Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Interesting Case of Syd Barrett

(This article last added to November 2010, quotes added at end December 2010)

Lili Marlene has written ebooks about some other famous synaesthetes! These ebooks can be downloaded from Smashwords. Here is a link to Lili's author page at Smashwords:

For a number of years I have had fun maintaining and adding to my list of famous people who are, or were, or perhaps were, or perhaps are, on the autistic spectrum. What an fascinating bunch of people! It is a list full of genius, brilliance, eccentricity and original vision. For a long time I've been aware that the enigmatic Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd fame has been identified by some as an autist, but till recently I hadn't realized how widespread this speculation has been. I was intrigued when I recently read his sister's description of Barrett's synaesthesia. I was excited when I found a different description of Barrett's synaesthesia in another publication, from a different source. I knew this could be an effect of drugs, but I also know that there is quite a lot of overlap between my list of famous autists and my other list of famous synaesthetes.
To be honest, I hadn't been in a hurry to include Barrett in my list of famous autists, because his story is so often characterized as a sudden and tragic decline of a charming and extroverted young man into madness and a reclusive lifestyle, and autism just isn't like this. Autism and Asperger syndrome are not types of mental illness, they are more correctly categorized as disabilities that can have positive features, or valuable forms of human diversity. As far as I know, autistic spectrum conditions do not cause any sudden decline in sanity or functioning. These conditions are detectable from early childhood, probably having their origins before birth, and are highly genetically determined. The Syd Barrett story appeared to be a story about bad things that aren't autism.

I am aware that some other synaesthetes might be irritated to discover that Syd Barrett has been identified as a synesthete, for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are anecdotes (not many) in which synaesthesia has been misdiagnosed as psychosis or schizophrenia. This possibility is a thing that concerns many synaesthetes, and this is one reason why many synaesthetes will not mention or discuss their synaesthesia. One can imagine that a type of synesthesia such as coloured hearing or coloured music could be misunderstood as visual hallucination. So you can understand that some synaesthetes might be irritated to read that a famous person with the nickname "crazy diamond" experienced synaesthesia. Another reason why some synaesthetes might not be pleased to see Barrett identified as a synaesthete is that many of us are fed up with the joking about LSD and drugs that we often receive when we tell others about our sensory experiences. Synaesthetes are sometimes accused of being closet drug users by very rude and ignorant people. I have been unable to clarify whether any of Barrett's reported synaesthesia was experienced during periods in his life when he was known to have been not using LSD. His synaesthesia could have been nothing more notable than a drug side-effect, which would mean he was not necessarily a natural synaesthete born with an unusual brain. But considering Barrett's early creative talent, his many eccentricities and problems, I believe his brain must have been something exceptional.

Another reason why I wasn't jumping to include Barrett in my lists was my fear that if I started researching an outline of his life, I would find the subject so complex and mysterious that I would become hopelessly bogged down, ploughing through books over a span of weeks or months. That is exactly what has happened.

Syd Barrett's real name was Roger Barrett, and he used his real name for much of his life, which started in 1946 and ended in 2006. He was an English songwriter, singer, guitarist and visual artist, best known as a founding member and songwriter of the psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd. Barrett's membership of the band finished after repeated failure to perform during concerts. He had been the main songwriter. Barrett withdrew from public life, but released two solo albums in 1970, full of strange and unforgettable tunes with nonsense lyrics. Pink Floyd went on to become massively popular and commercially successful, their style evolving towards progressive rock, a popular musical genre that would enable millions of dim young men with limited prospects to experience the feeling of intellectual exhilaration without the necessity to read, learn or do anything much. Syd/Roger Barrett lived an apparently simple and solitary life, receiving royalty payments, until he died in 2006, leaving an estate worth over 1.5 million pounds to his siblings. His access to spending money had been controlled by his family (Willis 2002 p. 143). There has been much speculation about why Barrett ceased to be a member of Pink Floyd, withdrew from the public eye, shunned his own fans, left behind the nickname that he had never himself used or liked, and disconnected his home's door bell.

The most established explanation, that he developed schizophrenia as the result of the heavy use of LSD, is the least likely explanation, for many different reasons. Firstly, it appears that there is little or no scientific evidence that LSD causes schizophrenia (or any other serious mental illness). Medical researchers have found a link between cannabis use and schizophrenia, mediated by genetics, and some people have identified dope smoking as the cause of, or trigger for, Barrett's problems, but this cannot be proven. There is also evidence that long-term use of cannabis can cause cognitive deficits, which no one needs. But we needn't bother ourselves with speculation about what might have caused this supposed case of schizophrenia in the absence of any evidence that Barrett had schizophrenia at all. I have not come across any evidence that Barrett suffered from any of the characteristic features of schizophrenia such as delusions or auditory hallucinations ("hearing voices"). In all of the books and articles that have been written about Barrett and Pink Floyd, where is there any description of any irrational belief system, schizophrenic "word salad" or the wearing of any tin foil hat? Pink Floyd members reportedly claimed that Barrett was unusual before he started using drugs heavily (Pareles 2006), undermining the theory that Barrett was a regular guy driven insane by drugs. In addition to an absence of evidence of schizophrenia, there is positive evidence that Barrett did not have schizophrenia. One is obliged to take seriously Barrett's sister's claim that Barrett was examined by psychiatrists and found to be not insane (Titchmarsh 2007). According to the Willis biography Barrett was never sectioned and was never given a diagnosis nor medication by the psychiatric profession, except for the drug "Largactyl" (Largactil?) following two extreme fits of anger, a situation that would not be inconsistent with an autistic condition. Largactil/Chlorpromazine is a drug that has a number of psychiatric and medical indications, including the short-term management of aggressive or severe anxiety episodes, treatment for amphetamine overdose, schizophrenia, hiccups and tetanus. It was once incorrectly believed to be an antidote to LSD.

Barrett had issues but he wasn't schizophrenic or insane. Pink Floyd member Roger Waters is a prominent exponent of the theory of Barrett as a schizophrenic, and this idea has been an inspiration for some Pink Floyd songs. I personally find it disturbing that one can still find many references to Barrett's mythological schizophrenia in books and articles in print and on the internet, and also in filmed interviews. I am sure that if I were to describe the late New Zealander novelist Janet Frame as a schizophrenic author I would promptly have Frame's fans and family's disapproval coming down on my head like a ton of bricks, but all and sundry feel free to apply to the late Mr Barrett a psychiatric label which qualified psychiatrists apparently decided was not correct.

Schizophrenia isn't the only type of mental illness that has been suggested as a diagnosis for Barrett. Bipolar has apparently been suggested as an explanation for Barrett's withdrawal, but I have not found any document outlining this theory. One friend of Barrett's has been quoted as saying "It always felt to me as if he'd fallen into a depression more than anything." (Blake 2007 p. 142). Former band-mate David Gilmour put forward a theory that a combination of epilepsy induced by strobe stage lighting and drugs altered Barrett's mental health (Geiger 2006). A similar fanciful theory involving mescaline and strobe lighting has been put forward (Miles 2006 p. 107-108). Some have argued that Barrett simply had a breakdown due to stress. Biographer Tim Willis has described Barrett's period of withdrawal as ".. an extended nervous breakdown exacerbated by his drug intake .." (Willis 2002). Willis drove home the point that Barrett had been under great pressure from 1965-1972 by including a detailed schedule of Barrett's concert and studio work during this period, as an appendix to the biography. Barrett developed some chronic medical illnesses later in life and died prematurely of cancer at the age of 60. I thought the speculations about the cause of Barrett's breakdown and withdrawal on page 139 of the Watkinson and Anderson biography Crazy diamond were insightful. They wrote about Barrett's belief in total freedom, the loss of his father in his early teens, the easy access to drugs and girls, and his lack of discipline. The teens and early twenties are a period of life when young people need to master important skills, continue to exercise self-control and find a sustainable role within society. Failure to achieve these things is a personal disaster.

I am surprised that I have not come across any argument for ADHD as an explanation for Barrett's problems and childhood oddities, considering his lifelong history of "hyperactive" behaviour, minor conduct problems as a child, his creative gifts contrasting with mediocre academic achievement and his drug-taking behaviour that could be interpreted as irresponsible or impulsive.

One could also speculate that Barrett could possibly have been an intellectually gifted underachiever. I have not been able to find any information about any IQ or scholastic testing or scores. His mother has been criticised for giving him the idea that he was some type of genius. Many would argue that this label was appropriate, considering his creative legacy. The literature about the educational needs of gifted children tells us that gifted kids who are not properly identified, not appropriately educated, or who have hidden learning problems, are at risk of developing self-defeating patterns of behaviour or mental illness, and can become deliberate trouble-makers.

All sources agree that Barrett was a heavy user of illicit drugs when he was young. Later in life he was a cigarette smoker, a chain smoker according to the Watkinson and Anderson biography. He used LSD in the 1960s, but how much is a matter for debate. Heroin is a possibility. Biographer Tim Willis has described Barrett as ".. a fanatical dope-smoker - day and night, year in, year out .." (Willis 2002). Barrett also used the sedative hypnotic drug Mandrax, which was popular as a recreational drug in the late 1960s to early 1970s because it could be used to bring about a state of waking trance, and it was also thought to have aphrodisiac effects. It is easy to imagine how a combination of a pressured work life and illicit drug use could lead to burnout, breakdown or a complete lack of functioning. We are left with the question of why Barrett chose to be a heavy drug user. If a mental health issue was a part of the Barrett story, it could have been a motivation for, rather than the effect of, illicit drug use. Autistic people are particularly vulnerable to anxiety-related disorders, stress, depression and "nervous breakdowns". This could explain why Barrett might have been unable to cope with the same work pressures that his band-mates apparently were able to cope with.

For a long time there has been speculation that Barrett was autistic (Gallo 2006). Willis described Barrett's mind as "... extraordinary ... bordering on the autistic or Aspergic." (Willis 2006). Barrett had talent in the areas of visual art and music, two in a group of talents that are characteristic of the autistic-type mind, and these talents were evident early in life (Barrett learned piano at the age of 8). Barrett could be described as creatively gifted. People who have Asperger syndrome (AS) typically develop a strong, sustained interest in a narrow, unusual subject or interest, and the primary or only motivation is enjoyment or curiosity. Barrett's sister Rosemary has described his interest in Byzantine art " was an enormous interest of his and he said it was going to be a book but it was really just a collection of dates and facts that interested him." (Titchmarsh 2007). This project was pursued "purely for his own enjoyment" (Willis 2002 p. 144). It is also worth noting that his painting from his school years to late in his life was done to please himself (Chapman 2010 p.8).

Autism is an inherited condition, and Barrett had many personality traits in common with his father, and some could be interpreted as autistic traits. His pathologist father was also a painter in his spare time and also had a great love of music. Like his son, Dr Barrett enjoyed learning about a subject in great depth, gaining an expert's knowledge of fungi and cot death syndrome (Miles 2006). Fitting the stereotype of a father of an autistic child, he had a scientific/technical career and spent little time alone with his kids (Miles 2006), but according to Barrett's sister, Barrett and his father "... had a sort of unique closeness." (Manning & Dodd 2006, p. 10). In Watkinson's biography of Barrett, an "... exceptionally warm personality" (Watkinson & Anderson 1993 p.13) is cited as a characteristic that father and son had in common, which does go against the stereotype of the cold autist. One would expect family members who are both on the spectrum might have a special empathy, so it was probably a terrible loss for Barrett when his father died of cancer when Roger was only 16. Perhaps it is notable that both father and son died prematurely from cancer.

