Rock n’ roll is a tough business. Most singers and musicians are never quite able to make enough money to do it full time and even if they do, they rarely make all that much of it. After years working the small clubs and doing every show you can possibly line up your odds of making the big time are still thousands to one odds – or worse. But that day comes when you’re finally noticed by an A&R guy and you get your first record contract, you think you’ve got it made.
Think again. It only gets harder from there out.
Until a few years ago you would take a drive over to your local record store and they would have thousands of Cd’s from thousands of artists. If you are a first rate music nut you would still only own a small fraction of all those bands music and you may only know -at least the name – of far less than half of them.
These days we take long tours of the iTunes site and the amount of music up there is even more overwhelming than the old record store. You could spend days browsing iTunes and never find yourself looking at an album of someone you know about.
Pretty amazing how much it’s changed, and how much music is so easily available.
So, now you have your record deal and things do work out for you. Really work out for you – in that now your well on your way to becoming a rock star. This is when it gets really tough. You’ve had perhaps years to get your first album together and all that time to polish those songs into the works of art you always knew they should be. Now, you’ve got six months, maybe a year to create that magic once again.
The pressure is enormous. Pressure from the agent, the A&R folks, the record company, the public relations flacks, your fans and pretty much anyone else you’ve even had a conversation with in the last year and a half since your album broke out on the charts.
Some people thrive in this crazy and intimidating position. Some people start to fall apart. The second album has been the death knell of so many artists and bands that we all know a category to call them. The “one hit wonder.”
Often that’s quite an unfair title for a band or artist in the real world as they continue as songwriters, producers, join other bands that stay successful and so on. Sometimes they really do just fade away.
From time to time there are bands that survive this second album curse, but only because of a change in line-up or focus, to continue on to major success.
In 1967 one of the most popular bands in England released their first album. It received mostly positive reviews with the most common criticism being that the recording didn’t live up to the band’s live sound and energy. Called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the debut of one of the most popular bands of all time made it to number six on the U.K. charts though it barely produced a yawn in the U.S. reaching only the 131st position.
A few short months after The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was released, the lead singer – lead guitarist - founder and front man of the band would be replaced. That changed everything.
By 1975 Pink Floyd was one of the biggest bands in the world. There has never really been anything quite like the chart success of 1973′s Dark Side of the Moon. The album spent one week at the number one position and then simply refused to go away. Dark Side of the Moon spent an incredible 741 weeks on the charts all the way from it’s 1973 release until 1988 all the while selling 45 million copies.
For Pink Floyd’s follow up album, bassist Roger Waters and guitarist David Gilmour, decided to tell a bit of the story of founding member Syd Barrett who Gilmour had replaced back in 1968.
Wish You Were Here was the result and though it was not the phenomenon that Dark Side of the Moon was, it did chart at number one here and in the U.K. as well as selling over 13 million copies. (And it told some of the story of Syd Barrett.)
Even before recording The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Barrett had already been so erratic and self isolated that is was becoming a major problem for the band. On occasion Barrett would just stand there on-stage with his guitar around his neck and his arms by his side – seemingly in a daze.
After many months of this including an infamous performance on The Pat Boone Show where Barrett didn’t even bother to move while they were filming, it became obvious that things needed to change. David Gilmour was brought in and shortly thereafter when the band was heading out to do a show, they simply decided to not pick Barrett up. That was the end of Barrett’s involvement in Pink Floyd until – oddly – Barrett showed up at the recording studio all those years later when Pink Floyd was recording “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
At first the Floyd guys didn’t recognize Barrett at all and were wondering who this totaly shaved, (eyebrows and all,) overweight guy was who was hanging around the studio. In time Waters recognized Syd and was completely distraught at the sight of his old friend. In a surreal moment Syd asked when he could record his guitars. He was politely told they were already finished. That had to be a rough moment for everyone.
Syd just couldn’t deal with the band, the drugs, the pressure.
Over the years Syd did try his hand at a solo career which never really took off eventually leaving him with little money as his career as a writer and performer was so short there were not much in royalties coming in. He would occasionally try to get some projects going with some rather notable musicians but they never really quite worked out. Syd just didn’t have the attention span anymore.
“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is a note to their old friend hoping that he might get better.
“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.
Shine on you crazy diamond.”
Back in those early days Syd was certainly creative and brilliant. Pink Floyd would never had happened at all without him. Waters, Gilmour and keyboard player Richard Wright and drummer Nick Mason all knew it.
“You were caught in the cross fire of childhood and stardom.
Blown on the steel breeze.
Come on you target for faraway laughter.
Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!”
There’s a certain amount of frustration in the lyrics. They love their old friend and want him to get well and come back.
That last meeting at the studio must have been a truly awful thing to have gone through. Barrett was just not Syd Barrett any longer.
“You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
Shine on you crazy diamond.”
Finally, there is some bitterness about their friend.
“Well you wore out your welcome with random precision.
Rode on the steel breeze.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions.
Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!”
“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is actually a pretty tough song to get through once you start to realize what it’s all about. It’s a fitting memorial of sorts for Syd Barrett.
Syd never really recovered from his breakdown in the late 60′s. He was said to have found something in gardening and painting and one hopes he found some solice there as he remained mostly a recluse until his death from cancer in 2006.
The Pink Floyd guys never had much contact with Syd after the Wish You Were Here recordings as it seemed he didn’t want to be reminded of his musical past. Gilmour, quite notebly, did make sure that Barrett recieved his royalties from compilations and performances of his songs for all those years.
Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to bring someone back from the edge.
That too – is rock n’ roll.