979).

In an interview with Uncut magazine in 2008, Suggs said:

“Baggy Trousers was sort of an answer to Pink Floyd, even at that age I thought the line “teacher leave the kids, alone” was a bit strange, sinister – though I think Floyd are a great band.  It sounded self-indulgent to be going on how terrible school days had been; there was an inverted snobbery about it too. ‘You went to a posh school?  You wanna try going to my school’”.

Baggy Trousers was written by lead singer Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson and guitarist Chris Foreman, and finds the band remembering their school days with a joy and abandon which has made the song such an enduring classic.  In an interview with The Daily Mirror on the 18th September 2009, Suggs said of the song’s title:

“The title refers to the high-waisted Oxford bags we used to wear with Kevin Keegan perms – the worst fashion known to humankind.  It became so popular with primary school kids that it resulted in us doing a matinee tour”.

Coming across like Grange Hill put to music, lyrical reminisces include “Naughty boys in nasty schools, Headmaster’s breaking all the rules, Having fun and playing fools, Smashing up the woodwork tools”.  The band began playing the song live in April 1980 and it was released as a single on the 5th September 1980, spending eleven weeks in the UK chart and reaching number three.  It became the eleventh best-selling single of the year in the UK.

On the BBC documentary Young Guns Go for It in 2000, Suggs said of the song writing process of Baggy Trousers:

“I was very specifically trying to write a song in the style of Ian Dury, especially the songs he was writing then, which [were] often catalogues of phrases in a constant stream”.

The promotional video for Baggy Trousers was shot at a school and a park in Kentish Town.  The video was Baggy Trousers was met with great critical response from the public and was popular with television shows such as Top of the Pops.  In the whacky style which the band had by this point become renowned for, saxophonist, Lee Thompson decided that he wanted to fly through the air for his solo, which was achieved with wires hanging from a crane.  Guitarist Chris Foreman spoke about Thompson’s flying moment in a 2008 Uncut interview:

“One night Lee and I had bunked into see Genesis at Drury Lane – at a point in the set there was an explosion and Peter Gabriel went flying through the air.  That’s why Lee went flying in the Baggy Trousers video – he always vowed that when he got the chance he’d do the same thing”.

The resulting shot is one of the most popular and well remembered of any Madness videos, so much so that the moment was recreated at the band’s 1992 reunion concert, Madstock!  It was also recreated during the band’s 2007 Christmas tour, at Glastonbury Festival in 2009 and on a 2011 television advert for Kronenbourg 1664, which features a slow version of Baggy Trousers.

The slow version was later released on the 3CD box set, A Guided Tour of Madness under the title Le Grand Pantalon.

In an interview with The Telegraph on the 1st June 2014, when asked “So is Baggy Trousers your pension plan?”, Suggs replied:

“Well in some strange way, yes.  That’s the great thing about a song.  You write a song on your own and come up with some funny old lyric, somebody puts music to it, and then it’s out there, doing its own thing.  It may keep resurfacing and it may not, it may keep you going, it may just wither and die.  But when they keep going, ironically, you have more chance of coming back because then they keep relating to different generations”.

Song of the Day: Education in Music (Day Four). “Hey Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone”

The Wall is a 1979 rock opera by Pink Floyd exploring abandonment and isolation, symbolised by a metaphorical wall.  The songs which make up The Wall form an approximate storyline of events in the life of protagonist, Pink.  The character of Pink is based upon former Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd multi-instrumentalist Roger Waters, whose father was killed during the Second World War.  Pink is oppressed by his overprotective mother and tormented at school by tyrannical, abusive teachers.  These traumas become metaphorical “bricks in the wall”.  He eventually becomes a rock star and due to these past traumas, his relationships are impaired by infidelity, drug use and outbursts of violence.  His marriage begins to crumble and he finishes building his wall, thus completely cutting himself off from human contact.  Here, hidden behind his wall, Pink’s crisis escalates, culminating in an hallucinatory on-stage performance where he believes he is a fascist dictator performing at concerts similar to Neo-Nazi rallies, at which he sets brownshirts-like men on fans whom he considers to be unworthy.  He is tormented by guilt and places himself on trial with his inner judge ordering him to “tear down the wall”, thus opening himself up to the outside world.

In the canon of education inspired songs, Another Brick in the Wall is probably the best known.   Another Brick in the Wall is split into three parts on the album, with each section taking on a different part of the story.  With its catchy refrain of “Hey teacher, leave those kids alone” sung by the  Islington Green School Fourth Form Music Class, Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) is the most widely recognised.  When released as a single, the song became a number one single in fifteen countries, including the band’s native United Kingdom.