Two (probably related) characteristics of Syd/Roger Barrett's strike me as particularly compelling evidence of autism; his apparently decades-long habit of bouncing, and his toe-walking during adulthood. Barrett bounced on the balls of his feet during his high school years, a habit that persisted into adulthood (Miles 2006) and Willis has described finding Barrett bouncing on the balls of his feet when he answered his door, at some time during the last years of his life (Willis 2002). Long-term girlfriend Libby Gausden persuaded Barrett to stop bouncing for a while (Willis 2002 p. 45), but that did not last, and neither did the relationship. Numerous mentions of Barrett's bouncing and odd gait can be found in books about Pink Floyd and Barrett. The first-hand description of Barrett's strange walking (in a public place) on page 154 of the Watkinson and Anderson biography by makes it clear to the reader that Barrett was a fundamentally unusual man. Autistic people often have the habit of rocking or jumping about, not just once in a while, but a habit that can last years or even a lifetime. Even the most intelligent and accomplished autists can have such habits - Bill Gates is almost as famous for his leaping as he is famous for his extreme wealth. There is some evidence that Barrett’s unusual habit of bouncing on the balls of his feet while walking might have had advantages over the normal way that people walk and run. A study reported in New Scientist in January 2010 has found that running on the balls of the feet instead of the heels has much less physical impact on the feet, and two-thirds of endurance runners who habitually run barefoot run on the balls of their feet. Barrett was probably barefoot more often than is usual while growing up, because shoes do not accommodate toe-walking.

Toe walking is common during early childhood, but if a child walks on their toes past the age of three years, a medical evaluation is recommended. Toe walking can be a sign of a number of different conditions and illnesses, including autism. In Mark Blake's book about Pink Floyd a person who had seen Barrett in his pre and post decline periods was quoted as saying ".. he was still walking on his tip toes, in the way that he did." (Blake 2007 p. 223). A description of Barrett standing on tip toes, from another associate of Barrett's, can be found on page 30. Toe walking could have been one reason why Barrett had the habit of wearing shoes without socks or laces, sometimes wearing no shoes at all. Toe walking might have damaged his footwear - he was known for wearing elastic bands to hold his boots on after the zippers broke. These habits dated back to his school days. Another odd habit of Barrett's that could be interpreted as a sign of autism was wearing minimal clothing during all seasons, as reported by neighbours (Willis 2002 p. 12). He was apparently not troubled by cold temperatures. Willis has described Barrett answering his front door wearing only underwear. Asperger syndrome (AS) expert Dr Tony Attwood has described people with AS who wear clothing that is not typical for the season as appearing to have "... an idiosyncratic internal thermostat." (Attwood 2007).

During his teenage years Barrett constructed (beautifully) some tetrahedrons from balsa wood, which he hung from the ceiling of his room. This precise and geometrical teenage craft creativity is interestingly similar to one childhood hobby of Prof. Richard Borcherds, winner of a Fields Medal for mathematics, who was identified by autism expert Prof. Baron-Cohen as a person who had AS but was not dysfunctional enough to meet the official diagnostic criteria for AS (Baron-Cohen 2003). In his school years Borcherds had constructed hundreds of unique polyhedra which he hung from ceilings throughout his parents' house (Baron-Cohen 2003 p. 161-162). A tetrahedron is a type of polyhedron. Professor Baron-Cohen would probably classify this hobby of polyhedron construction as an example of systemizing behaviour. Baron-Cohen has argued that autistic people are hyper-systemizers. This hobby is precise and mathematical, and there is an element of experimentation, because one explores the relationship between two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional shapes. Decades later in 1996 Barrett's nephew revealed in an interview that Barrett was exploring geometric and repetitive patterns similar to tiles or weaving in his painting (Willis 2002 p. 144) (interview also available online at Dolly Rocker), a continuation of an artistic theme explored in his youth.

Barrett's polyhedra and geometric painting were not the only examples of systemizing behaviour that Barrett displayed. His experimentation and innovation with musical sound effects was also a form of systemizing. Barrett got novel sounds out of his guitar using ball bearings and a cigarette lighter. His music often featured sounds played backwards. He recorded the sound of a motorbike with the intention of using it in music, and I recall reading about Barrett experimenting with the sound of a clock ticking under water. Barrett was reportedly a pioneer in using a gadget called the Binson Echorette to produce echo effects with his guitar (Watkinson & Anderson 2006 p. 50). One might think that songwriting is a purely creative activity for which there can be no system or set rules, but Barrett's ingenious songwriting system ("structure") is described in Willis's biography. Barrett displayed a more conventional systemizing talent at the age of 15 by building his own amplifier. Systemizers love gadgets, and Barrett was no exception. The biography by Watkinson and Anderson details Barrett's extravagant fascinations with collecting guitars and state-of-the-art television sets during the 1970s. Chapmans’s book Syd Barrett: a very irregular head gives a hint that Barrett might have had the long attention-span that is characteristic of autism – when he visited great art galleries with his girlfriend “he would sit for hours looking at one painting” rather than hang out with interesting people in the cafeteria (Chapman 2010 p. 44). While a lack of verbal ability is not a part of Barrett’s popular image, some accounts hint that he had some problems with verbal expression. Barrett’s nephew Ian Barrett described his uncle taking a long time to describe things in a very precise way (Chapman 2010 p. 366), a trait which apparently runs in the family. Barrett’s sister Rosemary theorized in the same book that because Barrett lived such a solitary life during his later years with no one to speak to, he got out of the habit of speaking and lost verbal ability (Chapman 2010 p. 377).

Reading books about Barrett, one could easily get the impression that his youth was just one big party, but Mark Blake's book about Pink Floyd gives descriptions from two different sources of Barrett's habit of disappearing from or avoiding social occasions which he was expected to attend, without any explanation. He would sometimes bore his girlfriend by taking her for drives to look at landscapes rather than going to parties as planned. Another friend has described how Barrett could "... suddenly withdraw from everything" despite having a great sense of humour (Blake 2007 p. 30). This type of behaviour is consistent with Asperger syndrome. According to some sources quoted by Blake there was also a distance between Barrett and his band-mates, one source saying he thought Barrett was an outsider within Pink Floyd (Blake 2007 p. 78). This is supported by quotes from the biography by Watkinson and Anderson "There was no togetherness because they were always backing musicians to Syd and not a group." (p. 89). In light of this revelation, one does not need to believe in the myth that Barrett was insane to find an explanation for why the other members of Pink Floyd might have wanted to exclude him from their musical group. In Blake's book one can find an anecdote about Barrett refusing, without explanation, to board a bus with other students for an art school excursion (p.25). Asperger syndrome could also explain this behaviour. The noise, smell and crowding of buses and public transport can be a real challenge for autistic people who have sensory hypersensitivity. Further support for the argument that Barrett had difficulty dealing with gatherings of people can be found in the Willis biography and in the interview with Barrett's nephew which can be viewed at the web site Dolly Rocker. It is asserted that Barrett had avoided houseguests by staying in a basement during the 1970s and in the 1990s was still "unable to cope with large gatherings". Rob Chapman’s 2010 book about Barrett gives a complex account of Barrett in social life. One source claiming Barrett was independent socially, getting around but not settling with any particular group. Another source gives an account of Barrett as very choosey about his friends and untrusting, but not without friends. Another source described Barrett as kind, generous and sensitive but also in a world of his own.

Some features of Barrett's behaviour relevant to communication have been cited as evidence of mental illness. These include being verbally uncommunicative, a stare that frightened people and a lack of facial expression; "Trying to talk to him was like trying to talk to a brick wall because his face was so expressionless." (Willis 2002 p. 77). It has also been observed that Barrett's style of communication was of making statements rather than normal conversation, and was strange and fragmented (Willis 2002). A lack of eye contact in noted on page 163 of the Watkinson and Anderson biography. All of these characteristics can be found in people who are autistic. If a person's body language changes, becoming less expressive than before, this could be a sign of mental illness. It could also be the result of an autistic person deciding to stop "acting normal".

There is another characteristic of Barrett's that could be found from his childhood to adulthood that I believe is typical of an autistic personality. Barrett had a great attachment to his home. He has been described as a recluse in his later years, but homebody tendencies were evident as early as his school years, when he would disappear from cross-country running to create paintings at home, and his home's back garden was also his preferred venue for painting during his art school years. There is an anecdote about Barrett walking to Cambridge (his home town) from London, and one friend of Barrett's believed he was out of his comfort zone whenever he was outside of Cambridge. One's home is (or at least should be) a place that offers security, quiet, privacy and protection from unwanted interruptions and intrusions, and these are things that many autistic people have a special need for. Homes and home towns are also places where we can reconnect with memories that reinforce our sense of personal identity, and this can be a comforting thing in a hostile and chaotic world. Some of the most ugly anecdotes about Barrett's behaviour, times when he was clearly very troubled or violent, happened when he was using drugs and also sharing accommodation with a number of other people.

Although media reports almost always describe Barrett as a case of mental illness, his sister claimed he was never mentally ill, but never fitted the norm either. According to Rosemary he spent some time in an institution (but was given no treatment), and was assessed a number of times by psychiatrists over the years and was found to be unusual but not insane (Titchmarsh 2007). Being labelled as mad by ordinary people but pronounced sane by qualified psychiatrists is an experience reported by some adults who have Asperger syndrome. Rosemary quoted in Chapman’s 2010 book about Barrett claimed that “personality disorder” was a label that was given to Barrett after his stay in an institution (Chapman 2010 p. 361). This is the type of label that was given to some autistic adults before Asperger syndrome was recognized.

A lot of evidence can be found to support the autism explanation, but there are some elements of Barrett's life story that could be seen as incompatible with this explanation. I have found anecdotes in which Barrett compared his own social status with that of John Lennon, whose career was more established. This seems very contrary to the lack of concern for social status that is thought to be typical of autists. One could instead interpret Barrett's comparisons as evidence of role model copying, which is a rather desperate strategy used by some autists to deal with the social side of life. As a child Barrett has been described as an extroverted, gregarious joker. He did well in the Boy Scouts, rising to the level of Patrol Leader. Young Roger/Syd excelled in public speaking, poetry reading and played the lead in school plays (Miles 2006). He avoided potential trouble with teachers with smiles and jokes (Miles 2006). This level of ability in social manipulation and personal presentation does not fit the established image of the socially disabled autist. But in contrast, Barrett has also been described as having "... a child-like innocence." (Manning & Dodd 2006 p. 10). Despite his apparent social skills, Barrett was not the perfect child. Despite obvious intelligence his academic achievement in junior school was mediocre, and he was regarded as rebellious student at school and also as a college art student. By all accounts Barrett had a very bad temper. In childhood he was known to break windows and throw rocks at cars when things did not go the way he wanted (Miles 2006). According to an account in Willis' biography, Syd/Roger did not throw rocks alone, so this behaviour could be a reflection of a lack of adult supervision. It is interesting to note that a neighbour of Barrett's during his reclusive years complained that Barrett had a habit of smashing (his own) windows (Sore 2006), so this appears to have been another one of Barrett's almost life-long strange habits. Windows aren't the only parts of homes that Barrett has attacked. In the 1970s he smashed the door of his flat off its hinges, and put his head through a ceiling after a bad review of his last concert. Barrett's life-long capacity for intense anger could be consistent with a condition on the autistic spectrum or possibly epilepsy of the temporal lobes. There is a most striking photograph of Barrett in Blake's book about Pink Floyd. It shows Barrett being "doorstepped" in 2006, wearing minimal clothing, and the look in his dark eyes would have made me step backwards a metre or two. There are many photographs of Barrett from his Pink Floyd years showing eyes that have the most striking expression, perhaps terror, over-stimulation or shell-shock. A Rolling Stone reporter described Barrett's "eyes reflecting a permanent state of shock." (Watkinson & Anderson 2006).

