A Very Irregular Head: The Life Of Syd Barrett by Rob Chapman (Da Capo Press)

The story of Syd Barrett has been told dozens of times before, but Rob Chapman’s book is the definitive telling. At over 400 pages, Chapman makes as much sense as possible out of Barrett’s strange life and music. It’s the latter point that is the most revelatory, as Chapman does away with the idea that Barrett’s work with Pink Floyd, and his own solo albums was simply the result of some acid-gobbling loon haphazardly throwing out whatever words and sounds were in his head at that moment. Chapman painstakingly traces the literary and musical influences that made their way into Barrett’s songs; presenting evidence that even Barrett’s most abstract ideas has its antecedents. Sure, the long passages detailing how Barrett’s borrowed lyrical themes and structures from different poetic and literary sources are boring, but they’re well researched and insightful nonetheless. Equally insightful, and far more entertaining, are the accounts of Barrett’s life in his mother’s Cambridge house, where he stayed in almost complete seclusion from 1974 until his death in 2006. The only part of the book that rankles a bit is when the author theorizes that Syd Barrett was medicated when he visited Pink Floyd in the studio while they were recording Wish You Were Here in 1975. He makes this diagnosis solely based on a single picture, simply because Syd had an “expressionless gaze and slumped posture”. While the picture in question, which shows an unrecognizably overweight, bald and eyebrow-less Syd Barrett, is indeed disturbing, making a medical diagnosis based on one picture is exactly the kind of sensationalistic myth-making that Chapman spends much of the book railing against. Outside of that unfortunate comment, Rob Chapman has made the only Syd Barrett biography you’ll ever need.