Schizophrenia and Syd Barrett – Shine on You Crazy Diamond

I heard a track recently, something that I haven’t heard in a long while, and it’s called Shine on You Crazy Diamond. You may have heard of it. Released by Pink Floyd in 1975, it was a tribute to their friend and founder, Syd Barrett, who at that point was no longer part of the band having left it in 1968 due to mental illness. A few years later, Syd Barrett went into self-imposed seclusion, in which he remained until his death in 2006.

Syd’s father, Arthur Max Barrett, passed away from cancer only one month before his son’s 16th birthday. The loss deeply affected Syd and in an effort to comfort her son, his mother encouraged him to express his grief through music. He followed her advice and played with several bands on various occasions.

In 1964, the band that would eventually become Pink Floyd accepted Syd to come on board; it was he who gave the band its legendary name. When asked how he came up with it, he stated that it was transmitted to him by a flying saucer. The seeds of his eventual mental breakdown seem to have already been planted in his brain.

By 1965, Barrett had not only tried acid, but was tripping on it on a consistent basis. Between 1967-1968, the combination of drugs and psychological issues were starting to come to the surface as Syd’s behavior became increasingly erratic. By 1968, it was clear that Syd was loosing his ability to stay focused or act responsibly. He was briefly hospitalized shortly thereafter.

This man, full of beautiful music, thought provoking lyrics and a wildly colorful imagination, was sick. However, his diagnosis was unclear. He may have suffered from bipolar disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, or the most popular hypothesis, schizophrenia. While his sister maintained that her brother was not a recluse and that he did not suffer from mental illness, a slew of other documents and testimonies contradict her assertion.

It’s hard to diagnose someone retrospectively, but if Syd Barrett did have schizophrenia, he must have been a functional schizophrenic to live out his life without prolonged or frequent hospitalization. While the disease is a mental disorder characterized by a breakdown of thought processes and a deficit of typical emotional responses, there are many expressions of these symptoms.

Auditory hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, disorganized speech and thinking, and significant social or occupational dysfunction, are just a few of the most common symptoms. The disease seems to most commonly manifest itself in young adulthood.

It seems very likely that schizophrenia is the correct diagnosis based on a 1975 incident Syd had with his former band mates. When the guys were recording Shine on You Crazy Diamond at Abbey Road Studios in 1975, Syd Barrett showed up unannounced. By this time, the 29 year old had gained a significant amount of weight, shaved his head and eyebrows, and was virtually unrecognizable to his former band members. While he was there he seemed to act detached, and was often seen brushing his teeth while standing. When Roger Waters, one of Barrett’s oldest and closest friends, finally recognized Syd, he broke down in tears out of disappointment about what had happened to him.

Regardless of whether Syd Barrett was a schizophrenic or not, I’m glad to know that he managed to shine on till 2006.–By Liz Belilovskaya

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