During his teens and early twenties Barrett was involved with a number of girlfriends and affairs (Willis 2002). In addition to these relationships, there was no shortage of groupies hanging around after he became famous. Barrett was very popular with the ladies from his mid-teens till his withdrawal from public life, but it could be a mistake take this as evidence that he had the "social skills" of a normal non-autistic person before his decline. Barrett's good looks, fame and creative intelligence were most likely important elements of his charisma. Surprisingly, one woman who had enjoyed Barrett's company claimed in an interview that Barrett "... wasn't the sort of guy to flirt." (Blake 2007 p. 122). Barrett was a very attentive boyfriend in one of his earlier relationships, but he appeared to place little value on later relationships. He has a deplorable record of smashing up buildings and violence towards girlfriends. There is a theory that autism is an extremely masculinised type of brain. If Barrett was autistic and this theory true, this would mean Barrett would have had very little in common psychologically with the average female, an even greater gulf between him and most women that that between average men and women. This might be the explanation for why Barrett's romantic relationships apparently came to nothing. According to one author, after Barrett broke up with a girl that he had been engaged to, in 1970, there were no more known intimate relationships. Biographers Watkinson and Anderson wrote that one fan of Barrett's who collected Barrett memorabilia was of the opinion that Barrett had at one time had a girlfriend in a relationship that was kept a secret from his family and the media. When speculating about the motivations behind Barrett's choices of lifestyle and behaviour I try to keep in mind the fact that Barrett's finances and contact with the world in general were controlled by his family to a degree that is not clear to me.

Barrett was too adventurous in his use of drugs, and he also showed a taste for adventure in creating his own personal style. He wore black eyeliner during his rock star years and had his hair permed, and wore psychedelic style fashions in fine style. He was the most visually appealing, photogenic and interestingly dressed member of Pink Floyd. I think Barrett's seductive stares at the camera resembled the poses of female fashion models. It appears that Barrett cared little for our culture's disapproval of men making a display of their personal appearance. There are reports of Barrett being spotted cross-dressing. This has been interpreted by some as evidence of mental illness, but I don't think there's such a large difference between wearing drag and wearing the type of gear that Barrett wore as a band member in photo shoots. Barrett's cross-dressing makes one wonder about the theme of Pink Floyd's first single Arnold Layne. This song, written by Barrett, is about a transvestite who stole women's clothing from washing lines. It is based on real-life incidents of theft of underwear, which apparently belonged to female student lodgers staying at the homes of Barrett's and Roger Waters' families. One of the people interviewed in the documentary The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story claimed to know the identity of this underwear thief. Who would do such a thing?
Barrett's fashion-consciousness in his rock star years goes against the stereotype of the geeky, fashion-blind autistic person, and this could be interpreted as evidence that Barrett was not autistic. One could give a counter-argument that Barrett was violating gender norms and distinguishing himself from his peers with his fashion. Autistic people are sometimes conspicuous because they do not adopt fashions typical of members of their gender in their peer group. This can happen because autists often care little about fitting in.

Barrett's sister and biographer Tim Willis have described Barrett as a synaesthete or possible synaesthete "... he would say that a sound was a colour to him." (Titchmarsh 2007). A report that Barrett described (to Rado Klose, an early Pink Floyd member) a C chord as yellow is given in the biography by Willis (page 21). Much later in Barrett's career, during the recording of his first solo album, one of Barrett's comments about the music provides further evidence of synaesthesia; "Perhaps we could make the middle darker and maybe the end a bit more middle-afternoonish [because] at the moment, it's too windy and icy" (Willis 2002 p. 106). Willis wrote that Barrett "drew" songs (Willis 2002 p.21), representations that could have been based on synaesthesia experiences. Barry Miles' book about Pink Floyd gives slightly fuller descriptions of Barrett's visual representations of his songs, in coloured paintings (page 69) and drawings that resembled Venn diagrams (page 83). It would be fascinating to see these creations, if they still exist today. Some types of synaesthesia can be caused by high doses of LSD, so one could dismiss Barrett's synaesthesia as merely the side-effects of psychedelic drugs. My guess is that the way that Barrett apparently used his synaesthesia to represent and describe his music shows that his synaesthesia was a more complex, stable and natural type of synaesthesia. One would need to find evidence that Barrett experienced synaesthesia early in life, before he started taking drugs, before we could categorize him as a natural synaesthete.

As an art school student Barrett had a very well developed sense of colour (Chapman 2010 p.50). One study had found that synaesthetes have an enhanced memory for colour (Yaro and Ward 2007). In his 2010 book Chapman asserted that the imagery in the song Astronomy Dominie by Barrett “conveys a strong sense of synaesthesia” (Chapman 2010 p.156).

Barrett's synaesthesia was not just an isolated personal oddity. Synaesthesia-like experiences were a part of the psychedelic scene which Barrett and Pink Floyd were a part of at the time. People were inventing various devices and systems of stage lighting for the types of venues that Pink Floyd played in, some of them designed to move in time with music. One 1967 concert by Pink Floyd was given the title "Music in Colour". Researchers have reportedly found a possible genetic link between synaesthesia, autism and epilepsy (Robson 2009). It is possible that Barrett had some combination of these conditions. As far as I know, no link has ever been found between synaesthesia and schizophrenia, so evidence of synaesthesia contributes nothing to the case that Barrett was a schizophrenic.

I find it interesting that quite a few of the writers who have been identified as influences on Barrett's song-writing were major figures in children's literature and were themselves unusual people. Lewis Carroll was one of the best known writers in the genre of literary nonsense. He had migraines and epilepsy (possibly temporal lobe epilepsy), an inherited stutter, was a mathematician and never married. Carroll was identified as having had Asperger syndrome in the book The genesis of artistic creativity: Asperger’s syndrome and the arts. Edward Lear was another major writer of literary nonsense. He was also a gifted painter and an epileptic who suffered from depressive episodes. Lear never married. Pink Floyd's first album was named after a chapter of the classic children's book The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, and this book has been cited as an important influence on Barrett's work. Grahame was an intelligent and eccentric loner who married late in life to another eccentric. Syd Barrett wrote a song Golden Hair based on a poem by James Joyce. Joyce was one of the famous people discussed in the book Unstoppable brilliance: Irish geniuses and Asperger's syndrome.

The world of childhood is an innocent and beautiful world that has a great attraction for many people who have Asperger syndrome. Even though he was not a father, in many ways Barrett was well-connected to the world of childhood - through his strong attachment to Cambridge where he grew up, his personality has been described as childlike, his artistic inspiration from children's literature, and his love of children in contrast with a very reclusive lifestyle. Barrett's sister Rosemary has described Barrett's rapport with children in 2006 in a Sunday Times interview with Tim Willis. The legendary mathematician Paul Erdos and writer/mathematician Lewis Carroll are two famous geniuses who have both been identified as autistic by Prof. Michael Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald 2007, Fitzgerald 2005), who were both single and possibly asexual, and who both demonstrated a love of children and an enjoyment of the company children.

One last detail of Barrett's life that I believe indicates autism is Barrett's evident lack of interest in popular team sport events. All men love to watch the footy, don't they? Autistic people are often the exception to this rule. Autists don't need the crowding and the camaraderie involved with being a sport player or spectator. I believe slow attention-shifting means autistic people are likely to have trouble following the fast-paced action of team sport. Watkinson and Anderson describe in their biography observing Barrett making a visit to a DIY/hardware shop by foot, walking through the deserted streets during FA Cup Final day with an unnatural spring in his step.

I believe Barrett was somewhere on the autistic spectrum because there is such a large quantity of evidence for this conclusion, even though some aspects of his life could be interpreted as evidence against this conclusion. Similarities can be found between Barrett's experiences in Pink Floyd and the career of Australian rock star Craig Nicholls of The Vines, who was given a formal diagnosis of Asperger syndrome in 2004. History repeats. I am not convinced that drugs and autism were the only factors that caused the end of Barrett's musical career. I agree with Willis and many Barrett fans who believe that Barrett chose to leave the music business following years of good and bad experiences, to return to his painting. We can be sure that Barrett experienced coloured music synaesthesia, and very likely other types of synaesthesia. I have been able to find stacks of evidence for Barrett's autism and synaesthesia scattered through many books and articles about Barrett and Pink Floyd, even though most of the authors of these works did not explicitly argue that Barrett had these conditions. In contrast, I have been unable to find any evidence to support the idea that Barrett had schizophrenia while reading these same books and articles, even though most of the authors of these works were of the opinion that Barrett had been mentally ill. Barrett certainly did act in crazy and non-functional ways during one period in his life - this is what happens when people take mind-bending drugs.

The famous painter Vincent van Gogh is another famous person who I believe had a number of features in common with Barrett. Both men were painters who displayed an original creativity. Both have been identified as possible cases of autism. Both experienced synaesthesia. Both have been given the label of "schizophrenic". Both had limited luck with romantic relationships. Both had a capacity for unusual levels of anger. Some believe van Gogh's angry outbursts were caused by temporal lobe epilepsy. Both have been the subject of many different theories about the exact nature of their mental conditions.

Barrett's story has often been presented as a cautionary tale to warn against the abuse of drugs. Could his story have been a happier one if different choices had been made? We now know that heavy use of cannabis can damage the brain, and in some people can trigger mental illness, so things might have been different if Barrett had stayed clear of this drug. But it is possible that being an autist in a world that does not accept nor understand autistic people was Barrett's biggest problem, and there would have been no useful advice about how to deal with this, nor any effective support available to Barrett in his teens or twenties, if he had sought it? He was facing the biggest challenges in his life during a time when the psychiatric profession's responses to autism included institutionalisation, misdiagnosis as schizophrenia (with a number of possibly seriously harmful consequences), baseless mother-blaming theories, useless and expensive psychotherapy, and LSD was even used by some psychiatrists as an experimental therapy for autistic children. Barrett could hardly be blamed for taking acid and dropping out, considering the crazy times he lived in. The famous psychiatrist that Pink Floyd members tried to get Barrett to see in a consultation, R. D. Laing, turned out to be a sufferer of depression and alcoholism, whose work is no longer an influence on mainstream psychiatry.

Roger/Syd Barrett played a number of different roles in his life - a wild and creative beautiful boy, the enigmatic wanderer who was the subject of rumours and local legends, and a wonderfully scary-looking chain-smoking millionaire recluse. He proved that one doesn't need to die young, or die at all, to attain legendary status. Now that he is gone, many questions about his life will remain forever unanswered. Don't you love a mystery?

Some Syd Barrett Quotes

I'm sorry I can't speak very coherently.

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.

It's always been too slow for me. Playing. The pace of things. I'm a fast sprinter. The trouble was, after playing in the group for a few months, I couldn't reach that point.

I'm disappearing, avoiding most things.

I think young people should have a lot of fun. But I never seem to have any.

I wasn't always this introverted.

I'm full of dust and guitars.

I'm treading the backward path. Mostly, I just waste my time.

Have you seen the roses? There's a whole lot of colours.
From BrainyQuote

About Syd Barrett/Roger Barrett (and Pink Floyd)

AtomicSpiderProductions (2000) Set The Controls Interviews Ian Barrett. Dolly Rocker. (tribute web site).
[interview done in 1996?]

Blake, Mark (2007) Pigs might fly: the inside story of Pink Floyd. Aurum Press, 2007.
[a substantial book]
Chapman, Rob (2010) Syd Barrett: a very irregular head. Faber and Faber, 2010.
Gallo, Phil (2006) Reclusive Floyd founder Barrett dies. Variety. July 11th 2006.

Geiger, John (2006) The mystery of Syd. National Post. July 12th 2006.

Kent, Nick (1974) The cracked ballad of Syd Barrett. New Musical Express. April 13th 1974.

Manning, Toby & Dodd, Philip (2006) The Rough Guide to Pink Floyd. Rough Guides, 2006.

Miles, Barry (2006) Pink Floyd: the early years. Omnibus Press, 2006.
[The author appears to subscribe to the theory that Barrett had schizophrenia. Barrett's visual representations of songs described on pages 69 and 83 were possibly records of musical synaesthesia.]
Pareles, Jon (2006) Syd Barrett, a Founder of Pink Floyd, Dies at 60. New York Times. July 12th 2006.

