Saturday, October 13, 2007

Meaning can be found in everything, even in a video that tells the story of a rock band and a founder’s descent into madness.

The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story (Deluxe Edition)
Available through: MVD Visual (
Time: 203 minutes

The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story is a documentary that traces the development of Pink Floyd from its earliest days when it was led by Syd Barrett, lead vocalist, lead guitar player and initially the principal writer. His innovative nature helped to pioneer the band’s early psychedelic sound. Sadly, his use of LSD and other drugs may have exacerbated an undiagnosed medical condition that led to his demise and inability to continue with the band after 1968.

After one weekend in particular, in which he may have overdosed on acid, it was evident to the other band members that Barrett had changed. The once ebullient bandleader looked the same, but it was as if he was no longer there. As band member Roger Waters wrote in "Shine on You Crazy Diamond":

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun
Shine on you crazy diamond
Now there's a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky

One of the most touching moments of the film is the display of some black and white photographs taken of Barrett by a friend after Barrett had moved back home to live in his mother’s basement. Syd still looked the same but his face says so much. You can see the pain and sadness. It’s almost as if he’s thinking, "I know I’ve lost it but I don’t know how to be whole again."

As hard as it may have been for the band to go through Barrett’s dysfunction—and they tried to help—it makes me want to be more compassionate towards those who suffer. It reminds me of the story that F. W. Boreham tells of a meeting between J. J. Doke and Mahatma Gandhi.

On the wall of Mr. Gandhi’s office hung a beautiful picture of Jesus; and the moment that Mr. Doke’s eyes rested upon it, he felt that he and his new friend were bound by a most sacred tie. "I want you," he said to Mr. Gandhi, "to consider me your friend in this struggle. If," he added, with a glance at the picture on the wall, "if I have learned any lesson from the life of Jesus it is that one should share and lighten the load of those who are heavily laden."

"How I Wish You Were" was another song that the band performed in remembrance of Barrett. How I wish he could have been helped toward wholeness. Perhaps he found some measure of peace in his life. Questions arise and this film wisely chooses not to try and answer them all.

Instead we are given a fascinating and tragic account of a tremendously artistic individual. But it’s done in such a way—and this is clear from the short written bio included as a bonus feature—that this is a tribute to Barrett’s life and his brief but influential musical legacy. It’s intended to celebrate his accomplishments.

The focus is on Barrett but along the way you also learn much about Pink Floyd through interviews with band members and many others. Perhaps we can also learn much about ourselves. It’s an overused cliché, "but there but for the grace of God go I" seems applicable. It may be a thin line that separates any of us from losing, to some degree, our hold on reality. Mental illness may be more common than realized, especially now, given the state of the world. We are fortunate if we can go through this life with a healthy sanity.

There are a number of brief video clips of the band performing, and the film is peppered with early Floyd and Barrett music. Some of the latter comes from the two solo albums that Barrett recorded after leaving the band.

The second DVD contains extended, unedited interviews with band members and solo performances of a few Barrett songs performed by other individuals.
More could be said about Pink Floyd after Barrett’s departure, but this DVD captures the lasting influence that he had on the band. This is a must-have for the Pink Floyd fan that can appreciate a documentary.

A wonderful likeness of Barrett and the psychedelic nature of the band’s early sound are beautifully captured on the front cover artwork.
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