Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a Pink Floyd song that is famously about their ex-lead singer Syd Barrett. It comes from their mega selling album Wish You Were Here which is also apparently a reference to Syd.
Syd Barrett is regularly referred to as a 60s ‘acid casualty’. That’s an old fashioned language that these days, quite correctly, is a bit distasteful. I don’t know a huge amount about Syd so I’ll post below a small segment of what Wikipedia reports.
Health problems and departure from Pink Floyd
Through late 1967 and early 1968, Barrett became increasingly erratic, partly as a consequence of his reported heavy use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD. There is also speculation that he suffered from schizophrenia. Once described as joyful, friendly, and extroverted, he became increasingly depressed and socially withdrawn, and experienced hallucinations, disorganized speech, memory lapses, intense mood swings, and periods of catatonia. Although the changes began gradually, he went missing for a long weekend and, according to several friends, including Wright, came back “a completely different person.”
Members of Barrett’s family denied that he suffered from mental illness. In a 2016 interview, asked if Barrett may have had Asperger’s syndrome, his sister Rosemary Breen said that he and his siblings were “all on the spectrum”.
In the 1960s, Barrett used psychedelic drugs, especially LSD, and there are theories he subsequently suffered from schizophrenia. Wright asserts that Barrett’s problems stemmed from a massive overdose of acid, as the change in his personality and behavior came on suddenly. However, Waters maintains that Barrett suffered “without a doubt” from schizophrenia. In an article published in 2006, Gilmour was quoted as saying:
In my opinion, his nervous breakdown would have happened anyway. It was a deep-rooted thing. But I’ll say the psychedelic experience might well have acted as a catalyst. Still, I just don’t think he could deal with the vision of success and all the things that went with it.”
In my own experience of this field I have a feeling that Syd had an underlying mental health condition that was aggravated by drugs. That’s about as much as I can say with any kind of certainty.
I love this song because it’s a heartfelt salute to an old friend who became lost to a group of people but most definitely not forgotten. It’s incredibly sad what happened to Syd Barrett. The world was naive as to what was happening with him and so moved on without him.
There’s another famous point in this story of Syd actually turning up, unannounced to the recording of this very song. His appearance had completely changed, he was heavy set and had shaved off his hair and eyebrows. All of this resulted in the band not actually realising for 45 minutes who he was. When they did finally click lead singer Roger Waters is reported to have broken down sobbing. I’ve posted a photo from that day below.
Dave Gilmour and CRISIS.
I think it should also be noted that Pink Floyd guitarist/singer dave Gilmour is the vice president of Homelessness charity CRISIS. As well as homelessness the charity also works deeply in mental health. Gilmour is actually it’s biggest donator. I’ve heard of at least one story where he sold a mansion for around 10 million and donated it all to this group. I can’t help but feel this is partly because of his relationship with Syd. Also during Syd’s life Gilmour stridently made sure that all royalties from Syds period with the group always got to him. The band always had a policy of trying to get one or two Syd compositions onto live albums or compilations to make sure money would keep coming in.
As I say, it’s a sad story, but there’s something heartening in it as well. Looking at all the evidence, what happened to Syd seemed to result in the other members of the band becoming acutely aware of where vulnerability can lead and, at least in their own ways, trying to put a hand in to prevent some of the suffering.
Here’s the song. It’s quite beautiful….“Remember when you were young. You shone like the sun. Shine on you crazy diamond.”