Pink Floyd legend Syd Barrett 'never wanted fame'. (2008) NME. August 27th 2008.
[Barrett's sister Rosemary interviewed]
Rolling Stone (1971) The madcap who named Pink Floyd. Rolling Stone.

Sore, David (2006) The genius next door. Mail on Sunday. December 3rd 2006.
[I have not checked any complete online or hardcopy publication of this article from a British tabloid newspaper. I have only read republications and reviews of it online, and part of it available through a business article seller. I could find no trace of the article through searching Mail Online. It appears to be an unsympathetic account of Barrett's reclusive years by someone who claimed to have been his neighbour for many years.]
Titchmarsh, Ben (2007?) Rosemary shares memories of her brother and her hopes for ‘The City Wakes’. The City Wakes (web site).
[Synaesthesia is mentioned in this interview with Barrett's sister.]
Watkinson, Mike & Anderson, Pete (2006) Crazy diamond: Syd Barrett & the dawn of Pink Floyd. Omnibus Press, 2006.
[The authors subscribe to the theory that Barrett had schizophrenia. Parts of the 2001 edition of this book can be read at Google Book Search]
Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2009) Syd Barrett. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Willis, Tim (2006) My lovably ordinary brother Syd. Sunday Times. Timesonline July 16th 2006.
[autism and synaesthesia mentioned]
Willis, Tim (2002) Madcap : the half-life of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's lost genius. Short Books, 2002.
[A short book but an enjoyable read, Asperger syndrome and synaesthesia mentioned, a report by Barrett of an experience of synaesthesia is described on page 21, and more evidence of synesthesia in a quote on page 106]

Willis, Tim (2002) You shone like the sun. Observer. October 6th 2002.

Willis, Tim (2002) Extracts from the Book "Madcap - the half-life of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's lost Genius". Dolly Rocker (tribute web site).

Other References

Asher, J. Lamb, J. Brocklebank, D. Cazier, J. Maestrini, E. Addis, L. Sen, M. Baron-Cohen, S. & Monaco, A. (2009) A Whole-Genome Scan and Fine-Mapping Linkage Study of Auditory-Visual Synesthesia Reveals Evidence of Linkage to Chromosomes 2q24, 5q33, 6p12, and 12p12. American Journal of Human Genetics. Vol. 84, issue 2, 13 February 2009, p. 279-285. [a recent genetic study that sometimes incorrectly refers to synaesthesia as a disorder. Quote from paper: "The marker obtaining the highest LOD score (D2S142, with HLOD = 3.025) has been linked to autism."]

Attwood, Tony (2007) The complete guide to Asperger's syndrome. Jessica Kingsley, 2007.

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2003) The essential difference. Penguin Books.

Fitzgerald, Michael, and O’Brien, Brendan (2007) Genius genes: how Asperger talents changed the world. Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 2007.

Fitzgerald, Michael (2005) The genesis of artistic creativity: Asperger’s syndrome and the arts. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
[Gaudi, Hopper, Quine, Wittgenstein, Maxwell, Swift, H. Christian Andersen, Melville, Carroll, W. B. Yeats, Conan Doyle, Orwell, Chatwin, Spinoza, Kant, Weil, A. J. Ayer, Mozart, Beethoven, Satie, Bartok, Gould, van Gogh, J. B. Yeats, L.S. Lowry, Warhol]
Hoffman, Paul (1998) The man who loved only numbers: the story of Paul Erdos and the search for mathematical truth. Fourth Estate, 1998.
[An enjoyable and recommended book. The title is somewhat misleading - Erdos was unmarried but he did love children and was friendly and compassionate (see p. 9)]
Robson, David (2009) Genetic roots of synaesthesia unearthed. New Scientist. February 5th 2009.

Run on tiptoe like your ancestors. New Scientist. January 30th 2010. p.15.

Walker, Antionette and Fitzgerald, Michael (2006) Unstoppable brilliance: Irish geniuses and Asperger’s syndrome. Liberties Press. 2006.

Yaro C, Ward J. (2007) “Searching for Shereshevskii: what is superior about the memory of synaesthetes?” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60(5):681-695.

Copyright Lili Marlene 2009, 2010.

Lili Marlene has written ebooks about some other famous synaesthetes! These ebooks can be downloaded from Smashwords. Here is a link to Lili's author page at Smashwords:


slĂ– said...

thank you very much for this excellent work!

Lili Marlene said...

Glad you liked it Frank.

Socrates said...

Of course it's quite possible to have schizophrenia and autism... Digby Tantam has said that about 1 in 200 of his autistic patients also have schizophrenia.

You have however, built a convincing case...

Lili Marlene said...

I've always been open to the idea that autistic conditions could co-occur with genuine schizophrenia, but in the case of the late Mr Barrett I object to the widespread characterization of him as a schizophrenic because of the apparent complete lack of evidence that he had that particular mental illness, combined with his sister's claims that he had been examined a number of times by qualified shrinks and found to be sane but weird.

I've met an autistic person in the offline world who has had similar experiences, found their way into the mental health system, given an interrogation by a shrink, shrink says person is not a loon and is free to leave, but as soon as autist steps outside of institution things continue as normal - autist is constantly labelled as crazy by just about every person they meet.

Anonymous said...

utterly fascinating article - however I would say no way did he have aspergers syndrome nor was he autistic - he never enjoyed sport but loved being with people - and for the record the ball of the foot bouncing was 100% the joy of being alive - he embraced life to the full - Libby

Lili Marlene said...

Libby? Libby? That name sounds familiar. I think I’ve read about someone with that name.

I’m pleased that you found my article interesting. I respect your opinions but I’d like to explain why one could argue against a couple of important points that you have made. You wrote that Mr Barrett loved being with people and I think that is offered as evidence that he wasn’t autistic. I’m sure some autistic people love to be with other people. Typically autists don’t enjoy being among a noisy or chaotic crowd, but some do enjoy socializing in smaller gatherings or one-to-one situations. In my article I mentioned anecdotal evidence from Mark Blake’s book about Pink Floyd which I believe suggests that Mr Barrett had an unexplained issue with attending parties. I could never know how representative Blake’s anecdotes are. I find it a bit hard to reconcile the idea that Mr Barrett loved being with people with all the years that he apparently lived alone.

I don’t find it hard to believe that Mr Barrett’s habit of bouncing was something to do with joy or vitality. I have a child who is quite a kangaroo, the jumping an expression of happiness or excitement. Actually, a couple of our kids have had a lot of bounce. I also spent much of my early childhood in midair. Being happy and full of life isn’t inconsistent with being autistic, but I do believe that habitual bouncing, especially during one’s adult years, would be inconsistent with being completely neurotypical. I didn’t once use the term “sufferer” in my article in relation to autism or AS. There is a reason for that.

Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lili,
to me your article is wonderful and not exactly wonderful at the same time. Just like yourself, I was going through a fair amount of material about Mr. Barrett available on Inet, and, like you, I was very much disturbed and disgusted by exploitation of his supposed "insanity". And I am immensely thankful to you as to someone who was willing to DIG for truth, because truth indeed was hidded from us, as much as Mr. Barrett's legacy.
At the same time, not being a psychologist or medical scholar, I was unwilling, at a first glance, to dive into your article, having read it only on a second attempt.) I once read a wonderful comment made by someone who met Syd in person, on their memories of teh meeting: "He was very polite and a bit quiet. He was merely passing through when I met him so he wasn't there long. I was so stunned I didn't say much at all but he was appreciative that I admired his work. A bit bashful almost." This just told me volumes, and basically all I ever wanted to know.

Going back to notorious bouncing, goodness, bouncing is fun. But they picked on bouncing, childish rhymes (forgetting to mention that Rick Wright or Roger Waters wrote the stuff that was times more childish than what Syd wrote at the time, listen to the lysics of "Julia Dream" or "Remember teh Day").

Speaking of which, did you, with you amazing talent for analysis, ever consider analysing Roger Waters' reasons for flagging and labelling Syd Barrett, as well as the reason why did he get away with it?

Lots of love for what you've done.


Lili Marlene said...

Roger Waters' reasons? Didn't he steal Barrett's career? Didn't he step straight into his shoes? I don't pretend to be an expert on Pink Floyd, but I do know that I find Mr Waters very creepy, especially when he is talking about Barrett. In one post I've compared Syd Barrett's story with what happened to Kevin Rudd. Plenty of people were labelling Rudd as nuts before and after his position as PM was stolen.

How did Waters get away with it? I don't know, but I guess this happened a long time ago when it was a whole lot more common for people with issues to be "put away".

I must try to find the time to add to my writing about Mr Barrett, as I've discovered in the recent book, Chapman's "A very irregular head" that "personality disorder" was a label that was given to Barrett when he was "put away" after busting up his mother's house, and his sister wishes they had done more than this, including sedating him. Nice. "Personality disorder" is just the type of label that an intelligent autistic adult might have been given back in those days.

Lady Amaltea said...

This verse just came to mind while I was re-reading this article (apparently this is from a song that never was and never will be released).


With yellow, red and roomy food, and quivered
crouching on a golden cushion
undressed himself to disappear
through an infinity of pleasure
and smiled to free the running me
with "Am I my brother's keeper?"
his meek hand on devils gloves
shaping running blood.

The prophecy, to re-create the truth
in visions of a seasonal mood
in truth, the only sight he saw
lay hidden in the bathroom door
and spat on the rug
as high is high, so low is low
and that's the end of it.


Lili Marlene said...

Is this a colourful song with a sexual theme? Or do I just have a dirty mind?

The bit about seeing a sight in a bathroom door reminds me of Alice Cooper's anecdote about Barrett during the ill-fated concert tour of the US.

"Syd was sitting there at the table, and the box of cereal was between us. And he was watching the box of cereal the way that I would watch Star Trek on television. He was seeing something I wasn't seeing. I don't know what he was on, but he could have sat there all day, staring into that cereal, and he would have been just as happy as anybody else."

I don't think this anecdote is evidence of insanity or even evidence that Barrett was completely stoned. I can think of other possible explanations.

This quote was lifted from here:

Lady Amaltea said...

I never realized he has met Alice Cooper. Sure there's such amount of anecdotes and judgments by people from different walks of life, one almost fears to tread there. I wish people were less hasty to apply labels and use pidgeonholes whenever they see something they can't understand. Just recently a friend sent me this vid of Paul from appr. the same time, it strangely resonates with what we discuss here.

Of the recent stuff that I read and found useful were the interviews with Ian Barrett, and Dougie Fields, and some ideas of Jerry Shirley, a drummer from Humble Pie, on BBC "Crazy Diamond" film ("no flies on Barrett".)
Dunno, to me this poem bears connotations to the story of Cain and Abel ("am I my brother's keeper?..."), a case of treason and murder, Devil in charge of business. "High and high and low and low", i.e. no need to think of other names to what's obvious. As you think about it, colors get brighter as if painted by a master of Renaissance, and careless wording seems the only way to deal with it.

Also may be you will be interested to see the first-hand account of an infamous spitting incident (2:06)

Anonymous said...

I can think of an explanation to this:

how about Syd was listening to the little wheels turning and squicking in an android's head? Just as a possibility )
Have a great week )

Lili Marlene said...

This is the type of comment that always comes from one particular author - Mr Anonymous.

Lady Amaltea said...

Lili, it was me )) Could not authorize that time wrote as anon ) I did not mean to be rude, just tried to say that possibly Syd knew about the bad mojo about him, and was thinking: "here sits Alice that will be telling nonsense about me in the future". Sadly, I am not a fan of Alice's. I believe that only a heartless Android would go and spread all those jokes and anecdotes about a true genius that Roger Barrett was. I wish I could PM you to share some thoughts and youtube links on the matter not publicly )
Have a nice day)

Autumn Leaves said...


