A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett

Overview

"I don't think I'm easy to talk about. I've got a very irregular head. And I'm not anything that you think I am anyway" (Syd Barrett, Rolling Stone, 1971).

Roger Keith "Syd" Barrett was the definition of a golden boy. With good looks and an aptitude for music, he was a charismatic child who fast became a teenage leader in 1960s England. Along with three school chums—Roger Waters, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason—he formed what would become Pink Floyd. Starting as a British cover band, they soon pioneered a new ...

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A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett

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Overview

"I don't think I'm easy to talk about. I've got a very irregular head. And I'm not anything that you think I am anyway" (Syd Barrett, Rolling Stone, 1971).

Roger Keith "Syd" Barrett was the definition of a golden boy. With good looks and an aptitude for music, he was a charismatic child who fast became a teenage leader in 1960s England. Along with three school chums—Roger Waters, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason—he formed what would become Pink Floyd. Starting as a British cover band, they soon pioneered a new sound: British psychedelic rock. With early, trippy, Barrett-penned hits, Pink Floyd captured the zeitgeist of swinging London in all its technicolor glory.

But there was a dark side. Barrett fell in with some hardcore hippies and began taking large quantities of LSD. His already-fragile mental state—most believe him to have been schizophrenic—further unraveled. The once bright-eyed lad was quickly replaced by a sinister, dead-eyed shadow of his former self given to eccentric, reclusive, and sometimes violent behavior. Sacked from the band, Barrett retreated to his mother's house, where he remained until his death, rarely seen or heard.

A Very Irregular Head lifts the veil of secrecy that has surrounded Syd Barrett for nearly four decades, drawing on exclusive access to family, friends, archives, journals, letters, and artwork to create the definitive portrait of a brilliant, tragic artist. Besides capturing the promise of Barrett's youth, Chapman challenges the notion that Barrett was a hopelessly lost recluse in his later years and creates a portrait of a true British eccentric who is rightfully placed within a rich literary lineage which stretches through Kenneth Graham, Hilaire Belloc, Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, John Lennon, David Bowie, and on up to Damon Albarn of Blur.

A tragic, affectionate, and compelling portrait of a singular artist, this will stand as the authoritative word on this very English genius for years to come.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Bookforum, Fall 2010
“[Syd Barrett] was ‘here’ and gone far too quickly, but Chapman has enshrined his achievement with intelligence and grace.”
 
The Observer
“Chapman has unravelled the skeins of rumour, exaggeration, and anecdote that have been wound so tightly around Barrett. . . . the best book yet about him.”

Timeout 
(London)
“Though Syd has been the subject of various biographies, none has approached his peculiar life, inspirations, and struggles with both drugs and mental illness with anything like the sensitivity and rigor of Rob Chapman’s heavyweight account . . . Chapman’s obvious feel for his subject and palpably zealous research make for a book that comes as close as any maybe will to capturing Barrett’s wayward lightning in a bottle.”
 
Daily Telegraph
“The most serious and intelligent of the four Barrett biographies . . . The first since his death in 2006, it is also the first that has the cooperation of his family. And Chapman is a fan, so it is done with genuine passion. Written in simple, unpretentious prose, it is particularly good at contextualization: explaining the social and political roots of the London psychedelic scene; detailing Barrett's musical and literary influences.”

Times Literary Supplement
“Chapman’s portrait is the most sympathetic and reliable yet published. It is well written and impressively researched.”

Mojo
“The best written, the most accurate, and by far the most incisive account of the man’s life and work. . . . Chapman has well-attuned ears, a vast critical palette on which to draw, and an understanding of the English literary canon that repeatedly gives new meanings and insights to our understanding of the forces which shaped the so-called ‘Madcap.’”

The Wire
“Rob Chapman bravely hacks his way through the undergrowth of innuendo and speculation to give us the clearest insight yet into the rise and fall of one of rock’s greatest enigmas. His critical analysis is inspired. His panorama of what he calls Barrett’s found world, an unprecedented meeting of a whimsical English tradition and modernist techniques, is impressively researched.”
 

HartfordAdvocate, 10/15/10
“Chapman separates the wheat of the myth from the chaff of inconvenient facts. He does a superb job of tracking down nearly every conceivable person who knew Barrett… Kudos.”
 

Flagpole
“separate[ing] the fact from the myth and the legends”

ShortandSweetNYC.com

“a great read; it’s the not-so-simple, but honest story of a shining talent who dimmed a little too early for his fans’ tastes, but probably not his own."
 

BuffaloNews, 11/28/10
“Excellent.”
 
BostonGlobe, 11/26/10
“[C]limb aboard for a train back to the time of paisley shirts, velvet trousers, acid parties, and the brilliant whimsy of Syd Barrett…[in this] striking, richly detailed new biography.”
 
KEXP Radio blog, 12/15/10
“Of special note are the wonderful literary connections Chapman makes, showing that Barrett was in a long line of romantic bards who had several secret lives mirrored in every line they scribed….This takes the material beyond the tsk-tsk of patronizing an ‘acid casualty’ and gives honor and nobility back to a classically English author.”
 
Metroland, 12/13/10
“Grippingly thorough.”
 
AustinChronicle, 12/10/10
“[Chapman] sets the record straight.”
 

BostonHerald, 12/18/10
“A compelling work about a star who burned brightly, burned out and become a different person.”
 
MilwaukeeSherherd-Express, 12/18/10
“The most thorough account of the bright young man whose name became the watchword for a certain kind of excess—perhaps a childlike refusal to be wary of the wolves in the dark woods beyond the no trespassing sign…A Very Irregular Head puts Barrett’s life and artistry in a new light.”
 
Under the Radar, 7 out of 10 stars, 12/1/10 “Chapman’s fascinating new biography…does a superb job taking on the extremely difficult task of swimming through the smoky past of rock history. The author’s heavily researched work steps beyond most of the myths that have surrounded the musician’s life, and instead attempts a more serious, academic approach.”

BirminghamWeekly, 12/30/10
“One of the best music reads of 2010…Perhaps rock’s most intriguing figure gets his due in this fascinating biography.”

Goldmine, 1/13/11
“Essential reading for Floyd- and Barrettophiles.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781441764003
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/26/2010
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author


Rob Chapman has written for Mojo, The Times, Guardian, Independent on Sunday, Uncut, Word, and the dance music fanzine Jockey Slut. He is the author of two books of nonfiction and a novel. He has compiled and written liner notes for CD reissues by artists as varied as the Last Poets and John Faley, as well as numerous psychedelia and loungecore compilations.
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Best Syd Barrett biography

    Chapman presents a thoroughly researched and well executed biography. Reasonably unbiased, many myths which have become accepted as fact are dispelled. Not only a comprehensive look at Barrett, the art/underground scene of Cambridge and London in the 60s come to life in descriptions and anecdotes from many who were part of the scene.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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