On The Wall album, Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) segues from previous song, The Happiest Days of Our Lives, with Roger Waters’ signature scream.

In the song, Waters speaks out against the cruel teachers from his childhood whom he blames for contributing to the bricks in the wall of his mental detachment.  Waters attended The Perse School in Cambridge.  Though he was a keen sportsman and highly regarded member of the high school’s cricket and rugby teams, he disliked his educational experience immensely.  In the 2008 book Comfortably Numb:  The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake, Waters recalls his school days, saying:

“I hated every second of it, apart from games.  The regime at school was a very oppressive one … the same kids who are susceptible to bullying by the other kids are also susceptible to bullying by the teachers”.

Lyrically, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 begins with the rallying call of “We don’t need no education”.  Firstly, this statement is a double negative, with “don’t” and “no” cancelling” each other out, producing an affirmative, as in ‘We do need education’, perhaps suggesting that education can be a good thing in developing well-rounded individuals and also suggesting that education is needed to stop the bullying of pupils by teachers.  Additionally, the double negative acts as rhetorical litotes in this context, used especially to emphasise the point being made, therefore Waters is saying “We don’t need this type of education”.  Taken in this context, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 is an anthem about reclaiming one’s individuality rather than being one of complete revolution.  Another Brick in the Wall is a criticism of teachers and systems that, as in Pink’s case, ridicule an imaginative child for writing poetry.

The second line of the song, “We don’t need no thought control” further bashes the oppressiveness of the teachers being criticised.  On the 21st June 2006, Waters spray-painted this line on the Israeli apartheid wall whilst visiting the West Bank City of Bethlehem, the day before he performed in the Arab / Israeli Peace Village.  The concert was originally scheduled for Hayarkon Park outside Tel Aviv.  However, it was moved after discussions with Palestinian artist and Israeli refuseniks about the Palestinian call for an international cultural boycott against Israel’s inhumane and illegal policies.  Two years prior to this incident, Waters had helped launch a campaign against the wall run by the social justice organisation War or Want.  The following line, “No dark sarcasm in the classroom”, refers to the ways in which bad teachers find to ridicule the weaknesses of their students in order to crush their souls and dreams.

Following this, we find the chorus of “Teachers leave them kids alone, Hey teachers leave them kids alone, All in all it’s just another brick in the wall, All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”.  On The Wall album, walls are a metaphor for the narrator, Pink’s isolation from the outside world and from other people.  The lines also refer to the fact that the bullying incurred in the school has contributed to Pink building up a metaphorical wall around himself.  The ‘bricks’ also refer to the other students.

In the final section of the song, “Wrong!  Do it Again!  If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding, How can have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?  You!  Yes!  You behind the bike sheds!  Stand still laddie!”, we find the teachers’ ritual humiliation of the students in full effect.  The teacher was portrayed by David Gilmour.

Musically, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2’s disco beat was an idea that came from producer Bob Ezrin.  Gilmour explained this in an interview with Guitar World in 2009:

“It wasn’t my idea to do disco music.  It was Bob’s.  He said to me, “Go to a couple of clubs and listen to what’s happening with disco music”, so I forced myself out and listened to loud, four-to-the bar bass drums and stuff and I thought, Gawd, awful!  Then we went back and tried to turn one of the [song’s] parts into one of those so it would be catchy”.

Ezrin immediately recognised the hit potential of Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.  It was Ezrin’s idea to use the school choir for the song, as he explained to Guitar World in 2009:

“The most important thing I did for the song was to insist that it be more than just one verse and one chorus long, which it was when Roger wrote it.  When we played it with a disco drumbeat I said:  “Man, this is a hit!  But it’s one minute 20.  We need two verses and two choruses”.  And they said, “Well, you’re not bloody getting them.  We don’t do singles, so fuck you”.  So I said, “Okay, fine”, and they left.  And because of our two [tape recorder] set up, while they weren’t around we were able to copy the first verse and chorus, take one of the drum fills, put them in between and extend the chorus.

Then the question is what do you do with the second verse, which is the same?  And having been the guy who made Alice Cooper’s School’s Out [album, 1972], I’ve got this thing about kids on record, and it is about kids after all.  So while we were in America, we sent [recording engineer] Nick Griffiths to a school near the Floyd Studios [in Islington, North London].  I said, “Give me 24 tracks of kids singing this thing.  I want cockney, I want posh, fill ‘em up”, and I put them on the song.  I called Roger into the room, and when the kids came in on the second verse, there was a total softening of his face, and you just knew that he knew it was going to be an important record”.

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”.