I knew Syd personally between 1989 and 1991 - it would be over egging the pudding to suggest he was my friend although I considered him (perhaps incorrectly) to be a friend of a friend.

I didn't know who he was at the time and only found out the truth more than 10 years later during a conversation with Steve Hillage backstage at (I think) the Brixton Academy.

I don't really recognise the pen-portraits of his legendary "insanity".

I certainly never at the time considered considered him as anything other than eccentric.

He often used to turn-up with tiny (2 or 3 inches square) paintings of the most exquisite beauty and intricacy - and was completely unmoved by our repeated entreaties for him to stage an exhibition.

He also used to write the most stupendously awful poetry. However, I would not have described it as schizophrenic word-stew - it was more like he'd started off with a poem and systematically stripped-out all poem-y elements to leave something that was the prosodic equivalent of corn-flakes made from granite chippings.

We were never slow to offer our criticism of his writing and often expressed amazement at his concurrent fascination with the poetry of Lord Byron.

I never witnessed him taking drugs, although we all did, and he would only drink, maybe half a pint of beer during the course of two or three hours.

He was not the most extrovert man, but neither was he reclusive or particularly misanthropic.

He was always keen to show people his artwork and would often walk up to strangers in the pub and start pulling out pictures and poems and discuss them.

Despite his self-evident otherworldliness and often extreme scruffiness I recall he was generally well-liked and was certainly acknowledged as a fine artist.

Time to get my coat.. Damn near blubbing

"Twas in another lifetime one of toil and blood,
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud,
I came in from the wilderness a creature void of form,
'Come in' she said 'I'll give you shelter from the storm'"

Ok. Am blubbing.

Autumn Leaves said...

Sorry, I missed remembered: it was Shelley, not Byron.

Lili Marlene said...

I've never heard of these tiny paintings. Very interesting.

Lady Amaltea said...

That was an amazing story. I wonder if "the prosodic equivalent of corn-flakes made from granite chippings" will ever see the light of day.

Some news here on Roger's art, a must-have:

Lady Amaltea said...

some more news

Lili Marlene said...

I can't wait till the new book comes out. I never stop bothering my poor besieged local librarians to get books in for me to read. They see me coming and they duck down and hide under their issues desks.

Patricia said...

Thanks for this article, very insightful!
I would like to ask you if someone diagnosed as Asperger finds it easier to communicate through the internet than personally.
I think I share some features of the Asperger spectrum and some of the Barret's spectrum...Unfortunately I don't think I have synaesthesia... that seems to be awesome!
I think Syd was a product of genes and environment (like every one else). He had a special brain in the sense it was very different from the average. And he had a special life history, a childhood in a Cantabridgean scenery under the arms of an overprotective family, a youth in a freaky London under the mist of psychedelia and an adulthood under his own choices.
I never met him, so I'm only conjecturing, but somehow I know him through his lyrics and chords and paintings. I think he tried to fit in, he was flamboyant and colourful in a degree that only the dreamy 60's had allowed someone to be (maybe even Asperger's or synaesthetes). But then reality came and he had a hard time dealing with fame, success (and the lack of it), musical business (it's all about money)and relationships (bandmates, girlfriends and family). I think it was genuine and honest to drop out.
You summed it up very well: he was a living legend. He survived the 60's euphoria, the 70's hungover, the 80's decadence, the 90's numbness and the new millenium uncertainties. And he is still "Interesting"!
Cheers from Brazil,

Lili Marlene said...

I'm glad you liked my article, Patricia.

"I would like to ask you if someone diagnosed as Asperger finds it easier to communicate through the internet than personally."

This is widely believed, maybe a bit of a stereotype. I commented on this idea in this blog post

I guess all autistics are individuals, but there certainly are many autists who have real problems with speech, being inarticulate, having an odd-sounding voice, and many with the types of issues that speech pathologists treat. But there are also many autists who can't spell, who don't love to write or who don't spend a lot of time on a computer.

I love to write over the internet communicating with strangers because it is an outlet for much more intelligent output and discussion than conversation with my friends and family is. I guess that is a measure of how much my offline social life is a failure.

Anonymous said...

Patricia, loved what you say here: "You summed it up very well: he was a living legend. He survived the 60's euphoria, the 70's hungover, the 80's decadence, the 90's numbness and the new millenium uncertainties. And he is still "Interesting"!", given that each word of this quote is true!

What I personally like even more is that there is no need to place Roger Barrett in the "box" that he himself tried to brake all his life. What is important, is that while he could, he created beauty, which is still inspiring for millions of his fans all around the world, and the reason of him being so unique is of no relevance to me. There was a famous Ukrainian philosopher who once said: "This world was trying to catch me, and failed in doing so".

We discussed Lili's brilliant Article on Please join in if you want to. I thought that maybe "birds of a feather" would like to "flock together". Cheers.

Lili Marlene said...

I'm so pleased that my work is being discussed. :-)

Patricia said...

Hey "anonymous". I'll certainly check "insterstellar" (again, because I've already been there) and join the discussion. This is cliche but I never get tired of saying... any Syd is good Syd! Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Found another article, relatively fresh,deals with Chapman's new book, etc.

Patricia, would be so great to see you at that Forum!
Take care )


Anonymous said...

wow. ive been trying to find out what group i belong to, and your thinking style is similar to mine. its very blunt, picky, critical, flurried, and sometimes subtle in your points. kind of a nexus, instead of just step by step progression. i do have auditory, and semivisual hallucinations though. im mildly synethese, but that definitely came from pyschedelic use. syd definitely had drug psychosis, but it was also an existential crisis. he felt that social constructs are bogus, and that it was too easy to get attention for illegitimacy. thats what happens to some people on pyschedelics, they start understanding money and all that less. look at mgmt's second album. they are acidheads, and they completely purposfully just sunk their artificial hyped-pop train. i know i have something like austism though, cause i saw myself in a video, and compared to other people im like very minutely shakey, tense, and weird. i also basically stopped communicating with most people after doing pyschedelics. i think most people are garbage, and society is garbage in general. people my age either care about jersey shore, or are dry naive dweebs. its hard to find creative intellectuals that are not lazy stoners. i guess i just need a new group. psychedelic use kind of legitimizes certain negative behaviors sometimes cause the dread of existence gets pointed out. i basically started thinking too much after smoking pot, so maybe syds case is not one of autism or schizophrenia, even though it could be said that he had both of those kinds of symptoms, but rather, was a specific case, and had his own eccentric brain mechanisms. when i paint sometimes, ive made geometric landscapes, and generally intense abstract art. im not good at realism though, my hand is too sloppy. i would say my worldview is shattered, but those particular threads were visible in my childhood. i was the kid that got a's on tests without opening the book, and almost failed highschool. you just have to be there to see this kind of meander, i hate the rigid homosexuality of the school environment, but its the best place to be. luckily its a commuter school, but im planning on transferring to austin,tx and hopefully become semisuccesfull in a band or solo. cause i dont know what i want to do, music is stupid to do and repetitive but alot of people seem to like it. its like playing the same shit every other day, most jobs are utter degeneration.

Lili Marlene said...

I wish you the best of luck with your musical ambitions, Anon. Try not to be too negative about humans - friends do sometimes come in handy.

Lady Amaltea said...

Lili and all, thought you might be interested:


Lili Marlene said...

Love it, but the sound is a bit choppy.

LC said...

Very intriguing article Lilli! I think that the possibility of Syd having AS does make some valid sense. My husband was diagnosed with AS last year and we got into discussion on this article. He said that it sounds like Syd had the characteristics of an Aspie.

The case of an Aspie being completely anti-social I can say is not true. My husband can engage in a conversation, depending on who we are talking to. Plus AS is hard to diagnose, it took 28 years for my husband to be diagnosed. Judging by the fact that Syd's family have taken him to numerous doctors with no definitive diagnosis backs up the possible AS theory. Since AS is hard to diagnose, I can imagine that the disorder was unheard of during Syd's youth.

I have written my known article on Syd just recently and I have never made that connection until now. If you're curious, you can read it here

Anonymous said...

This is a most fascinating and interesting article, makes a very compelling case and shines a lot of light on the many mysteries that make up Syd Barrett!
Excellent work Lili!

Lady Amaltea said...

Lili, how do you know that Barrett did not like his nickname? Is there an evidence of a sort?

Lili Marlene said...

Thanks for the kind words!

When I was writing this article I had books about Barrett all over the place, and hubby asked (in a certain tone of voice) "WHO IS THIS BLOKE?" It was worth the drama.

Lili Marlene said...

Vega, this is something that I read in a book, I'm not sure which one. I'm pretty sure that he dropped the nickname when he left the band (or the band left him), which makes sense because I think most of his contact with others during the many reclusive post-career years was with family, who would not think of him as Syd. I'm guessing that the name went with the career that he rejected.

Lady Amaltea said... something of interest, the new stuff.

Anonymous said...

I think he was schizotypal, or schizophrenic with prominent negative symptoms. Or maybe he just didn't want to talk about his embarrasing positive symptoms like hearing voices. The truth is he was on a tranquilizer antipsychotic for several years because theres no way he could of gained that much weight without one. Schizophrenia is highly diverse, and yes he does have some autistic-like charactorisitcs but I dont think that was the dehabilitating part. Its sad that no one knows his "internal conflicts" instead people talk about possible synesthesia and not playing shows and anger.

Lili Marlene said...

Barrett is not just a case of "possible synesthesia", he described his colours for music to at least one other person, and it is known that he kept a record of his colours for music. He is a definite case, the only question is to what degree were psychedelic drugs the cause. In contrast I have trawled through at lot of what has been written about Barrett and found absolutely nothing to indicate any of the distinctive symptoms of schizophrenia such as psychotic delusion, "word salad" or "hearing voices". According to Barrett's sister he was examined by psychiatrists and found to not have schizophrenia. If this is true, an armchair expert simply can't claim he had schizophrenia, as it would have already been finally and professionally ruled out.

I completely agree that it is highly likely that Barrett's terrible weight gain and passively wasted life was due to being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs, but this is no indication that he was actually psychotic. One of my current biggest concerns is that this type of drug is being prescribed in huge numbers to autistic kids and adults, and to kids who throw tantrums. I believe this is happening in the US. Jani Schofield is on anti-psychotic drugs apparently, a tragedy and a scandal. Anti-psychotic neuroleptic drugs are and have in the past been prescribed for a very wide range of things in addition to psychosis. I've even seen coughing listed as a thing they are prescribed for, which I find incredible. My guess is that Barrett was on these damaging drugs as a result of his "anger issues" which are documented in my piece and also in books and one press article. What happened to Barrett is the best/worst cautionary tale to warn against the use of these nasty, nasty drugs that I can think of.

Lili Marlene said...

Regarding a diagnosis of "schizoytpal" personality disorder, perhaps this was the PD that Barrett was apparently labelled with by shrinks. Look hard for proper scientific evidence to support most of the PDs that are in the DSM and you will find nothing but Freudian f***wittery. The history of schizotypal PD goes back to the 1950s, when Freudian pseudoscience dominated US psychiatry and psychology. This is why many of the PDs are apparently going to be abolished in the upcoming revision of the DSM. Some of the PDs are clearly labels that have half-described Asperger syndrome before anyone knew of AS, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if synaesthetes have in the past incorrectly been given labels such as "schizotypal".

Schizotypal is at present regarded as a "prodromal" state, pre-schizophrenia or the extended phenotype of schizophrenia. I don't think Barrett had any family history of genuine schizophrenia, so this counts against the idea tha he had it, to a degee. In Australia at present there is a big controversy going on over the idea that psychosis/schizophrenia can be predicted and treated, involving Prof. Pat McGorry. His idea that a "prodromal" state can and should be treated in young people has been sharply and loudly criticsed by many professionals who point out that there is a huge false-positive rate for the "pre-psychotic" label. A trial planned by McGorry based on this idea has been closed down following professional ethical complaints. The fact that a so-called pre-psychotic state has a huge false-positive rate of identification (wrongly predicting that people will become psychotic when they actually don't do this) seriously calls into question the very idea of a prodromal state, and this erroneous idea is at the heart of the concept of schizotypal PD.

Andrew said...

I am going to have to read this much more carefully. I was diagnosed with ADHD 3 years ago at age 46. Since my diagnosis I have come to realise that most of my best friends, most of the artists I love- all have ADHD or have a range of very similar personality traits.

It makes perfect sense for me to think of Syd in that light.

I would also comment that in ADHD our difficulties can be highly situational. I think most people would have wondered if I were autistic spectrum in the past because of the way my difficulties caused me to present.

All of us ADDers are highly sensitive and when stressed we can act quite oddly. It does not surprise me to understand that Syd also had synesthesia- which I would suspect is a trait common in the highly sensitive.

Andrew said...

Lack of interest in following team sports is also very ADHD. None of my friends really like it.

I would suggest that there are many points of similarity between autism and ADHD.

The "functional disconnection syndrome" model of Robert Mellilo and Gary Leisman would also suggest that there are distinct areas of overlap.

Lili Marlene said...

It would appear unlikely that a synaesthete, I think Barrett was, would have any functional disconnection syndrome as proposed as a model of autism by Mellilo and Leisman, because there's solid evidence that the basis of synaesthesia is hyperconnectivity in at least some parts of the brain, which could be seen as the opposite of a disconnection syndrome. But I need to point out that some synaesthetes do report disorders that are regarded as disconnection syndromes - thingssuch as amusia and prosopagnosia. Mellilio and Leisman need to explain the many synaesthetes who appear to display autistic traits and also any diagnosed autistics who are also synaesthetes. Unless they can do this their model is rubbish.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if many or even most autistics and ADHD people have disconnection of some type, but these days I've got so little respect for the way that both ADHD and autism conditions are diagnosed that I no longer expect that any one cause or mechanism will account for most identified cases of either of these syndromes.

Liz said...

Hi Lili,
Your article is very intriguing! And I can say that we share the same opinion about Syd’s case - schizophrenia and bipolar disorder always sounded very strange to explain his fall.
I got into Syd Barrett music this year and and since then I've been interested in knowing more about his life. I think it’s very hard not to identify with Roger Keith (Syd) Barrett. We all want to find a career that gives us personal satisfaction and recognition. Also we have all suffered, to a greater or lesser extent, with rejections. Sometimes I feel like to learn about Syd is to learn about myself. This is a kinda stupid, but it’s like fans use to think, haha
As well as several other people here, I also share some features of Barrett's spectrum that are related to Asperger's. My questions: from what I've read so far, autism is a disorder more common in men, isn’t it? I’d like to ask: what percentage of this syndrome in women? And you said "There is a theory that autism is an extremely masculinised type of brain." What do you mean "masculinised type of brain"?
I do psychiatric treatment with sertraline. I was diagnosed with OCD, dysthymia and social phobia when I was about 12 years old (today I am 22). How can I distinguish a spectrum like mine from an autism spectrum?
I hope my writing was clear, since English is not my first language.
Thank you and continue with your excellent work!

Lili Marlene said...

"...from what I've read so far, autism is a disorder more common in men, isn’t it? I’d like to ask: what percentage of this syndrome in women?"

I recall that the earliest described cases of autism, written about by Drs Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger in the 1940s, were mostly boys, and as far as I know most children diagnosed with spectrum conditions today are also boys. Rhett syndrome used to be included in the autism spectrum in the past, and it is a neurodegenerative genetic syndrome affecting females, I believe. I recall reading something by Tony Attwood in which i think he found a greater percentage of females in adults diagnosed, but I don't have a huge regard for his work, to be honest. Historically there have been DSM personality disorders that are predonimantly found in men or in women, and some have argued that these biased sex ratios are just a result of the way that these disorders are defined, and society's pressures regarding gender stereotypes. I think this could also be true of the autistic spectrum. I know that in our family the expression of autistic traits such as sensory hypersensitivity is no different between the sexes. I personally suspect that the real reason why more boys get labels such as ADHD or ASD is that boys are more likely to be violent, the result of boys being raised and socialised diffeently than girls, and it is not the autism but the troublesomness that attracts the diagnosis. This would explain any true difference in sex ratios between those diagnosed at different ages.

I caution that there can be no blanket explanations for any aspect of autism, as we know that there is no one thing called autism, but many different conditions that are lumped into this category.

Lili Marlene said...

"There is a theory that autism is an extremely masculinised type of brain." What do you mean "masculinised type of brain"?"

Dr Hans Asperger was the first to put propose this idea. He wrote “The autistic personality is an extreme variant of male intelligence.” (translated from German)

Later in the 1980s i think it was Dr Norman Geschwind who proposed a theory linking in-utero exposure to testosterone with lefthandedness, dyslexia, superiority in "right brain" intellectual skills and possibly autism. Scientists judged that some studies didn't support his theories, and his ideas fell out of favour. Prof Simon Baron-Cohen is the current champion of the idea of a link between testosterone (a hormone that males apparently have more of, but women do have some of) and autism, bit if you take a look at the book Delusions of Gender by Dr Cordelia Fine, and the articles that I have written about Baron-Cohen and his work I'm sure you will develop a skepticism about his work. There are actually a number of complex processes in the human body in relation to testosterone and similar hormones, and I think that any scientific theory that is only about this one hormone and ignores the related complexities has got to be so over-simplified that it is suspect. A lot of the scientific literature about autism turns out to be crap when you examine it closely, so be warned!

Lili Marlene said...

"I do psychiatric treatment with sertraline. I was diagnosed with OCD, dysthymia and social phobia when I was about 12 years old (today I am 22). How can I distinguish a spectrum like mine from an autism spectrum?"

To be honest with you, whenever I hear of a person who has more than two psychiatric diagnoses I wonder whether there is a single explanation that would explain it all better and more simply. I have little respect for psychiatry and many of it's labels, and I'm sure that many of the people who have been diagnosed as autistic would find a better explanation in a genetic syndrome, a disorder of the senses, perception or communication, an anxiety disorder or a childhood that failed to meet their individual needs.

Regarding OCD, it is thought that the difference between OCD and an autistic special interest or obsession is that the autistic experience is pleasurable or not negative, while the OCD is an unpleasant experience or a thing that the "sufferer" wishes they could stop.

I wish you the best of luck and hope you enjoy the festive season, Liz.

Anonymous said...

Most interesting read! I'm of the opinion that there was perhaps a mild mix of Aspergers Syndrome and bipolar or more specifically 'Cyclothymic disorder', which is fundamentally mild bipolar. Bipolar has become something of a Zeitgeist and pretty much every actor/musician etc. get labelled it, wrongly nowadays. I'm of the perhaps unique belief that mental illness and autism are linked. I have often read how people with a biploar diagnosis love routine and structure in ways similar to autistic people. It's just an instinct I have and I'm sure a link about the two will develop in years to come, however of course i could be wrong! so yeah, I'm of the opinion that Barrett suffered some sort of mild blend of the two, resulting in a temperamental, creative, reclusive, people tolerant/lonesome chap he became. Just my view.

Lili Marlene said...

Thanks Tuscan. I don't see a lot of evidence for mild bipolar, but then again, I don't think it's impossible either. When you read about autism-like traits of people claiming to have bipolar, bear in mind that bipolar is apparently a big fad in the US, and borderline autistic or OCD or anxious people might be just jumping on the bandwagon, and not really typical of true bipolar. I don't know a lot about the subject.

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan of Barrett's, and I've always thought that he wasn't insane or a schizophrenic. One thing that has always confused me is when people say that he did LSD every single DAY. As a former user, I know for a fact that this is impossible. Tolerance to LSD builds up too quickly for someone to take the drug that much. Things like that have always made me wary of what other people say about Syd. Most of it is BS. However, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and I agree with the concept of him having synaesthesia. It explains the nature and chord progression found in many of his songs. I also think that the aspergers theory is correct. He was uncomfortable around people and in many ways innocent and childlike. I think he was very misunderstood.

Lili Marlene said...

I agree that a load of BS has been written about Barrett, and I'm glad that you don't classify my piece under that category. Thanks for your kind words.

Please feel free to explain your ideas about synaesthesia and Barrett's music!

I'm a bit surprised that you claim that use of LSD builds up a tolerance, because that is the type of effect that I would have associated with an addictive drug, and I didn't think LSD was addictive. I have no personal knowledge of LSD, and was surprised at how difficult I found searching for objective and credible info about the drug. The idea of frying one's brain with an overdose of LSD is a central element of many urban legends centred on eccentric public figures, but as far as I can tell it does not seem to be a credible idea. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

LSD is a very unusual drug in many ways. First off, you are correct that a person can not get addicted to LSD. Although, there is a tolerance that will build up very quickly and will render you unable to have another psychedelic experience for about 3-7 days. I'm no expert on the drug, but I consider myself a little more informed about it than the average person and possibly even the average user. With that said, it's very likely that he was also using other psychedelic drugs while he was unable to get an effect from the acid. Now as far as an overdose is concerned, I don't think that is very likely, or even possible. The amount of LSD that it takes to give someone a trip is ridiculously small. So small in fact, it only stays in urine for about 24-48 hours. LSD is also extremely non-toxic. If Syd were to take an unusually high amount, then he probably would've experienced something along the lines of an out of body experience and possibly ego death. I think that if the psychedelic experience had anything to do with his eccentricities at all, then it would've been because of ego death or a bad trip. Bad trips can be caused by many factors. The setting in which you are taking the drug is one of them. If you are uncomfortable in your environment, the risk of a bad trip goes up. I think the one that applied to Syd the most was the factor of mindset at the time of taking the drug. If Syd was depressed, or angry, or almost anything other than calm at the time that he took something like LSD, then he would most likely have had a terrible experience. I think that an experience such as ego death or a bad trip could have greatly contributed to his famous blank stare. I don't think he was "permafried" or anything of that nature. I believe the condition is called HPPD, if you would like to research it. Same with ego death because I don't think that I explained it either.

Listening to the way Barrett would change time signatures, tempo, chord structure, and other elements in his music has always seemed very peculiar but at the same time genius to me. I think that it makes perfect sense for him to have had synaesthesia. His use of unorthodox sound effects such as the underwater clock and the motorcycle could have been due in part to his ability to see his music. He would sometimes change key signatures in the middle of songs, and I think he did this to change the color of it and to get the mood that he desired out of the song.

Lili Marlene said...

Interesting ideas about Barrett's music! Thanks for sharing. I wish I knew more about music. My theory about Barrett's musical eccentricity is that he was having a laugh, mucking around. Baby Lemonade is clearly a joke at the expense of the audience, with it's starting and stopping and going nowhere. That's what I hear.

I suspect that the drug Mandrax has been very much underestimated as the cause of Barrett's downfall. After reading in one of the books about how the hippies used it I thought it sounded like a recipe for serious mental issues. It appears that it was very much a rec drug of the 60s and 70s, so possibly it has been overlooked because people today maybe know less about it than they know about LSD.

Yes, I did read about HPPD or Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder as a possible alternative explanation for Barrett's sensory experiences rather than synaesthesia. I wasn't convinced that it is a real illness - most of the symptoms could possibly be explained as quite ordinary visual illusions. Certainly HPPD doesn't resemble the "fried brain" supposed effects of LSD described in the urban myths. Please don't tell the kids, but from what I've read I think LSD seems quite safe compared to mull or tobacco or hard liquor.

Anonymous said...

Pretty shitty writing all around, "he drinks water with a 45 degree tilt of his wrist,must be a symptom of mass autism" let the dude be in peace, even if he had something does it matter? you talk about autism and stupid shit more than his occupation as an artist. fuck yourself, and learn how to write..

Lili Marlene said...

Wonder who that was?

Anonymous said...

Hi anonymous back (just kidding)!
just thought you might be interested in this article that came out today.
I haven't read it myself (and your own article deserves more attention than I have given it so far) but it seems like it might be of relevance to this article

By the way there is another site that seems to have more than its fair share (from my limited awareness of what it should be) of contributors with a disposition to autism and I know not what else!

(I had to post twice to correct some misspellings and ommissions)

Lili Marlene said...

Thanks for the tips, Anon. I had a quick look at the article. I see many major problems with the study. Firstly, it looks like a self-selected and biased sample. Secondly, there was NO TESTING. The researchers did not give the study subjects at test to find out if they were genuine synaesthetes (such a test does exist). The researchers only gave a self-report questionnaire, which is the kind of sloppiness that I've come to expect from this researcher. Lastly, the study was done by Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen. I wouldn't get too excited about studies done by this dude. Do a search on this blog and you'll find that I've written lots about this boffin. He is an endless supply of material for me, because he just doesn't stop making bizarre mistakes and doing sloppy research. Says a lot about Cambridge.

Anonymous said...

Please don't attack an entire art form in the way you did prog rock.

Lili Marlene said...

I'm an opinionated old b****.

Anonymous said...


I am an amateur Jungian psycologist.
I like your writing... apart from

" a popular musical genre that would enable millions of dim young men with limited prospects to experience the feeling of intellectual exhilaration without the necessity to read, learn or do anything much."

I feel that you are venting anger towards the father of your child with this comment although I would not expect you to admit that I am right:)

Lili Marlene said...

I'm sorry mate, don't give up your day job. No that bit wasn't about the father of any of my kids, truly. Bearing the child of a stoner has never appeared on my to do list. I have some conservative opinions in some areas, progressive in others.

Anonymous said...

I worked with Syd's cousin Simon for several years (an Accountant in London). He is some 15 years younger than Syd but has that same odd gait plus several other similarities of demeanor but an otherwise different personality. A pleasant and friendly person.

Lili Marlene said...

That's interesting.

Polly Esther said...

One last detail of Barrett's life that I believe indicates autism is Barrett's evident lack of interest in popular team sport events. All men love to watch the footy, don't they?

That's not the stupidest thing I've ever read, but it's definitely in the top ten.

Roger Waters' reasons? Didn't he steal Barrett's career? Didn't he step straight into his shoes? I don't pretend to be an expert on Pink Floyd, but I do know that I find Mr Waters very creepy, especially when he is talking about Barrett.

The other four members of Pink Floyd got fed up with Barrett's erratic behavior (such as skipping performances and practices or wandering around the stage during performances) and asked him to leave the band. By that point, they'd already pretty much replaced him with David Gilmour anyway.

Lili Marlene said...

Wow, the guy who wrote and sang the songs and played lead guitar wasn't allowed to wander around the stage. Little wonder his last works were as a solo artist.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the article and do wonder where exactly Barrett fits. Perhaps lsd induced very late onset aspergers? He was a reknowned people person when young.

Lili Marlene said...

There's no such thing as late onset Asperger syndrome. It is supposed to be a developmental condition.

Sam said...

Don't know if this comment will be read, but I truly enjoyed your article. It was extremely enlightening because of the absurd amount of similarities I found in myself, and I finished it in a daze of new information, with so much making sense to me now.

First of all, Pink Floyd has been my favorite band for many years.

I was diagnosed with Asperger's a few years ago. The socially detrimental qualities of AS have receded almost entirely since then, I love being around people now. But I that I certainly still have an Asperger's mind, more proof towards Syd's case. I've read that some people outgrow high functioning AS in their late teens/early 20s (18 here). I am a guitar player with a mathematical mind, certain obsessive tendencies, an inclination towards visual art (especially anything geometrical). Growing up, I had anger issues and never felt like I could relate to anyone (I still often don't), thinking that the only way to fit in was to act like a "normal person".

A few months ago I tried LSD for the first time, had a great experience, and the next morning I was playing guitar in the woods with a friend. As we were playing, I realized that I associate different colors for each chord and key of music, and can see the colors in the geometry of a guitar's fretboard. Once I realized this, it seemed obvious that those colors lined up with those sounds, and I felt as though I had always thought that way. I never knew about the correlation between autism and synesthesia until today.

The part of your article that was really unnerving to me was when you talked about his bouncing gait, how he walked on his toes and the balls of his feet. I did that for many years when I was younger and taught myself to stop because other people didn't walk like that.

I can completely understand and relate to Barrett, and the proposition that he simply decided to stop "acting normal" is the most likely explanation to me. My latest acid trip was a scary experience, because I did too much. I believe that I have abnormal serotonin levels, a connection I'm making based on my inability to control a constant flood of thoughts and my nightly vivid dreams. LSD screws with serotonin, so no wonder the trip was so jarring. This trip left in my mind thoughts and perspectives that I could easily see destroying my motivation to live normally - but only if I hadn't been able to repress them. Barrett did a loootttt of acid, and I know now that were I to keep doing acid I could end up like he did.
I disappear from social gatherings once in a while in favor of a quick walk through the woods or a session of improvisation on my guitar. I feel extremely distant from most women, though I am in a great relationship right now. I would say that I am conscious of my fashion and regularly am known for not dressing according to weather (I wear sandals most of the year). I outgrew my intense anger and subsequent desire to break anything I could get my hands on. I am closer to my father and brother, who have similar minds to me. My drug use has definitely been motivated by the way my mind works, in an attempt to normalize, explore, or temporarily turn off my brain.

I have never found so many similarities between myself and any one person. This article was the one piece that brought together a massive section of the jigsaw puzzle of my mind. I am enlightened to many things, and simultaneously inspired to create and do great things.

I can't thank you enough for your incredible research and the connections you've made. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have in order to further understand Barrett.

Lili Marlene said...

Thanks for your comment, Sam. I'm glad you liked my article.

I've got no first-hand knowledge of LSD and I don't understand why people feel the need to experiement with such drugs. I'm always wary when LSD is cited to explain Barrett's behaviour and life, as I know that he did other drugs, one of them no longer widely-used as a drug of abuse, and I would identify Barrett's use of other drugs as probably more damaging. It appears to me that when one speaks about LSD sending people round the twist one is entering the realm of the urban legend, but I'm certainly no expert.

I no longer take "Asperger syndrome" seriously as a diagnosis, so the only questions that I'd think to ask you about it are: "What do you think it is?"
"Precisely how do you think it has affected you, in terms of how did it stop you or hamper you from doing any particular thing?"

sAm said...

When I was younger, I would compare socializing to a game of chess. I found that I lacked the amount of empathy others showed, and I still often feel as though I only react to most social situations by thinking about how a more emotional individual would react. Sometimes I question whether I'm a good person or I just know the right things to say and do to be perceived that way. Social life has always been a struggle due to anxiety and my inability to relate to people. I have shown obsessive tendencies with mainly music, video games (I don't play anymore) and visual art. I used to bounce on my feet rhythmically, along with other rhythmic tendencies. I now ceaselessly tap on my legs and snap beats. (When I learned how to snap, I did it so much that I got a blister. I can snap two times in succession with the two pairs of fingers on each hand.) My thoughts are also repetitive and rhythmic, and I've had to learn to control them so I can sleep at night, be more normal, etc. I used to have a hypersensivity to the texture of paper, touching it gave me that chalkboard scratching feeling of chills going through my body. These are the Autistic or Aspergic tendencies I display; I embrace them. My parents had me tested multiple times to figure out how to better deal with me, with my sudden bursts of anger over any decision I saw as illogical or my disdain for societal expectations.

I gave up on "acting normal" when I was in high school. I lost all interest and motivation and stopped going or doing any work. Video games became my life, my art form. I was playing copious amounts of Starcraft II, a real time strategy game that requires a constant flow of hundreds of actions per minute to compete at a high level. Fingers fly over the keyboard.

My parents had no damn clue what to do with me, so I was sent to a therapeutic wilderness program and then boarding school. I am now a new person.

My experimentation with LSD has been out of a desire to explore perception. It shook me out of conformed thought, it changed my mind, it showed me a frightening and meaningless way to see the world. It solidified my love for geometric patterns and my artistic desire to condense nature's forms into geometric patterns. It's hard to tell which one drug contributed most to Barrett's breakdown, and certainly there were many factors. What I can say from my psychedelic experience and the experience of others is that these drugs can open a perspective in which the things people typically see as important in life became meaningless or sad. Add potent pharmaceutical substances into the mix and you've got a nasty concoction.

Lili Marlene said...

"Sometimes I question whether I'm a good person or I just know the right things to say and do to be perceived that way."

Have you considered the possibility that everyone else is also putting on a display, but they don't feel abd about it beceause they don't take time to reflect on such things?

"My parents had me tested multiple times to figure out how to better deal with me..."

I'd love to know what those tests were, as I'm not aware of one single scientifically validated test for AS or autism.

"I gave up on "acting normal" when I was in high school. I lost all interest and motivation and stopped going or doing any work. Video games became my life, my art form. I was playing copious amounts of Starcraft II, a real time strategy game that requires a constant flow of hundreds of actions per minute to compete at a high level. Fingers fly over the keyboard. My parents had no damn clue what to do with me, so I was sent to a therapeutic wilderness program and then boarding school. I am now a new person."

Did anyone consider that you could have been one of the majority of intellectually gifted young people who struggle with life due to their needs not being recognized or met? Have you ever been made to do an IQ test?

"What I can say from my psychedelic experience and the experience of others is that these drugs can open a perspective in which the things people typically see as important in life became meaningless or sad."

I could say the same about the 1970s counter-culture, higher education or Marxism or having an engrossing career.

Thanks for sharing your story Sam. I sincerely hope you are enjoying life and using your gifts in a way that benefits everyone.

Sirajul Hossain said...

Nice article Lili Marlene. I think he had a unorthodox type Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD). I am working on it. Will elaborate later.

Lili Marlene said...

Thanks Sirajul.

Anonymous said...

Here is my opinion and I do not want to go into Autism or Schizophrenia etc because I am no expert in these things and frankly speaking these are just labels created by a society which cannot understand why some people are the way they are. So they put them into these label, think something is seriously wrong with them and put them on medications which makes it much worse.

However, I do know the Band and its history. I think you are being unfair to Roger Waters and other members. Pink Floyd's 'heart' and the one who wrote the hits, made the band famous, got them gigs and a record contract was always Syd Barret. You don't just cut out the heart cause you want fame for yourself especially when you do not have any songwriting experience or hits in your name. They cut him out because he just lost all interest in the band, would stand without playing a note for hours and sometimes would just detune his strings for the entire concert. Now, as a band, you may tolerate it once or a few times but if it keeps happening,it is a big cause of concern. Survival mode kicks in and so they decided to get in David but Syd was always meant to be the main songwriter but not play in live shows kind of like Brian Wilson. So they had to drop him and after that things became a lot difficult for them. It took them almost 4-5 years before they found their sound again.

As for Syd Barett, he was too smart. He saw the circus that is the music industry. He saw the record companies care about nothing but profits and money. He felt like slave and a machine to the system. Gigs after gigs, expected to write hit song after hit song etc., it was now no longer about the music anymore. Pink Floyd later wrote song 'Have a Cigar' and So he wanted to take the band in a different direction like breaking free from the record companies, become a jam band kind of a thing like the Grateful Dead where they do not have to keep playing the same song with the exact same notes over and over again.

This is where the band disagreed because they wanted commercial success and did not support Syd. So this is my opinion, Syd got angry at them and started doing his antics purposely to piss them off. He also indulged in more drugs to deal with the pressures and that made him more erratic. He probably thought that they will come around to his view and direction. When he instead noticed that the band members started to cut him out slowly and with good reason too since they were concerned about their own survival as a band. When his close friend David Gilmore came in to replace him, that was the last straw. He felt betrayed and plunged into depressions and probably took even more drugs which further affected his mental health. He felt hurt and back stabbed. From all my research, this is the conclusion I have drawn from Syd.

I am sure being autistic has a part to play in it but he was just different and society being the way it is, completely misunderstood him, labeled him this and that and that has become the Myth of Syd till date.

Lili Marlene said...

Thank you for your thoughtful contribution, another one of those interesting anonymous comments left here that provokes speculation about who the author might be.

Dave said...

I drank in every word.
Thank you!

Lili Marlene said...

Thanks Dave.

Anonymous said...

Your comment (opinion) on Progressive Rock fans being dim, young men with no prospects, needing that particular brand of music to feel intellectual without submersing themselves in endless geopolitical studies and poetry is a dangerously broad, and frankly insulting point.

Unknown said...

a popular musical genre that would enable millions of dim young men with limited prospects to experience the feeling of intellectual exhilaration without the necessity to read, learn or do anything much. WOW REALLY? SAYS WHO? OH YOU THE SMART BITCH WITH THE BLOG THE JUDGEMENTAL IMBECILE!

Lili Marlene said...

And a good day to you too, Mr Gill!

Napoleon said...

Your hatred for prog rock is disgusting, and your claim that Syd's disinterest in sports points to him being autistic is a huge reach. I think you have some interesting theories and evidence on here, but in a couple spots, like the one I mentioned, you were really reaching. I don't like sports, and I have an obsessive interest in music, but I do not have Asperger's Syndrome or autism. However, Syd and I have the same Myers-Briggs personality type: INFP. People with this type are known for being childlike, emotional, and creative. In fact, Syd's personality reminds me of a character out of a Tim Burton (also INFP) film: innocent, quirky and in his own world, but also with a certain gloomy, lost-soul quality. Avoidant Personality Disorder is somewhat common among people with the INFP personality, so I would be interested in that one commenter's findings.
Also, to that one moron who hates Alice Cooper for no apparent reason, I've met him, and he was such a nice guy. He has a tendency to stretch the truth, but I can't imagine he would be telling that story with any kind of malicious intent. Alice respected Syd greatly, and the members of the original Alice Cooper band were all very inspired by Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I don't think he was trying to make Syd look bad. I personally wouldn't have told that story if I was in his place, given the seriousness of the whole thing, but it doesn't make him a "heartless android." It's just a tiny bit thoughtless. If you'd take one second to research the guy, you'd see he has a lot of admirable qualities.
One more thing: You cited examples of people saying Syd didn't make eye contact, and his face was expressionless. He actually makes a lot of eye contact and even smiles at the interviewer in this clip here:
He comes across as very polite and well-spoken. He doesn't come across as extraverted, but you can at least see that he picks up on social cues.

Lili Marlene said...

Thanks for your comment, Napoleon. To be honest with you, I don't believe that Myers Briggs stuff has any scientific basis, and these days I'm almost as dismissive of the notion of an autistic spectrum. I mostly think psychiatry is a crock, but all the same, there's something about us people who have no interest in sport. Maybe we are just a bunch of folks with higher than average IQs who never were properly socialized due to never spending enough time in childhood with peers of a similar intellect. You could probably explain every single famous person in my big list with that theory. But I also think there's a special coldness in folks who only ever run when running away from sports teachers. I never cared who won, and I never will. I care about the achievements of other people in the arts or politics, but sport I'm biologically incapable of registering a trace of emotion. I mostly never care about Hollywood movie characters, but adore some characters from foreign films. What is the diagnosis when you have always felt like a lost member of a faraway tribe?

Anonymous said...

He appears to have had a pretty damn low digit ratio (looks like ~.90ish here)

Lili Marlene said...

For sure! It appears consistent in both hands. I've never seen that photo before. Thanks for showing it to us.

I don't quite know what to make of digit ratio research. I do know it is hard to measure with great reliability, but there do seem to be famous people with clearly extreme ratios. I tend to think of digit ratios in the same way as handedness: both are supposed to be influenced by hormones, both seem to be manifest in interesting patterns in famous people, but still I'm not sure what it all means.

Anonymous said...

i think the author is a little bit on to something in that there is an autism spectrum. in addition there are comorbid disorders and many people have overlapping disabilities and dont fit into one Dx. He admits to having disorganized thoughts and inability to get pleasure from things that normally give it to others. considering he was a heroin user, it is very possible he contracted Hepatitis c which attacks the frontal lobes of the brain. a good amount of the population contracted this disease in those days and many have yet to be tested and diagnosed. they do tend to die younger than the general population, eventually from cancer...

Lili Marlene said...

For sure it is important to consider physical illnesses before speculating about the so-called mental conditions, but we should always be aware that there's no dividing line between mind and body.

Unknown said...

"I think LSD seems quite safe compared to mull or tobacco or hard liquor."

As someone who overindulged in hallucinogens in my 20's and has suffered from panic disorder (along with many of the above described characteristics you ascribe to AS and Autism ever since, I think I can safely say that you are focusing more on the physiological aspects of imbibing than you are the unquantifiable aspects of perception and ones placement within reality which is in many ways far more nefarious an outcome.

I'm not an oponant of psychoactive drugs but I can say unequivocally that they are impossible to study or make statements of authority upon without having personally experimented with them; it's like trying to definitively interpret multi-layered art objectively, without having created it.

Some of the above commenters accurately state that you can not have multiple hallucinogenic experiences in one week, but that is not to say that taking these mind altering doses with no effect doesn't in fact affect change in the brain's interwoven pathways.

In short, yes I personally know people who have left their sanity/functionality behind prior to overindulging on hallucinogens and I myself have a far more difficult time coping with crowds and people in general which is directly related to overindulging from the ages of 19-23.That is not to say that I haven't also received benefits, most notably in imagination, creativity and in many ways confidence in intellect.

Finally, while I'm no fan of prog-rock as a blanket statement (and I see Pink Floyd as a band that dips toes in this water rather than one defined by the genre) your dismissive characterization of people who listen to that brand of music undermines your authority on the otherwise well-discussed matters at hand.

Otherwise I did thoroughly enjoy reading this and you clearly put a ton of research hours into it. I do wish it was in a format that didn't give me a headache to read 9perhaps another effect of the lisergic?)

P.S. I also find Roger Waters to be off-putting.

Unknown said...

"Wow, the guy who wrote and sang the songs and played lead guitar wasn't allowed to wander around the stage. Little wonder his last works were as a solo artist."

It was much more than this. I do feel you should have researched the musical component a bit before making such statements. He was missing rehearsals, playing one note with his back to the audience and failing to play songs or even progressions the same way twice. He was clearly dysfunctional. Even bringing Gilmour along to prop him up failed to light a spark in him on stage or in studio. They overlapped and Dave was his childhood friend. It wasn't a swap.

Would it have been better for the band to go on hiatus as a means to care for Syd? Yes. Did ambition likely get in the way? Yes, but he was dysfunctional as a front-man and as a man generally speaking as illustrated by his leaving the band without a fight of any sort. He knew it was time (or you could just listen to jug-band blues for the cliffs notes version.)

"I think LSD seems quite safe compared to mull or tobacco or hard liquor."

As someone who overindulged in hallucinogens in my 20's and has suffered from panic disorder (along with many of the above described characteristics you ascribe to AS and Autism ever since) I think I can safely say that you are focusing more on the physiological aspects of imbibing than you are the unquantifiable aspects of perception and ones placement within reality which is in many ways far more nefarious an outcome.

I'm not an oponant of psychoactive drugs but I can say unequivocally that they are impossible to study or make statements of authority upon without having personally experimented with them; it's like trying to definitively interpret multi-layered art objectively, without having created it.

As humans we want to quantify everything based on data to achieve a greater understanding so I get it, I'm just making the distinction here that hallucinogenic drugs are to booze and indeed all other manner of vice, what pineapples are to the Holy Roman Empire; not two sides of the same coin and in fact only to both be considered currency within the construct of an infinite multiverse.

Some of the above commenters accurately state that you can not have multiple hallucinogenic experiences in one week but that is not to say that taking these mind altering doses with no effect doesn't in fact affect change in the brain's interwoven pathways.

Unknown said...

In short, what is urban legend to you is reality for me. Yes I personally know people who have left their sanity/functionality behind prior to overindulging on hallucinogens and I myself have a far more difficult time coping with crowds and people in general which is directly related to overindulging from the ages of 19-23. That is not to say that I haven't also received benefits, most notably in imagination, creativity and in many ways confidence in intellect.

Finally, while I'm no fan of prog-rock as a blanket statement (and I see Pink Floyd as a band that dips toes in this water rather than one defined by the genre such as Yes, Rush or Dream Theater) your dismissive characterization of people who listen to that brand of music undermines your authority on the otherwise well-discussed matters at hand. Personal taste and intellect are not borne of mutually exclusive origin. I quite enjoy Radiohead but they have more than a few stinkers in their catalogue so it's best to avoid blanket statements of derision as a means to prop ones own personal tastes up on a pedestal. I may be slightly hypocritical in this assessment but I don't have time to proofread ;)

Otherwise I did thoroughly enjoy reading this and you clearly put a ton of research hours into it. I do wish it was in a format that didn't give me a headache to read (perhaps another effect of the lisergic?)

P.S. I also find Roger Waters to be off-putting.

P.S. I wish people wouldn't post anonymously as I'd love to give credit where due to commenters such as the one who delved deeper into the musical aspects of their parting ways with Syd (which I'm now realizing I've contributed to, directly from the department of redundancy department.)
Moral to the story, if you are going to take too much acid in your 20's read the WHOLE comment section prior to commenting.

Gregory in Miami said...

Great article, Lili.

I am the biological parent of 24 year old kid with autism and the step dad to a 25 year old with autism as well. From that personal experience— nearly quarter century of Clinical testing, personal research, and parenting— I can affirm that many people on the spectrum have characteristics that closely resemble schizophrenia. Many things about Syd’s personality seem to fall in line with your conclusion about autism, but I feel one key issue throws a wrench in the hypothesis: namely his very pronounced, and terminal decline in cognitive ability over a very short period.

There are all kinds of written testimonies about this, but I’m particularly puzzled by syd’s appearance/interview on Keller’s BBC show in May 1967, where he appears completely engaged, sensitive, eloquent, measured and winsome. Five months later, PF was canceling shows in the US because of his utter separation from reality. By November 67 he was seen on Dick Clark’s show, looking confused and struggling to perform and answer questions. Over the following two years, after his departure from PF in early 68, his interviews and creative output revealed someone actually LOSING substantial cognitive function. His vocabulary and grasp of language also seemed to noticeably decline. By the time Syd was about to make his final trip on foot, back to his mom’s house in Cambridge in the early 80’s, he is by all accounts unable to care for himself, speak clearly and rationally to others, understand what is going on around him, etc... From this point, until the end of his life, he resembles more an elderly patient with heightened dementia, than a misunderstood man on the autism spectrum. From his cancer diagnosis until his death, Rosemary gives every indication that he didnt understand his prognosis at all, and was utterly incapable of grasping what was happening to him. Again, none of this sounds to me like autism— specifically the severe declension in what can only be described as previously normal cognitive function.

Unknown said...

Hello from SW USA!

I, too, have done extensive research on Mr. Barrett. I too am on the spectrum, and unfortunately I share alot of things in common with Syd. Alot! Not necessarily a virtue, let me tell you.

I found an anecdote that Syd, in his later years, "probably went through a bottle of Scotch a day". This was from Jenny Spires, his main girlfriend from his youth. She has come forth in recent years with a wealth of imput about the man.
This could be the cause of his bouts of extreme behavior reported by his neighbors. And, interestingly, heavy drinkers damage their pancreas, and heavy smoking would, almost inevitably, lead to pancreatic cancer. Alcoholism is common in asocial loners. Understandably his family would be reluctant to reveal to the world their late brother was a drunk. So it got buried, I think.